This Saturday is National Public Lands Day! Celebrate by visiting one of America’s most unique and significant sites. To honor its founding, the National Parks Service is granting free admission to ALL National Parks and Monuments on September 22. To help you decide which park to visit, I’ve put together a guide of Colorado’s amazing and diverse national parks and monuments.
Colorado’s National Parks
#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.
Rocky Mountain National Park is just over an hour’s 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 usually $20/car per day, $30/car for a 7-day pass. Annual Passes are $60. On September 22, admission is FREE.
#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 usually $15/car. On September 22, admission is FREE.
#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 spices 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 a 5 hour drive from Boulder. Entrance Fee is usually $15/car. Annual Pass is $30. On September 22, admission is FREE.
Colorado’s National Monuments
#1 Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Much more than a monument, witness towering monoliths existing within a vast plateau and canyon panorama. Experience sheer-walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive, where majestic bighorn sheep and soaring eagles call home. Stay in one of Colorado National Monument’s 80 campsites or stay in nearby Grand Junction.
Colorado National Monument is just over a 4.5 hour drive from Boulder. Entrance fee is usually $15/car. Annual Pass is $40. On September 22, admission is FREE.
#2 Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaurs once roamed in Northwest Colorado at Dinosaur National Monument. Check out their incredible remains, still visible embedded in the rocks. Today, the mountains, desert and untamed rivers flowing in deep canyons, support an array of life. Petroglyphs hint at earlier cultures. Later, homesteaders and outlaws found refuge here. Whether your passion is science, adventure, history or scenery, Dinosaur offers much to explore. Stay in one of Dinosaur National Monument’s tent or RV camping sites, or find lodging in nearby Dinosaur, CO, Craig, CO or Rangely, CO.
Dinosaur National Monument is a 5 hour drive from Boulder. Entrance fee is usually $20/car. Annual Pass is $40. On September 22, admission is FREE.
#3 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Beneath a grassy mountain valley in central Colorado lies one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument features petrified redwood stumps up to 14 feet wide and thousands of detailed fossils of insects and plants reveal the story of a very different, prehistoric Colorado. The fossils, rocks, hills, and valleys that make up Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument reveal an ancient story of redwood forests, volcanic eruptions, and a climate much different than today. In addition to a rich ancient history, the Florissant valley also contains the stories of prehistoric hunting and gathering Paleo-Indians, the Ute and Jicarilla Apache peoples, the travels of a pioneer nation, and of early scientists making their way through discovery into a different time. Camping is available in nearby Mueller State Park, Pike National Forest, Eleven Mile State Park, Eleven Mile Canyon, Round Mountain, and Happy Meadows Campgrounds. Lodging is available in nearby Woodland Park, Cripple Creek & Colorado Springs.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is a 2.5 hour drive from Boulder. Entrance fee is usually $5/adult, Kids 16 & Under are always FREE. Annual Pass is $20. On September 22, admission is FREE.
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