As one of the more popular states in the United States, there are probably more things to do in Colorado per square mile than anywhere else you will find. No matter what your interests are or what time of year you visit, you will find what you are looking for that will make your vacation the best one possible. Listed below are just a few of the things that I know you will enjoy.
1. Mesa Verde and The Four Corners
As you look at the map when you travel Colorado, you may notice that in the southwest there is a place where four states that meet at one point – Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. You could literally stand on this spot and be in four states at one time. This area is known as “Four Corners” and is the only place in the United States where this happens. A very fascinating Colorado tourist attraction that is in this immediate area is Mesa Verde. The Native American tribe of the Pueblo Indians lived here and were cliff dwellers, meaning they built their homes in the cliffs, hewing them out of the rock. This afforded them great protection from being attacked by other tribes. These homes have been meticulously preserved and you can go into many of them and see how they lived centuries ago. There are ancient ladders, ceremonial areas, utensils and much more evidence of how the First Peoples lived. A museum, gift shop, plenty of informational signs and rangers on site to answer questions, makes this a great place to spend the day exploring and becoming a part of that culture.
2. The Colorado National Monument
Another one of the amazing places to see in Colorado is the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction. Founded by John Otto, this geographical wonder is a fascinating find. There are many different strata of rock that can be dated back centuries and show how the earth evolved. Signs all along the route will explain what you are seeing and how it was formed, whether by earthquake, wind, water or whatever. There are coke ovens that Native Americans used to bake adobe bricks and other necessities. As you travel Colorado Rim Rock Road, it will climb up and around the canyon for 23 miles, with many pullouts that have informational signs, trail heads and other sights to see. One such point is appropriately called “Cold Shivers Point”.
As you walk out on this point, you will be able to look straight down to the bottom of the canyon which seems to be a thousand feet straight down! Definitely sends cold shivers up your spine! Independence Rock is on the canyon floor and stretches hundreds of feet straight up, with a mushroom-type rock cap on top. This is a favorite spot for rock climbers galore scale. Many pictures, movies and commercials have been filmed on this very rock, which looks like it could topple over with one good gust of wind.
3. The Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is another of the amazing things to see in Colorado. You will find this in the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Alamosa. It is a very surprising anomaly, as you only think of sand dunes near an ocean or in a large desert – not next to mountains! This park covers 30 square miles, with the tallest dune towering over 750 feet tall! Such a thrilling hill to sled or ski down while staying warm! All around the area there is also horseback riding, camping sites, ranger-lead nature walks, and 4 wheel drive roads over Medano Pass. The Medano creek mysteriously appears and disappears throughout the park, which adds to the mystique of the area. The air is so clear and the elevation high enough that the stars seem very close and large. This makes it a prime point for star gazing. There are astronomy programs from May to September every year for those interested. There are also programs for the children as well. Surrounding the park are several peaks that are over 13,000 and 14,000 feet (also known as 14’ers). For rock climbers, 14’ers are one of the favorite things to do in Colorado.
4. Pikes Peak
Another of the famous 14’ers you can see when you visit Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak. It towers 14,115 feet above sea level. You can hike it, drive it – which can take 3 hours round trip – or take the Cog Railway Train to the summit, which is a beautiful way to see it. In all there are 54 14’rs in the state! Pikes Peak ranks on 31st for height. The tallest one is Mt Elbert and stretches 14,433 feet high. Crestone Needle is in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and reaches 14,197. Avid climbers and hikers keep a tally of how many 14’rs they have reached the summit on. Many of the peaks have established trails and guides are always available to lead people on the hikes.
5. The Marijuana Tourism
As you travel Colorado, you will undoubtedly notice the high number of shops that sell marijuana and the many products made from it. As the first state to legalize marijuana, many producers flocked here and have opened shops. If smoking it isn’t what you like, or for those times when smoking it isn’t a great option, you can find pot-infused items of all shapes and forms. Brownies, suckers, ice cream and almost any other food item you can think of are in these shops. There are many varieties of pot grown in the state now, each with their own special quality, and the shop owners and employees are more than happy to spend time helping you choose the right one for you. They even have vending machines that help speed up the transactions so you don’t have to wait in lines.
