The Rocky Mountains Coloraod becomes an outdoor lover’s playground. After spending 12 years here, I’ve come up with a complete list of the best places to visit in Colorado.
When it comes to the best places to go in Colorado, I’ve got you covered. I’ve lived here for over 12 years and spent much of that time uncovering the most beautiful places in Colorado. In fact, I’m traveling nearly every week to bring you the places to visit in Colorado that will knock your socks off.
This summer, travel through Colorado like a local, not a tourist. With this insider’s guide to must-see places in Colorado, you’ll have an endless selection of amazing getaways to choose from.
The Local’s Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Get real, local travel advice. Not from a tourist board and not from just another blogger passing through. Fox in the Forest is the only spot to find local Colorado travel advice.
This Colorado bucket list is designed to bring you the most scenic spots with the best adventures. In this guide you’ll find:
- Information about where to camp in Colorado
- An in-depth look at the best Colorado mountain towns
- The best towns for hiking in Colorado
- A look at a few quick tips for travel to Colorado
Where Should I Go in Colorado this Summer?
I often get asked by newbie locals and visitors alike about where should you go in Colorado this summer?
The answer largely depends on what you’d like to do. Are you interested in getting deep into nature? Then Vail, Ouray, Silverton, and the Sangre de Cristo Range are for you.
More interested in mountain vibe life? Then scope out Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride, and Georgetown. More urban adventures can be had in Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins are excellent.
History your thing? Then you’ve got to scope out the mining ruins of Breckenridge, the ancient cultures of Mesa Verde, and Dinosaur National Monument.
If your mission is to beat the crowds, then you must follow the golden rule. Get up and at it EARLY. My biggest piece of local travel advice is to see at least one sunrise in the mountains. It’s a sure way to get solitude at some of the hottest places to visit in Colorado this summer.
Where Should I Go in Colorado in Winter?
If you’re an avid skier, then you’ll certainly want to visit epic ski towns such as Crested Butte, Telluride, Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen. Skiing here is world-class! Just avoid the weekends if you want to have fewer crowds.
Skiing isn’t your thing? Don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do in Colorado in winter if you don’t ski. Fruita and Grand Junction are great towns that don’t have too much snow in the winter. While Ouray features a fun-filled ice park, scenic driving, and epic hot springs. Buena Vista is another great choice for winter if you want to go for a snow-filled hike and then take a soak in the nearby Princeton Hot Springs.
Got a mix of skiers and non-skiers in your group? Then you should check out winter activity hot spots like Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.
The Must-See Places to Visit in Colorado
This list of amazing places to visit in Colorado in the summer gives you plenty of unforgettable adventures no matter what your activity level is. You’ll get local advice on the best activities at each spot, as well as any notable landmarks worth checking out.
1. Enjoy Denver’s Social Scene
Denver comes alive in the summer with an array of entertainment from attending concerts to brewery hopping. Denver is all about celebrating small businesses. You’ll find local shops, eateries, and a fun-filled urban environment.
The best part? The mountains are really close. You can easily head out on a day hike near Denver, then head to a hopping outdoor brewery in the afternoon.
Be sure to check out Denver’s music scene. From live concerts at the Botanical Gardens to amazing nights at Red Rock Amphitheater, there’s a show for virtually any taste.
With so many things to do in Denver, you’ll be busy all summer long. Enjoy Denver’s amazing outdoor eateries or head to a Rockies game. There are lots of ways to spend a weekend in Denver during the summer.
2. Explore Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the best national parks in the USA, Rocky Mountain National Park has an array of things to do from world-class hiking to wildlife viewing. Get to the park early (like before the sun) for your best chance at spotting wildlife such as moose, elk, ram, bear, and more.
Be sure to check out one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best hiking trails to get those classic mountain views. The Emerald Lake hike is a popular choice for beginner hikers, while those that want a challenge should check out the stunning Sky Pond Trail.
Afterward, drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road – one of Denver’s most scenic drives. You’ll gain the Continental Divide, where the rivers of America flow either east or west depending on what side you are on. Plenty of pullouts exist to soak in those gorgeous alpine views.
Local Tip: Reservations are required for the park. Wildflowers bloom from early July through mid-August so plan your visit accordingly.
3. Go for a Bike and Brew Tour in Fort Collins
The best places to visit in Colorado in summer aren’t just the mountains, but the cities are filled with fun too. Rent a bike (or bring your own) and bike from brewery to brewery in Fort Collins. You can opt to ride on your own terms or join the annual Tour de Fat bike parade at the New Belgium Brewery. The event is free and makes for the perfect party for beer drinkers.
