Visiting Colorado's National Parks
There are many great mountain getaways in Colorado, but the perfect place to start is the diverse national parks that this state has to offer.
At a mere two hour drive from Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is the most accessible of Colorado's four national parks. Rocky Mountain offers something for every outdoor enthusiast. Beautiful alpine lakes, towering mountains, and gushing waterfalls can all be viewed on a drive through the park, but more adventurous people can take a hike on the hundreds of miles of trails through Rocky Mountain. The most popular destinations in the park are Trail Ridge Road, Bear Lake, and the difficult 14,255 foot Longs Peak.
Located outside of Cortez in the southwestern tip of Colorado, Mesa Verde is a very remote national park that contains some of the best preserved American Indian dwellings in the United States. The ruins were originally built in the 13th century by the Ancestral Puebloans to take advantage of the changing seasons. The largest and most famous of these dwellings is called Cliff Palace and is a must see for all visitors. A trip to the more remote and less crowded Weatherill Mesa is a great option for anyone staying in the area for more than one day.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison contains 12 miles of a deep, narrow canyon cut by the Gunnison River. In this short stretch of river, the water drops an average of 43 feet per mile, creating some treacherous yet beautiful rapids. The most popular visitor destination in the park is a scenic drive on the south rim of the canyon, which offers breathtaking views of the precipice below. Hiking trails lead to the bottom of the canyon, while the sheer rock of the canyon offers great technical climbing for visitors. The rapids in the Gunnison River are also a popular destination for only the most experienced kayakers.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park
Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Great Sand Dunes offers over 19,000 acres of park space and contains North America's highest sand dune, which rises 750 feet above the San Luis Valley floor. Visitors can freely hike the dunes and can even bring a sled or snowboard for a quick ride down some steeper dunes in the park. The desert-like sand dunes seem like an anomaly sitting so deep in the Rocky Mountains, but it makes for some unforgettable vistas.