Mountains, Waterfalls, National Parks: The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Colorado

These are the natural wonders of Colorado.

Garden of the Gods | John Hoffman/Shutterstock
Garden of the Gods | John Hoffman/Shutterstock

Colorado is one of a handful of states in the continental US that exudes exceptional natural beauty from border to border. From the snowy peaks of the Rockies to the stunning pigment of red rock formations to the wild splendor of our state and national parks, Colorado has magnificent sights to see whether five minutes or five hours down the road. Want to sandboard down a dune? How about wandering through bright ribbons of clay deposits? Fancy seeing the aspens change color at just under 10,000 feet above sea level? It’s all possible in Colorado and so is a whole lot more; here are what we consider Colorado’s most beautiful destinations.

Steamboat Springs | Susan Flewelling/Shutterstock

Steamboat Springs

Distance from Denver: 156 miles, 3 hours
It may be the expansive views as you ride in on US-40, the breathtaking heights of the mountaintops, or—perhaps our favorite—the unreal magic of Strawberry Park Hot Springs, but whichever feature is your favorite, Steamboat Springs is full of beauty in any season. Don’t miss the charming downtown strip, of course, and be prepared to be inspired by one of Colorado’s prettiest resort towns.


Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Paint Mines Interpretive Park | Adam Springer/Shutterstock

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Distance from Denver: 89 miles southeast, 1.5 hour-drive
Driving up the unpaved road to get to this destination may have you second-guessing your life choices, but upon arriving (via a short and easy hike post-parking), you’ll soon find the natural splendor and photo ops worth any previous hesitation. This bright and elegant clay formation (once used by American Indians to make paint, hence the name) is the result of various oxidized iron compounds that created its mesmerizing bands of color. Explore 750 acres of towering, striped geological formations as some of the most unique sights you’ll see in the state.

Bridal Veil Falls | Daniel Mullins/Shutterstock

Bridal Veil Falls

Distance from Denver: 354 miles, 6 hours, 45 minutes
There are waterfalls, and then there’s Bridal Veil Falls. Rising to a whopping 365 feet high, these impressive, natural water features are the tallest free-falling falls in Colorado. Just east of Telluride, there’s a moderate hike waiting to get to the top, plus a ton of trails to explore the surrounding forest, whether by foot, bike, four-wheeler, or ice-climbing boots. You could, in theory, take some photos for the gram, but we highly recommend taking in the beauty of the falls sans-device, if you can.

Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes | Major42/Shutterstock

Twin Lakes

Distance from Denver: 122 miles southwest, 2 hour, 15 minute-drive
While the autumn landscapes here are simply unparalleled, experiencing the beauty of Twin Lakes any time of year is no less than epic. Aside from taking in the breathtaking views, there are all kinds of activities awaiting here, including kayaking, boat tours, and SUP rentals, plus nearby camping and plenty of hiking trails up and around Mt. Elbert. And just 25 minutes up the road is Leadville, which boasts Colorado’s oldest tavern, the Silver Dollar Saloon, and a bunch more Old West sights to see.

Durango, Colorado | Rosemary Woller/Shutterstock


Distance from Denver: 336 miles southwest, 6-hour drive
One of the most southern and western towns in Colorado, Durango also happens to be simultaneously picturesque, charming, and a vibrant college town (go Skyhawks). Stroll Main Ave for Gilded Age architecture and plenty of shops, or head outside of town for some of the most thrilling outdoor escapades available (whitewater rafting, Jeep tours, and mountain biking, to name a few). And with natural backdrops like these, summer hiking and snow sports are both total givens. Oh, and this town of about 18,000 residents has more award-winning and high-quality restaurants per capita than San Francisco, so don’t worry about visiting hungry.

Telluride, Colorado | Nick Fox/Shutterstock


Distance from Denver: 364 miles southwest, 6.5-hour drive
One of the most stunning mountain towns in the state (and honestly, the world), Telluride’s mountain backdrops greeting you upon arrival to its historic downtown will have you stopped in your tracks. But don’t idle for too long; board the free ski gondola (which runs most months of the year as the only public transportation service of its kind in America) to check out the sights as you bar and restaurant-hop between downtown Telluride and Mountain Village, where the world-class Telluride Ski Resort is located.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Brad McGinley Photography/Moment/Getty

Rocky Mountain National Park

Distance from Denver: 66 miles northwest, 90-minute drive
With postcard-like vistas and 355 miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the country. Explore favorite hiking destinations like Bear Lake and Lily Lake. If you’re really up for a challenge, head to the trailhead for Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s 58 “14ers” (mountains with elevation over 14,000 feet). The assent is strenuous and the venture will take 10-16 hours round trip but it’s all worth it when you get a glimpse of the view from the summit of the highest point in the park. If you’d rather see the views without breaking a sweat, drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the state, which is generally open May through October. To get to the park’s entrance from Denver, you’ll go through the town of Estes Park where along with lots of local elk herds, you can also check out the shops and restaurants on main street and the historic Stanley Hotel (aka the real life place that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining).

