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The 24 best things to do in Colorado

You'll find mountains, weed, sports, beer and so much more on our list of the best things to do in Colorado

Written by
Rebecca Treon
&
Daliah Singer
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Colorado is an obvious choice for adventure-loving travelers: it's got the mountains, whose former mining towns still welcome intrepid souls, plus four national parks, more than 40 state parks, and countless open spaces for seekers of outdoor recreation. But it's not just the great outdoors that attracts here; Around the Centennial State, visitors will find a strong music scene, thriving arts communities, and innovative restaurants. You'll never run out of things to do in Colorado.

Beyond metropolises like Denver and Boulder, the state is also dotted with small towns offering a slice of history (imagine ambling over fossil beds and checking out cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloans) paired with a range of fully modern activities from ziplining to single-track mountain biking. Creative breweries and distilleries, noteworthy galleries and museums, and worthwhile outings pepper the state, no matter what types of things you enjoy.

And the weather can't be beat – with over 300 days of sunshine a year, visitors can book their hotel or Airbnb based on what they plan to do rather than the season. If Mother Nature interferes with your plans, as the saying here goes, "just wait a minute" and it will change. 

RECOMMENDED: The best restaurants in Colorado

Best things to do in Colorado

After a three year closure and an $100 million revamp, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is back, ferrying visitors to the top of one of Colorado's most well-known fourteeners. The world's highest cog railway scales the side of the mountain, offering views of trees, waterfalls, and wildlife along the way. At the summit, enjoy breathtaking panoramic vistas and a brand-new state-of-the-art visitor center offers interactive exhibits (and don't forget the donuts!)  

With a backdrop of the Flatirons, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is one of the most unique restaurants in the state. It was gifted to the city of Boulder by its sister city, Dushanbe, Tajikistan in 1990 and took a team of 40 traditional artisans more than a dozen years to create the hand-carved wooden panels that decorate the teahouse's ceilings, walls, and outdoor friezes. The intricate and colorful designs transport guests while drawing on centuries of tradition. Many of the ingredients featured on the menu come from its nearby 10-acre farm.

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Vail is so much more than a ski town: it's a world-class year-round destination. At the base of Vail Mountain, the architecture of the walkable village feels like something straight out of the Swiss Alps. Set in the White River National Forest with Gore Creek running through it, the picturesque locale is an ideal destination for lovers of the outdoors. In the winter, it offers unbeatable skiing and boarding (plus a leisurely skate in the square), while in the  warmer months visitors take advantage of golf, fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. If you're not feeling sporty, that's ok, too: enjoy the high-end shopping, restaurants, and spas the town has to offer.

Santa Fe-based immersive arts institution Meow Wolf is putting the final touches on its 90,000 square-foot space, a triangular building rising above the confluence of I-25, Colfax Ave., and Auraria Pkwy. Known for its trippy, interactive installations, the Denver location will be no exception: it will house 70 rooms on four floors, five 'anchor spaces,' a concert venue, retail space and a coffee shop. Featuring the work of more than 110 local artists, the Denver location is the biggest and most ambitious project Meow Wolf has conquered yet. 

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A replica of frontier-era Bent's Fort, The Fort Restaurant has become a landmark itself. The adobe building is perched along the foothills, overlooking the Denver skyline and surrounded by red rock formations. On the menu, wild game, venison, bison and other dishes inspired by the confluence of Native American, Spanish and white settlers popular during the fur trade era. Brave souls will sample the Rocky Mountain Oyster, a regional specialty, but be warned – we're not talking about a bivalve. 

There are a number of natural hot springs around the state (there's even a 720-mile Historic Hot Springs Loop!) but Glenwood Hot Springs is the world's largest hot springs pool. The Yampah spring has been used for centuries for its restorative properties. You can get free pool passes if you stay at the lodge, but in-between soaks, get dinner at The Pullman, visit Iron Mountain Hot Springs, play atop the mountain at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and steam away your worries at the ancient Yampah Vapor Caves.

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Colorado's largest natural lake, Grand Lake is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, surrounded by ponderosa pine trees and dotted with quaint cabins. Recreational opportunities abound: in the summer you can hike, bike, golf, fish, boat, kayak, and sail, while in the winter, snow-covered meadows make it popular for snow-mobiling, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. The town of Grand Lake has a historic boardwalk lined with shops, galleries, restaurants, and a theatre.

A city isn't really a city without a solid independent book shop. The Tattered Cover is the state's largest independent book store (and celebrating its 50th birthday in 2021, it's also one of the oldest) and a must-visit on any book lover's list. Its flagship store on Colfax Ave. is housed in the historic Bonfils-Lowenstein Theater, with two stories of books and cozy reading spots, plus a cafe. 

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A Colorado rite of passage is summiting one of the 50+ 14,000-foot (or taller) peaks in the state. They range from straightforward, if long, hikes to routes requiring advanced climbing skills (and permits). Two things peak-baggers should know: Start early to avoid getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms, and plan for an extended break at the top. Not only will you want to catch your breath, but you'll want to take in the sweeping views of Colorado’s mountainous topography. If you're not quite ready for a fourteener, cross the Manitou Incline off your bucket list. The former cable car track converted into a hiking trail gains 2,000 feet of elevation in one mile, with a 45% grade. 

A visit to Colorado wouldn't be complete without some white water rafting down the Arkansas River. The river has rapids ranging from a gentle lazy-river style float up to an adreneline pumping class V, surrounded by the natural beauty of the Royal Gorge. At Echo Canyon, your rafting adventure can be combined with a visit to Royal Gorge Bridge (and the adjoining amusement park), zip-lining, and a visit to a nearby dinosaur museum. 

