11 Best Colorado Bucket List Things to Do!

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If Colorado is not on your bucket list, it certainly should be. Often referred to as “God’s Country,” the beauty of the landscape is overwhelming. But there are some places in Colorado that stand out so we created the 11 Best Colorado Bucket List Things to Do, which are:

1. Visit Crested Butte
2. Explore the Colorado Springs Area and Hike a 14ner
3. Explore Dinosaur National Monument
4. Hike Through Rocky Mountain National Park
5. Tour the Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Dwellings
6. Surf the Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
7. Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway
8. Drive the San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway
9. Visit Aspen
10. Dip in the Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs
11. Tour the Argo Gold Mill and Minning Tunnel

Colorado was nicknamed the “Centennial State” because it became a state in the year 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is also called “Colorful Colorado,” because of its magnificent scenery.

Colorado is a mix of high plains in the east and mountains in the west. The highest point in the state is Mount Elbert at 14,400 feet and the lowest point is the Arikaree River at 3,315 feet. The highest town in Colorado is Leadville, less than an hour’s drive from Vail. The elevation of Leadville is 10,152 feet and the town proudly claims to be the highest incorporated city in North America.

Colorado has some incredible highways and mountain passes. The state has the highest vehicle tunnel in the world. The Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 is at 11,158 feet. Colorado also has the highest paved road in North America, Mount Evans Scenic Byway at 14,130 feet.

This beautiful state also has 58 mountains which are more than 14,000 feet, often termed 14ers. There is some controversy about whether there are 58 or 53. The Four Corners are where the states of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet. The region is in the southwest corner of the state and a monument, located on Navajo Land, marks the official spot.

While Colorado itself is a bucket list state, let’s narrow down the things that you don’t want to miss when you visit.

11 Best Colorado Bucket List Things to Do!

1. Visit Crested Butte

I’m including this one first as a Colorado Bucket List Thing to Do because it is where I am currently work camping, as of this writing. While I have much more to explore while I’m here, I’ve always thought of Crested Butte as a ski town. It is that but so much more. It is the wildflower capital of Colorado and if you can come in mid-July for the wildflower festival you will be delighted by the views.

Activities in Crested Butte and the area include many trails, lakes, and beautiful vistas. The town of Crested Butte is very pedestrian and dog friendly and allows for plenty of places to shop, eat and just enjoy the mild weather and surrounding mountains. If you like to mountain bike or hike, there are plenty of trails.

If you like to fish, the Gunnison and Taylor rivers, and many other lakes and rivers, provide a great opportunity to catch native trout. Fly fishing is also popular and there are many places you can learn and practice this skill.

Also, don’t miss out on getting on the river in a kayak, ducky, or river raft. You can enjoy the surrounding landscape as you navigate the class 2 and 3 rapids.

Not far from Crested Butte, you can take a drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, head up to Taylor Reservoir or grab lunch or a piece of pie at Frenchies in a little mining town called Tin Cup.

Visit Crested Butte Colorado Bucket List Things to do
Sunset on Crested Butte. Photo via Flickr.

2. Explore the Colorado Springs Area and Hike a 14ner

Colorado Springs is sort of the go-to city to visit in Colorado. At an elevation of 6,035 feet, and at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains, there is plenty to see and do here.

One can take a hike or take a trip up Pike’s Peak, the highest summit of the southern front range of the Rocky Mountains and a popular Colorado bucket list item. This 14,115 foot peak is located in Pike National Forest, 12 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs. The mountain is named in honor of American explorer Zebulon Pike. The summit is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude.

Take a 3.5 hour round trip on The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The trip will take your breath away, even before you arrive at the summit. The Cog has been climbing Pikes Peak since 1891 and is the world’s highest cog railway. You can also hike or bike up and ride the Cog back down or vice versa.

Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, designated as a natural landmark in 1971, is the place to see stunning rock formations on its 1,300 acres. Enjoy hiking trails as you see the sandstone formations along the way.

Take an uphill mountain trail at the Manitou Incline to see just how in shape you think you are. The trail rises 2,000 feet in just a mile. There is also an old rail there as well or enjoy the Manitou Cliff Dwellings with ruins and a museum of relics.

The Broadmoor is a historic hotel with a rich history. Visitors to the hotel have included heads of state, celebrities, and professional sports stars. Someone I know used to says it’s where “the elite meet to eat.” The main resort complex is at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, 6,230 feet above sea level and five miles southwest of Colorado Springs.

