In the humble square of Colorado we have some of the great wonders and views of North America. If you are planning to take a trip around the state this spring or summer, this is a good time to start booking your adventure. Below are a few suggestions of day trips and weekend adventures for those who would to like explore more the treasures in our beautiful state.
7 INCREDIBLE SPOTS TO VISIT IN COLORADO
1# PAINT MINES INTERPRETIVE PARK
Located just north-east of Colorado Springs and near Calhan, CO is the unique and colorful Paint Mines Interpretive Park. This stunning spot has four miles of trails through layers of colorful canyons and rock formations in stunning red, blue, pink, orange and yellow. The Paint Mines are so named for the colorful clay that the native communities collected to make paint for use on bodies, horses and pottery.
The Paint Mine Canyons showcase hoodoos (rock spires with a balanced boulder on top), one of the three places in the United States that have such excellent examples. The best time to view the park is in the morning and evening when the golden light makes the beauty of this natural area glow.
Psst… To preserve the park and its natural habitat no pets are allowed, so this is a good trip to leave Fido at home.
2# CAVE OF THE WINDS
A ten minute drive from Old Colorado City is the incredible Cave of the Winds. A natural honeycomb of tunnels in the mountainside have been transformed into an adventure park with quite a few attractions. They have three tours that lead groups through incredible caves and caverns:
- Discovery Tour – 45 minutes on twisting paths as the guides discuss history, geology and any other questions; as you marvel and the incredible caves.
- Lantern Tour – 90 minutes of going deeper into the dark under the mountains, while discovering the folklore and ghost stories of the area.
- Caving 101 – 2 hours of crawling and climbing through passages with only a headlamp or flashlight to guide your way (must be booked in advance)!
After those adventures there is so much more! There is the “Bat-A-Pult” (a seated aerial ride) Wind Walker Challenge Course, Cliffhanger Climbing Wall, an adventure slide and quite a bit more. This is a great place for the thrill seekers and those who like physical challenges with great payoff! They also have the Josephine Snider Nature Center for quieter activity and Caver’s Cafe once everyone gets hungry.
Psst… Cave of the Winds was also featured in our guide ‘10 of the Scariest Thrill Rides in Colorado‘!
3# THE ROYAL GORGE AND ROYAL GORGE DINOSAUR EXPERIENCE
Two hours from Denver is The Royal Gorge where you can walk on the highest bridge in the Unites States and look into the dizzying gorge above the Arkansas River. When the bridge was built the stroll across the chasm was enough of a thrill, but current interests for adrenaline are now satisfied with the addition of Ariel Gondolas, Cloudscraper Zip Line, and a Royal Rush Skycoaster. Each of these rides are dependent on weather so make sure to check the website before planning a trip!
For the little ones and big kids in the family there is the Tommy Knocker Playland with a three story climbing area, a carousel with stunning views of the Bridge, and much more!
Ten minutes away from the Bridge is the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience which offers so much more than bones and interesting facts. Visit the Paleo Lab and see recently unearthed fossils, or go on the Dinosaur Wild Walk with 16 life sized animatronic dinosaurs who will watch you walk through their territory. If younger visitors get too squirrelly than the Ropes Course at the museum will be a favorite part of your trip!
4# OLD COLORADO CITY AND GHOST TOWN MUSEUM
Day trip to Weekend Adventure
Just west of Colorado Springs is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places and beautiful spots to visit. Old Colorado City is the historic district with a walkable area to shop, dine and learn about the history of the area. Dine at Thunder and Buttons, a restaurant and saloon that was named after two domesticated elk who used to pull wagons for local historical characters. Visit Garvin Cabin, the building that was the first territorial capital in 1859 which has historical characters and guides who will tell you everything you might want to know about the beginning of Colorado History.
Nearby there is the Ghost Town Museum where you can discover the history of Colorado’s abandoned mining towns and see amazing artifacts. Get to know the shadows of the towns that built the state and peer into the past. There are activities like cranking a butter churn, gold panning and antique arcade games for those who enjoy a hands on experience.
Psst… Old Colorado City is also featured in our guide ‘9 Things to do in Colorado this Spring‘!
5# GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE
Day trip to Weekend Adventure
On the west side of the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range is the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, with the tallest dunes in North America and incredible views and landscape to explore. There are many ways to experience the Sand Dunes area, from a short hike on the Montville Nature Trail (.5 miles) or a longer hike to the Castle Creek Picnic Area (3 miles). There is 4WD trails along the Medano Pass, and swimming in the Medano Creek that is a long flowing creek bordering the dunes. For fun on the dunes there are spots to sled or sand board with rental locations near the park entrance.
This is a beautiful area for backcountry camping as the distance from major cities means the night sky is at its most stunning. If you do go out hiking/camping into the backcountry you must have a free backcountry permit, and be aware that no fire is allowed outside of designated fire rings. If you would prefer not to sleep outside there is the Great Sand Dunes Oasis which is a tent camping and RV site, or the Great Sand Dunes Lodge which is open mid-March through October.
6# MESA VERDE/ FOUR CORNERS/ CANYONS OF THE ANCIENTS
In the South West corner of the state, travelers can find some incredible spots to walk in and around the homes of the ancient indigenous people of Colorado. From Denver it is about six hours over the Continental Divide through beautiful forest, past peaks and by some lovely hot springs to the Four Corners Area.
Consider staying close to Cortez at the Kelly Place Bed & Breakfast, which is an archeological preserve where visitors can wander orchards, gardens and Anasazi ruins. They offer horseback riding and mountain biking as well as pottery classes for those who would rather relax a bit for their vacation. If you prefer the great outdoors there are a number of campgrounds and RV parks in the area as well.
To the west of Cortez is the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It is 176,000 acres of federal land and is considered to have the highest number of native archeological sites in the US. If you only have a few hours to explore than go to the Anasazi Heritage Center and enjoy the exhibits on archeology, local history and First Nation cultures. They have replicas of early style pit-houses which allow visitors to get a real life understanding of how the ancient ruins might have been used by the native people. A short walk from the Heritage Center and you can see the Escalante Pueblo, an ancient ruin that still shows where houses stood and the individual rooms in each. If you have a little bit more time to spend in the Monument than explore a bit deeper and see the Lowry, Hand Painted or Sand Canyon Pueblo or hike Cross Canyon. Cross Canyon has few trails and none of the archeological sites have been developed. Hikers may come across ancient living settlements with broken shards of pottery on the floor.
To the south-east of Cortez you can find Mesa Verde, a park dedicated to preserving, protecting and offering a peek into some of the most notable cliff dwelling sites in the United States. There are two Mesas to visit, Chapin and Wetherill, and as you enter from the north you can enjoy stunning views of the Montazuma Mesa and beyond, for the 20 mile or so drive down. Before driving to far make sure to visit the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to discover rotating displays and interactive exhibits. If you want to visit the cliff dwellings you need to purchase a ticket for a ranger guided tour and plan ahead by checking the website for any closures. Please note that the tours will require climbing ladders, squeezing through tight spaces and hiking.
7# COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
Just a few miles out of Grand Junction are the towering canyons and vistas of the Colorado National Monument. No matter how you like to engage with nature this monument had options. Drive up the 23 mile turns and view the Uncompahgre Plateau with red towering spires and deep canyons. There are a number of camping spots through out the park to take time out in the high desert and howl at the moon.
If biking is your thing there are a number of options for beginners to experts. Look through the options from Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association and find a route that speaks to you. Hikers can look at trails that range from an easy stroll to a full day trip.
While you are in the area there are a few interesting museums to visit-
- Fort Uncompahgre History Museum is a living history museum where visitors can step into the past and explore life in the wild west. The fort was built in 1820 along trading paths and while it was abandoned for a bit it has now been transformed to a space where you can watch characters in buckskins
- For those who love dinosaurs the Dinosaur Journey Museum is a great place to visit while in the area. They have interactive exhibits, over 15,000 fossil specimens and an earthquake simulator. If you want to spend more time in the field? They have options to be a paleontologist for a day and visit active digs, and try your hand at excavating.
- Learn about the people who lived in Colorado at the Ute Indian Museum which recently has been moved to a beautiful new building with exhibitions that walks visitors through the past and into the future of the Ute life and culture.
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