Things to Do in Colorado
Get your helmets and life vests ready—this family-friendly rafting river serves up class I, II and III rapids as it winds through Colorado shrub land and downtown Durango. Calmer than its wild upper reaches in the San Juan mountains surrounding Silverton 48 miles north, Durango’s stretch boasts calm bends as well as several named rapids including “Smelter,” “Pinball,” and “Santa Rita Hole,” as it passes the fairgrounds and the buildings of downtown. Though it still can be a wild ride, most guided tours will take kids as young as five years old. Rafting adventures run from May to September.
In the height of summer when the river is warmest and lowest, tubing is also a popular past time. The city runs shuttles from the parking and take-out at 9th Street at Schneider Park to the put-in near the Recreation Center where there’s free air fills for tubes. South of town a four-mile stretch of river has achieved notoriety as an excellent fly-fishing spot for rainbow and brown trout.
If you’re in Durango in the off-season, you can still enjoy the river and its downtown views via the Durango River Trail. The walking path has pedestrian bridges and sculpture installations and follows the course of the river through the city.
Flowing through four states, the Arkansas River is the sixth longest river in the United States. Its source basin and Arkansas River Canyon can be found in Colorado, where it is a popular spot to go whitewater rafting. It runs past the Rocky Mountains and drops extensively as it flows through the valley, creating the conditions that are good for rafting and kayaking. Depending on the section of the river there is everything from Class IV and V rapids to gentler II and III sections that are ideal for beginners. Waters weave scenically in and through canyons and gorges surrounded by thick forest and snow-capped peaks.
Aside from boating and fishing, visitors to the Arkansas River often utilize the facilities and the beautiful backdrop for activities such as hiking, camping, mountain biking, birding, and rock climbing. There is also great fly fishing in this part of the river, particularly for trout.
The astounding natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains is exemplified and amplified in Rocky Mountain National Park, a hub of Colorado outdoor adventure. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, rafting, ziplining, and wildlife watching are just a few of the ways to experience the area’s magic. In the winter months, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and other snow-sport lovers frolic amongst white-washed peaks.
An urban park and designated national landmark in Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods encompasses 1,367 acres of unique wilderness, Great Plains grassland, and juniper woodlands. The most iconic section of the park features a towering ridge of eroded red rock formations that reveal 300 million years of geological history, while the famous red rock formations include Balanced Rock, Gateway Rock and the Three Graces. Among the crags and overhangs, visitors can spot petroglyphs from the Native American Ute tribe that once roamed these lands.
Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a music venue unlike any other—a sandstone stadium forged by the elements and blessed with natural acoustics. Many musicians have taken to this stage, and when shows are in town, Red Rocks can host over 9,500 concertgoers, all in for a treat beyond the music: stellar views of the natural Colorado landscape.
The heart of Durango is a nationally registered historic district where visitors can walk in the footsteps of the miners and railroad workers who helped settle the Wild West, though today’s Durango is quite a bit more upscale that it was when William Jackson Palmer settled the area in the late 1800s. Historic attractions include the original Strater Hotel, built in 1887, and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which still carries passengers between the two towns along the Animas River. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Museum sits at the back of the railyard with exhibits describing the history of the town and the railway.
The Pikes Peak Highway offers an easy, scenic route to the top of iconic Pikes Peak. The 19-mile, paved toll road was originally built in 1915, and the entrance begins at 7,400 feet before climbing all the way to the top of the 14,115-foot summit. One of the best views of the peak can be found at the pullout between mile markers seven and eight. Along the way you can make a pit stop at the historic Glen Cove Inn, a cabin-turned-rest stop area featuring a gift shop, restaurant and restrooms.
At the summit, you’ll find the Summit House, which has the America the Beautiful monument and an observation deck from which you can enjoy incredible panoramic views stretching all the way to Colorado Springs. If the altitude proves overwhelming, head inside the Summit House to belly up to the oxygen bar and alleviate altitude sickness.
The final resting place of Wild West showman extraordinaire William “Buffalo Bill” Cody sits atop Lookout Mountain on the outskirts of Golden, Colorado, where grave marker itself overlooks a panoramic view of the Rock Mountains. Since Cody’s burial here in 1917, which had some 20,000 fans in attendance, the mountain attraction has also grown to include a museum devoted to his life.
The 3,000-square-foot museum is a family-friendly roadside attraction with a variety of permanent and rotating exhibits documenting his life and legend. See rare historical artifacts, including one of Cody’s Stetson hats and a peace pipe from Sitting Bull. Other exhibits include a display of Wild West guns and a Kid’s Cowboy Corral, where children can design their own brand and learn to throw a lasso.
Atop Iron Mountain in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park provides a day of nonstop thrills with some of the best views of any amusement park around. Home to the highest-elevation full-size coaster, the park gives adrenaline junkies plenty to scream about with rides that zip and swing across cliffs and canyons.
Larimer Square is the oldest part of Denver, with Victorian-era buildings now home to many of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and boutiques. The foundation of Colorado’s capital, the 2-block district is popular with locals and tourists alike, strolling beneath strings of lights and state flags.
More Things to Do in Colorado
In the southwest corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is known for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and boasts a landscape of mesas and canyons. This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts history and archaeology buffs who go to marvel at the pueblos built into cliffs, which were inhabited from about 1190 to 1300.
Reminiscent of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Colorado State Capitol Building sitting high atop Denver is not just a 24 karat gold-domed meeting place for the Colorado General Assembly, but also an homage to the American governmental process, as well as a truly beautiful archaeological wonder.
Built a mile high above sea level, as denoted by the markings inscribed upon its steps, the Colorado State Capital Building has incredible views of downtown Denver, and a history that tells of the days of the Gold Rush and the incredible use of the beautiful Colorado Rose Onyx used to build the interior of the capitol and the designs of dignitaries engraved therein. It is said that the entire known supply of this rare marble was exhausted in making of the Colorado State Capitol.
Tours will tell of early Colorado history, the Capitol construction, the origin of several stained glass windows, the Woman’s Gold Tapestry, and a stop outside the State and House Representative chambers.
Visitors may know Margaret “Molly” Brown in association with theRMS Titanic, but there was much more to her life than the ill-fated voyage for which she became famous. An activist, suffragist, and philanthropist, Brown’s spirit lives on through educational tours, exhibits, and programming inside her restored historic Denver home.
With an elevation of 14,265 feet (4,348 meters), Mount Evans is the 12th-highest peak in Colorado and one of the state’s 58 “Fourteeners”—peaks above 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). Part of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, it’s easily accessible from Denver via the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
It’s just a short drive from downtown Denver, but Lookout Mountain feels like another world. Once used as a lookout for the Native American Ute tribe that called the area home, the 7,300-foot (2,225-meter) mountain has miles of hiking and mountain biking trails throughout, from easy walking paths to strenuous switchbacks. From the summit, you can see the Denver skyline 12 miles (19 kilometers) away.
The Browns Canyon National Monument is an area around the Arkansas River that's long been a popular recreational area.
The nearly 22,000-acre area of the Arkansas River that is contained within the Browns Canyon National Monument is the United States' most popular place for whitewater rafting. It is also popular for its hiking and fishing opportunities.
Prior to becoming a National Monument in 2015, the area had also been popular with hunters. With the designation, animals such as bighorn sheep, elk, and golden eagles are more protected.
The Denver 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado, is a tree-lined pedestrian corridor filled with outdoor cafés, restaurants, and shops. Along the popular downtown promenade, visitors can enjoy performances from local street performers or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage while searching for the perfect craft beer or dining spot.
A lively district of restaurants, shops, and nightlife, Lower Downtown Denver (or LoDo) is a top destination for Denver culture. In addition to its vibrant scene, though, LoDo is also home to some of the city’s best-preserved historic architecture and more Victorian–era buildings than anywhere else in the United States.
No matter what the season, there’s always something going on at Breck. With multiple peaks spanning almost three-thousand acres and an average annual snowfall of 350 inches, skiers and riders find great conditions to play in.
Breckenridge has 187 trails, so there are plenty of options for all levels of skiers. Breck is also home to North America’s highest chairlift, the Imperial Express.
Not a skier or snowboarder? You can spend your day snowmobiling, dogsledding or visiting the nearby Country Boy Gold Mine.
As the snow melts, Breckenridge Ski Resort kicks into busy summertime gear. The Summer Fun Park offers activities for all ages including ziplining, mountain biking, hiking tours, off road Segway tours, and mini golf. Thrill seekers will head straight for the Gold Runner Coaster. Its’ 2,500 feet of coaster track that twists and turns through the forest is open year round.
The Denver Mint is one of a handful of facilities that produces US currency, and one of only two (along with the Philadelphia Mint) that offers tours to the public. Visitors can tour the massive Renaissance-style 1904 mint building to glimpse the coin-making process, explore exhibits on the history of money, or purchase authentic currency and commemorative coins in the gift shop.
Denver, Colorado is home to the United States’s largest nonprofit theater organization, and the city’s Center for the Performing Arts offers an incredible variety of live shows in its ten performance venues. From their own theater company to Broadway shows, Cabaret, and “Off-Center” plays, nearly every type of theater can be found here. As such the center has everything from a concert hall to an opera house, an auditorium, a ballroom, and four major theaters. The structure stretches across four city blocks and nearly 12 acres, with over 10,000 seats in front of its stages. Its impressive 80 foot glass roof tops it all off, making it the largest performing arts center in the country as well.
It’s here that the Colorado Ballet, symphony orchestra, and opera perform, alongside original and national productions. Aside from its many performances, the center holds workshops, children’s theater classes, backstage tours, and events on a regular basis. Dedicated to the excellence in the arts, the venue is also a preferred stop for many touring shows.
One of the largest museums between Chicago and California, Denver Art Museum showcases a wide range of art in its 70,000-piece collection. From Native American art to ultramodern contemporary pieces, interactive exhibits to works sparking profound cultural reflection, DAM (as locals call it) is a destination for art lovers of all ages.
Dinosaurs once roamed the earth, and they once walked the ground in Colorado. We only know this from the dinosaur bones, tracks, and marks left behind at Dinosaur Ridge, just west of Denver. Known as one of the most famous sites where dinosaur bones have been discovered, they were first unearthed in 1877 by a local professor. Their display increased public interest in dinosaurs and prehistory, sparking excavations throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Later, in 1937, dinosaur tracks from the Early Cretaceous Period were found.
These steps can now be traced on the Triceratops Trail, a half-mile journey through fossils and imprints as much as 68 million years old. There’s also a Dinosaur Ridge Trail which, at 2 miles roundtrip, circles through the rocky landscapes of dinosaur tracks and bones.
The Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center is also worth a stop to learn a bit more about the area and the dinosaurs past. You can learn as the excavation process as well with an interactive simulated dinosaur dig.
Denver Civic Center Park was created more than 100 years ago as the civic heart for the city of Denver. The urban green space is the site of the Colorado State Capitol, and arching footpaths across the park offer a chance to stroll among the gardens and marvel at the surrounding architecture, including the Denver City and County Building, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Central Library. The park is also home to the Greek Theater and the historic Carnegie Library.
Recent revitalization efforts have turned Civic Center Park into a hub for local events including outdoor movies and Civic Center EATS, an annual, summer-long tradition in which local, gourmet food trucks convene at the park every Tuesday and Thursday during lunchtime.
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