Explore the Colorado Springs Area
Balanced Rock, Garden of the Gods. Photo via public domain pictures.

3. Explore Dinosaur National Monument

Journey back in time at the Dinosaur National Monument, located on the southeast flank of the Uinta Mountains and on the border between Colorado and Utah at the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

This is a remote area but it is a perfect Colorado bucket list item for families. Check out the exhibits, pathways, overlooks, and hiking and biking trails. A network of scenic roads can take you through rugged country, including Harpers Corner Road, a 32-mile one way drive with views of the Green and Yampa Rivers.

Dinosaur remains can be found in the monument’s rock and you can take a ranger-led hike to find them. Also, see 1,500 dinosaur fossils still encased in the rocks at the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. You can see species including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus. You can also view an 80-foot long mural with the story of these animals.

Don’t miss the 1,000 year old petroglyphs and pictographs in several areas of the monument. Many of these are easy to access with close-up viewing. The National Park Service offers free Junior Ranger and Junior Paleontology programs where participants can earn a free badge when they complete a booklet of activities

Colorado Bucket List Explore Dinosaur National Monument
Allosaurus skull. Photo via Flickr.

4. Hike Through Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado spans the Continental Divide and encompasses protected mountains, forests, and alpine tundra. It is one of the most visited national parks in the country and is 415 square miles.

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center will give you an overview of the park and provide maps and information for the 300 miles of hiking trails. Join in on a ranger-led hike to learn more about the park. See amazing wildlife and stunning views in the summer and fall. Drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road and reach an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. Stop at the many overlooks to see the subalpine and alpine terrains.

Wildlife watching will get you views of bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and others. A winter elk herd numbering between 200-600, about 350 bighorn sheep, and many mule deer all call the park home.

The park’s great large-animal population makes it one of the country’s top wildlife watching destinations. Some 60 species of mammals, 280 recorded bird species, 11 species of fish, and a surprisingly large number of butterflies, reside in this amazing park.

With 355 miles of hiking trails, you can find many trails for your level of fitness and experience.

Hike Through Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado Bucket List
Rocky Mountain National Park Elk. Photo via Max Pixel.

5. Tour the Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Dwellings

Mesa Verde National Park is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, the largest being Cliff Palace. Some 5,000 archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings can also be seen in the park.

Ranger-led tours are the only way to view the park’s attractions up close. The tours require a lot of walking, climbing, and sometimes crawling. Get tickets to tour Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House at the Visitor Center & Museum entrance.

Cliff Palace is the largest and most famous cliff dwelling in the park consisting of 150 rooms and 23 kivas. A kiva is a round, underground room that was used to hold ceremonies and perform other routine tasks.

Visitors can also drive the Mesa Top Loop Road, a 6-mile drive where you can find short, easily accessible paved trails to view 12 archeological sites, including surface sites and overlooks of cliff dwellings. Highlights include Square Tower House Overlook and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View and Sun Temple.

While you visit the park, look for wild horses. There is a herd of around 80 that freely roam the park areas. The park is also home to rare, diverse wildlife including the Mexican spotted owl and the peregrine falcon. Don’t forget your binoculars to view the dwellings from some of the overlooks.

Considered an International Dark Sky Park, the park has exceptional quality for starry nights. This designation is given to parks that improve night skies with more energy-efficient and sustainable lights, as well as provide educational opportunities and programs.

Things to do in Colorado Tour the Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Dwellings
Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

6. Surf the Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Located in southern Colorado at the base of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park is definitely a must-see. The park is known for huge dunes, up to 755 feet tall, such as the towering Star Dune, and for the seasonal Medano Creek and beach created at the base of the dunes. Great Sand Dune National Park encompasses 149,137 acres of forest, wetlands, and dunes in one of the country’s most unique geographic formations.

Established as Great Sand Dunes National Monument in 1932, Congress authorized a boundary change and redesignation as a national park in 2004. Today, visitors can sled or surf down the slopes and even hear the sand sing. NASA has even used the great dunes to test out rovers. And two Viking spacecraft that first landed on Mars were tested there as well.

Hiking the dunes is a popular activity, preferably done in the morning to avoid the hot sun in the afternoon. The backcountry Medano Pass Primitive Road winds through a canyon toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Trails lead to forests, wetlands, and alpine lakes such as Medano Lake, which is home to trout and tundra wildlife. One can also float down Medano Creek during peak runoff. It is a popular seasonal stream, meaning the creek is perfect for rafting in late spring and early summer and dries up in winter.

