Colorado’s scenic beauty has long drawn travelers who want to enjoy outdoor adventures. The state is full of natural landscapes, no matter what area you’re exploring. Gorgeous mountains, pristine water, and hundreds of animal or bird species create an expansive wonderland. Travel through incomparable beauty on an old-fashioned cog railway train, view fields of thriving wildflowers, and watch bald eagles soar, or catch a glimpse of elk, bighorn sheep and nighthawks while hiking amid ancient rocks. Then admire an endless carpet of stars after nightfall. Here are five gorgeous, group-friendly spots to visit in the Centennial State.
Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
West of Cañon City
Marvel at the nation’s highest suspension bridge, located inside Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1929 structure features 4,100 steel cables and more than 1,200 wooden planks. The breathtaking footbridge extends 1,260 feet across and 956 feet above the roaring Arkansas River. Excitement rules on the seated Cloudscraper Zip Line, where guests travel 2,350 feet with a vertical drop of 136 feet, and speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Named the “World’s Scariest” among nearly 90 skycoasters from across the globe, Royal Rush Skycoaster provides more big adrenaline rushes. For a less intense park experience, book a guided Via Ferrata climbing tour. royalgorgebridge.com
Outside of Aspen
Soaring above 14,000 feet, these bell-shaped, wine-colored peaks create a classic alpine scene. The 300-million-year-old jagged stone ranks among the most photographed North American mountain areas. In addition, glacial Maroon Creek Valley encompasses various natural habitats that groups can easily access via six pet-friendly hiking trails or bike trails. At several campsites, pitch tents, park RVs, or rent one rustic 1930s cabin. Then visit the glossy and gorgeous Maroon Lake, sitting at 9,850 feet, or choose a perfect picnic spot among brilliant wildflowers. Because of the elevation, do check for road closures, especially related to weather conditions.
Pikes Peak National Park and the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Colorado Springs area
Travel winding, climbing roadways while admiring thousands of pine trees plus stunning snow-capped peaks along the 19-mile drive to the summit or book the shuttle. Stretch your legs while crossing boulder-strewn landscape where bighorn sheep and yellow-bellied marmots reside. Catch a fish or grab a snack at the visitor center. For incomparable views, ride the world’s highest cog railway. This 9-mile journey reaches 14,115 feet in altitude, while providing sweeping 360-degree views. With a stop at the top, trips run about 31⁄2 hours.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Near Estes Park and Grand Lake
Among the nation’s highest national parks, Rocky Mountain National Park’s elevations range from 7,860 to 14,259 feet. This legendary destination covers 415 square miles, with meadows and glistening lakes, plus more than 300 miles of hiking trails and multiple camping sites. Experience incredible wildlife views, including bighorn sheep, moose and mountain lions, as well as deer, coyotes and black bears. Redheaded woodpeckers, nighthawks, great horned owls and majestic bald eagles are several of more than 250 bird species here. Send photos to friends and family via free Wi-Fi at the visitor centers, but cell service is not dependable beyond park entrances. Spring and summertime draw enormous crowds.
Colorado National Monument
Near Grand Junction
From a Grand Mesa to rock monoliths and canyons, many consider this 20,000-acre semidesert one of the American West’s most inspiring landscapes. The monument is also part of the greater Colorado Plateau, which incorporates Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks. For gorgeous views of the Colorado River, travel 23 miles full of twists and turns, along Rim Rock Drive. Highland trails provide fascinating geological and wildlife views too, from pinyon pines and juniper trees to bighorn sheep, coyotes and multiple bird species. Part of the National Park Service, Colorado National Monument also offers an 80-site campground, with reservations taken March through October.
Main image: Royal Gorge Bridge; credit: Eve Nagode
Article by Lisa Waterman Gray