Get the flags and banners out, it’s time to join the party and celebrate Colorado Day!
The state’s big day is 1 August, and marks the anniversary of Colorado becoming the 38th state to join the Union (aka the USA) after a proclamation by President Ulysses S. Grant.
The move took place in 1876, 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, and explains Colorado’s somewhat uninspiring nickname the ‘Centennial State’. I prefer the layman’s alternative moniker ‘Colourful Colorado’, which better sums up the state’s kaleidoscope of fabulous scenery, which includes mountains, rivers, desert plains and areas of spectacular wilderness.
With more than 1,000 Rocky Mountain peaks above 3,000 metres, the state has the highest elevation of any in the USA (if you need oxygen there are bars selling it in Breckenridge). It is rightly renowned for the quality of its skiing and winter sports, but there’s much more to this state. It embodies the spirit of the Wild West and contains a range of contemporary attractions in its capital, Denver, as well as lively resort towns such as Vail, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.
That said, I make no apologies for including so many ‘al fresco’ activities in my list of the top things to do in Colorado, as the state is one of the greatest outdoor playgrounds of America.
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is blessed with four national parks, but Rocky Mountain is the standout, with a fantastic variety of landscapes and wildlife. There’s majestic mountain scenery at almost every turn, as well as forests, rivers, lakes and alpine tundra that can be explored by car (Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road are the must-do’s) or on foot.
There are 385 miles of hiking trails for the latter, ranging from easy to challenging, but you don’t need to be Bear Grylls to make the most of it - gentle hikes to Lily Mountain and Twin Sister’s Peak, and a lovely nature trail around Bear Lake, all offer fabulous views for relatively little effort.
2. Great Sand Dunes National Park
There are few more surreal vistas than sand dunes banked up against snow-capped mountains, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at this national park in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado.
The dunes stretch 30 square miles from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the wetlands of the valley below, and make for a wonderful playground for lovers of the great outdoors. There are some great hiking trails - through forests to Alpine lakes - and plenty of fun to be had as well, with the chance to climb a dune (the Star Dune is the highest) then slide and glide back down on a saucer or snowboard.
3. Historic Breckenridge
Best known as one of the region’s top ski resorts, the former mining town of Breckenridge has a fascinating history as part of the Gold Rush. Much of its Victorian heart has been preserved as the Breckenridge National Historic District, largely in the form of colourful buildings from the late 19th century that now houses shops, galleries and restaurants on the town’s Main Street.
A great way to get a feel for the place is to take one of the many walking tours on offer, covering everything, including basic history, saloons (which includes a visit to the town’s distillery) and even ghosts (the haunted tour is by far the most popular).
4. Country Boy Mine
Set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the Country Boy Mine was one of the largest and most famous gold mines in Breckenridge, and is now a hugely popular historic attraction. Part of the reason for its popularity is that it offers something for all the family, because even though the restored mine is very much a museum paying homage to a bygone age, it’s also a lot of fun.
Alongside a range exhibits and equipment from its ‘golden’ days, you can learn how to pan for gold, pet the burros that would have pulled the mine’s carts, and the highlight for many, slide down a 16-metre ore chute.
5. Sapphire Point Overlook
Set on Swan Mountain Road between Keystone and Breckenridge, Sapphire Point Overlook offers one of the best views in all of Colorado. The vistas of Dillon Reservoir, which supplies water to the city of Denver, and the surrounding Gore and Tenmile mountain ranges will take your breath away, while Overlook’s resident chipmunks will take food from your hands. The latter are especially popular with youngsters, so bring sunflower seeds to feed them, but be sure to also make time to walk the half-mile trail loop to make the most of the views.
There’s also an 18-mile cycle path that winds around the entire reservoir, including a climb to the viewpoint for the more energetic.
6. Dynamic Denver
The ‘Mile High City’ of Denver is Colorado’s cosmopolitan state capital, with all the trappings of a major metropolis, from arts and culture to shops and restaurants. The city’s wide-ranging attractions also include impressive Botanical Gardens and local’s favourite, the Elitch Gardens Theme and Family Water Park. There’s a surprising amount of history too, particularly in the city’s oldest block Larimer Square, which features a range of 19th-century buildings.
Another must-see is the Denver Art Museum (DAM), a fabulous modern complex that contains more than 70,000 works of art including a collection of indigenous works. It also features the mansion of Titanic survivor Molly Brown, and the stunning, angular Hamilton Building, inspired by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
7. Red Rocks Amphitheatre
“Red Rocks, this is The Edge”, shouted Bono during U2’s breakthrough concert video, Live Under A Blood Red Sky, filmed 35 years ago at this iconic venue, around 15 miles outside Denver. And while he was introducing the band’s guitarist, the singer might also have been acknowledging the stunning surrounds of this fabulous open-air concert venue.
The huge rock formations - once a sacred site for Ute Indians - provide brilliant acoustics for live music shows, and a wide array of acts have played here, from The Beatles to Mumford & Sons. It’s a fabulous place to enjoy a concert, and whether you see an opera singer or a pop band, after the show everyone is a ‘rock’ star.
8. Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Splash out in 104-degree mineral waters, surrounded by forest and snow-capped mountains, at one of the world’s most impressive mineral springs and a dazzling natural paradise. These natural whirlpools are the perfect place to unwind after a day’s skiing at nearby Steamboat Springs, but can be enjoyed all year round. Masonry walls create pools of different temperatures - so you’re bound to find one that suits - and a range of unique stone formations make them even more picturesque. There are hiking and cycling trails to enjoy if you can drag yourself out of the water.
9. Garden of the Gods
Located in Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods was unearthed - and duly named - by surveyors from Denver who were blown away by the beauty of the towering sandstone rocks set amid the grasslands of the Great Plains. The park is now a National Natural Landmark where you can enjoy magnificent panoramas of the Pikes Peak Mountains from a variety of viewing points.
The park is free to enter and includes a terrific visitor and nature centre, as well as a museum with a range of interactive exhibits. There is also a glass-enclosed café that, as the advertising blurb says, allows you to ‘eat inside a postcard’.
10. Mesa Verde National Park
Located in arid southwest Colorado, a world, and a good day’s drive, away from the ski resorts, Mesa Verde, is a World Heritage Site as well as a national park, where its mind-blowing history is as much a draw as its natural beauty. The park was inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans from 7500BC until the year 1300, during which time they built incredible cliff dwellings set into alcoves on sheer rock faces. You can view from below but it’s much more fun to climb ladders, scale rocks and crawl through tunnels to get a closer look.
Make sure you visit the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to learn more about Native American history, then take a drive on the Mesa Top Loop Road to enjoy the incredible viewpoints and canyon overlooks. Better yet, get your walking boots on for family-friendly hikes such as the Petroglyph Point Trail and the Spruce Canyon Trail.
There are 110 RCI-affiliated resorts in Colorado.
Click on the Resort Directory below and you could be heading to Colorado on your next holiday. Whether you want winter sports, historical towns, cosmopolitan cities, or wildlife and nature, you will find it in the Centennial State.
If you own timeshare and have always returned to your home resort, it might be time for you to broaden your holiday horizons and start seeing some more of the world. You can join RCI to start your own world adventures in just a few simple steps that start by clicking on the Join RCI button below.