6. Mike the Headless Chicken Festival
One of the more fun things to see in Colorado is Mike the Headless Chicken Festival in Fruita. Legend has it that a lady in Fruita was butchering chickens one day by chopping their heads off. When she swung the ax at one she hit it a little too high on the neck, chopping off the head, but leaving enough of the glands on the neck that the rooster did not die. Of course she felt terrible about it, and really admired the little rooster’s determination to live, so she saved his life. She kept “Mike” alive by feeding him liquid food with an eye dropper directly into his esophagus at the top of his neck. Many people swear this is possible and in fact is a true story, and of course many are skeptical. You will have to decide for yourself!
7. Sporting events
For the sports enthusiasts, any time of year you travel Colorado you will find a professional sports game of some sort going on. There is the Denver Broncos football team, the Colorado Rockies baseball team, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, the Denver Nuggets basketball, the Colorado Rapids soccer team, and the Denver Outlaws lacrosse team. All of these teams play their home games in the Denver area, and tickets are readily available online or at the stadiums. You definitely know when there is a home game because the entire city seems to dress in Bronco Orange or Rockies purple or the color of whichever team is playing! If betting sports are more to your liking, then there are places to visit in Colorado for horse racing and dog races. Mile High Racing and Entertainment offers both dog and horses racing, while Arapahoe Park in Aurora has great horse racing. There is even an International auto race track at Pikes Peak.
8. Blackhawk Casinos
Gambling is one of those more fun things to do in Colorado, and who knows – you may win enough to pay for your vacation! Blackhawk and Central City are both a little south and west of Denver. They have maintained the old mining town tradition as far as décor, which is what they were originally. The best thing to do is get a room in one of the many hotels such as the Isle of Capri in Blackhawk or Reserve Casino and Hotel in Central City and leave your vehicle in their parking structures.
Stroll down the streets of the towns, which are very close together, hitting the machines or tables of your choice in the many casinos. It is a fascinating way to not only gamble but to watch the people and see the magnificent mountains and scenery around these small towns. Cripple Creek, at the base of Pikes Peak, is another fun gambling town similar to these two. The Indian reservation at Ignacio has the Sky Ute Hotel and Casino, and the Ute Mountain Casino & Hotel is on the Indian reservation of Towaoc in the Four Corners region of the state are both great places to play.
9. The Colorado State fair
If you were to visit Colorado State Fair in Pueblo that is held each summer, you would be treated to a wonderful time full of activities and exhibits. Besides all of the exhibits and animals shown by 4-H kids, there are concerts (some of which are free), rodeos, MMA fighting, monster truck shows, a carnival and much much more. Terrific fun for the whole family or by yourself.
10 the Air Force Academy
Among the many places to see in Colorado Springs the Air Force Academy – which has a magnificent church that houses several different religions and the public is welcome to attend. Another favorite Colorado tourist attraction is The North Pole – Santa’s Workshop. This amusement park with more than two dozen rides is a totally Christmas themed park. It includes a petting zoo, magic show and village shops. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s only mountain zoo with over 800 animals is here, as well as the Magnum Shooting Center. In this indoor shooting range you can shoot your own weapons, or rent anything from hand guns, rifles and even machine guns! Garden of the Gods is a world famous park of over 1367 acres that includes scenery from desert to mountains with towering red rocks. A truly magnificent way to spend the day!
11. Hit the beautiful slopes.
The most popular of all Colorado tourist attractions are the many ski areas. Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge are all world renowned, and many national and international championship races and events are held at each of these. But they are also terrific for the everyday skiers and snowboarders. Smaller resorts such as Purgatory in Durango, or Powderhorn near Grand Junction or Steamboat Springs also offer a fantastic time. All of these have special events throughout the winter, including bikini skiing in the spring, races of all types including specialty ones for the youth and lighted skiing for Christmas and New Years events. For ideas of what to do in Colorado in the summer, many ski areas run their gondolas all summer taking you to the top of the mountain for a breathtaking view.
