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Nature in Colorado
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Home to diverse natural ecosystems, Colorado boasts numerous ski resorts, vineyards, canyons, fossil-rich national parks, rugged natural trails, and picturesque scenic drives. Arguably the greatest of Colorado’s many natural wonders is Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the North American Rockies. The state’s natural beauty inspired the opening lyrics of the song “America the Beautiful.” Aside from its abundant unspoiled wilderness, you’ll find plenty of urban vacation ideas in Colorado, where bustling cities feature dynamic museums, award-winning restaurants, and nationally praised microbreweries. With an extensive system of highways and railroads, the state lets you explore this largely untamed part of the country by car or train.
Places to Visit in Colorado
Denver: The capital of the state and one of its top destinations, this modern and thriving city attracts visitors with its engaging cultural sector, historical sites, and proximity to the skiing hotspots of the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado Springs: The state’s second-largest municipality, this city has become known for its National Landmark red cliffs, bustling downtown area, and facilities offering some of the most active things to do in Colorado.
Estes Park: Renowned as a comfortable spot from which to explore the surrounding national park, this town also features a range outdoor activities, a walkable and engaging center, and ample shopping opportunities aimed towards international visitors.
Canon City: Located in the state’s Royal Gorge Region, Canon City offers world-renowned whitewater rafting as well as a range of other outdoor activities, a historical town center with many points of interest, and a thriving downtown culinary culture.
Durango: With an impressive backdrop provided by the surrounding national park, this former frontier mining town remains a unique place to visit in Colorado with its photogenic natural features, fully functional historical railway line, and Victorian architecture.
Glenwood Springs: Located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains at the meeting place of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, Glenwood Springs draws visitors with the warm mineral water of its hot springs, the downtown area’s cultural points of interest, and the wealth of outdoor activities available here.
Boulder: A relaxed yet active college town located just outside of the state capital, Boulder provides great access to the surrounding scenery of the Rockies, with a range of outdoor activities and equipment rental shops.
Steamboat Springs: A popular destination throughout the year, this ski resort town offers great snow sports, relaxing thermal pools to warm up in, and summertime kayaking and rafting on the Yampa river.
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park: The deep canyon at the focal point of this national park can be explored on hiking trails down into its depths, with great opportunities for nature photography, picnics, and wildlife spotting.
Rocky Mountain National Park: One of North America’s natural jewels, the mountain range after which the park is named attract visitors from all over the world with its renowned outdoor activity opportunities, diverse seasonal landscape and wildlife, and convenient accessibility.
Things to Do in Colorado
Popular Colorado Tourist Attractions
Garden of the Gods: The emphatically named rock formations here attract visitors with their scenic viewpoints, surrounding forest walkways, and archeological history, making them one of the most popular natural attractions in Colorado.
Trail Ridge Road: A long, scenic route traversing a national park, Trail Ridge Road gives you extensive views from your car, roadside stop-off points for refreshment and photo opportunities, as well as convenient access to the area’s numerous hiking trails.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum: Featuring a line cutting through areas of the region inaccessible by car, this railroad and attached museum attract visitors with their importance to the history of the area, the views afforded on the journey, and interactive and engaging exhibits, introducing you to the railway of the 1800s.
Denver Zoo: The first of its kind in the U.S., Denver Zoo offers you the chance to see its animals–from exotic to domestic–in their natural habitat, and provides daily presentations and tours run by expert keepers and guides.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Enjoying an impressive mountainside location, this zoo plays home to over 750 animals, runs daily tours and lectures, and benefits from numerous restaurants, cafes, and shops.
Pikes Peak: With its summit at 4,302 m (14,115 ft), Pikes Peak attracts visitors wanting to challenge themselves with a hike to the top. The slightly less ambitious can get there via its historical railway line or–in good weather–on the road that curls up the mountain.
Mesa Verde National Park: Showcasing the habitations of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived here from 600 to 1300 CE, this national park offers self-guided and guided tours around the sandstone dwellings, an array of hiking trails through the surrounding scenery, and chances to spot black bears, bobcats, elk, and mountain lions.
Glenwood Hot Springs Pool: The world’s largest hot springs swimming pool, this Colorado attraction offers activity pools complete with diving boards, relaxation areas where you can peacefully float in the healing mineral water, and other refreshing and fun outdoor activities.
Denver Botanic Gardens: With seven separate, well-maintained areas, this historical garden and parkland houses a vast collection of domestic plant life as well as trees, flowers, and shrubs from low temperature regions across the world. Visiting exhibits and a sunken amphitheatre hosting concerts complete the experience.
Denver Art Museum: With a vast and award-winning collection of works from across the globe, Denver Art Museum provides a welcoming and educational space for families to explore the cultural heritage of the country, the continent, and beyond.
