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Denver, Colorado skyline with mountains in the background
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The Best Things to Do in Colorado

SmarterTravel

Colorado is the perfect antithesis to a city vacation, offering more national parks, hiking trails, ski mountains, and other outdoor activities than you can shake a ski pole at. Even its major cities are surrounded by peaks, geothermal hot springs, and astounding canyons, nicely balancing out the skyscrapers, sports arenas, and museums. If you’re wondering what to do for outdoor fun in the Centennial State, look no further than this list of the best things to do in Colorado.

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The Best Things to Do in Colorado

Click an activity or destination below to learn more.

1. Visit a Hot Spring 14. Mesa Verde National Park
2. Ski Any of the Mountains  15. Explore the Ghost Towns
3. Explore Denver 16. Explore Grand Lake
4. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park 17. Go Whitewater Rafting 
5. See a Show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre 18. Attend the The Colorado State Fair
6. Hike at Hanging Lake 19. Visit Telluride
7. Visit Boulder 20. Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
8. Ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway 21. Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway
9. Visit the Garden of the Gods Park 22. Visit Vail
10. Walk Royal Gorge Bridge 23. Check Out Dinosaur National Monument
11. Do a Wine Tour  24. Attend Denver Arts Week
12. Surf at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve  25. Explore Cherry Creek State Park 
13. Go Horseback Riding 26. Attend the Meeker Range Call Celebration 

1. Visit A Hot Spring

Glenwood Hot Springs in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Jerzy | Adobe Stock

There’s no shortage of hot springs in Colorado, and unwinding at any of the pools is one of the most relaxing things to do after a long hike or day of skiing. Whether you’re looking for a hot spring at a luxurious resort or a clothing-optional spring, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Colorado. There are more than 30 different hot spring complexes in Colorado, so it’s easy to find a hot spring that meets your preferences. Our favorites include:

  • Dunton Springs  – Head to the 1800s ghost town of Dunton for a unique hot springs and glamping experience.
  • Glenwood Springs – Visit Glenwood Springs Resort, which is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool.
  • Pagosa Springs – Visit Mother Spring Aquifer, 
  • Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort – Enjoy the 100% natural and odorless hot springs at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort. 
  • Valley View Hot Springs – Clothing-optional and off-the-beaten path Valley View Hot Springs in the San Luis Valley. 
  • Strawberry Park Hot Springs – Surround yourself with nature at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, in Steamboat Springs. 

2. Ski Any of the Mountains

People riding the ski lift in Alpine Springs in Colorado
David A Litman | Adobe Stock

Skiing might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of what to do in Colorado in the winter, and that’s because it’s one of the best things to do in the state. Colorado is home to 25 different areas and resorts, including some of the most famous mountain towns in the West, like Vail, Breckenridge, Wolf Creek, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Aspen, Copper, Steamboat, Snowmass, and Telluride. The options are virtually endless.

To help narrow down your options, first think about what kind of skiing you want to do: family-friendly, back bowls, heavy powder, downhill, cross-country, or mogul. Second, think about what you want in a ski village: high-end restaurants, spas, shopping, non-skiing activities, or accessibility from the airport? You’ll likely need to rent a car, or look into mountain shuttle options. Read this guide to Colorado’s ski areas for a helpful breakdown of what each of the 25 mountains has to offer.

3. Explore Denver

Denver, Colorado skyline
SUDIO 1ONE | Adobe Stock

Denver is Colorado’s domestic and international hub: Its airport is connected to 180 domestic and international destinations via non-stop routes. Exploring Denver is also one of the top things to do in Colorado, so it’s worth spending a day or two of your vacation in the Mile High city.

Denver is all about craft beer, sports, local restaurants (don’t miss Restaurant Row in Uptown), and museums, so there’s something for almost everyone. Catch baseball, hockey, football, or basketball games depending on the season you’re visiting. And, if you’re traveling with kids, the Denver Zoo, Elitch Gardens Theme Park, Downtown Aquarium, and Children’s Museum of Denver are some of the best things to do in Colorado with the family.

Purchase the Mile High Culture Pass for free and discounted multi day entry to Denver’s most popular attractions.

4. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Three people hiking a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Margaret | Adobe Stock

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular things to do in Colorado. It’s among the top five most visited national parks in the U.S. every year, so it’s important to know what to do there before your visit. The advance prep will be well worth it when you’re exploring Rocky Mountain National Park’s 300-plus miles of hiking trails, the crystal clear lakes, and the famous Trail Ridge Road. Elk, bighorn sheep, moose, otters, and mule deer are just some of the incredible wildlife you’ll see here.

One of the best things to do in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is stay at the wilderness camp. Make sure to reserve a campsite up to six months before your visit, or you’ll be left to the luck of the draw at the two first-come, first-served campgrounds.

The National Park Service lists the summer and fall months as the busiest, especially on weekends, so plan to visit outside of those windows if you want a less crowded experience.

5. See a Show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado
STORM INSIDE PHOTO | Adobe Stock

If you’re looking for arts and culture, look no further than the Red Rocks Amphitheater about 10 miles west of Denver. The open-air amphitheater is carved from a giant rock structure and hosts a variety of concerts and events. Red Rocks even has its own restaurant. Past performers include Jimmy Buffett, Bastille, Florence + The Machine, and Neil Young. Seeing a show at Red Rocks is one of the best things to do in Colorado.

If you aren’t in town for a show, you can do a stadium run in the amphitheater, participate in Yoga on the Rocks, or hike and bike the two trails in Red Rocks Park. Just be aware that Red Rocks Park is 6,280 feet above sea level, so if you have any health conditions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before doing any strenuous exercise at high elevations.

6. Hike to Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake, Colorado
nixme | Adobe Stock

Even though you can’t swim (or even dip a body part) in the water, the hike to Hanging Lake is one of the most popular things to do in Colorado. It’s located about 10 miles from Glenwood Springs in the Glenwood Canyon, and pictures don’t do the turquoise-colored waters justice. The climb to the lake and cascading waterfall isn’t particularly easy—it’s a steep, uphill one-mile hike—but the views are definitely worth it.

While swimming, fishing, and pets aren’t allowed due to the harmful effects of unnatural elements to the ecosystem, nearby you can go to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, natural vapor caves, or raft and kayak in the Colorado River that runs through the canyon.

7. Explore Boulder

Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado
Denver Edge | Adobe Stock

Home to the popular University of Colorado-Boulder, this city has a small-town college feel, coupled with great outdoor activities. Pearl Street Mall is ideal for shopping, eating, and drinking, while the Flatirons and Flagstaff Mountain offer hiking and climbing. Whether you’re just passing through to Rocky Mountain National Park or spending a night at the historic Hotel Boulderado, sightseeing in Boulder is one of the best things to do in Colorado.

Flatirons

Whether you hike, go rock climbing or just enjoy a picnic in their presence, the flatirons are a must-see while in Boulder. These “striking, slanted, reddish-brown sandstone formations” can be found on Boulder’s west side.  

8. Ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Pikes Peak Cog Railway
tiva48 | Adobe Stock

One of the very best things to do in Colorado is ride along the highest cog railway in the world to the summit of Pikes Peak. Near Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is the highest point in the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. At the top you’ll enjoy the same panoramic views that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful.” Sometimes up to five states are visible. Reservations are recommended at least a few days in advance; the trips run every 80 minutes, year-round.

If you’d like to ascend the summit at your own pace, drive the 19-mile highway to the summit on your own. It is breathtaking (literally—the elevation will take your breath away), and you can stop at three different lakes that offer fishing, picnic areas, and easily accessible hiking trails.

9. Visit Garden of the Gods Park

Walking path through Garden of the Gods State Park
Nick | Adobe Stock

The Garden of the Gods, a registered National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs full of spectacular red rocks, makes Pikes Peak its dramatic backdrop. A visit to the Garden of the Gods is one of the most popular things to do in Colorado. It’s also near the top of the list of what to do in Colorado for free: entrance to the park and visitor center comes without a charge.