12. Bike some sweet trails
If you love bicycling and you are wondering what to do in Colorado, there are literally thousands of trails throughout the state. Mountain bike trails are extremely popular and very abundant. There is even the Fat Tire Festival every year in Fruita that celebrates this sport. There are road bike routes and races throughout the state as well. It seems that half the cars in the state have ski racks on in the winter and bike racks the rest of the year!
13. Visit Estes Park
Colorado travel would not be complete without traveling through the town of Estes Park. Situated next to the Rocky Mountain National Park, the scenery is like no other you will see. Besides hotels, you can rent cabins and cottages which make the stay more magical. There are great cross country ski trails, and in the warm months white water rafting should be on your list!
14. The beautiful Telluride
Another idea of what to do in Colorado is the hot air balloon race and festival in Telluride. It is the most colorful and fascinating day, with a backdrop of mountains that will take your breath away!
15. The peach capital
One of the real nice places to visit in Colorado is Palisade. A quaint bedroom community of Grand Junction of around 2500 residents, it is an agricultural area. It has always been famous for it’s peaches, once the “peach capital” of the entire United States. In recent years grapes, hops, lavender and other trendy crops have become very popular. Wineries have popped up all over the western slope, with many wines earning not only national but international awards and recognition. The Wine Country Inn in Palisade is the only wine-themed hotel in the state, and is a wonderful and luxurious place to stay. They can arrange for renting bicycles, having horse-drawn carriage rides, or host that perfect wedding. One of the unique things to see in Colorado are the wild horses, many of which are very near Palisade. Something for everyone!
16. The Broadmoor
Another beautiful hotel to see when you visit Colorado Springs is the Broadmoor. Colorado travel magazines almost always include this as not just a place to stay but one of the best places to see in Colorado. Built in 1918, this hotel is simply magnificent, and many famous people, from presidents to royalty, have stayed here. It has 54 holes of gold, 6 tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, sits on the edge of it’s own lake and nearby ice rink besides the myriad of shops, restaurants and much more. Even if you don’t stay here, it is well worth visiting just to see how amazing it is. Not many can compare to it.
17. Hunting and fishing
Hunting is one of the more famous things to do in Colorado. Known for the large numbers of big game as well as the size of the trophy. You will find mule deer, elk, moose and bear just to name a few. Big horn sheep are readily available to see, but are generally protected from hunting. If fishing or water sports are more up your alley, you will find many great places for that in the state as well. For this, some of the best places to visit in Colorado are Blue Mesa Reservoir, Dillon Reservoir, and Taylor Reservoir near Pikes Peak, as they are some of the larger lakes. There are literally thousands of smaller lakes and streams that provide ample opportunities to get wet! Just ask any local in the town you happen to be where their favorite spot is and you will know right where to head!
One of the most beautiful places to see in Colorado is Ouray. This quaint little town is also known as the “ Little Switzerland” of the United States. It is situated in a canyon, whose walls tower over the town. During the winter, there are world ice climbing championships held there. Ice climbing has to be one of the most challenging (and in my mind crazy!) things to do in Colorado as well as anywhere else in the world. Several places in the town will rent the necessary equipment as well as give lessons to anyone brave enough to give it a try. These same mountains are scaled by many people every year without the ice as well. There are hot springs and vapor caves here also where you can relax those tired muscles after you climb the ice, or mountains during the warmer months.
19. Glenwood Hot Springs
Glenwood Springs also has famous hot springs and vapor caves. The vapor caves are said to have healing powers to help a myriad of diseases and illnesses. There is a large swimming pool that is filled with water from the nearby hot springs. There is a great place to stay close to the pool and caves, and one of the best things to see in Colorado Hotel are the haunted rooms. Even for the skeptical there have been many unexplained encounters. When you make reservations here, be sure to ask to stay in one of these rooms, if you aren’t too faint of heart! They do have non-haunted rooms as well.