The Great Sand Dunes have a naturally occurring phenomenon that makes the sand sound like it is humming. It happens as air is pushed through millions of tumbling sand grains during an avalanche. Visitors may be able to hear the sound by pushing sand down a dune face.

Visit the park after dark and enjoy a brilliant night sky. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a great dark-sky-viewing location. Its rare combination of dry air, minimal light pollution, and high elevation make for the perfect viewing of galaxies. The Milky Way is most visible over moonless nights from mid-summer through early fall.

Along with stargazing, one can listen for owls or coyotes, or observe migrating amphibians. During a full moon, you can walk the dunes with no need for a flashlight. Be sure to check the. program schedule for summer night programs.

Surf the Dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Star Dune. Photo via Flickr.

7. Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway

For an epic adventure, take the Silverton train and travel back in time. The trip is 3 ½ hours each way, from Durango to Silverton, and guests spend two hours in Silverton, enjoying shopping, food, and mining history. Unplug from the world and enjoy the incredible views. It’s a great time to unwind and enjoy nature at its finest.

Hear the steam whistle echo through the canyon as you ride up into the Rocky Mountains with a view of the San Juan National Forest. You will travel along the Animas River on your way and will also experience Horseshoe Curve, High Bridge, and all of the Animas River Gorge, along with spectacular views from the High Line.

The Durango and Silverton Railroad also offers special events such as The Polar Express, Brew Trains, Wine & Rails, Romance on the Rails, and more. You can also take a yard tour or explore the onsite museum.

If you plan to spend more time in Silverton you might like to go jeeping, hiking, fishing, mountain bike riding, rafting, or horseback riding.

Ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway Colorado bucket list things to do
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. Photo via Picryl.

8. Drive the San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway

If you are visiting Durango, don’t miss a chance to take a drive on The San Juan Skyway. The 235 mile loop takes you through old mining towns, awesome scenery, and many twists and turns. The highways are state-maintained and take you through the San Juan Mountains. Take heed during various parts of the drive of steep drop-offs without guardrails. Take time to explore the many towns this road will lead you through.

Head out from Durango on US 550, climb over Coal Bank Pass at a summit of 10,660 feet and Molas Pass (10,899 feet) for awe-inspiring views of the San Juan Mountains and then head into Silverton where you can tour the Old Hundred Gold Mine or explore the town’s historic buildings.

From Silverton to Ouray is a stretch of road called the “Million Dollar Highway.” Locals say the name came from the cost it took to build the highway. It might be because of the million dollar views you will experience while driving it. The road climbs up and over Red Mountain Pass (11,075 elevation) and then through the stunning, steep canyon walls of Uncompahgre Gorge as you descend into Ouray.

Ouray to Telluride takes you through ranches, fields, and over the Dallas Divide and by one of Colorado’s 14ers, Mt. Sneffels. Look for Bridal Veil Falls, a 1,365 foot waterfall overlooking Telluride. Ride a free gondola for views of the town. Walk the same streets Butch Cassidy did when he robbed his first bank back in 1889.

Leaving Telluride, you will head over Lizard Head Pass and go by two more of Colorado’s 14ers: Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak. On the road to Cortez, you can visit the McPhee Reservoir, one of the largest man-made lakes in Colorado. The San Juan Skyway takes you nearby many archaeological sites and monuments including Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients.

On the final leg from Cortez back to Durango you will drive through the Plata Mountains. Don’t forget to enjoy the hot springs in Durango and plan for your next Colorado bucket list adventure.

Colorado Bucket List things to do are Drive the San Juan Skyway and the Million Dollar Highway
Million Dollar Highway. Photo via Flickr.

9. Visit Aspen and Check that Off Your Colorado Bucket List

Aspen is well-known as a ski resort town, but it is a year-round destination for outdoor recreation. It’s also known for its boutiques, restaurants, and landmarks like the Wheeler Opera House, which was built in 1889 during the area’s silver mining boom. The Wheeler-Stallard House is a local history museum set in a 19th-century, Queen Anne-style home.

History abounds in Aspen as it was originally a summer hunting camp for the Ute Indians. Miners arrived by 1870 in search of silver and made it a fruitful venture for Aspen’s early settlers. The town boomed to more than 12,000 miners and their families. When the bust came with the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act of 1893, Aspen’s population dropped to less than 1,000.

