National Parks in Colorado hold the key to a captivating world in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Colorado, a landlocked state, may lack oceans or seas, but it compensates with a rich assortment of mountains, plains, deserts, and rivers.
While Colorado boasts various attractions, the magnificent Rocky Mountains steal the spotlight, luring travelers from all corners.
With 4 national parks that dramatically differ from each other, Colorado offers ample opportunities for exploration. Additionally, the state hosts 13 protected areas managed by the National Park Services, including National Monuments, Historic Sites, Recreation Areas, and Historic Trails.
Join us in the main section of the article, where we delve into Colorado’s best national parks, providing an overview of the top things to see and do in each park.
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National Parks in Colorado
Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park
- Year Established: 1999
- Annual Visitors: 308,962
- Area: 30,750 acres
- Best Time to Visit: May – October
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park allows visitors to explore some of the earliest rock formations in the United States. The dramatic landscape is breathtaking, and stopping along the many viewpoints is one of the best ways to see all of the scenic views.
Much like the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is split into a North Rim and a South Rim. Those wanting to explore the Gunnison River and the bottom of the canyon will need to hike. This hidden treasure of a park is perfect for hiking and has a trail for every skill level.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Year Established: 2004
- Annual Visitors: 527,546
- Area: 149,000 acres
- Best Time to Visit: March – May, September – October
Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America. The park also has one of the most fragile and complex dune systems in the entire world. Great Sand Dunes also has a varying landscape that consists of alpine lakes, wetlands, and alpine forests.
Hiking is a popular activity in the park and you can even hike the tallest sand dune in North America. Don’t forget to grab a sled and take a mesmerizing slide down the sand dunes. The park is also home to bison, elk, black bear and bighorn sheep, so be sure to keep an eye out for these impressive animals.
Mesa Verde National Park
- Year Established: 1906
- Annual Visitors: 548,477
- Area: 52,000 acres
- Best Time to Visit: June – September
For those who enjoy historical sites, Mesa Verde is the National Park in Colorado for you. Rich in history, Mesa Verde is the ancestral home of the Pueblo. Visitors can explore the 600 well preserved cliff dwellings as they learn about Pueblo culture and history.
One of the best ways to explore the park is by driving scenic routes or taking a hike on the beautiful Cliff Palace Overlook. The park also has a museum dedicated to the Pueblo that explains the important cultural significance of the area. While at Mesa Verde, don’t miss Sun Temple, a structure where important ceremonies were held for the native Pueblos.
Rocky Mountain National Park
- Year Established: 1915
- Annual Visitors: 4,434,848
- Area: 265,807 acres
- Best Time to Visit: June – September
Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most visited park in the United States, the parks crowning glory are the majestic Rocky Mountains. One of the main draws of the park is Trail Ridge Road which reaches an astounding 12,183 feet in elevation.
With 300 trails to choose from, Rocky Mountain National Park is a hikers paradise. Rocky Mountain National Park is also full of wildlife, including elk, black bear, moose, bighorn sheep, as well as many other stunning animals. Make sure to visit the Continental Divide within the park.
Other Areas of Colorado Maintained by National Park Services
- Amache National Historic Site
- Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
- California National Historic Trail
- Colorado National Monument
- Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Hovenweep National Monument
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
- Sante Fe National Historic Trail
- Yucca House National Monument