If drinking isn’t your thing, then check out the Horsetooth Reservoir for a fun-filled day on the water. As one of the best Colorado Lakes, it’s a must-visit. You can even rent a boat for the day to tube, ski, or relax.
Alternatively, you can drive the Poudre Canyon or just hang in downtown Fort Collins and try the local food. All in all Fort Collins makes for a relaxing day trip from Denver.
4. Experience the Garden of the Gods
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Colorado in summer, the Garden of the Gods defies gravity with towering sandstone spires that shoot directly out of the ground. Home to some of the best hiking trails in Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is a place to get lost in.
Various hiking trails circumnavigate the rock formations. There are paved trails for wheelchair access and easy hikes that are totally kid-friendly. As one of the easier hikes near Denver, this is a must-see spot.
Local Tip: It gets absolutely smashed here – even during the week. Arrive before 7 am if you want some solitude.
5. Camp, Hike and Raft in Beuna Vista
As a long-time favorite mountain town among locals, Buena Vista (pronounced “bew-na vista”) offers up plenty in the way of hiking, camping, and even white water rafting.
Book a half-day rafting trip down the Browns Canyon and then go for a stunningly scenic hike at the base of the Sawatch Mountains. Afterward, take a relaxing dip in the Princeton Hot Springs for the ultimate classic Colorado day. Cap it all off with a campfire at one of Colorado’s best free campsites.
One of the best things to do in Colorado during the summer is to pack up the car and head for the hills. Spend a day (or weekend) exploring some of the best mountain towns in Colorado. There’s a wide array to choose from, but a few local favorites are:
- Ouray, Colorado. Nestled at the start of the Million Dollar Highway and home to some of the best Jeep trails in the state.
- Breckenridge. Easy accessible as a day trip from Denver with plenty of mountain fun including the famous Breckenridge Troll
- Crested Butte. A favorite amongst mountain bikers and wildflower lovers.
6. Experience the Alps of America in Ouray
Arguably one of the best mountain towns in Colorado, Ouray needs to be on your list of places to visit in Colorado this summer. Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, this quintessential mountain hideaway is surrounded by some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state.
Known for its plethora of scenic drives (most requiring a 4×4 vehicle) and stunning mountain hikes, there is a lot to do in Ouray. An absolute must-do activity is to drive the Million Dollar Highway or the San Juan Scenic Byway.
Known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Million Dollar Highway descends from the top of the mountain pass all the way down to Silverton – Ouray’s sister town. Gawk at the absolutely unbelievable views and marvel at the unique engineering that allows avalanches to sluff right off the road.
Local Tip: Hit up this road around 8 am to avoid tour busses and crowds and capture that brilliant morning light.
Other notable drives in the area require a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle. Or get frisky and rent a side-by-side for the day (my preferred way to explore). Be sure to drive:
- Yankee Boy Basin
- Black Bear Pass
- Ophir Pass
- The Alpine Loop (Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass)
7. Uncover the Beauty and Culture of Colorado Springs
Often overlooked as a military town, Colorado Springs is actually a happening place. Located just 1.5 hours from Denver, there’s a lot to see. Of course, you should visit Garden of the Gods, but there are plenty of other Colorado Springs hikes to explore too.
Drive or take the narrow gauge train to the top of Pike’s Peak a famous Colorado 14er. Go on a tour of the Airforce Academy and see the historic buildings. At the end of it all, you can walk around the grounds of the famous (and beautiful) Broadmoor Resort. Catch a bus from there to visit Seven Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Colorado.
8. White Water Raft Outside of Buena Vista
Beat the heat with this splash-tastic Colorado summer activity. Head to Browns Canyon for some epic fun on the water. There’s a lot of white water rafting opportunities around Buena Vista for families and seasoned paddlers alike. Browns Canyon standard route is jaw-droppingly beautiful while the Numbers will give you a run for your money with class V rapids.
Local Tip: You can base yourself in Leadville, Buena Vista, or even Salida for this amazing adventure.
9. Ride ATVs in Steamboat Springs
Mostly known as one of the best ski resorts in Colorado, Steamboat Springs is actually a pretty fun place to visit in Colorado during the summer too. There’s ample fishing, ATVing, and even a rodeo.
Rent ATVs and go exploring through the Flattops with a unique ride! Afterward, float down the Yampa River or try your luck at fly fishing.
In the evening you can catch the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo (a long-time pastime) or go for a soak in the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, one of the top hot springs in Colorado.
10. Camp at the Great Sand Dunes National Park
In the southern part of the state, you can walk on the biggest sand dunes in North America. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, these tall mountains of sand are something of legends. Home to some of the best camping in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is well worth a visit.