By the late 1940s, skiing and Aspen’s modern day founders arrived to create a vision for Aspen that is still alive today.

While there you can hike, mountain bike, raft, or ride to the top of Aspen Mountain on the Aspen Mountain Gondola. Visit the John Denver Sanctuary, experience the Continental Divide on Independence Pass, or enjoy one of many Aspen events.

You won’t want to miss Aspen’s Maroon Bells, the most photographed mountains in North America. Maroon Bells is a series of bell-shaped, wine-colored peaks towering 14,000 feet above Maroon Creek Valley with some of the most spectacular views in the world.

Maroon Bells also has a variety of natural habitats and a diverse representation of the wild Elk Mountain range. Six scenic hiking trails, camping sites, bike paths, and more allow visitors to access the area in many different ways.

Add Aspen’s Maroon Bells to your Colorado bucket list
Maroon Bells, most photographed mountain in North America. Photo via Flickr.

10. Dip in the Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs is surrounded by the White River National Forest and is known for its hot springs. In fact, it is long considered one of Colorado’s best destinations for hot springs. Glenwood Hot Springs resort has one of the world’s largest mineral hot springs pools, featuring two outdoor pools and the spa of the Rockies.

Downstream is Iron Mountain Hot Springs, along the Colorado River, which boasts 16 smaller natural spring pools. And nearby Glenwood Canyon features Hanging Lake and Glenwood Caverns, ancient underground caves.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is America’s only mountaintop amusement park with cave tours and thrill rides and great views of the Roaring Fork Valley. The Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves feature naturally occurring mineral-steam baths. Hanging Lake is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado.

Of course, rafting the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon is a must-do, as well as fishing in the rivers and streams or bicycling one of the many paved and unpaved trails.

Glenwood Springs also offers culinary delights for the discerning palate. From farm-to-table restaurants to award-winning breweries, as well as comedy musical dinner shows, musical and mystery-themed dinners, and events, there is something for everyone.

Take a short hike to John Henry “Doc” Holiday’s grave marker in Linwood Cemetery. He came to Glenwood Springs in the late 1800s to seek a cure for his advanced tuberculosis. Visit the Doc Holliday Museum in the heart of downtown.

Dip in the Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs Bucket List Item Colorado
Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool. Photo via Flickr.

11. Tour the Argo Gold Mill and Minning Tunnel

Just 20 miles west of Denver, Clear Creek County is a great place to uncover some history in mountain towns such as Idaho Springs, where the first significant discovery of gold was made, or boomtowns such as Empire, Georgetown, or Silver Plume. Enjoy local art galleries and boutiques or check out craft breweries and distilleries.

Take a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad and learn about Clear Creek County’s mining heyday. Check out one-of-a-kind history museums such as Silver Plume’s George Rowe Museum, Idaho Springs Heritage Museum, and U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center, or Georgetown’s Hotel de Paris Museum. The nearby Georgetown Energy Museum, Hamill House Museum, and Alpine Hose No. 2 Firefighting Museums are also a great stop during your visit.

In Idaho Springs, tour the Argo Mill and Tunnel, once the longest mining tunnel in the world. Phoenix Gold Mine is an operational mine that continues to extract gold, silver, and copper. The Edgar Experimental Mine, an 1870s-era mine, now serves as an underground laboratory operated by the Colorado School of Mines.

Don’t miss the steaming pools and baths fed with natural mineral-rich waters at Indian Hot Springs. Rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking, and hiking for all skill levels will get your heart pumping and are perfect for a day outside.

Tour the Argo Gold Mill and Minning Tunnel Bucket List Colorado
The historic Argo Mill in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Photo via University of Colorado Denver

There is no doubt Colorado is a beautiful state with many things to see and do. If you add just one of these places to your bucket list, from our list of the 11 Best Colorado Bucket List Things to Do, you will have memories to last a lifetime.

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About the author:

Terri Nighswonger and her husband Todd are full time RVers and work campers. They have been living full time in their RV for nearly three years with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Newton, and their Minnie Australian Shepherd puppy, Remi

They are currently work camping along the shores of the beautiful Taylor River in Almont, CO, and are enjoying the cool summer temperatures, as well as the abundance of hiking trails. They plan to enjoy the west and then head to Arizona for the winter. Writing is Terri’s passion but she also loves hiking, kayaking, walking her dogs, and anything she can do outdoors.

Full Time RVer Terri Nighswonger

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