Discover the 10 Best National Parks in Colorado

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 17, 2022
© Rosalie Kreulen/Shutterstock.com
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The glittering “Centennial State” of Colorado is not only the United States’ best travel destination but also a land of ever-new adventures and immense possibilities. There is never a dull moment in Colorado, with its unrivaled spectacular theme parks, high-street shopping extravaganza, explicit swaths of the Great Plains, vivid southern landscapes of mountains, and breathtaking mesas.

Lying in the western United States, Colorado is best known for its lush forests, dunes, hot springs, desert lands, wildlife, plateaus, and the variety of activities it offers. There’s truly something for everyone, from mountain biking on the western slope to hiking in the federally designated wilderness!

Colorado’s national parks, recreation centers, and monuments are oases amidst the concrete desert landscapes. Let’s have a look at the most famous national parks and monuments in Colorado for a breath of fresh air!

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Great Sand Dunes stands out as the ideal place to spend a few hours exploring massive dunes, alpine lakes, wetlands, and dense forests.

©Rosalie Kreulen/Shutterstock.com

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Size149,028 acres
Animal to SeeMule Deer
Attraction to SeeTowering Star Dune, Medano Creek

Among Colorado’s national parks, Great Sand Dunes stands out as the ideal place to spend a few hours exploring massive dunes, alpine lakes, wetlands, and dense forests. You can stroll on the dunes and out to Medano Creek, a popular seasonal stream that flows only in spring and early summer.

Sandboard or sand sled in the dune field. It’s one of the most memorable things you can ever do at the park, and it’s actually pure fun. There are no snakes living in the dunes, so you shouldn’t be afraid. Mule deer, rabbits, squirrels, kangaroo rats, and numerous birds are the only tundra wildlife you might encounter at the Great Sand Dunes.

Spend your night in the dunes for an amazing stargazing experience. There are other places you can camp within the park, like the Pinon Flats Campground, but it won’t be the same as sleeping in the dunes.

2. Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is famous for having the most outstanding cliff dwellings in the United States.

©Sopotnicki/Shutterstock.com

Mesa Verde National Park
Size52,485 acres
Animal to SeeBlack Bear
Attraction to SeeCliff Palace

When you need a quick break from city crowds, head to Mesa Verde National Park for a quick dose of nature and the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people. This iconic park is famous for having the most outstanding cliff dwellings in the United States, particularly the huge Cliff Palace.

Experience the unique ecosystems of the mesas through scenic drives, biking, and hiking. The Petroglyph Point Trail is one of the most accessible trails that will reward you with stunning views of the Navajo Canyons and large rock panels from the Anasazi people.

At Morefield and Chapin Mesa, where hiking trails are located, you will see many turkeys walking majestically through the places. You may also spot other small animals, skunks, and squirrels. Check out for black bears early in the mornings and late in the evenings within Morefield Campground.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to explore outdoor activities throughout the year.

©Anna Krivitskaya/Shutterstock.com

Rocky Mountain National Park
Size265,461 acres
Animal to SeeMountain Lion
Attraction to SeeBear Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park is a much different experience than all the other national parks in Colorado. Sure, there are amazing sunsets and towering landscapes, but Rocky Mountain has more enjoyable things to explore.

One thing you must do while at Rocky Mountain is drive Trail Ridge Road, where you will be able to get stunning views of the park from the overlooks. There is also a chance you might spot elks, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep while on the road.

Rocky Mountain is a great place to explore outdoor activities throughout the year. You can visit the park between December and May to explore cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Many trails are accessible by snowshoe during winter.

4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Camp at Black Canyon to enjoy one of the darkest skies in Colorado.

©SL-Photography/Shutterstock.com

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Size30,750 acres
Animal to SeeCoyote
Attraction to SeeMuseum of the Mountain West

There is no better way to experience the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park than from a hiking trail. You will have the opportunity to see a lot of diverse species of wildlife, such as magpies, coyotes, and elks. Mule deer is one of the most visible animals in the park.

Take a scenic drive down to the river to see the steep-walled gorges carved through a Precambrian rock. The North Rim Road, South Rim Road, and East Portal Road are closed during winter. So, the only way to best explore the park in winter is by snowshoeing.

Camp at Black Canyon to enjoy one of the darkest skies in Colorado. I know you won’t count, but it’s to see up to 5000 stars at the park.

5. Browns Canyon National Monument

Browns Canyon National Monument
Size21,586 acres
Animal to SeeBighorn Sheep
Attraction to SeeArkansas River Valley

Browns Canyon National Monument is the best place to visit if you love boating activities, hiking, horse-riding, stargazing, biking, wildlife viewing, and photography. Walk along the meandering hiking trails through the rock spires and dry gulches to the Arkansas River.

