Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Distance from Denver: 251 miles southwest, 5-hour drive
The National Park Service says it best when it describes this underrated Colorado gem as “a vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.” With extremely steep canyons and sheer cliffs resembling a smaller and greener version of the Grand Canyon, this natural oasis has been carved over millions of years by the Gunnison River and offers some of the best night sky viewing in the state, not to mention excellent trout fishing and rock climbing. Novices can take in the scenery along the main road, while the more advanced can try tangling with some extremely challenging Class V rapids via kayak.
While you’re here: Beaches are rare in Colorado, but nearby Blue Mesa Reservoir (within Curecanti National Recreation Area) is a popular spot with locals for fishing, boating on Colorado’s largest lake, and yes, relaxing on the beach in summer. Take a refreshing dip in the cool waters, rent a pontoon boat with your buds, or just kick back with some beers on the beach. As they say in Colorado, it’s all good man.