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If you've ever wondered what it's really like to be a cowboy, book a stay at one of the many working ranches around Colorado to get firsthand experience herding cattle from the back of a horse. Zapata Ranch is the state's most unique: it's 103,000 acres borders Great Sand Dunes National Park and is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Managed by Ranchlands, it raises both bison and cattle. Those who want to keep their hands out of the dirt may prefer luxury venues such as Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash or C Lazy U Ranch in Granby. Either way, expect to saddle up for at least one horseback ride.

Green chile
Photograph: Courtesy of La Loma

12. Green chile

The rivalry between Colorado and New Mexico over who makes the best green chile is alive and well, and visitors would do well to sample a few versions and draw their own conclusions. The spicy sauce, made with pork shoulder and roasted green chiles and typically cooked for several hours, is synonymous with fall. It can be found at restaurants across the state, like at La Loma in Denver or at Estela's Mill Stop Cafe in Pueblo (where the chiles are grown). 

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Colorado’s first whiskey distillery launched a bottling crew years ago as a cheap (read: free) solution to being understaffed. Today, there’s a 25,000-person waiting list (names are drawn randomly for each shift) for the fun volunteer gig. If you’re lucky enough to earn a spot, you’ll spend about four hours in the Baker tasting room working on the bottling line alongside distillers. But it’s not all hard labor: All volunteers leave with a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado-made whiskey.

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Thanks to its Rocky Mountain-facing stands, an evening baseball game doubles as one of the best sunset viewing spots in Denver. (The first-base and right-field areas afford the best panoramas.) The 76-acre ballpark sits squarely in downtown and encompasses Sandlot Brewery, the first brewery inside an MLB venue. No matter how the Rockies are playing, the photo-op—with a side of Biker Jim’s hot dogs—is worth the ticket price.

Amid Colorado’s craggy peaks and pine-scented forests rises a geological oddity: the tallest dunes in North America. The 150,000-acre national park is a four-hour drive from Denver, but it’s worth the haul to see the beige mountains of sand rise in waves before the white-tipped Sangre de Cristo Range. Must-dos include hiking up (wear socks!) and sandboarding down the dunes and letting the kids splash in Medano Creek. Pitch a tent at nearby Zapata Falls Campground or snag one of the 10 permits available each night to sleep in the dune field. 

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As the world’s only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater, Red Rocks is a bucket-list venue for both concertgoers and musicians. The season runs from May through October and covers the gamut of genres, as well as the Film on the Rocks movie screening series, Yoga on the Rocks, and other events. If your schedule doesn’t align with a show, head to Morrison anyway: The amphitheater is open to the public most days, there is ample hiking, a trading post and its 70 rows are a popular workout spot. Music lovers will want to take a guided backstage tour to see where every performer ever has signed their name on the wall.

You’ll want to make reservations for one of Denver’s longest standing traditions: afternoon tea at the historic Brown Palace. Every afternoon, from noon to 4pm, the 126-year-old downtown hotel’s elegant, eight-story atrium hosts a traditional English tea. Sip from your choice of more than a dozen teas (we recommend upgrading to the Royal Palace offering, which includes a champagne cocktail) while enjoying house-made scones, finger sandwiches, and bite-size sweets.

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The Wild West comes alive on this coal-fired, steam-powered train that weaves 200 feet above the Animas River and through the secluded canyons of San Juan National Forest. The year-round transport follows the same tracks Colorado’s early settlers took more than a century ago. Adventurous travelers can hop on or off the locomotive at one of two mid-point stops along the 45-mile summer route (it’s shortened to 26 miles one-way in the winter) to fish and hike in areas that are mostly inaccessible by car or foot.

Colorado is home to more than 300 breweries—second in number only to California—and hosts the Great American Beer Festival every fall in Denver. With so much beer to choose from, visitors should plan to whittle down their tour by region (Fort Collins has an impressive array of high-quality breweries), by neighborhood (do a walking or biking crawl through RiNo in Denver), or by style (IPAs still reign supreme).

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It’s best not to be afraid of heights if you’re planning to traverse this 48-mile concrete path, which extends from Estes Park to Grand Lake (or vice versa) through Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road—the highest continuous paved road in the country—crests at 12,183 feet, with eleven miles weaving above tree line. But the payoff for reaching such great heights is big: sweeping mountain vistas, meadows of alpine wildflowers, and, possibly, bighorn sheep sightings.

Two 14,000-foot peaks, snowcapped and jagged, rise from the valley floor, their immensity reflected in crisp Maroon Lake. Welcome to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen. Its namesake peaks are said to be the most photographed the world. Summer and fall—when the aspen leaves burn gold—are the best times to visit, but the locale is accessible year-round. How you get there—bike, snowmobile, snowshoes, bus—is your choice.

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Ancestral Puebloans called this expanse of southwestern Colorado home more than 1,000 years ago. Today, the park—established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906—protects 600 cliff dwellings and thousands of other extraordinary archaeological sites. A ranger-led tour of the famed cliff dwellings is a must, but sightseers should also make time for the quarter-mile walk to the Park Point fire tower, which affords 60-mile views in every direction.

The graffiti-lined streets and alleyways of Denver’s RiNo (River North) neighborhood, as locals refer to it, call to everyone from artists and foodies to brewers and furniture makers. A former manufacturing hub, the neighborhood, located just north of downtown, is a microcosm of Denver’s explosive growth. Here visitors will find some of the best restaurants, boutiques, distilleries, and art galleries (it’s also a certified art district) in the city. But it’s the striking street art—bright, imaginative, and diverse—that gives RiNo its distinctive gritty yet modern feel. Wander the streets on First Friday, a monthly event during which many local businesses keep their doors open late.

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