Colorado has the lion's share of the highest peaks of the North American Rockies which are often called the backbone of USA. It is a year-round destination blessed with a diverse ecosystem, natural beauty, green landscapes, deserts, beautiful lakes, gardens, national parks, and has some exceptional natural landmarks in the country.
How many national parks are in Colorado?
Colorado has four national parks which are Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. While Rocky Mountain National Park is the most visited, each individual park has something different to offer. While there are many national monuments in the state, these are the best national parks in Colorado, with some of the world’s most spectacular scenery that will surely resonate with nature and adventure enthusiasts.
A Guide to National Parks in Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park
Feast on the pristine beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado and make sure to include it on the bucket list for your trip to Colorado. When you reach you will known why in 2014 National Geographic named it one of its best trips in the world.
Rocky Mountain National Park has some of the highest mountains and hiking trails in the United States. It also includes alpine lakes and forested valleys that are home to a variety of wildlife. You can expect to see bighorn sheep, moose, and elk in this national park.
Here are some of the things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids:
- Wildlife spotting
- Hunting for animal tracks
- Horseback riding
Best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park: June to September
Distance from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park: 73 miles
Wildlife spotting in Rocky Mountain National Park: Elk, moose, mountain lion, bobcats, chipmunks, mink, weasel, raccoon
Best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park:
- Bear Lake is the most popular and the shortest hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s good for all ages and abilities and encompasses spectacular views of Hallett Peak.
- Gem Lake is an easy and short hike where you can get remarkable views of Estes Park, Longs Peak, and the Continental Divide.
Where to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park?
The closest towns to Rocky Mountain National Park are Estes Park, Lyons, Longmont, Boulder, Grand Lake. You can find a variety of historic hotels, independent local lodges, and cabin options in these areas.
Campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park:
- Aspenglen campground
- Glacier Basin Campground
- Longs Peak Campground
- Moraine Park Campground
- Timber Creek Campground
Mesa Verde National Park
This Colorado national park is a natural-historical park that offers a stark and untamable landscape that was surprisingly inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan people for almost 700 years. Mesa Verde itself means 'Green Table' and refers to the vegetable on the plateau in the summer months.
Mesa Verde National Park preserves 26 tribes' cultural history and provides tourists with an insightful and meaningful peek into their past. You can take a walk to the highest point in the park and view the beauty of the Four Corners Region. Spruce Tree House is Mesa Verde's best-preserved cliff dwelling. You can get an excellent view of it from the Spruce Tree Overlook.
Best time to visit Mesa Verde National Park: Spring (March - April)
Distance from Denver to Mesa Verde National Park: 387 miles
Wildlife spotting in Mesa Verde National Park: Mule deer, wild turkeys, skunks, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, elk, marmot, porcupine
Best hikes in Mesa Verde National Park:
- Petroglyph Point Trail is a popular and adventurous trail that is not for the weak-hearted. The trail is narrow, difficult, and rocky, with many steep drop-offs.
- Spruce Canyon Trail is a great way to see all the natural beauty of Mesa Verde. It’s a short hike with some significant elevation gain inside and outside the canyon.
Where to stay in Mesa Verde National Park?
Far View Lodge is the only place to stay inside Mesa Verde National Park, which is open from early April until late October each year. The nearest towns are Mancos, Cortez, where hotels and independent cabins are available. Durango is another place for affordable accommodation options.
Campgrounds in Mesa Verde National Park:
- Morefield campground
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Colorado has some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America dating back two million years. The national park encompasses the most dramatic part of the canyon, which in some places receives only 30 minutes of sunlight hence the name - Black Canyon.
While it is ideal for expert outdoor enthusiasts as the canyon offers very tricky rock climbing and backwoods hiking, which are strenuous and dangerous; it is also great for a day trip from Denver. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an International Dark Sky Park, which makes it an ideal location for astronomy. It offers a variety of night-sky viewing and constellation excursions, some of which include telescopes.
Best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: April to November
Distance from Denver to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: 262 miles
Wildlife spotting in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Yellow-bellied marmot, golden-mantled ground squirrels, least, chipmunks, mountain cottontails, rock squirrel, mule deer, rocky mountain bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes
Best hikes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
- Rim Rock Nature Trail is a moderate-level hiking trail that offers extraordinary views of the Gunnison River and the sheer walls of the canyon.
- Oak Flat Loop Trail hike is strenuous and for those who want to enjoy the thrilling vistas of the canyon without having to descend all the way to the bottom.
Where to stay in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has two areas: South Rim and North Rim. Montrose is the nearest town to South Rim, with independent hotels. Crawford and Delta are the nearest to North Rim with various motels.
Campgrounds in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- South Rim
- North Rim
- East Portal
Great Sand Dunes National Park
From enormous sand dunes to woods, cottonwood groves to magnificent mountain peaks and tundra, the natural and diversified system of Great Sand Dunes National Park and preserve has it all.
Hiking the dunes is a famous park activity, and should be done early in the morning or late in the evening in the summer to prevent high surface temperatures. Experience the incredible wonders of nature at night while stargazing and make it a memorable experience with your family and friends.
Remember to absorb the stunning beauty with your eyes and keep the camera at bay for a while!
Best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park: Fall (September to October)
Distance from Denver to Great Sand Dunes National Park: 236 miles
Wildlife spotting in Great Sand Dunes National Park: Bighorn sheep, Ord's kangaroo rats, mule deer, black bears, Abert’s squirrels, mountain lions, pronghorn, American pikas
Best hikes in Great Sand Dunes National Park:
- High Dune is the most common hike, which offers a beautiful view of the dune field with no clear trail to follow.
- Star Dune is one of the two tallest dunes in North America. It's one full-day hike that's best suited to experienced hikers and adventurers.
Where to stay in Great Sand Dunes National Park?
The Great Sand Dunes Lodge, located outside the park's entrance, is the nearest lodging option. The Great Sand Dunes Oasis camping cabins are located south of the park entrance. Alamosa is the nearest town with various hotels and lodging places.
Campgrounds in Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Oasis Campground
- Piñon Flats Campground
- Zapata Falls Campground
Colorado provides a peek into both the human and geological past. With rocky mountains, hiking, camping, scenic drives, fishing, boating, and a cultural legacy, Colorado is the ultimate trip for outdoor and nature lovers. Plan a memorable trip with your loved ones and explore the diversity of Colorado National Park with Voyayge's travel designers.