Home to four national parks, 42 state parks, and some of the world’s premier ski resorts, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado have endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. As a long-time Colorado local, I have been exploring some of the best spots for the last 15 years.
Featuring picturesque peaks, deep canyons, and lush forests, the mountains of Colorado have no shortage of breathtaking views. On top of their natural beauty, the mountains are home to countless destinations that offer seemingly unlimited opportunities for exploration.
In this article, I share some of the top things to do when visiting the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Whether you are an avid outdoor enthusiast or visiting the region for the first time, there is something for you on this list so let’s dive in!
You can also read: Best Mountain Quotes For Nature Lovers
1. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
Towering peaks, expansive valleys, stunning alpine lakes, and lush pine forests are hallmarks of the landscape at Rocky Mountain National Park. Take it from 4.5 million people who visit the park every year — the area is well worth a visit.
Your options for activities are practically endless as the 265,807 acres at the park offer a ton of areas to explore. Hiking is one of the most popular activities, with over 300 miles of hiking trails running through the park. For a very short hike, the trail to Bear Lake is one of the best choices as it is only 6 miles long round-trip and takes you to a crystal-clear alpine lake, with craggy outcroppings as the backdrop.
For a longer hike, the trail to Emerald Lake is one of my favourites, since it passes by three different alpine lakes on the way.
Anglers will be happy to hear that there are many prime fishing spots in Rocky Mountain National Park including lakes, ponds, and creeks.
If you prefer to tour Rocky Mountain National Park by car, several roads wind past impressive scenery with pull-off areas along the way where you can stop to take pictures. Don’t miss out on Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. Topping out at 12,183 feet above sea level, the route includes several notable lookout points where you will have expansive mountain views.
Don’t be surprised if you see a herd of elk roaming through the park during your visit, since they frequent the area. Seeing these impressive animals is always a special treat — just be sure to keep your distance!
2. Go camping
Camping is a fantastic way to connect with nature and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Something about spending a night under the stars is deeply satisfying and leaves you feeling content.
Colorado offers some of the best camping in the United States, with everything from established campgrounds to remote backcountry sites. For first-time campers, look for campgrounds with a host who lives on-site, since they can answer any questions you have and offer support if anything comes up.
Be sure to research the amenities that are available such as running water, bathrooms, laundry, and a dump station. Different campgrounds have different features, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
For a more rugged experience, consider dispersed camping on Colorado’s public land. Land that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the United States Forest Service is free to camp on as long as you follow rules and regulations.
You will find that unofficial campsites dot many national forest roads where you can park your camping trailer or pitch a tent for the night. Going this route is a lot of fun because it allows you to avoid the crowds of a large campground and find solitude in the mountains.
3. Hike a 14er
Summits that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation are deemed "14ers", and they are on the bucket list of many visitors to the Rocky Mountains. They range in difficulty, and some require mountaineering experience or special equipment to attempt.
But, there are several that are doable for beginners, and some you can even drive to the top of! Mount Bierstadt is one of the first 14ers that many people tackle since it doesn’t involve technical terrain.
Coming in at 7.2 miles and 2800 feet of elevation gain, the hike to the summit is still a significant challenge so be sure to prepare properly and acclimatize before attempting it. Making it to the top of the summit is an impressive accomplishment and is sure to feel rewarding.
To skip the hiking altogether, you can drive to the top of Mount Evans or Pikes Peak to get stunning panoramic views. Climbing over 7000 feet in 28 miles, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is one of the best drives in the Rocky Mountains as it takes you to the summit of the 14er and sweeping views of the Continental Divide.
4. Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods has a special magic about it, which is probably why millions of people make the trip here every year to experience it for themselves. 19 fascinating rock formations are located throughout the park, from tall spires to steep walls.
These red-rock formations developed over millions of years as erosion and geological processes carved them into the unique shapes you can see today. Outdoor activities you can take part in at Garden of the Gods include hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
Or, enjoy the sights from the comfort of a vehicle with one of the scenic tours that are offered by local guide companies — the trolley tours and jeep tours are two of the most popular choices.
5. Visit a State Park
While national parks attract a lot of attention, state parks are fantastic places to get out in nature and experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Colorado itself has many to explore, where adventures such as whitewater rafting, fly fishing, horseback riding, and boating are available to take part in.
Often cheaper and less busy than some of the more well-known destinations in the Rocky Mountains, state parks are the perfect destinations for travellers looking to avoid large crowds. Some of the top options are Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Mueller State Park, and Ridgway State Park.
6. Go Skiing
When visiting the Rocky Mountains in the winter, there is no better thing to do than ski at one of Colorado’s many resorts. World-renowned destinations, such as Vail and Aspen, are bustling ski towns where you will find not only huge networks of ski runs but also luxury lodging, fine dining, and fun nightlife.
For a more local feel, check out resorts such as Winter Park and Keystone where the towns are smaller but the crowds are too. Even still, these resorts have plenty of options for lodging and dining.
Most ski resorts have a wide range of terrain, ranging from very easy to technical. The ski runs are rated on a scale of green, blue, black diamond, or double black diamond — green is the easiest, and double black diamond is the most difficult. Beginners can start with a ski lesson from an expert to learn the basics before hitting the slopes on their own.
When snow blankets the Rockies, make the trip to a resort to experience the thrill of skiing and the charm of a mountain town.
7. Visit Red Rocks
Famous musical artists come from around the world to perform at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre because of its natural beauty, acoustics, and passionate crowds. Set between red sandstone walls, the venue provides all attendees with a clear view of the stage as well as an expansive view of the landscape behind the performers.
A wide range of genres can be heard here, including electronic music, rock, folk, and more. But there is even more to the area than great music — many miles of hiking trails meander across the terrain right next to the amphitheatre.
An ideal day at Red Rocks includes a morning hike on the trails, lunch at the nearby mountain town of Morrison, and then a night of dancing under the stars at the amphitheatre.
8. Dinosaur Ridge
As the location of the first Stegosaurus discovery, Dinosaur Ridge is recognised as a key paleontological site. In fact, it is home to what is considered the number one dinosaur track site in the world.
Looking at the clear dinosaur tracks marked in the rocks and pondering the ancient creatures that left them evokes a feeling of awe and amazement. As you walk along Dinosaur Ridge Trail, you will see these footprints, dinosaur bones, and evidence of the sea that once covered the land.
Going on one of the walking tours or bus tours is a great way to learn more about the region and ask questions to a trained geologist. Or, download the audio tour to explore the trails at your own pace and hear all the details about the notable stops along the way.
From scenic drives to adventure sports, the Rocky Mountains provide access to all kinds of fun activities. Each season offers different opportunities, so there are endless options to choose from. Whether you prefer exploring quaint mountain towns or journeying into the backcountry, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
About the Author
Dom is an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker who has been exploring Colorado for 15 years. He believes that nature has the power to heal and inspire, so he helps people get outside through his blog, Colorado Quests.