Enjoy the views of the Sangre de Cristo Ranges and the mighty Sawatch from the Arkansas River. You can easily access the monument from the Ruby Mountain Campground, past the limestone formations.

Turret Trail and River Bench Trail are some of the best places to see wildlife. Herds of elks and mule deer can be found grazing along these trails. You may also spot pine martens, coyotes, foxes, bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain lions.

6. Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument gives you a perfect opportunity to see and learn more about dinosaur fossils.

©Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Dinosaur National Monument
Size210,844 acres
Animal to SeeWhite-tailed Prairie Dog
Attraction to SeeGates of Lodore

Dinosaur National Monument is a haven for history buffs and nature lovers. Aside from exploring the unique scenery and the rugged landscapes of Dinosaur, you will also get a perfect opportunity to see and learn more about dinosaur fossils. You may notice some of the dinosaurs’ remains embedded in the rocks.

Experience the monument’s most dramatic landscapes through miles of hiking. There are many hiking trails to choose from, but the best of all are the ones along the river. You’ll also get an incredible view of many animals, including the white-tailed prairie dogs and rabbits along the river.

Spend a night at one of the six campgrounds within the monument if you want a tranquil moment for stargazing. You can go backcountry camping if you want to experience the extreme wilderness.

7. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a perfect place to visit if you want to explore extraordinary archaeologically-significant landscapes.

©Traveller70/Shutterstock.com

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Size176,056 acres
Animal to SeeMountain lion
Attraction to SeeLowry Pueblo

Situated in a serene and more secluded setting, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is another perfect place to visit if you want to explore extraordinary archaeologically-significant landscapes and beautiful scenery.

Explore the fantastic 100-plus sites by hiking. There are around six hiking trails, ranging from short, easy strolls to more challenging trails with incredible panoramic views of the monument.

You can go hunting with family or friends in the dry uplands or the riparian areas of the monuments. You may be lucky enough to catch a rabbit or a wild hog. While hunting, be aware of mountain lions and night snakes.

8. Rifle Falls State Park

Rifle Falls State Park
Rifle Falls State Park provides a habitat for some species of animals, including ground squirrels, coyotes, elk, and mule deer.

©Colin D. Young/Shutterstock.com

Rifle Falls State Park
Size48 acres
Animal to SeeMule Deer
Attraction to SeeRifle Falls

Although it’s a small protected area, you can never run out of things to do at Rifle Falls State Park. The waterfalls are the main attraction in the park, and the water thumbs can be heard from the parking area. You can hike, camp, or go fishing at Rifle Falls. There are some caves and caverns to explore near the waterfalls as well.

The park also provides a habitat for some species of animals, including ground squirrels, coyotes, elk, and mule deer. These animals can be spotted throughout the park.

9. Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is famous for its red rock formations, towering plateaus, and sheer-walled canyons.

©Jeremy Janus/Shutterstock.com

Colorado National Monument
Size20,533 acres
Animal to SeeMule Deer
Attraction to SeeUTE Canyon

Famed for its red rock formations, towering plateaus, and sheer-walled canyons, Colorado National Monument is a national treasure. Experience the magnificence of the monument by hiking, driving, or biking.

Keep your eyes out for coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and mule deer while biking or driving along the Rim Rock Drive. You will also view the stunning valleys and ancient rock layers as you wind along the road.

Enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding valleys and cliffs from the Fallen Rock Overlook, Red Canyon Overlook, and Highland View Overlook.

10. Curecanti National Recreation Area

Curecanti National Recreation Area
Curecanti National Recreation Area is perfect for a family picnic, stroll, or a refreshing nature walk.

©Bernadette Heath/Shutterstock.com

Curecanti National Recreation Area
Size43,095 acres
Animal to SeeTrout
Attraction to SeeGunnison River

Curecanti National Recreation Area is perfect for a family picnic, stroll, or a refreshing nature walk. Curecanti provides different types of boating experiences where boaters can explore several arms of the reservoirs that extend up to the secluded areas.

You can go fishing at Crystal Reservoirs or Morrow Point. Gunnison water is home to different types of fish, like perch, salmon, and trout. There are also plenty of bird-watching opportunities, from cottonwood forests to canyons.

Curecanti is one of the most spectacular places to spend the night. However, you need to make a reservation early because most campgrounds are often full, especially during summer. All sites follow the rule of first-come-first-served!


The Featured Image

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
© Rosalie Kreulen/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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