Garden of the Gods
By John Hoffman/Shutterstock

Garden of the Gods

Distance from Denver: 68 miles south, 90-minute drive
This National Registered Landmark in Colorado Springs is another favorite for natural red rock formations, backed by the snow capped Pikes Peak (aka the mountain that inspired “America the Beautiful”). It’s free to visit, with hiking trails and a scenic drive. Be sure to look out for the famous “kissing camels” formation along the way. Horseback riding and rock climbing are other popular activities, along with a drive up the 19 mile Pikes Peak Highway which will take you to the summit of the towering mountain.

Breckenridge, Colorado | StephanieFarrell/Shutterstock


Distance from Denver: 80 miles southwest, 90-minute drive
First, just call it Breck. Everyone else does. And once you’re talking like a local, you can enjoy this ski town haven in the Rockies like a local. As Colorado’s closest major ski resort to Denver and one of the most popular in the nation (second only to nearby Vail), Breck has everything you need for a kick-ass ski vacation. In the summer, you can hit the slopes in a whole new way, with a scenic gondola ride or a spin on the alpine slide. And be sure to pay a visit to Isak Heartstone, a 15-foot-tall wooden sculpture that resides in the woods near town. He loves visitors, but hates trash, so pack out what you pack in.

Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells | f11photo/Shutterstock

Maroon Bells

Distance from Denver: 170 miles southwest, 3.5-hour drive
When you think of Colorado, do you envision a valley with large, snow-capped peaks towering in the distance, reflecting on pristine mountain water? Yeah, that’s the Maroon Bells. Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak in the Elk Mountains (both 14ers) are the most photographed peaks in North America. You’re here for the natural wonder, so don’t rush through. Better yet, if you can swing a few nights camping in the area, do it.

Crystal Mill
Adam Springer/Shutterstock

Crystal Mill 

Distance from Denver: 203 miles southwest, 4-hour drive
Another favorite for aspiring photographers, this popular hiking or four-wheeling destination is home to the ruins of an 1892 wooden powerhouse. It takes some planning and effort to get to it, but if exploring a ghost town in the middle of the wilderness is on your bucket list, there’s no better place to check that off.

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park | f11photo/Shutterstock

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Distance from Denver: 238 miles southwest, 4-hour drive
Backed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado lies 30 square miles of sand dunes that reach 750 feet in height. The dunes were formed naturally thanks to thousands of years of wind sweeping dust across the San Luis Valley into this pocket of land. The result looks almost otherworldly. Medano Creek runs along the edge of the dune field, and in the summer, it’s the perfect place to cool off after a morning hiking (then sliding, or boarding back down) the dunes. A short drive outside of the park is The Zapata Falls Recreational Area where an easy 1 mile round trip hike will lead you to the base of the 30-foot-tall waterfall.

Colorado National Monument
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Colorado National Monument

Distance from Denver: 262 miles southwest, 4.5-hour drive
Far closer to Arches National Park in Utah than it is to Denver, this area of the state looks like the iconic Wild West. But while you might not spot any cowboys racing along the landscape these days, you can get up close and personal with the land. Hike the 5-mile Monument Canyon trail or observe the action along the iconic 23-mile Rim Rock Drive traversing the upper rim of the canyon. Watch out for eagles, bighorn sheep, and, most of all, rattlesnakes. The park also boasts some of the best camping in Colorado.

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
Alexey Kamenskiy/Shutterstock

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Distance from Denver: 251 miles southwest, 5-hour drive
The steep granite walls of Colorado’s deepest canyon is a dramatic sight. But it’s also somehow the state’s least visited National Park. Carved over millions of years by the Gunnison River, the cliffs reach over 2,000 feet and are often bathed in shadow, hence the dark name. You can hike both the north and south rim, camp under the star-filled night sky, and find some of the best trout fishing in the state.

Mesa Verde National Park
Connie Coleman/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty

Mesa Verde National Park 

Distance from Denver: 400 miles southwest, 7.5-hour drive
The Ancestral Pueblo people once called this area of the state home, and their remarkable cliff dwellings have been preserved in this protected area. This UNESCO World Heritage Site located near Colorado’s Four Corners region is home to more than 5,000 archeological sites of the Ancestral Puebloan people, including 600 fascinating cliff dwellings carved into the natural landscape. Explore ancient ruins such as Cliff Palace and Balcony House before taking in the rest of the park via the 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road.

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Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado who is always on the lookout for fun things to do. Follow her Mile High adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.
Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer whose cloud storage is constantly threatened by the number of photos she takes. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram and @e_buehler_ on Twitter for more updates on Colorado fun and other Mile High shenanigans.