20. The great produce of Colorado and farmer’s markets
Colorado travel is more delicious if you pick up some of the world famous produce along the way. As an agricultural state, you will find fruits, vegetables and more in every corner of the state. Besides the previously mentioned Palisade peaches, there are Rocky Ford cantaloupes, Olathe sweet corn, and Dove Creek pinto beans. Most places you get these will give you samples and recipes for all of them. You can also stop at all of the wineries across the state, most of whom will let you sample some of their wines. Many of the small towns have festivals that are dedicated to the fruit or whatever specialty product they are known for. For instance, Palisade has a Peach Festival and a Wine Festival. Paonia has Cherry Festival, Glenwood Springs has their Strawberry Days, Lamar has the High Plains Snow Goose Festival, and many more that are so much fun to take part in. So as you travel Colorado back roads, be sure to ask the locals about their events.
21. The ProRodeo Hall of Fame
The ProRodeo Hall of Fame is one of the great places to see in Colorado Springs. It is the only museum in the world for all of the rodeo memorabilia, animals, and people. It showcases all of the historic as well as modern cowboy gear and clothing, the men, women and animals that have made the sport what it is. The Dinosaur Museum in Fruita and the Big Timbers Museum in Lamar are also wonderful places to visit in Colorado. This one has the bullet casing from a famous bank robbery, which is the first item the FBI used to get fingerprints from and led to a conviction.
22. Unique dining establishments
For unique dining experiences, the best places to visit in Colorado could be Bruce’s Bar in Severance, True Grit in Ridgeway, and the Winchester Bar in Rifle. Bruce’s Bar is famous for their all-you-can-eat Rocky Mountain Oysters! If you don’t know what those are, be sure to eat them before you ask! Simply delicious! The True Grit restaurant is based on John Wayne memorabilia, owned by the Dennis Weaver family, who is also famous for his movies. Wonderful food and terrific ambiance in a beautiful town. The Winchester Bar is not only well known for it’s good food, but also the fact that the employees are packing iron! Each one carries a holstered pistol, and patrons are encouraged to as well.
23. Redstone Castle
Another famous Colorado tourist attraction is the Redstone Castle in Redstone. Also known as the Cleveholm Manor, it was originally built in 1897 for the coal and steel magnate John Cleveland Osgood. It is an amazing example of architecture. Inside there are different styles to several of the main rooms. Antique wood paneling lines many of the walls with different types of wood. The dining room is of a Russian design while the library is of Persian persuasion. After dinner the ladies would retire to the music room which has a decidedly French influence. The Crystal River runs at the base of the sloping lawn and mountains tower behind the castle. You will love touring through this jewel.
24. The sheep dog trials
For another idea of what to do in Colorado are the sheep dog trials in Meeker. In this competition, dogs and their handlers come from all over the world to test their ability to herd sheep. Sheep are turned loose far away from the dog and handler, and the handler has to send the dog out to bring the sheep back and put them into a small pen using only whistle, voice and hand commands. It is truly one of the most amazing things to see in Colorado or any where else in the world. The athletic ability and intelligence of these dogs is unbelievable.
25. Rifle Gap
For more things to do in Colorado, be sure to visit Rifle Gap, Rifle Falls, and the nearby fish hatchery. Rifle Gap is a 350 acre reservoir where you can enjoy a day or more of boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing and windsurfing. Plenty of camping spots make it easy to spend several days here. Up the road just a little ways is Rifle Falls State Park, which is beautiful oasis. With a unique triple waterfall that drops into a pool with an almost tropical look, you will be amazed. There are trails that lead behind the falls and to the top of the falls, with several caves along the way. Once on top, you can continue to follow the trail up Rifle Creek to the fish hatchery. Such an enjoyable way to spend the day!
For more information on these or any other place or event you may be interested in, visit the visitors bureau for the town or area, or pick up one of the many Colorado travel magazines that are available.