33 fun things to do in Colorado (by a local!)

 

By Laura Falin

If you’re planning a trip to the Centennial State, you may feel overwhelmed deciding what to do in Colorado. There’s a lot to choose from!

And while most people tend to think of skiing, and maybe hanging around Denver (both very worthwhile activities I love to do myself), there actually are so many more unique and fun things to do in Colorado than you already know. 

In fact, a few of our activities (sandboarding, for example) may surprise you – we have a lot of sand here for not having an ocean!

Whether you want to spend time at some of Colorado’s excellent museums, cool off at the nation’s biggest water park, or explore all the stuff to do in Colorado’s mountains (it’s a lot!), I’ve got you covered with my list of the 33 best things to do in this state I’m proud to call home.

 

Take a Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colorado, and RMNP is the perfect place to hike … even if you’re not really into hiking! 

If you want an easier activity, or if the altitude is getting to you, you’ll find short, flat trails like the Coyote Valley Trail on the east side of the park. It’s paved and great for kids. Sprague Lake Trail is another easy walk. But RMNP offers hiking trails at every difficulty level after that, including one that summits Longs Peak if you want to bag one of the best 14ers in Colorado (that means “climb a mountain over 14,000 feet tall” in Colorado lingo.)

Be sure to drive Trail Ridge Road which soars to above 12,000 feet. You’ll get spectacular views and you may spot elk, marmots, and other Colorado wildlife! 

See a Show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Red Rocks is a gorgeous, not-to-big outdoor space that’s in a spot so gorgeous many bands have said it’s their favorite place to perform. If you’re here in the off-season and can catch the musical performances, you can still see the amphitheater for free. You’ll find great hiking trails, plus a museum where you can learn more about the park’s history.

Vail

Many people think of skiing when they think of things to do in Colorado, and Vail offers plenty of world-class slopes to do that! Vail Resort has everything a skier or snowboarder could want, including awesome runs, lifts, and gondolas, and great spots to eat and shop nearby.

Vail isn’t only fun in the winter, though! In summer, you can mountain bike or hike those same slopes, or visit the Betty Ford Alpine Garden to relax and enjoy the mountain flowers.

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Raft the Arkansas River

Along with skiing, many people think of rafting when they head to Colorado! This half-day tour takes you on the rapids of the Arkansas River, starting at its source and heading to the bottom of the Royal Gorge for breathtaking views of the canyon from the bottom instead of the top. This is a great rafting trip for beginners, and you’ll get a view of Colorado that most people don’t!

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is a free park in Colorado Springs that has easy walking trails taking you past red rock formations around the park. See if you can find the Sleeping Giant or the Kissing Camels (and if you can figure out why they’re named that!). If you want to do even more during your visit, book a private rock climbing lesson – it’s the only way you’re allowed on the rocks at the park!

Adventure in Aspen

Of all the things to do in Colorado, sightseeing around Aspen will leave you with scenery and memories you’ll keep for the rest of your life! While in Aspen, be sure to visit the Maroon Bells Scenic Area just a short drive to see great views of these peaks. There are a variety of hiking trails there for all levels so you can tailor your activity to suit your group. 

If you’re visiting Aspen in winter, you’ll find excellent skiing and snowboarding, and if you come in summer, you can hike, mountain bike, fish, and do all sorts of outdoor activities. Regardless of when you come, you’ll find award-winning restaurants and boutique shops of all kinds.

Travel by Train in Durango

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge train is an only-in-Colorado experience! The popular Colorado train has been in continuous operation since 1882. It will take you on a 3 ½ hour trip to the mining town of Silverton where you can eat, shop, and explore the many fun things to do in Silverton for a few hours before the trip back.

The ride itself follows the Animas River, and you’ll venture over Horseshoe Curve and the High Bridge…which could cause some nail-biting but will also give you amazing pictures!

Telluride

Telluride of course has skiing and snowboarding in winter, but there are more unusual sports also, like fat tire snow biking, nordic skiing, sledding, and ice climbing. If you visit in summer, you can go hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, and more in summer. 

While you’re there, check out the village mountain gondola, which offers free rides over Coonskin Ridge (in season) with views of the San Juan Mountains. It’s one of the truly unique things to do in Colorado! 

Breckenridge

Breckenridge is a great ski town, where you can stay right next to the slopes, and you’ll find skiing for every level (including great private lesson options!). If you’re not a skier, there’s also dog sledding, cross-country skiing, sledding, and snow sculptures to admire. 

In summer, you can hike, mountain bike, fish, or visit one of the craft breweries or distilleries that make delicious Breckenridge libations! Breckenridge is home to tons of the best things to do in Colorado. Check out our post on what to do in Breckenridge to get planning.

Ski in Steamboat Springs 

You’ll find lots of fun activities in Steamboat Springs year-round! In winter, you can ski and snowboard, go ice fishing, or try dog sledding. In summer, there’s plenty of hiking and mountain biking, as well as paddle boarding and fishing at Steamboat Lake. 

For an only-in-Colorado adventure, try Steamboat Springs’ Brew Trail which takes you through downtown Steamboat Springs while you try local beer and distillery samples. 

Museums & Culture

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is among the coolest things to do in Denver for kids. You can learn more about everything from dinosaurs to mummies to the human body here. 

One of the most unique exhibits here, though, is the Gems & Minerals area where you can see aquamarines found in the mountains, along with Tom’s Baby – a 13 ½ pound gold piece found near Breckenridge.

Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center

Regardless of how cold it is outside, you can surround yourself with butterflies at the Butterfly Pavilion! There’s actually a lot more here, however. You can also hold Rosie the Tarantula and see many bugs in the Crawl-A-See-Em and see underwater invertebrates in the tanks at Water’s Edge. 

But the main attraction, of course, is the 7.200 square foot tropical rainforest. There are daily butterfly releases, and you may end up with a winged hitchhiker while you wander the area. They’re everywhere!

Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum has pieces from all over the world, including paintings by Monet, van Gogh, Cézanne, and more. However, what makes it one of the coolest attractions in Colorado is the collection of art by and about Colorado. The Western art featuring cowboys and scenes of the vast, Wild West, is an interesting, uniquely Colorado display. It’s definitely one of the best museums in Denver!

Denver Performing Arts Complex

Denver has a vibrant performing arts community, and there are several theatres in the Denver Performing Arts Complex where you can see the orchestra, ballet, opera, musical theatre, and play performances. 

The complex itself, with its vaulted skylight overhead, is fun to walk through, and there are several restaurants within walking distance if you want to grab a bite beforehand or a late snack after. 

State & National Parks

Mesa Verde National Park

Although Rocky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is probably the most unique one and definitely deserves a visit. The ancient cliff dwellings here are some of the best-preserved in North America, and it’s humbling to see the ingenious ways the Ancient Puebloans built their homes to stay warm in winter, cool in summer, preserve their food, and generally live comfortably together.

Although Cliff Palace will be closed through the summer of 2021 due to road construction, if you visit after that, it’s definitely worth seeing. You’ll need to book a ranger-guided tour to view Cliff Palace, and the impressive building contains 150 rooms where about 100 people lived together.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has some of the oldest rock in North America, and the canyon carved by two million years’ worth of the Gunnison River relentlessly hitting away at it is a sight to see. You can hike along the canyon rim, or hike the inner canyon to see the cliffs from a completely different angle. 

Go Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park

When you think of Colorado, you probably don’t think of sand, but Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the largest sand dunes in North America. One of the more unique activities at the park is sandboarding or sand sledding down the dunes. It’s definitely a unique thing to do in Colorado, in case you thought Colorado only offered skiing and snowboarding! 

You can also cool off in Medano Creek during certain seasons (it does dry up in summer). Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly unique landscape and is high on my list of the most interesting places to visit in Colorado.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument has lots of dinosaur fossils that you can still see embedded in rocks in the area, but there’s even more to see at the monument. You can see petroglyphs, and you can learn about the outlaws and other characters that hid out in the area. 

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument is a stunning western landscape, with dramatic rock formations jutting up into the sky. The scene makes for some stunning red sunsets. The monument is in Fruita, right next to Grand Junction on the western slope of the Rockies. You can drive Rim Rock Drive to take in the views and watch for bighorn sheep and eagles in the area. 

Staunton State Park

Staunton State Park is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Denver, but it feels like a whole other world. Hiking trails take you by streams and through meadows through the foothills. You can also go fishing in several of the ponds at the park. Staunton also has a really cool track chair program, so people who use wheelchairs can get out on the trails, too! 

Cherry Creek State Park

Cherry Creek State Park is just a short drive from downtown Denver, but it has tons of outdoor activities for visitors! You can swim, boat, horseback ride, and hike in warm weather months. In winter, you can snowshoe and go sledding. The shooting range is open year-round, depending on the day’s weather conditions. You can also go birdwatching and search for Colorado wildlife (yes, even in the city!) at all times of the year.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

Eldorado Canyon State Park is a fun Colorado attraction near Boulder that takes you through an amazing Colorado canyon. The sandstone rock varies in color, and there’s a creek at the bottom. This is a big draw for rock climbers, but it’s also a great place for families to hike, and for people to mountain bike, fish, or just watch the birds and other wildlife.

Sites & Attractions

Ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is one of the most fun tourist attractions, and a great way to make it to the summit of Pikes Peak. The railway just reopened after being closed for four years for a $100 million overhaul. It’s one of the only cog railways in the country, and you can take it to the summit where you can visit the newly-redone Pikes Peak Visitor Center. It’s truly one of the most unique things to do in Colorado!

Take a Colorado Springs Sunrise Balloon Tour

A hot air balloon ride is a truly unusual way to see Colorado, and it’s one of the best things to do in Colorado Springs! You’ll get gorgeous sunrise views of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods on this hot air balloon tour in Colorado Springs. 

You’ll also be involved in every aspect of the tour – the guides have you help inflate the balloon to start, before your flight through the air. Afterward, when you’re back on solid ground, you can end your amazing morning with a glass of sparkling wine and some breakfast. 

Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions and it showcases a unique Colorado phenomenon. The lake is a clear bluish-green, thanks to travertine and minerals that dissolve in the water. To keep the lake’s gorgeous color, hikers are not allowed to swim or put anything in the lake. The hike to get to the lake is short but steep – plan to take your time getting up there!

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and Million Dollar Highway

The San Juan Skyway is a drive through some of the most gorgeous scenery in southwestern Colorado. You’ll begin in Durango, and drive through Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and more beautiful areas in the mountains. You can do the drive in one day, or take a more leisurely pace and stay in some of these mountain towns along the way. 

Denver Botanic Gardens

It’s true, Colorado doesn’t have many flowers and trees (other than evergreens!) in winter, but there’s still lots to see at the botanic gardens. The tropical conservatory is an indoor greenhouse that grows orchids and many tropical plants. In fact, it’s a great escape from the cold weather outdoors! The rest of the year, you can see beautiful blooms throughout the gardens, along with a glass Dale Chihuly sculpture and other artwork. 

If you’re visiting around Christmas, Blossoms of Light runs from mid-November until January, and the gardens are filled with Christmas light displays and shows set to music.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Drive on the highest paved road in Colorado…and, in fact, in North America when you drive to the summit of Mt. Evans. The entire scenic byway drive takes about two hours and climbs more than 7,000 feet. You’ll see all of the Front Range (that’s Denver and the area around it) spread out before you from the top, and you might also see Colorado wildlife like pikas, marmots, and bighorn sheep.

Go Tubing on Clear Creek

Clear Creek in Golden is a popular place both for a leisurely float down the creek, and for some serious kayaking. If you want to keep things light, you can rent an innertube in Golden, hop in the water, and float a short way down before getting out to do it again. Kayakers have their own area to do some more strenuous paddling. 

Be sure to spend some time in Golden as well, looking at the shops and stopping for a bite to eat. It’s a quaint area just twenty minutes from Denver – perfect for a side trip!

Relax in Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs has three hot springs areas, but the best-known is the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. You can stay in rooms at the resort, but you can also pay a day fee to use the pool and you can purchase spa services without being an overnight guest. 

There’s also a splash zone for kids that’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The pool is open year-round, however, and there’s nothing like the feeling of hopping into the hot springs while the snow is falling all around you and on the beautiful mountains of Colorado! 

Unwind in Pagosa Springs

Pagosa Springs is about an hour from Durango, and is a worthy Colorado destination all on its own! The Pagosa Hot Springs Resort designed its pools to overlook the San Juan River, and the resort has the most geothermal hot-spring-fed pools in Colorado. You can get either a day pass or spend the night at the resort. Either way, you’ll be soaking in pools that range from 83-114°F so you can pick the temperature you’re comfortable with. 

While you’re in Pagosa Springs, there’s also plenty of hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and Treasure Falls just outside of town is a beautiful place to stop.

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Cold outside, warm in the water!

 

Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort is near Buena Vista and has a soaking pool and bathhouse along with creekside hot spring pools that feel more natural. There are also some upper pools, and a waterslide, and everywhere you look there are views of the Rocky Mountains (in fact, Mt. Princeton is the name of a nearby Colorado 14er).

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Strawberry Park Hot Springs is in the town of Steamboat Springs, which means you have those gorgeous Colorado mountain views while you soak in their hot springs. When the hot springs pools were built, you can tell the owners tried to keep them as natural-looking as possible to blend in with the surrounding area. You can get a day-use pass or stay overnight at the resort. 

Now you know what to do in Colorado! 

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