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Great Outdoors

The National Parks Of The Rocky Mountain State

Photo Courtesy Lauren Lopes

But the Colorado Rocky Mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky Mountain high (in Colorado)
Rocky Mountain high (in Colorado)

John Denver

Just the mention of the 38th state in the Union probably brings to mind majestic cliffs and snow-covered peaks, bare escarpments reaching into the clouds, and panoramic vistas available only to the steel of spine and brave at heart.

While this is all true of parts of the great state of Colorado, the land has so much more to offer than just a challenge for the crampon and carabiner crowd.

From the great heights of Long’s Peak on the western half of the state to the rolling plains east of Denver, the Mile High State is a veritable bounty of natural wonder in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.

Unsurprisingly, Colorado contains many of the most singular and spectacular gems of the national parks system and still ranks in the upper echelon for destinations in all of North America.

Here are a few not to be missed bucket-list highlights:

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

The most famous national park in the state is aptly named for its stunning jagged skyline views of some of North America’s highest peaks. Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments and contain a bevy of activities for every adventure seeker. 

One can take the scenic Trail Ridge Road—which crests at over 12,000 feet including many overlooks to experience the subalpine and alpine worlds—hike one of the hundreds of trails, scale its many magnificent peaks or just take a stroll through a gorgeous meadow where one might see mule deer, elk, moose—even a bear or two! At the top of the list of natural attractions, Rocky Mountain National Park is a national treasure.

Photo Courtesy Steve Adams

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

The flipside of what the Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer can be found just to the southwest in Cortez, Colorado, in the Mesa Verde National Park.

The wild landscape of deep canyons, rolling flatland desert, and expansive vistas are home to over a thousand species. For over 700 years, the Ancestral Pueblo people built thriving communities on the mesas and in the cliffs of Mesa Verde. Today, the park protects the rich cultural heritage of 26 tribes and offers visitors a spectacular window into the past.

Hiking, camping, cave exploring, and stargazing make Mesa Verde another Colorado must-visit.

Photo Courtesy Alec Krum

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK

Colorado’s geographic expanse lends itself to a diversity of natural environments virtually unrivaled in North America and one can look no further for proof than Great Sand Dunes National Park.

A far cry visually from both the mesas and canyons to the southwest and the heaven-high peaks of the Rockies, Great Sand Dunes boasts the tallest dunes in North America and these dunes are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra.

Unique to this national park is the diversity of activities. In addition to hiking, backpacking, swimming, and horseback riding, the Great Sand Dunes National Park offers a unique pastime: sandboarding and sand sledding. Plan a stop in this natural wonderland on your next adventure and strap into your board or sled and experience a truly unique activity that is fun for all ages and can only be found in a place as singular as Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Photo Courtesy Matt Noble

CURECANTI NATIONAL RESERVE

Often overlooked for its vast mountain ranges and other majestic sceneries are Colorado’s beautiful and abundant lakes and river systems. Along the banks of the once wild Gunnison River is a collection of three reservoirs that make up the Curecanti National Reserve.

Surrounded by rolling hills and mountains just to the southwest of Denver the reservoirs that exist in Curecanti today are a destination for water-based recreation from its position high in the Rocky Mountains. 

Best known for salmon and trout fishing, Curecanti also offers opportunities for hiking, boating, camping, and bird watching and is the perfect stop on your way from Rocky Mountain National Spot down to Mesa Verde or vice versa. However and whenever one chooses to visit these gorgeous reservoirs, they will most definitely not be disappointed.

Photo Courtesy Angel Leon
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