Colorado has some of the world's most beautiful natural wonders, most of which are designated national parks and preserves. Skiing and sledging opportunities abound in winter, while hiking and camping are possible year-round. For your convenience, designated campgrounds come with gorgeous surroundings and easy access to popular trails.

    Colorado isn’t all about snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes – you can also find acres of sand dunes between mountain ranges. Great for an extended break from the city life, take a road trip through Colorado with our list of the state’s best natural wonders.

    1

    Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

    For the Continental Divide

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    The Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is home to a stunning alpine landscape of snow-capped peaks and vibrant glacial valleys. One of the main attractions is the Continental Divide. Rain falling on one side of this ridge will wind up in the Pacific Ocean, while rain on the opposite side starts a long journey to reach the Atlantic.

    You can see the Divide along Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile route that winds its way past some especially beautiful scenery, including the massive Grand Lake. There are many more crisp mountain lakes worth seeing in the heart of the park, including Emerald Lake and Bear Lake.

    Phone: +1 970-586-1206

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    2

    Alberta Falls

    Less than 2 miles to reach the 30-ft-tall waterfall

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    Alberta Falls is a dramatic natural formation in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Surrounded by aspen groves, massive boulders, and mixed pine forest, this 30-ft-tall waterfall cascades into a small gorge on Glacier Creek. A roundtrip hike to Alberta Falls is about 1.6 miles, making it quite accessible for beginners. Once you reach the falls, you’ll find several open spaces to relax and enjoy the spectacular view.

    Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead near Bear Lake Road, located almost 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. There's a free park shuttle that takes you to the trailhead during peak tourist season.

    Location: Alberta Falls, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

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    3

    Garden of the Gods

    Hike past 300-million-year-old sandstone formations

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    The Garden of the Gods is a unique geological formation dating back over 300 million years. Three sandstone peaks tower 100 ft tall in Colorado Springs, which you can visit for free. Families with young kids can opt for a 45-minute trolley tour of the park, while e-bikes and regular mountain bikes are available for those who prefer self-guided tours.

    Hiking is an excellent way of experiencing the Garden of the Gods’ dramatic landscape. Beginners can tackle the Perkins Central Garden Trail, a 1.5-mile-long roundtrip route that starts at the base of the tallest rock formations.

    Location: Colorado Springs, CO 80904, USA

    Open: Daily from 5 am to 9 pm

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    4

    Rifle Falls State Park

    Visit a 3-pronged waterfall on East Rifle Creek

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    The Rifle Falls State Park spans 48 acres of riparian forest and wetlands in Garfield County. It’s most famous for its triple 70-ft-tall waterfall, which flows over a travertine dam on East Rifle Creek. Limestone cliffs near the falls contain several small caves that are great for spelunking.

    Three beginner-friendly trails lead to the top of the falls and the creek. Along the way, you might spot vultures, deer, great blue herons and coyotes. The Rifle Falls State Park also has campsites and picnic areas to the south along East Rifle Creek.

    Location: 5775 Highway 325, Rifle, CO 81650, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 970-625-1607

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    5

    Dinosaur National Monument

    Discover fossils at over 800 paleontological sites

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    The Dinosaur National Monument lies on the border between Colorado and Utah. The area is renowned for its paleontological and fossil finds, Fremont culture residential sites, and ample outdoor activities. Hikers can tackle the Harpers Corner Trail for dramatic views of Whirlpool Canyon and Steamboat Rock, along with the Green and Yampa Rivers.

    A must-see is the Gates of Lodore, located at the Dinosaur National Monument’s northernmost part. This steep-walled river canyon is popular for rafting – enjoy a multi-day trip along the Green River, which passes through Class I-IV rapids.

    Location: 11625 E 1500 S, Jensen, UT 84035, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 970-374-3000

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    6

    Hanging Lake

    Book your hiking permit early – they sell out fast!

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    Hanging Lake is a crystal-clear travertine lake in Colorado’s Glenwood Canyon. It’s also the name of a popular hiking trail, which spans 1.6 miles along Dead Horse Creek and passes the lake and 3 waterfalls. Be prepared to ascend around 1,000 ft over the course of the route to reach the lake.

    A walkway surrounds Hanging Lake, offering views of its turquoise waters, as well as ferns and wildflowers. The best time to visit the lake is from May to October. Hiking permits are required but they sell out very quickly in the summer, so book well in advance.

    Location: Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, USA

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    7

    Lone Eagle Peak

    Camp at Crater Lake for the best view of the mountain

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    Lone Eagle Peak is an 11,940-ft-tall mountain in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Arapaho National Forest. One of Colorado’s most scenic spots, photographers often make their way here to shoot photos of the triangle-shaped peak’s reflection against Mirror Lake.

    The best way to get there is via the 7.5-mile-long Cascade Trail, which passes by several waterfalls, forests and meadows with views of the mountain ranges. If you want to spend a couple of nights in the Indian Peaks backcountry, campsites are available at Crater Lake.

    Location: Nederland, CO 80466, USA

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    8

    Dream Lake

    A beautiful alpine lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park

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    Dream Lake is a popular stop along the Bear Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a high alpine lake flanked by the steep cliffs of Hallett’s Peak. It takes about 30 minutes of hiking from the trailhead, and you’ll pass Bear Lake and Nymph Lake before reaching the lake.

    Summertime is peak hiking season in the Rocky Mountain National Park, but visit in winter to find smaller crowds and dream-like scenery. You can even walk on the frozen Dream Lake, which is surrounded by the snow-capped mountain terrain.

    Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier Gorge, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

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    9

    Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

    Enjoy sand sledging and 4x4 driving

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    The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve shows that Colorado offers more than just snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes. Set against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it spans over 30 square miles of sand dunes in southern Colorado. Some of its most prominent landmarks are the 755-ft-high Star Dune and Medano Creek.

    Sand sledging is a must-do, though it’s best enjoyed in the early mornings or evenings. The Great Sand Dunes National Park also offers 4x4 tours, ranger-led nature walks, and hiking trails. At night, stargazing is possible – the Milky Way is highest and clearest in late summer and autumn.

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    10

    Mount Elbert

    Scale the highest peak in Colorado

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    Mount Elbert in San Isabel National Forest is Colorado’s highest peak. Reaching 14,440 ft above sea level, its summit is often snowy, even in the summer. Hikers can get there via 5 trails, one of which is the 4.5-mile-long Northeast Ridge. It’s a relatively easy route, with over 4,700 ft of elevation – get acclimatised before starting to avoid altitude sickness.

    You'll spot several wild animals on your way to the top of Mount Elbert. Black bears, turkeys, and mule deer are commonly sighted in the area. Once you reach the summit, take in the spectacular views of Mount Massive, La Plata Peak and the wilderness of central Colorado.

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    11

    Maroon Bells

    A great place to experience Colorado’s autumn foliage

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    The Maroon Bells are 14,000-ft-tall mountains towering above an alpine lake of the same name. Located in the White River National Forest, you can get here by taking a 20-minute bus ride from the nearby Aspen Highlands Ski Resort.

    While you can explore the Maroon Bells Scenic Area year-round, autumn is the best time to visit, with the peaks, aspen groves and blue skies reflected against the tranquil water. In the summer, hikers pass by wildflower fields to reach the base of the Maroon Bells. Camping is possible on the banks of Maroon Creek, which offers easy access to the Maroon Creek Trail.

    Location: Maroon-Snowmass Trail, Aspen, CO 81611, USA

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    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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