Planning a Colorado Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Colorado with Kids
With scenery and landscape at the top of Colorado’s list of charms, younger visitors who are fans of the great outdoors can throw a stone and be beguiled by the natural wonders found wherever it lands. Head to the world-famous Rocky Mountain National Park for hiking, biking, and skiing opportunities, along with impressive vistas ideal for any budding photographers. Durango combines the pull of the natural world with rich cultural sites, its heritage railway providing a different perspective on the scenery and the history of the place. For areas of urban interest and social history, include Denver on your family’s Colorado initerary: the thriving city providing kids with a wide range of amusements, interactive and innovative exhibits, and family-friendly restaurants and cafes. Active and sporty young members in your party will enjoy the diverse set of experiences available in Steamboat Springs, a town offering outdoor activities according to the season, such as skiing and kayaking.
Things to Do in Colorado with Kids
Finding a blend of rural and urban things to do and places to see in Colorado is simple enough in this largely untouched state, replete with welcoming and family-friendly towns and cities. Starting in the cities, try a visit to Denver Art Museum: this popular collection of exhibits and artifacts in the state capital has been widely received as one of America’s premier museums for younger visitors thanks to its interactive and innovative character. Heading farther out of the state’s urban areas, take a trip to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where the impressive mountainside location neatly frames the range of wildlife on display, and enthusiastic guides pride themselves on giving kids a memorable visit. To entertain young explorers, head to Pikes Peak, where the mountain can be conquered on foot or by car or train. Depending on age, ability, and inclination, the members of your party can take different routes up and meet at the top. For an archetypal family-friendly attraction, visit Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, where the adults in your group can relax in the thermal pools as the kids spend all their energy diving and splashing around in the designated activity pools.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Colorado
Your Colorado trip can be as active or relaxing as you wish to make it. With the landscape the major draw to the area, those who adore being outside will find great opportunities for hiking around and exploring the wilderness, and will be pleased by the range of recreational possibilities. As seasons change, so do the activities on offer, so plan your vacation around the things your family most enjoys. Colorado can be easily traversed using a range of transportation, making exploration of even the most remote areas possible to an extent rarely found in other areas of the U.S. The main population areas possess a rich cultural heritage and local pride is strong, so wherever your tour of Colorado takes you, you’re bound to find a number of museums, well-maintained and accessible historical sites, and contemporary cultural hotspots. If your children seem a little less impressed by the breathtaking landscapes, keep in mind that the towns and cities offer a great range of kid-friendly amusements throughout the year.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Colorado
Cuisine of Colorado
Renowned for its game, grass-fed meats, and microbreweries, Colorado’s cuisine remains indebted to cowboy and ranch culture, complemented by modern techniques and flavor combinations. Starting in the state capital, Denver offers a thriving contemporary food culture, with many classic local dishes reinvigorated, expertly paired with wines, or simply cooked to the high quality demanded by tradition. Steakhouses remain a major draw downtown, while microbreweries and distilleries have experienced something of a resurgence in recent years. Fort Collins, often referred to as the “Napa Valley of Beer,” benefits from an abundance of craft beer breweries, many offering interesting tours introducing their production process. Markets and festivals present dynamic ways to experience the state’s culinary culture. Anyone on a gastronomic tour of Colorado should head to Boulder for an array of farmers markets offering fresh local produce year-round, plus food and drink festivals like chili cookoffs. You’ll also find a great deal of modern, fusion, and international restaurants in the city, once voted “America’s Foodiest Town,” where developments in global dining culture are playfully integrated into the local scene.
Shopping in Colorado
You’ll find virtually anything you need during your stay in Colorado’s thriving modern cities and towns, which also offer ample opportunities for good old-fashioned browsing and window shopping. Denver remains a great place to take a shopping trip, whether you’re looking for something special or just taking a peaceful day off during an otherwise active Colorado itinerary. The downtown area boasts everything from renowned secondhand bookstores (the emerging stars of the local cafe culture), to an abundance of outdoor equipment stores where you can gear up for an adventurous Colorado holiday. Stop off in Estes Park for galleries and shops displaying the works of a community inspired by their local surroundings, with art pieces and handicraft souvenirs that owe much to the landscape and its invigorating influence on creativity and design. For an array of clothing stores showing off cowboy, ranch, and snow sports influences, consider a trip to Steamboat Springs, or for small galleries offering one-of-a-kind artwork in an exclusive shopping district, plan to spend some time in Aspen.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Colorado
History of Colorado
For more than 13,000 years, the area of land now called Colorado has been inhabited by man. For many thousands of those years it has been chiefly the home of various Native American tribes, including the ancient Pueblos, the Ute Nation, the Apache, and the Comanche. Hunters, farmers, and skillful architects, the area’s indigenous people learned to survive in the harsh environment, building homes and living off the land whose challenges and beauty they deeply revered. Take in some of this ancient history on your tour of Colorado by visiting Mesa Verde National Park, featuring dwellings carved by the ancient Pueblo people into the sandstone. Now functioning as an educational museum, the sections of the park where these settlements remain provide instructive and engaging tours into the heart of the culture, beliefs, and lives of the people who once called it home.
During the colonial era of European exploration in the Americas, the land now comprising Colorado was bought by the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While the phenomenon of westward expansion developed so as to largely avoid the region’s more mountainous climes, trade posts, mines, and a rudimentary infrastructure sprung up in the area courtesy of settlers who braved the elements and landscape, looking for a prosperous life in the New World. Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site gives visitors a great route into the experience of settlers in the area. The reconstructed 1840s trading fort offers tours, educational exhibits, and talks from knowledgeable historians regarding the white European settlers, Native Americans, and Mexicans that came through the gates here to foster relationships of trade, commerce, and production.
The area’s prosperity has been hard won. After its formal acceptance into the Union in 1876, Colorado enjoyed a silver boom and an influx of prospectors, farmers, and development, before the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1893 collapsed the mining and agricultural industries. However, Colorado maintained a progressive mentality, becoming the second state in the Union to give women the vote in the very same year as the economic downturn. Built in the same year, the main house of Rosemount Museum acts as an emblem of the aspirations sought through adversity by Coloradans of the period. Today, the site functions as an interesting and popular museum of local culture, history, and lifestyles.
Coming into the 20th century, agriculture and tourism helped the state’s economy recover after the devastation of the Depression ripped through the country’s towns, cities, and rural settlements. Get a sense of the contrasting yet mutually supportive industries that have helped to make the state what it is today by including Sombrero Ranch and Union Station, Denver, CO on your Colorado itinerary. The ranch gives you insight into traditions of the Old West and offers a range of outdoor activities and educational information. By contrast, Denver’s railroad station served as a symbol of the state’s modernizing infrastructure at a time when tourism in Colorado began to flourish, thanks to its stunning landscape and singular cultural heritage.
Landscape of Colorado
When on your Colorado trip, you’ll find that the landscape is all around you, showcasing extreme geological features alongside more muted natural attractions. Rocky Mountain National Park, with its untouched mountainous climes and evergreen forests, remains one of the most popular national parks in the country, benefitting from an excellent infrastructure that allows visitors to venture across vast swathes of the landscape, no matter their hiking abilities. One such route into the landscape is found on Trail Ridge Road, with extensive views of the surrounding wilderness and numerous vantage points providing photo opportunities. The grand rock formations of Garden of the Gods offer sites of impressive archeological history as well as perspectives on the weather and geology that created the natural attractions in Colorado. Consider a trip to Mesa Verde National Park, where sandstone habitations of the ancient Pueblo people provide enviable glimpses of man’s early attempts to work with the natural features of the state, in a national park offering forest walks and dirt trail hiking opportunities. For a real challenge and spectacular vistas, hike to the top of Pikes Peak–or get there via scenic train or car ride.
Holidays & Festivals in Colorado
Colorado celebrates the same public holidays as the rest of the U.S. If you’re planning a winter ski vacation in Colorado, keep in mind that the slopes are particularly packed on holiday weekends like Martin Luther King Jr. Day (the third Monday in January) and Presidents’ Day (the third Monday in February), so advance reservations are a must. The snow culture also plans plenty of festivities around Christmas and New Year’s, if you happen to be visiting then.
Food and drink festivals have become increasingly popular in the state and make an easy, lively addition to any Colorado itinerary. Consider a trip to Aspen for long-established summertime celebrations of local and international cuisine, wine, and beer in a trendy and scenic location. Fort Collins, with its thriving microbreweries, plays host to numerous festivals throughout the year; learn about the history of brewing and distilling in the town while sampling local favorites and discovering your new tipple of choice.
For arts and cultural festivities year-round, Denver provides a wealth of options, with established summer music festivals, as well as community events showcasing various aspects of the local art scene. Discover new films and filmmakers at Telluride’s prestigious film festival, held over Labor Day weekend and showcasing new American and international films. Folk music fans will also appreciate the former mining town’s annual bluegrass festival, a family favorite held in June. Winter and summer festivals in resort towns like Vail feature world-class performances from symphony orchestras, ballet, and more.
Colorado Travel Tips
Climate of Colorado
The climate of Colorado is complex, with the abundance of mountains and valleys greatly influencing the weather experienced throughout the state. The Eastern Plains area enjoys a more stable climate than the rest of the state, with low humidity and precipitation levels and less volatility, although major snowstorms and thunderstorms do occur. March is the snowiest month, while April is traditionally the wettest. Tornadoes can also occur in the eastern region. West of the plains and in the state’s foothills and mountainous regions, the climate differs significantly from place to place. Valleys have a semi-arid climate, transitioning to an alpine climate at higher elevations. The mountainous regions have the highest precipitation levels and are the location of most of the state’s extreme weather changes. That said, urban areas can also experience extreme weather, often coming on quickly. Across western Colorado, the wettest season is generally winter, the driest month June. Pack accordingly for the month you’re traveling in, but be sure to bring multi-purpose clothing and gear so as to be prepared for traveling across the state and any decisive changes in the weather. Check for weather warnings before embarking on your holiday in Colorado, and keep abreast of developments during your stay.
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