Highly Under-Rated Hidden Gems in Colorado According to a Long-Time Local

There’s so much to explore in Colorado, that it’ll take a lifetime to see it all. However, there are a few hidden gems in Colorado that really electrify your outdoor experience. I’ve scoured the state – traveling almost every week for the past 15 years – and here are a few of my absolute favorite secret spots in Colorado.

Some of these underrated spots you won’t find on best-of lists. And some are often overlooked in favor of other best-of-Colorado locations. But each of these secret Colorado spots holds adventure for every kind of traveler. So if you’re looking to explore Colorado like a local, not a tourist, keep reading.

About this Guide to Colorado’s Top Under-Rated Attractions

Inside this local guide to the top Colorado hot spots, I’m giving you all of the best secrets of the state. You’ll get info on:

  • Where to find secret spots in Colorado
  • A list of top Colorado hidden gems, including who is going to love them.
  • Resources to dive deep into these amazing spaces
  • Additional resources for planning the perfect Colorado getaway (if you’re from here or not)
Man with a backpack walking down a mountain trail with a gray shirt and jeans. The sun is setting and you can see the mountains in the background.

Map of the Hidden Gems in Colorado

Want to know where to find these amazing gems? Here’s an interactive map of the best secrets in Colorado.

Map of the 10 best hidden gems in Colorado

Smokey Jack Observatory

I’m going to talk a lot about the areas around the Sangre de Cristo mountains, but the Smokey Jack Observatory is one of my personal favorites. Located in Westcliffe – a designated Dark Sky Territory, you’ll get up close and personal with the stars.

What makes Smokey Jack so great are the free (donation-based – please donate!) star gazing programs that they hold every year with their telescope. You can gaze at the stars in a whole new way with the backdrop of the mighty Sangres in the not-so-far distance.

Best for: Families, people interested in the cosmos, a great Colorado road trip stop, and astrophotographers.

Hot Sulfur Springs

Arguably one of the top hot springs in Colorado that no one knows about, the tiny enclave of Hot Sulfur Springs is well worth a visit. Crowds here can vary, it’s not an unknown spot, but it’s a great spot to have a soak after visiting nearby Winter Park or Rocky Mountain National Park.

The town is understated in a great way, and the hot springs have multiple pools built into the hillside where you can relax and soak.

Best for: people looking for a reprieve who are traveling from the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park or Winter Park, a quick weekend getaway. There is one family-friendly pool.

North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

So as one of the four national parks in Colorado, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison certainly isn’t unknown. However, it makes the list of the top-secret spots in Colorado because of the seldom-visited North Rim.

The North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is only accessible by dirt road (graded, friendly for all vehicles). It’s a quiet corner of the NPS system, but don’t be fooled – it holds unbelievable views. As a mecca for adventurous rock climbers, there’s a lot of adventurous hiking, rugged climbing routes (read: sandbagged) as well as leisurely scenic drives and dizzying overlooks.

The ranger programs here are great – you can learn about the unique nature of this vertigo-inducing landscape. Not to mention, a lot of the photographs you see are of this side of the park.

Local Tip: There is ample free camping nearby, but the tiny town of Crawford is a low-key ranching town with a delicious food truck to satisfy that post-adventure appetite.

Best for: Experienced multi-pitch trad climbers, national park enthusiasts, photographers, adventurous families, and solitude-seekers.

View of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison with the sun setting in the background.

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

People often spend their time daydreaming about the mountains of Colorado, but the Four Corners region of the state is home to a rich Native American history. No place encapsulates that more than the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.

As a hidden gem in Colorado, this national monument covers over 176,000 acres of desert landscapes teeming with stories of the past. This is the highest-known concentration of structures and art from the Ancestral Puebloan people.

You could spend weeks here and hardly scratch the surface. The Sand Canyon Trail is an excellent place to start your journey into the past. You can hike, bike, or travel by horse through this unbelievable (and relatively little talked about) Colorado gem.

Best for: Desert hikers and bikers, those interested in Native American history, solitude-seekers, and an add-on to nearby Mesa Verde National Park.

Carbondale

People often visit Glenwood Springs or Aspen instead of Carbondale, and that’s a mistake. Carbondale offers a great home base for exploring the region. The friendly town center is home to a few great eateries, including the Village Smithy (a personal fave).

Plenty of biking paths, a hike up Mt Sopris, and a visit to the natural Penny Hot Springs are just a few of the things on offer in Carbondale. Not to mention, it’s a great home base for trips to the Maroon Bells.

One thing I love about the area is that you’ve got plenty of mass transit. The RFTA (pronounced “rafta”) makes access to the traffic-ridden Aspen and the busy Glenwood Springs a breeze.

Best for: Hikers, road trippers, hot springs enthusiasts, and a great weekend getaway from Denver.

View of the vast meadows and houses that can be found in Carbondale with a cloudy sky in the background.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

Alright, so I’ll admit, putting an entire mountain range on here is a little unfair, but the Sangre de Cristo mountains have to be one of the prettiest mountain ranges in Colorado. What makes this range so special is the diversity of rock. From the funky conglomerate of the Crestone Group to the incredible granite spires of nearby Music Mountain, the Sangres deliver rugged skylines to match the committing adventures.