Activities at the Garden of the Gods include rock climbing, hiking or biking along the 15 miles of trails, or taking a Jeep, Segway, or trolley tour throughout the park.

The Visitor and Nature Center and museum is a great activity to do with kids, as it offers interactive exhibits, a Geo-Trekker history movie, nature talks, junior ranger program, and guided tours. The park and visitor center are open year-round.

10. Walk Across the Royal Gorge Bridge

Royal George Suspension Bridge, Colorado
eunikas | Adobe Stock

The Royal Gorge Bridge Park, about two hours from Denver, is one of the top things to do in Colorado for jaw-dropping views that are sure to test your tolerance for heights. The Royal Gorge Bridge is one of the highest suspension bridges in the world and what to do in Colorado if you’re an adrenaline junkie. The bridge is more than 1,000 feet long and stands 956 feet above the Arkansas River in Canon City.

Don’t forget to explore the rest of the Royal Gorge Bridge Park, too. There’s an aerial gondola, zip line, and free falling sky coaster if the adrenaline-inducing bridge isn’t enough for you. If you’re truly scared of heights, try the photo lookout area, visitor center, plaza theater, and water clock for some more stable fun.

11. Do a Wine Tour

Red wine glass on a porch railing with trees out of focus in the background
Andriy Blokhin | Adobe Stock

You may not realize that Colorado is home to over 150 wineries, with two AVAs (American Viticultural Area): Grand Valley AVA and West Elks AVA. The state has nine wine regions, so you have plenty of choices when planning your wine tour, no matter where you are in the state. Can’t decide which wineries to visit? Here are the top wineries from each region: 

Northern Front Range

Snowy Peaks Winery—Located not far from Rocky Mountain National park, you can sip wine while enjoying locally made artisan cheeses, while live music plays in the background.  

Grand Valley AVA 

Maison la Belle Vie—Using the age-old practice of “dry-farming,” Maison la Belle Vie makes a variety of wines from Merlot to Muscat, as well as small batch reserves. Enjoy their famous Charcuterie board while sipping a flight of wine on their patio. 

Four Corners

Fox Fire Farms Winery—Fox Fire Farms not only is host to many wine-related events, it is also home to the largest livestock farms in southwest Colorado, offering a truly unique experience.

Central Front Range3.    

Purgatory Cellars—Croatian born owner combines old world and mediterranean style winemaking for a truly unique wine drinking experience. 

Pikes Peak Area and South

Mountain Spirit Winery—This family owned and operated winery sits on five acres of farmland, with apple orchards, an old house, and stunning views of the mountains.  

West Elks AVA 

Azura Cellars and Winery—offering stunning views of the nearby mountains, you can enjoy browsing art at the gallery while sipping your glass of wine. 

Delta and Montrose 

Stoney Mesa Winery—taste a variety of wines while nibbling on a charcuterie board at this dog friendly winery.  

Rocky Mountains

Winter Park Winery—enjoy a glass of wine while listening to live music with the Rockies as your backdrop. 

Plains

Mummy Hill Winery—a micro winery in Northern Yuma County. 

12. Sand Sled or Board at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Person holding a sandboard in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Simon | Adobe Stock

While snowboarding and skiing on snow tends to be where the attention is in Colorado, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to sled or sandboard on sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Formed by the “right combinations of wind, water and sediment,” the awe-inspiring sand dunes can’t be missed. 

Not only will you have to play in the sand, but check out over 200 ponderosa trees, which is the only grove of trees now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Great Sand Dunes National Park is not to be missed. 

Alpine Slides

When the snow melts and skiing or sledding is no longer an option, try one of the many alpine slides found throughout the state. Alpine Slides include: 

Winter Park Alpine Slide 

Enjoy a ride down this alpine slide at whatever pace you want, fast for the thrill seekers or a leisurely slower pace to enjoy the scenery. 

