Soaring, snow-capped mountains, waterfall hikes, ecological hot springs tucked into valleys, golden galaxies of aspen trees in the fall—Colorado puts on quite the showoff. The state is filled with Instagram-worthy photos around every (hairpin) curve, from the northern Front Range to the southern valley.
But some destinations stand out as the shining stars. These are the kinds of spots that will take your breath away. So spectacular, they seem incredibly otherworldly.
Here are the 12 most beautiful places in Colorado, in no order.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs, is a National Natural Landmark and one of the most remarkable places in Colorado for its gigantic rock formations that seem to challenge physics. These gigantic red rocks perched along a fault line were uprooted and tossed about during the earthquake that created the Rocky Mountains and nearby Pikes Peak.
What remains today is a free, 1,367-acre park with trails winding among a natural attraction like nowhere else on Earth, with towers, boulders, spires, and rocks that look like fun shapes like kissing camels and praying hands. It’s no wonder the Garden of the Gods is the most visited attraction in the Pikes Peak area.
Also picturesque nearby is the Cave of the Winds, a significant, 500-million-year-old, underground, naturally-occurring cave system. You can stroll through these caves and underneath Colorado Springs; the point of view is amazing.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park, in southern Colorado not far from Durango, is spectacular not only in its physical display but also in its depth and history. Mesa Verde is home to some of the most-well-preserved ancestral Pueblo sites in the nation.
Here you will find spectacular cliff dwellings built into the sides of steep mountainsides and underground “kivas,” antique circular rooms made from stone. This UNESCO World Heritage Site features more than 4,700 archaeological sites that you can hike, walk through, climb, and drive past. Impressive highlights here consist of the massive Cliff Palace and Balcony House, which you can only access by climbing a high step ladder and rushing through a narrow cave.
The antique sites, rock carvings, and remnants of the past are the cool highlight, but the panoramic views across the plateau and deep into valleys are also incredible.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Move to San Luis Valley in southern Colorado for these viewpoints, ones that are far from what you would be expecting to find in land-locked Colorado. This park is home to the nation’s tallest sand dune.
Get Ready to be flabbergasted by towering sand dunes with purple mountain peaks (the Sangre de Cristo mountain range) in the background. In the front, there is a calm creek that you can splash in. This national park is equally as extraordinary as it is surprising.
Rent Out a sled or snowboard and go “sandboarding” down the peaks. Hike the dunes if you’re up for it (it can get incredibly hot); best to set out early in the day when it’s cooler. The tallest dune, the Star Dune, reaches 750 feet.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Colorado is home to four different national parks, all of which are unique and gorgeous in their own way. But one place that takes our breath away year after year is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Gunnison and Montrose. There’s something incredible about the black mountain walls of the narrow gorge.
A favourite photo here is the unusual Painted Wall, named for the sequence of intricate pink-white markings crawling across the dark, 2,250-foot-tall cliff. This rock face shoots up from the Gunnison River, earning it the name for of the highest vertical rock wall in the state.
You can explore this park in a variety of ways, such as hiking, camping, and kayaking.
The Million Dollar Highway
There are various amazing points to visit in the southwestern area of Colorado near Ouray that it’s difficult to narrow it down. Fortunately, this one highway crosses many of them. The Million Dollar Highway is one of the most gorgeous road trips in Colorado; it gives tons of photographic-worthy bang for your buck, without you getting out of the car.
Halt in the historic mining town of Silverton, which is still moving today, and gaze at the colorful, Victorian buildings that line downtown.
Then visit a ghost town: Animas Forks also used to be a mining town, but this one was overlooked after the gold rush died down. You must access it via four-wheel-drive, but if you don’t mind the small diversion, a mountain ghost town is a typical Colorado tourist stop. See deserted, wooden shacks and the echo of a time past.
The Million Dollar Highway also brings you past ancient hot springs, like the Durango Hot Springs (which has a past dating back to Ancient Pueblo people in 1000); the San Juan National Forest (1.8 million acres for open-air adventure); the charming, small town of Ouray (perched in a round valley with multiple hot springs); and the Box Canyon waterfall (285 feet tall).
Maroon Bells, close to Aspen, are two of Colorado’s most popular mountains and well recognized for their views. They are amongst the most photographed mountains in the country.
The views of the Rocky Mountains all come together in this ideal blend of alpine lakes, meadows, and forests.
Also, in this area is Independence Pass Summit, which is one of the finest routes to drive to see the switching of the aspen leaves in the fall. This high mountain pass offers endless views. Additionally, you can see more fourteeners (mountains larger than 14,000 feet above sea level) than at any other place in the state.
The Broadmoor Seven Falls is believed Colorado’s most popular waterfall. This remarkable site contains seven waterfalls spilling 181 feet down from South Cheyenne Creek. To one direction is the flat prairie. To the other are the steep-walled canyon of the foothills. Glance for the Pillars of Hercules, rising 900 feet above the canyon, just 41 feet apart.
Staring at these falls is just the beginning of this attraction. You can go trekking, ziplining, dining, and shopping at this privately-owned site. Gain Access To Seven Falls through The Broadmoor, a lavish resort in Colorado (you must take a special bus from the resort to the trailhead because there’s no public parking). Not Like some other waterfall hikes in Colorado, this one is not free.