Aside from a few key hot spots, most of the trailheads here are shockingly quiet given the beauty of the range. In fact, some of the best secret hikes in Colorado can be found here. Of course, famous 14er routes such as the Crestone Traverse see a lot of people, but the 13ers in this range are quiet and adventurous.

If you’re a hiker, peak bagger, or a backpacker there’s a lot on offer here if you go digging around! Check out the Music Pass trailhead, Venerable Comanche Loop, and Lilly Lake for some of the best scrambling and backpacking routes in Colorado.

Local Tip: Nearly all of the trailheads here wind their way up dirt roads and pass through private land. You’ll need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to reach the best spots.

Best for: Hikers, backpackers, peak baggers, and horse packers.

Me in white climbing up the face of some mountains in Colorado. These are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Grand Mesa

I’m actually embarrassed to say that it took me a long time to visit Grand Mesa. This place is truly a Colorado hidden gem. And I know that my friends on the Western Slope are going to be giving me a big “sssshhhh!” that I’m sharing this spot with you.

As one of the biggest mountains in Colorado, Grand Mesa has a lot of opportunities for outdoor recreation. As one of the top spots to enjoy the fall colors in Colorado (that few people really know about), this area makes for an excellent weekend of camping.

With over 300 lakes, 56 developed campgrounds, and one of the best scenic drives in Colorado, you’ll be coming here more than once! Be sure to check out the Lands End scenic drive (closed in the winter) and enjoy a lakeside campground in this stunning location!

Best for: Families, fishers, hikers, and fall camping.

Colorado National Monument and McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to the Colorado National Monument. You can spot this winding system of mighty red rock canyons right from I-70, but the monument sees very few visitors.

I’ve done everything from climb the Independence Monument, to wind my way through the majestic archways of Rattlesnake Canyon. Many people skip the Colorado National Monument in favor of nearby Moab, but that would be a mistake.

Base yourself in McInnis Canyon and enjoy tranquil desert camping (advanced reservations required), 4×4 driving trails, and other-worldly desert hikes.

Best for: Spring and fall camping trips, weekend getaways, road trip stop on your way from Denver to Moab, adventurous climbers, and casual desert hikers.

Meg is climbing the face of a mountain in Colorado National Monument on a sunny day.
You don’t need to be a climber to enjoy the Colorado National Monument – but it gives a unique perspective!

Handies Peak

Alright, I’ll admit it – no Colorado 14er is unknown, but Handies makes the list of the best hidden gems in Colorado because many people skip over it as a first 14er in favor of Mt Quandary, Mt Bierstadt, or Grays and Torreys Peak.

But Handies is a must-do. As one of the prettiest and easiest Colorado 14ers, it’s a great beginner peak – far better than any peak I mentioned above.

So if you’re looking to bag peaks, skip the conga line at all of the 14ers near Denver and head to Handies in the San Juan Mountains instead.

Best for: Beginner peak baggers, first 14er seekers, scenic hiking.

Loveland Ski Resort

Literally spanning the Eisenhower Tunnel, it may be a reach to call the Loveland Ski Resort “hidden” but hear me out. Skiing in Colorado has gotten absolutely absurd. Paying $200-plus per day to “ski” aka sit in hour-long lift lines at the most popular Colorado ski resorts – not to mention the weekend ski traffic – hardly sounds like it’s worth it anymore.

But the Loveland Ski Resort is a gem that’s hidden in plain sight. You’ll rarely experience long lift lines (except at the very bottom) at this locally-loved Colorado ski resort. You can snag a 4-pack of list tickets (fully transferable to anyone) that lets you ski the slopes for less than $80 per day.

But what makes this place so great is it’s literally impossible for it to be truly crowded. The extremely limited parking means when the lot is full, the resort is full. As a result, you’ll rarely wait in a lift line or have to dodge hordes of tourists.

Local Tip: The windblown aspects of the resort mean that powder pours into the resort, making it easy to find stashes of the white fluffy stuff, even when there hasn’t been any fresh snow.

Best for: Families, budget-friendly skiers, and those looking for resorts not on the Epic or Ikon Passes close to the Front Range.

Snowboarded with a blue board sitting on the snow and strapping in with purple pants and a turquoise jacket.

Additional Stunning Places in Colorado to Check Out

Looking to explore other hidden gems in Colorado? Here’s a look at a few specific adventures that you’ll absolutely love.

Meg Atteberry
Meg Atteberry

Meg is a long-time Colorado local and outdoor industry professional. She's spent the last 15 years hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and canyoneering all over Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in search of the best views. She's written for Outside Magazine, REI, Backpacker Magazine, and appeared on the Weather Channel.

Hi There!

Meg Atteberry standing on a mountain sticking her tongue out

Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Toddler mom, queer, and neuro-spicy her favorite things to do are climb in the alpine and camp in the desert. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure.