If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, look no further than Colorado. This state has it all, from natural beauty to man-made wonders, there are innumerable reasons why so many people believe it’s one of the best places to live in the country. And whether you’re a thrill seeker, a lover of rich history or a nature lover, there’s something for everyone. So if you’re looking for your next great adventure, check out this list of 10 once in a lifetime things to do in Colorado that you shouldn’t miss. From hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park to hot springs and everything in between, this list of things to do won’t leave you disappointed.
What makes an experience a once in a lifetime experience
When you ask locals in Colorado what they love about the state, you’ll get a variety of different answers. It offers (debatably) the best ski resort in the country, and there are plenty of other outdoor activities to enjoy as well. But what makes Colorado truly special is its unique blend of culture and natural beauty. There are few places in the world where you can find such a diverse range of people and landscapes all in one place. We believe that a once in a lifetime experience is one that you carry with you and can recall years afterwards. Normally this is because you’re exposed to some view, experience, or culture that’s unique and like nothing you’ve ever seen that it has a uniquely positive impact on you.
What time of year you should visit Colorado
Needless to say, the state of Colorado can cater to different interests. Whether you’re into rock climbing, jeep tours, skiing, a hot air balloon ride, or if you call yourself a mountain biker; what you enjoy doing plays an important role in your decision on when you should visit. Colorado does get snow every winter and typically gets as low as the teens (if not lower) in the winter months, so if you’re not a cold weather fan, you should probably avoid the winters here unless you really love snow sports.
If you’re not a fan of warm weather, Colorado can break 100 degrees in the summer months in the middle of the day so be prepared to venture out to a mountain town for the duration of your stay if you can’t handle 100+ degree weather. Whatever you do, don’t forget to bring clothes for cold and warm weather because forecasting the weather is incredibly difficult in Colorado. If you come here expecting warm weather and have no warm clothes and you’re wrong, it could ruin your trip.
What You Should Bring To Colorado
Colorado is a unique place with a somewhat unpredictable climate. You’ll find that the temperature can swing as much as 30 degrees over the course of a few hours so be prepared. Most of the locals recommend you dress in layers and always have a jacket with you because even if the weather forecast says it’s gonna be warm, they’re oftentimes wrong so be sure to bring a jacket that’s warm in addition to a sweater, (even if you’re visiting in the summer). In addition, our hikes have elevation so bring a nice pair of wool socks and a good pair of hiking shoes that are broken in.
How Much You Should Expect To Spend On Your Vacation
Colorado is known for its beauty, culture, food, and diversity but definitely not for being inexpensive. Major tech firms like Google, Oracle, Salesforce, and Slack are all located here so while it’s not as expensive as San Francisco; in places like Boulder, it definitely gets close. If you choose to stay in a hotel or airbnb in Colorado Springs, expect to spend about $150 – $250 a night on lodging. Moderately priced restaurants regularly run about $50 – $90 for 2 people per meal so it’s not cheap. If you venture into places like Vail, Aspen, or Breckenridge, expect your daily cost to be nearly double what Colorado Springs costs (potentially 3 times the cost during ski season).
Here are the top 15 once in a lifetime experiences you’ll enjoy in Colorado
1. Hike to the top of one of our 58 Fourteeners (or at least one of the State’s World-Renowned hiking trails)
One of the most popular outdoor activities in Colorado is hiking to the top of a Fourteener. A Fourteener is a mountain peak that rises at least 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) above sea level. There are 58 peaks in Colorado that meet this criteria, and many locals and visitors alike make it a goal to summit as many as possible.
Our favorite Fourteeners for beginners are:
- Mount Bierstadt – The highest point of Mt. Bierstadt is 14,065 feet in elevation making it among the shortest Fourteeners. It’s located in the front range of the Rocky Mountains, making it a shorter drive than the trek to most Fourteeners. The trailhead is only 9.4 miles south of the town of Georgetown in Clear Creek County making it close enough to stop and grab some lunch after you’re finished.
- Mount Evans – The top of Mount Evans gets to 14,265 feet of elevation which makes it the highest peak in the Mount Evans wilderness. This is a short drive from Mount Bierstadt as well. Known for being slightly more difficult than Bierstadt, neither of these trails are for the meek of heart.
- Mount Belford – Mount Belford is the tallest mountain in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. At 14,203 feet of elevation, it’s not an easy hike. What we love about it is the view you get by reaching the top in combination with the fact it’s a class 1 hike (easier than most Fourteeners).
Keep in mind, the hike to the top of a Fourteener is not for the faint of heart. If you’re feeling even a little uncertain of your ability, you should consider a guided tour. It’s a strenuous climb that can take several hours, and even experienced hikers can find themselves challenged by the altitude and rocky terrain. However, reaching the summit is an unforgettable experience, offering stunning views of the surrounding areas and valleys including majestic mountain peaks.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bighorn sheep. Alternatively, if you don’t think you’re in shape enough to tackle a fourteener, visiting any of the more moderate hiking trails near Lookout Point in Golden, Colorado, or near the Garden of the Gods in Pike National Forest park will provide you with spectacular views and a great experience as well.
There are a ton of different hikes in Colorado, each with its own unique scenery and challenge level. However, not all of them are necessarily geared toward tourists.
Here are some of the best hikes in Colorado for people who don’t want to tackle a fourteener:
- Bear Creek Trail – This easy trail is great for those who want to enjoy a short hike with beautiful views. The trailhead is located just outside of Denver, making it easily accessible for many visitors. It’s a relatively short hike at only 2.6 miles out and back, but it’s perfect for those who want to get a taste of hiking in Colorado without having to commit to an entire day on the trail.
- Horsetooth Mountain Park is located just outside of Fort Collins and offers stunning views of Horsetooth Reservoir. There are a variety of trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult, so there’s something for everyone. Many of the trails also offer the opportunity to see wildlife, including bighorn sheep and mule deer.
- Mesa Verde National Park is home to some of the most well-preserved native americans archaeological sites in the United States. The park offers a variety of different hikes, ranging from short nature walks to longer backpacking trips.
If you’re looking for an adventure while visiting Colorado, hiking to the top of a Fourteener is definitely something you should add to your list!
2. Take a Gondola through Telluride
There’s a reason why many celebrities own second homes in Telluride; it’s beautiful. Taking the Gondola through the city provides you with the ability to view it in all of its glory.
3. Bike through (or at least visit) a ghost town
Colorado is home to many well-known ghost towns, including St. Elmo, Animas Forks, and South Park City. These towns were once bustling with miners, ranchers, and other settlers, but now they stand as eerie reminders of the state’s rich history. If you’re looking to explore some of Colorado’s best ghost towns, here are a few that shouldn’t be missed:
St. Elmo: This former mining town is located in the San Isabel National Forest and is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the state. Visitors can explore the ruins of the old mines and buildings, and even take a ride on the historic St. Elmo-Argentine Railway.
Animas Forks: Another former mining town, Animas Forks is located high in the San Juans and was once one of the most populous towns in the area. Today, it’s a popular destination for hikers and photographers who come to marvel at the abandoned buildings and stunning mountain views.
South Park City: This unique ghost town is actually a museum that recreates what a typical Colorado mining town would have looked like in the 1860s. It’s located in Fairplay (one of Colorado’s oldest towns) and is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in learning more about the state’s history.
Walking through the streets, it’s easy to imagine what life was like in this Wild West town. The old buildings are well preserved and give a glimpse into the past.
4. Go white water rafting or mountain biking in Bailey
Colorado is home to some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. With so many rivers and streams to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some of the best places for whitewater rafting in Colorado:
The Arkansas River is one of the most popular spots for whitewater rafting in Colorado. The river has a variety of different sections, so you can find a stretch that suits your skill level. The Lower Arkansas River is ideal for beginners, while the Upper Arkansas River is perfect for experienced rafters.
The Colorado River is another great option for whitewater rafting. The river runs through some of the most scenic parts of the state, so you can enjoy the views as you paddle downstream.
The Colorado River is also home to a number of rapids, so you can get your adrenaline fix if you’re looking for a thrill.
If you want to experience something truly unique, check out the San Juan River. The river runs through a remote area of the state, so you’ll feel like you’re in another world entirely. The San Juan River is also home to some of the biggest rapids in Colorado, so it’s perfect for experienced rafters who are looking for a challenge.
5. Soak in a natural hot spring in Steamboat Springs
If you’re looking to relax and recharge, there’s nothing better than soaking in a natural hot spring. Colorado is home to some of the best hot springs in the country, so whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a family-friendly adventure, you’ll be sure to find the perfect spot.
Some of our favorite hot springs in Colorado include:
1. Strawberry Park Hot Springs: Located just outside of Steamboat Springs, this naturally occurring hot spring is perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The picturesque setting and serene surroundings are sure to please.
2. Iron Mountain Hot Springs: Situated along the banks of the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs, these 16 different mineral pools offer something for everyone. From family-friendly pools to adults-only areas, there’s something for everyone at Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
3. Valley View Hot Springs: This hidden gem is located just outside of Buena Vista and offers stunning views of the Collegiate Peaks. Soak in one of the many pools or take a dip in the river – it’s up to you!
4. Ouray Hot Springs Pool: Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray is home to one of Colorado’s most scenic hot springs pool complexes. With three different temperature-controlled pools (including one that’s adults only), there’s something for everyone at Ouray Hot Springs Pool.
6. Check out some of our many Breweries with Live Music in Denver
There are few things more enjoyable and relaxing than sipping on a cold beer while listening to live music in a relaxed, upbeat environment. Colorado (the Centennial State) is renowned for having some of the country’s best breweries and for having a significant amount of live music. There are numerous breweries that host live music throughout the week. Some of our favorites include:
– Great Divide Brewing Company: With two locations in Denver, Great Divide is one of the most popular breweries in the city. Their taprooms regularly host local and touring bands, making it a great place to catch a show.
-New Terrain Brewing in Golden, Colorado. This lively brewery loves to host Bluegrass and a revolving menu of food trucks and drinks.
– Wit’s End Brewing Company: This small brewery in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood has a cozy atmosphere and often features live rock and roll.
-Denver Beer Company, located on Platte Street: Our favorite on the list. They have numerous live events including live music and are located in an area surrounded by good restaurants. It’s hard to not have a good time when you’re there.
7. Stargaze in a dark sky park
There are few things more magical than staring up at a clear night sky, and in Colorado, we are lucky to have some of the best stargazing spots in the country. Head to a dark sky park like Grand Mesa or Rocky Mountain National Park for an unforgettable experience.
On a clear night, you can see thousands of stars twinkling overhead, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a shooting star or two. Make sure to dress warmly as it can get chilly at night, and don’t forget to bring along a blanket or lawn chair to recline in while you stargaze. Hint: If you can stay at an Airbnb with a hot tub, there are few experiences as pleasant as looking out over the dark sky with a cup of tea (or a hot toddy) while staying toasty in a hot tub on the deck.
8. Go skiing or snowboarding in Breckenridge
If you love winter sports, then you’ll definitely want to add skiing or snowboarding in Colorado to your bucket list. The Rocky Mountains offer some of the best terrains in the country for both sports, and there are plenty of resorts to choose from no matter your level of experience. Just be sure to bring your warmest gear!
9. Take a scenic train ride
If you want to experience some of Colorado’s most stunning scenery, one of the best ways is to take a ride on one of the state’s scenic trains. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the most popular options, offering trips through the majestic San Juan Mountains. But there are also several other scenic railways to choose from, including the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad and the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Whichever you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.
10. Visit the great sand dunes national park
If you’re looking for a truly unique Colorado experience, visiting the sand dunes is a must. The sand dunes are located in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which is about a four-hour drive from Denver. Once you arrive, you can explore the dunes on foot, horseback, or even sand sledding. And if you time your visit right, you might even catch a glimpse of the magnificent aurora borealis.
11. Visit the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge
Strung up 965 feet over the Arkansas River, you’ll find the Royal Gorge suspension bridge, one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. You can (carefully!) walk across it, but if you’re really looking for once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Colorado, consider driving on Mt Evans Road located 14,130 feet over sea level (one of the highest in the world) or checking out the Million-Dollar Highway.
12. Drive on one of our many scenic roads like the Million Dollar Highway
The length of Hwy 550 which connects Silverton and Ouray, Colorado, is known as the “Million Dollar Highway” purely because of the views that you’ll see as you travel across it. To call the scenery jaw-dropping would be an understatement, however, the drive itself, full of hairpin turns and “S” curves, makes this one of those once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Colorado. It’s both gorgeous and dangerous, so be careful. Don’t forget to stop by and spend time in Ouray as well. It’s absolutely one of the most beautiful towns in Colorado. We’re not alone in that thought as it’s referred to as the “Switzerland of Colorado”.
Some of our other favorite scenic drives in Colorado include:
-The Peak to Peak Highway – This picturesque route winds its way through Rocky Mountain National Park, offering incredible views of the Continental Divide.
-The scenic drive to Mesa Verde National Park – You’ll have a great time driving through this awe-inspiring route to see some of the oldest well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, notably the huge Cliff Palace.
-The San Juan Skyway – This 236-mile loop takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in southwestern Colorado, including the famous red rocks of the Four Corners region.
-Trail Ridge Road – This high-altitude road tops out at 12,183 feet, making it the highest paved highway in North America. The views from Trail Ridge Road are simply breathtaking.
Whether you’re a local looking for a perfect place to explore or a visitor seeking an unforgettable experience, don’t miss out on driving one of Colorado’s scenic routes.Just be prepared because it’s not a short drive to get to cities like Estes Park.
13. Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Ampitheatre is ranked among the top concert venues in the world. Musicians everywhere want to play a concert here because of the acoustics, the view of the sunset, and the fact the concert venue is literally built into a canyon. Your visit to this amphitheatre won’t just be a nice time but something that’s unforgettable, especially if it’s your favorite band. If you go to a show that happens to be at sunset, the way it’ll make you feel will stick with you for years. Be sure to get there early because their parking lot fills up quickly.
14. Drive on Mount Evans Road
Mount Evans Road is located 14,130 feet above sea level (the highest in North America) and features jaw-dropping views. You may find yourself a little afraid at times because of the drop-offs that lack any guard and the clear possibility of ice on the roads. Needless to say, drive slowly and be prepared… or else.
15. Visit the Denver Zoo
Denver’s Zoo is over 80-acre and is a nonprofit zoological garden located in City Park of Denver. Originally founded in 1896, it’s operated by the Denver Zoological Foundation and funded by a mixture of donations, ticket sales as well as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. You’ll find lions, monkeys, bears, and more there.
Our favorite cities in Colorado
Colorado is home to a number of beautiful, bustling towns and cities that are home to some of the country’s best breweries, wineries, music, and culture that the country has to offer all formed within a short vicinity of the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain Range. Next, you’ll learn about some of the cities you should make sure you don’t miss that is uniquely Colorado and always a joy to visit.
The City of Boulder, Colorado
You’ll never hear anyone say “I hate Boulder” because there’s literally nothing to hate. It offers cuisine ranging from award-winning barbeque at Moe’s Barbeque to fresh fish at Jax Seafood, there’s something for everyone who lives here. What makes it even better is the fact that nearly everywhere you go, you can see the Flatirons as clear as day because you’re never more than a 10-minute drive of world-class hiking trails. Boulder is also home to the headquarters of internationally renowned breweries like Avery and Upslope brewing which regularly offer live music and events to make drinking their tasty new beers even more entertaining.
The City of Denver, Colorado
There’s a reason you’ve probably heard of Denver and it’s not just because the airport happens to be in it. Denver is a diverse city including museums, world-renowned restaurants, major cultural events and festivals, and much much more. It’s a city that no matter who you are, you’ll be able to easily find a way to enjoy your stay. A few unique offerings that many people miss when they visit Denver include:
- Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is a huge, multilevel “gastro-brothel” with live music & a restaurant offering eclectic American food.
- Linger Eatuary which is a highly popular restaurant based in an old mortuary and offers a rooftop lounge & global small plates. We’re huge fans of their Phad Thai.
- The Buckhorn Exchange – which is a popular steakhouse that offers a unique environment including taxidermy. at 3400 reviews on google averaging 4.7/5, you know they know how to make a good steak.
- Meow Wolf Convergence Station – Meow Wolf is a surreal, walk-through art experience with many interactive rooms, bizarre sculptures & a story. It’s definitely a unique experience that is unlike what you’ll find in other parts of the country at art museums.
- Coors Field – Located in the heart of Denver, Coors Field is where the Colorado Rockies play.
- Union Station – Located in LoDo, Union Station is a bustling train stop in a downtown trendy neighborhood. LoDo is known for trendy shopping, proximity to sports and entertainment, and its various options for shopping. Strung across Larimer Square (a historic block of elegant victorian buildings immediately next to Union Station), string lights line the skyline.
The City of Littleton, Colorado
Littleton Colorado is a cute town but don’t call it small. It’s home to major corporations including Lockheed & Martin among others. It offers a bustling old town area, a massive lake with a beach (Chatfield State Park), beautiful gardens including the Hudson Gardens, the Robert F Clement Park, and others, and its own aquarium (Seaquest Littleton). If you’re interested in escaping the crowds and going horseback riding or on an easy hike, drive up to The Bluffs in Lonetree which is only 15 minutes away. You’ll be able to enjoy its sweeping views over the Denver Metro area without having to worry about seeing a bear.
The City of Colorado Springs, Colorado
The wonderful city of Colorado Springs is well known for its massive military population, the location of Norad, and for its unique rock formations at Garden of the Gods. Many people don’t realize that Colorado Springs is the 2nd most populous city in Colorado, only trailing Denver slightly. It offers a lot of the same cuisine, culture, and climate that Denver has but with less traffic and a lower cost of living. During the warmer months, its biking trails and hiking trails are what really attract people to Colorado Springs because it boasts over 100 miles of trails for you to venture out into. The best time of year to visit Colorado Springs is definitely in the summer months because of the lack of skiing and snowboarding. To truly enjoy all it has to offer, you should aim to enjoy its great outdoors.
The City of Manitou Springs, Colorado
Just outside of Colorado Springs is Manitou Springs. Originally a mining town, today is much more well-known for its outdoor access. Nestled immediately on the Pikes Peak COG railway, you’ll find yourself surrounded by mountains very quickly. If you’ve been to Switzerland, it may bring you back. What Manitou is best known for is a hiking trail named “the Incline” and, just to forewarn you, the name wasn’t on accident. This trail is rated “extreme” in terms of difficulty because you climb over 2000 feet of elevation in one mile.
The City of Fort Collins, Colorado
Fort Collins is oftentimes referred to as Denver’s less corporate and more fun younger brother. You’ll find the city as lush and green as you’d expect any city in the pacific northwest except less busy and closer to the hiking. The city is over 100 years old and is filled with the headquarters of world-renowned breweries like Odells, and New Belgium among others. For families, one attraction that makes Fort Collins unique is Fort Fun which is a vast family entertainment park and recreation center.
The City of Grand Lake, Colorado
Calling all nature lovers, you should drive out to Grand Lake. It’s considered the snowmobiling capital of the United States so it’s oftentimes considered a winter destination more than a summer one. It’s also a place for many Denverites to get summer homes to escape the hustle and relax near Colorado’s largest lake. You’ll find 60 different shops, restaurants, and galleries including the Colorado Repertory Theatre. Similar to other parts of Colorado, Grand Lake offers hiking, mountain biking, ATV/OHV outfitters that can help you experience the town in a different way. It’s located a short drive from Rocky Mountain National Park so if you’re interested in hiking deep in the Rockies and seeing some mountain goats, this is a great place to start.
The City of Golden, Colorado
If you’re a Coors fan, you’ve probably heard of Golden, Colorado because it’s where Coor’s headquarters is located. There’s much more to Golden than Coors, beer, however. The top-rated engineering college in the country, Colorado School of Mines, is located here as well. Known for being located immediately next to the mountains, it’s a great place to live and visit for nature lovers and beer fans, alike.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs is a small town located in Southwestern Colorado and is well-known for its various hot springs. Hidden by the towering San Juan Mountains and vast national forests, this town featured various restaurants and different types of cuisine. People of all ages love this city because of its quant feel, neighborly culture, vast amounts of hiking and relaxing hot springs.
The Number One Favorite Attraction in Colorado That Everyone Should See (At Least Once in a Lifetime)
For Nature Lovers and non-nature lovers, Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes is easily the most beautiful place in the state. Making the Trek up to Emerald Lake, seeing its many waterfalls, or even just doing a short hike up the Loch via Glacier Gorge Trail will leave you feeling relaxed and at peace. It’s a great way to get work-related stress to melt away and remind yourself how relaxing nature can be.
Some Tools You Can Purchase To Ensure You Get The Most Out Of Your Trip and Avoid Injury in the Mountains
If you intend on experiencing all the outdoors and mountains have to offer in Colorado, we highly recommend you download the Alltrails Application or alternatively, sign up for one of the many ranger-led tours. Alltrails offers maps that help you know which way to go even if you have no cellular reception, which we think is really cool. You’ll find everything from reviews, to how to prepare and whether any more dangerous wild animals have been spotted recently in the reviews so you know what to expect before heading out. Ranger-led tours can be great for the less-technologically-astute among us or for those of us that would rather relax and let someone else do the planning. Not all trails are open year-round and some may even have snow in late spring so don’t get arrogant; even smart, strong people get hurt hiking. There’s no shame in asking for help.
If you intend on hiking in the winter, it’s a smart idea to purchase a Carhart Beanie, a pair of high-quality crampons, hand warmers, a warm jacket, waterproof hiking shoes and a pair of wool socks. Ice is common on the trails even if it hasn’t snowed in a few days because at night, Colorado gets cold. It’s not uncommon for it to get below 20 degrees in the winter at night so ice should be expected. Crampons help to ensure you don’t slip and fall as you’re hiking which can help you avoid major injury. Carhartt Beanies in particular are valuable because they’re the warmest and highest quality available. The place we all lose the most heat is on our heads. By purchasing a higher quality beanie (only $20 as well, by the way), you can be sure you’re less likely to get extremely cold as you hike. Since you’re hiking in the snow, expect your feet to get wet if you don’t have waterproof hiking shoes. Coupled with a pair of wool socks and you can be sure that frostbite is very unlikely.
So there you have it — a comprehensive guide of once in a lifetime things to do in Colorado. From visiting natural hot springs to hiking through stunning forests, there’s something on this list for everyone. And with so many incredible things to see and do, you might just find yourself coming back to Colorado time and time again. Thanks for reading!
Winter sports are a huge part of what makes Colorado so special. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the winter, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to go skiing or snowboarding. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced pro, there are plenty of great places to hit the slopes. A few of our favorites include Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen.
This concludes our comprehensive guide of once in a lifetime things to do in Colorado. We hope that you have found this helpful and that it has given you some ideas of what to do on your next trip to the Centennial State. Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation, or something in between, Colorado has something for everyone. So get out there and start exploring!