If you’re lucky, you can even score a permit to backpack to Star Dune, one of the top backpacking routes in Colorado.
What makes the sand dunes so unique is that the sand actually bubbles out of the ground. The origin spring is inaccessible since it’s sacred to the Navajo.
This area is also a designated Dark Sky Territory – meaning there is no light pollution blocking your view of the Milky Way. Stargazing is incredible here.
Local Tip: Campsites are first-come-first-serve and fill up fast! Get here early or come during the week to reserve your spot.
11. Drive to the Top of Pikes Peak
Driving to the top of Pikes Peak is a bucket list item for any trip to Colorado. There’s nowhere else on earth where you make your way up perfect tarmac turns to the top of a 14,000-foot peak. Pack your camera because the views are EPIC.
There’s a car race up this precarious road every year. It makes my knuckles turn white just thinking about it!
12. Hike to a Fairy Hideout at Hanging Lake
There is one Colorado lake that stands above the rest and that’s Hanging Lake. Located just outside of Glenwood Springs along I-70 you’ll find the start of the Hanging Lake hike. This easier, straightforward hike takes you to a magical place that honestly blew me away the first time I saw it.
It’s almost as if you expect gnomes and fairies to appear out of the hillside. The gentle trickle of water, tranquil clear waters, and birds create a magical scene. You’ll need a permit to embark on the hike, but it’s worth the little bit of homework to reach this incredible place.
13. Enjoy the Mountain Vibes of Breckenridge
One of the largest mountain towns in Colorado is Breckenridge. Often called Breck by locals, this happening spot has all the mountain fun in one convenient location.
From an amazing lineup of Breckenridge hikes, mountain biking trails, and even a large lake (the Dillon Reservoir) nearby there’s a lot to do. Kids and families should make a pit stop to check out the Breckenridge Troll – he lives in the forest and is truly a work of art.
There are plenty of single-track rides for avid MTBers from the easier Lower Flume to the difficult Wheeler Pass. Water lovers should opt to kayak, SUP or even sail the Dillon Reservoir. No wake is allowed and you can’t swim, but the gorgeous lake views are certainly unique to Breck.
14. Ride the Narrow Gauge Railway in Silverton
Take an old narrow-gauge train from Silverton to Durango on a scenic journey through the stunning San Juan Mountains. This rail line is a fan-favorite among backpackers since you can hop right off the train and straight on to one of Colorado’s best backpacking trails. Now there’s an adventure of a lifetime!
15. Check Out a Festival in Telluride
Telluride is one of those places that’s so picture-perfect, you might just never wipe the smile off of your face. Aside from amazing Telluride hikes, this town is also known for its lineup of summer festivals.
Virtually every weekend there’s something fun going on in this isolated mountain town. From the famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival to outdoor movie nights, you’ll want to check out Telluride this summer.
Other nearby activities include a trip to Ouray, Orvis hot springs, 4×4 driving, mountain biking, and the Telluride via Ferrata.
16. Catch a Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater
There’s a reason why so many world-famous artists head to Red Rocks Amphitheater every year. This naturally occurring amphitheater is surrounded by beautiful red rock formations. It’s incredibly scenic and makes for an epic concert backdrop.
You can easily scope out Red Rocks during your time in Denver. In fact, if you can’t catch a show, it’s free to visit during the day. Certainly a worthwhile trip to see this unique concert venue.
17. Revel in Native History at Mesa Verde
Located in the southwestern part of the state, Mesa Verde is steeped in rich history, making it one of the best places to visit in Colorado for history buffs. Take a tour of the ancient Puebloan structures built into sandstone walls to learn about the ancient native people who once inhabited this land.
You’ll want to spend at least 2 days here exploring the ruins. Take a guided tour to get closer to the ruins and learn about the incredible history of the American West.
The closest lodging is in Cortez, a tiny town that centers around the ruins.
Local Tip: It gets extremely hot in this part of the state during the summer, so be sure to arrive early to beat the heat.
18. Experience Luxury and Mountain Beauty in Aspen
Certainly a unique mountain town, Aspen is all about being seen. With posh designer stores and exclusive clubs, this is the upper crust of the mountains. Of course, you can enjoy views of the Maroon Bells without being dressed to the nines, but you’ll want to pack some fancy threads.
Other activities include taking a ride up the scenic Silver Queen Gondola, catching a live music show at Belly Up Aspen, or indulging in a 5-star culinary experience. Of course, you can shop til you drop too!
For more exotic adventures go for a hot air balloon ride or even go paragliding to see this beautiful mountain town from the air. Or you can learn to fly fish on the Roaring Fork River.
19. Gawk at the Wildflowers in Vail
Located along the I-70 Corridor, there are a variety of easily accessible Vail summer activities to enjoy. Many people love to hit one of the most scenic Vail hikes with the company of a llama – yes llama hikes are a bit of a thing in Vail.
See stunning views on the Eagle Bahn Gondola. You’ll get sweeping views of the rugged Gore Range (very difficult to access) and the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness. Bring (or rent) a mountain bike and ride down the steep ski trails with this high-flying summer adventure.
Vail is also home to amazing wildflower hikes if you’re willing to put a little butt-busting effort to get out there. Booth Lake is a personal favorite. But if you don’t want a grueling hike, you can spot the blooms at the Vail Nature Center and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens too.
Road bikers should pack their wheels – you can actually bike along paved paths that wind their way through beautiful scenery. Or ride up and down Vail Pass and feel the alpine wind in your hair.
20. Take a Scenic Drive
Every local knows the best scenic drives in Colorado. If you’re looking for a low-key way to get jaw-dropping mountain vistas, then drive one of Colorado’s scenic byways.
You don’t need a special vehicle to drive any of these scenic roads, which is what makes them ideal for the everyday adventurer. If you’re planning to visit multiple places in Colorado this summer, then you can plan your route through a few of these incredibly scenic drives.
- Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
- The Million Dollar Highway in the San Juan Mountains
- Monarch Pass en-route to Crested Butte
- Mount Evans outside of Idaho Springs
- Independence Pass to Aspen
21. Spend the Weekend in Estes Park
Many people choose to stay in Estes Park while exploring nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. But there are a lot of other reasons to stay in Estes too. First, there is a wild herd of elk that virtually hang out all around town. You can visit the spooky Stanley Hotel – an inspiration for the movie The Shining.
Take a glass blowing class in town and learn how to make various objects from molten glass. Or satisfy your sweet tooth at one of the many candy shops.
Don’t forget to strap on your boots and check out some of the beautiful hikes near Estes Park. Afterward, drive the Peak to Peak Highway for some scenic mountain views (sunset recommended).
22. Hike to an Alpine Lake
One of the best places to go in Colorado in summer is the high alpine. The best alpine lake hikes in Colorado can be found throughout the state. Simply pick one that suits your ability and soak in the views. Bonus points if you get up early and catch a sunrise.
A few local favorites are:
- Mirror Lake (pictured)
- Pacific Tarn
- Emerald Lake
- St Mary’s Glacier
- Maroon Lake
- Lake Isabelle
Pro Tip: Start your hike early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms. Getting caught above treeline during a thunderstorm is extremely dangerous. People die every year from lightning strikes so plan to be below the trees before noon.
23. Visit the Scenic Maroon Bells
One of the most iconic vistas in Colorado is the scene from a fairytale. Take the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop to Crater Lake in order to catch a glimpse of this iconic viewpoint.
Local tip: This trail gets SMASHED in the summer, it’s more like a conga line. Come prepared and leave it better than you found it. To avoid the crowds, head out before dawn and catch a sunrise over Crater Lake.
24. Check Out the Iconic Glenwood Springs
One of the more unique places to visit in Colorado is Glenwood Springs. Nestled in the steep walls of Glenwood Canyon, this iconic Colorado town features a scenic gondola, hot springs, and an adventure park.
There’s a lot to see and do, making it one of the best weekend getaways in Colorado. Nearby Hanging Lake is a must as are the famous hot springs (Iron Mountain and Glenwood Springs) that give the town its name.
The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is great for families who want some high-flying fun with a view. Rafting, SUPing, fishing, and kayaking are other popular choices with the nearby Colorado River. And with steep canyon walls nearby adrenaline can paraglide and parachute the canyon.
25. Mountain Bike in Crested Butte, Colorado
As one of the best places to go on vacation in Colorado, Crested Butte is a gem of a mountain town. Boasting incredible scenery, this charming mountain town is not to be missed. During the summer months, there is an array of top-notch mountain biking trails to explore.
Not a biker? No problem! Most of the nearby trails double as hiking trails too. In July the trails come to life. Crested Butte is home to some of the best Colorado wildflower hikes that pop with color.
Or you can opt to relax in town, which is just too cute not to explore. Plenty of local shops and eateries await you. Don’t forget to snag a slice at Secret Stash!
Horseback ride this iconic landscape and fit right in with the variety of nearby ranches. Paddleboarding is another popular choice – where you can sup the gentle Slate River.