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park  

The Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure park has been named one of the 10 Best Roller Coaster rides of Your Life by USA Today and Park World Magazine. While you are there, be sure to check out the new roller coaster opening in 2022, Defiance, which features a 110-foot, 102.3-degree free-fall drop. 

Breckenridge Epic Discovery  

The Goldgunner Alpine Coaster will have you twisting and turning as you speed down 2,500 feet through and around the forest, with stunning views along the way. 

Steamboat Springs  

Steamboat Springs is home to two alpine slides: The Howler Alpine Hill on Howelsen Hill, and the Outlaw Mountain Coaster at Steamboat Ski Resort, which, at 6,280 linear feet, is the longest alpine track in North America.

Purgatory Resort 

Like most alpine slides, you can choose to whiz down at a faster pace for a thrill, or take a more leisurely descent when you pick a lower speed. Go down solo or with a friend. 

Copper Mountain  

The Rocky Mountain Coater is one of the longest alpine coasters, at 5,800 winding through the forest with the Ten Mile Range as its backdrop. 

13. Horseback Riding 

Three people horseback riding in Garden of the Gods, Colorado
Jacob | Adobe Stock

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that horseback riding is abundant in Colorado. You can explore the Rocky Mountain National Park on horseback, get spectacular photographs of Maroon Bells while riding on a horse, or find adventure in Colorado’s largest wilderness area, Weminuche Wilderness while the horse does all the hard work. For an all-in horseback adventure, check out one of Colorado’s many dude ranches, like Latigo Ranch, Cherokee Park Ranch, or Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

14. Mesa Verde National Park

Anasazi Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
W. Ross | Adobe Stock

While Rocky Mountain National park seems to get all of the attention, Mesa Verde National Park is not to be missed. An International Dark Sky Park, you will get breathtaking views of the night sky. Enjoy a Cliff Dwelling tour, and see how people lived a thousand years ago. 

15. Explore the Ghost Towns

Saint Elmo mining town in Colorado
Nina | Adobe Stock

During the gold rush in the late 1800’s, small towns popped up all over Colorado, and were abandoned just as fast. Many still exist today, either with some original buildings or replicas set up as things were over a hundred years ago. Here are a few ghost towns you can visit: 

Carson  

Located in easter Colorado, and accessible only by hiking, Carson is one of the most well preserved ghost towns, built in 1889 when miners were attracted to the area. 

Saint Elmo

Located less than three hours south west of Denver, St. Elmo is also a wonderfully preserved ghost town in Colorado. At its peak, it had a population of 2000, and the train ran to the town. The last train left in 1922, but one family remained until 1958. 

Animas Forks

Located less than an hour from Silverton, Animas Forks is only accessible by dirt road, during summer months by two-wheel drive vehicles.  There is unrestricted access to all buildings, but caution should be taken, as some buildings are fragile. 

Independence 

On the National Register of Historic places, Independence is just 16 miles east of Aspen. Take a guided tour June through October, and learn about the history of this ghost town, that was abandoned at the turn of the 20th century. 

16. Visit Grand Lake

Aerial view of Grand Lake, Colorado
Wirestock | Adobe Stock

Grand Lake, located just three miles away from the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, offers loads of fun activities for people of all ages, no matter what time of year you visit. Swim, boat, sunbathe in the summer, or ice skate, snowshoe in the winter. 

17. Go Whitewater Rafting 

Royal Gorge Whitewater Rafting
Chee | Adobe Stock

For thrill seekers whitewater rafting while in Colorado is a must! Colorado’s many rivers provide rafting for people with any skill set, from beginners looking for a more leisurely float, to advanced rafters looking for less calm waters. There are an abundance of spots to go rafting, including:

Colorado River

Packed with scenic, calmer areas as well as rougher, exciting areas, the Colorado River offers loads of opportunities for rafting no matter what your skill set is. 

Animas River 

Considered one of the most difficult commercial rivers in the US, Animas is sure to thrill advanced rafters. 

Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre is Colorado’s only federally designated National Wild and Scenic River,  (a “collection of rivers that have been designated to protect their free-flowing condition, water quality, and outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Roaring Fork River

With a section dubbed “slaughterhouse” because of its exciting twists and turns, Roaring Fork does have calmer waters in the lower portion. 

Rio Grande River 

A great river for families wanting to raft, take a full or half day trip out of Creede.

Uncompahgre River

Uncompahgre River is perfect for beginner rafters, with a typical departing spot in Ridgway.

18. The Colorado State Fairgrounds

Since 1872, the Colorado State Fair has been wowing audiences of all ages. From a rodeo, to various wine and beer competitions, and fun rides for kids and adults, there is something for everyone. While the fair itself only runs for a week once a year, you will find plenty of other events at the venue throughout the year. 

19. Telluride

Street in Telluride, Colorado
Jim Glab | Adobe Stock

If you’re looking for charming, look no further than Telluride. Check out the scenery on the free Gondola ride, or visit during one of the many festivals the city is host to, like the Telluride Bluegrass festival, Mountainfilm, or the Balloon Festival. Quaint shops line the street, and, of course, don’t forget the skiing! 

20. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad passing by a river
spiritofamerica | Adobe Stock

Since 1882, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has connected the two cities, and you will feel like you are going back in time while riding the vintage 1925 train along the route. Choose a roundtrip excursion with a 2 hour stop in Silverton, go halfway to Cascade Canyon, and even travel in the winter with stunning snow-capped views of the mountains. Every train has a concession car, open gondola seating, and presidential, first, deluxe or standard classes of seating. 

21. Estes Park Aerial Tramway

Opening to the public in 1955, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway gives stunning views from atop Prospect Mountain. Open seasonally from the end of May through the beginning of September, the 3.5 minute ride takes you to the summit of the mountain, where you can get off, enjoy a birds eye view of Estes Park, and have a snack from the cafe, before heading back down. 

22. Explore Vail

Aerial view of Vail, Colorado and the surrounding mountains
Kevin Ruck | Adobe Stock

Vail isn’t just for skiing. The town offers something for everyone, whether you spend time at Vail Ski Resort, or meander through the charming village, you will easily fall in love. Vail Ski Resort is not just for skiing, as there are plenty of outdoor activities in the summer, too, like hiking or biking. The village is filled with cute shops like Fuzzywigs Candy Shop, Perch, and Plata Jewelers, or grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants. 

23. Dinosaur National Monument

Green River in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah and Colorado
traveller70 | Adobe Stock

Located in both Utah and Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument has a lot to offer, from viewing dinosaur fossils in the Dinosaur Quarry, viewing petroglyphs, camping, hiking, and horseback riding. Camp at one of the six campground sites, and view the beautiful night sky from your tent on the land where the dinosaurs roamed. 

24. Denver Arts Week

Every fall, you can celebrate the arts in Denver during Denver Arts Week. Check out some independent films at the film festival, or vibrant street murals that line the neighborhoods. There are plenty of performance arts options to choose from as well. It’s one of the most fun weeks to be in Denver!

25. Cherry Creek State Park 

Cherry Creek State Park at twilight
Jerome | Adobe Stock

With so many amazing national parks in the state, you don’t want to forget about the state parks! Cherry Creek State Park is a great place to start. The entire family will have a blast when you camp at this state park. While there are traditional activities like boating, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding, you can also check out the model airplane field. Suhaka Field, operated by the Denver R/C Eagles Flying Club allows both electric and gas/glow aircraft, so bring your plane, or just head over to watch the model airplanes whiz through the sky! 

26. Attend the Meeker Range Call Celebration 

The Meeker Range Call Celebration has everything you might expect at a rodeo: a parade, a rodeo, a barn dance- but it’s the bank robbery reenactment that makes this event stand out. In 1896, town residents quickly reacted after a bank robbery, and you can watch it all unfold in downtown Meeker.

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