Colorado’s four national parks represent the magnificent and diverse landscapes that make up our beautiful state. Pristine forests, stunning waterfalls, ancient relics, massive sand dunes and dramatic canyons — just a few of the many experiences these parks offer.
#1 Rocky Mountain National Park
A Colorado favorite, Rocky Mountain National Park is a great escape into nature. The park encompasses 415 square miles of natural settings including some of Colorado’s highest mountains, lush evergreen forests and fascinating wildlife. Stop by the Alpine Visitor Center to pick up information on the park. RMNP offers many hiking trails for people of all ages and abilities. A favorite, accessible trail for people of all ages is Bear Lake – the trail loops around beautiful Bear Lake, with gorgeous views of Hallet Peak. More adventurous hikers will enjoy trails like Alberta Falls and Nymph Lake. RMNP offers great camping options, but these sites are extremely popular – be sure to book in advance! During the summer season (after Memorial weekend), Trail Ridge Road opens to drivers, a famed scenic byway at the top of the continental divide. The drive is not for the faint of heart with its steep inclines and hairpin turns.
RMNP is just over an hour-drive from Boulder. Estes Park, located just east of RMNP offers plenty of shopping, lodging and dining for park visitors. Entrance Fee to Rocky Mountain National Park is $25/car per day, $35/car for a 7-day pass. Annual Passes are $80 (FREE for U.S. Military) and grant access to more than 2,000 National Recreation Sites for the full year.
#2 Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to the tallest dunes in North America. The park offers endless opportunities for fun and adventure through hiking, sand sledding, splashing in Medano Creek, wildlife watching, and more! Enjoy the views of Colorado’s beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains from this exquisite and unique Colorado ecosystem. Favorite hikes include the dunes themselves, Mosca Pass Trail and Zapata Falls. The Park offers campgrounds from $20/per night. Reservations can be made here.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is just over a four hour-drive from Boulder. Entrance Fee is $15/car.
#3 Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park offers a remarkable glimpse into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Southwestern Colorado, who made Mesa Verde their home for over 700 years (AD 550 to 1300). Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. Many of these beautifully preserved dwellings are available only for observation during the spring season. There are many hikes and scenic drives to enjoy these fascinating views. Stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor Center to inquire about seasonal openings, purchase tickets and learn more about the history of Mesa Verde.
The park also houses the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, featuring dioramas, exhibits of prehistoric artifacts and more. If you are interested in taking a tour through a dwelling, the Balcony House is open during the spring. A ticket purchase is required (available at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez or at the park’s Visitor Center) and tours begin every hour between the hours of 10am – 4pm. Tickets are $5/person. The Balcony House involves a climb up at 32-foot ladder, as well as descending a 100-foot staircase. As it can be strenuous, it is not recommended for those with heart or respiratory problems.
#4 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Described as a vertical wilderness, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an expansive space featuring steep cliffs, craggy slopes and breathtaking formations. Adventurers can enjoy the Black Canyon’s stunning wilderness in so many ways – scenic driving, hiking the inner canyon, kayaking, fishing, rock climbing and more! Stay in one of the park’s campgrounds or in nearby Crested Butte or Montrose. Some of the roads are open seasonally as weather permits, be sure to check in at the South Rim Visitor Center for more information.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is just over 5 hours-drive from Boulder. Entrance Fee is $15/car. Annual Pass $30.