26. Go Rock Climbing, Hiking and Shopping in Boulder
Located just 40-minutes from downtown Denver, the city of Boulder offers up a fun way to spend the day.
Hit the trails with some scenic Boulder hikes. The Flatirons are a popular choice. You’ll find enormous rock fins that jut sky-high from the hillside. Or tackle the tough Royal Arch trail.
Or hire a guide and check out one of the classic Eldorado Canyon climbing routes. Eldorado State Park is home to some of the best rock climbing in Colorado. Experienced climbers should absolutely test their skills in Eldo.
Being suspended from ropes isn’t your thing? No worries! Stop to shop at the Pearl Street Mall or float down the rapid-filled Boulder Canyon.
27. Summit a Colorado 14er
Many people seek to summit a 14,000-foot peak in their lifetime. Colorado’s 14ers are well-sought-after summits. The easiest Colorado 14ers are still a real challenge and it’s important to be properly prepared for a 14er hike. However, if you’re in great hiking shape, you start early, and take your time, you should be able to make it to the top.
Local Tip: The best places to find great beginner 14ers are outside of Breckenridge (Mt Quandary), the Buena Vista area, and there are a few 14ers near Denver that are great for beginners – like Grays and Torreys Peak.
28. Spot Dinosaurs
Take a step way back in history at Dinosaur National Monument. Here you can see real dinosaur footprints and fossils right in nature. The visitor’s center is a really cool place to learn about the big creatures that once inhabited the earth. Dinosaur National Monument is one of the must-see places in Colorado for fossil lovers.
29. Take in the Views at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison plummets over 1,200 feet down to the canyon floor and is only 40 feet wide in spots. It’s an epic canyon with steep, black granite cliffs. Truly a beautiful Colorado gem that you must see.
Drive the rim, take a boat tour on the bottom, or go for a daring hike from top to bottom. You’ll want to spend at least one day here, since getting from either side of the rim takes some time.
If you want to see just how enormous the walls are, consider a paddleboat tour through the canyon.
Local Tip: Combine this stop with some time in either Crested Butte or Ouray for a trip that truly displays the varied landscapes of Colorado.
30. Relax in Downtown Golden
If spending time in downtown Denver isn’t your thing, why not post up in the relaxing town of Golden. You can go sport climbing in Clear Creek Canyon or check out one of the many breweries in town.
Make a splash tubing down Clear Creek or going on a rafting adventure in nearby Idaho Springs.
There’s an American Mountaineering Museum where you can learn all about Colorado’s favorite pastime – climbing mountains.
Don’t forget to catch a sunset on top of Lookout Mountain. Drive to one of the many pullouts where you can see nearby Denver bathed in the afternoon light. Continue onwards through Evergreen to take on the scenic Lariat Loop – a mellow scenic drive right near Golden.
Downtown Golden has a relaxed, small western-town feel and offers up plenty of awesome places to eat and drink. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Sherpa House nearby the Colorado School of Mines.
What is the Prettiest Place in Colorado?
When it comes to finding the most beautiful places in Colorado, there are many different places to explore. The most stunning place I’ve ever seen is actually 3 miles from a trail, deep in the Colorado wilderness and is largely inaccessible to most people.
However, when it comes to the prettiest places in Colorado, there are a few postcard-perfect places you can check out that don’t require 10 miles of aggressive, off-trail hiking to reach. Here are a few of the prettiest places in the Centennial State:
- Hanging Lake (Glenwood Springs)
- Maroon Lake (Aspen)
- Emerald Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park)
- Dallas Divide (San Juan Mountains)
- Red Rocks Amphitheatre (Morrison/Denver)
- Crystal Mill (Marble)
- Kebler Pass (Crested Butte)
- Lone Eagle Peak (Indian Peaks Wilderness)
- Gore Lake (Vail)
- Ice Lake Basin (Ouray) Currently Closed
How Many Days Should I Spend in Colorado?
You could spend a lifetime exploring all of the amazing places to visit in Colorado. Trust me, I’ve been here for 12 years and I’m still getting to know the Centennial State.
If you’re short on time, you can hit some of the highlights with just four days in Colorado. However, I would recommend spending at least one week in Colorado in order to really see the diversity in the landscape. Two weeks would be epic and you’d certainly be able to visit off-the-beaten-path places in Colorado.
Get to Know the REAL Colorado.
Explore Colorado like a local, not a tourist. Discover all the secret hiking spots and the most incredible Colorado scenery, sans the crowds with my customizable hiking itineraries that will have you uncovering the best Colorado has to offer!
Planning a Trip to Colorado in the Summer
Headed to Colorado this summer? I’ve got a ton of resources to help you plan: