In honor of my five year anniversary with Colorado, I decided it was time to compile my “Colorado Bucket List” – all my top must-sees and must-dos in this incredible state. Of course, this is simply written from my own experiences thus far. And the insane thing about Colorado is you could probably live here for 25 years and still not have hiked every trail, visited every hidden gem or experienced all there is to experience! Which is why my past five years in Colorado would not have brought me so many amazing memories if I wouldn’t have put myself out there, planned the weekend trips and really tried to see as much as humanly possible! My advice is to go for it. Check off as many of these bucket list items as you can. Make the time – use your days off of work wisely! I promise it can be done while still working full-time (I am living proof).
Alright so here we go: 20 items you MUST check off your Colorado Bucket List!
1. Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
National Parks are made such for a reason. This park is extremely stunning with numerous trails for hiking or snowshoeing. If you’re not sure where to get started with picking the perfect trail, check out my Rocky Mountain National Park guide HERE.
2. Watch a sunset at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
This particular National Park is not highly visited compared to many across the country. In my opinion, it doesn’t get the love it deserves. While there are less opportunities for hiking, the viewpoints for observing the canyon are stunning! I especially recommend bringing a blanket and a little picnic to the sunset view point in the park to watch the sun go down over the canyon. That exact experience is still one of my all time favorite sunset memories!
3. Hike the dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park
If you’re looking for a unique hiking experience, you need to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park! First of all, the drive into the park is mind-blowing. It seriously looks like these sand dunes were just dropped in the middle of the mountains! I recommend hiking to the top of the dunes and be sure to bring a bandana to protect your face from the sand (it gets windy!).
4. Do a wine tasting in Palisade
If you’re heading west on I70, chances are you’ve passed right by the quaint town of Palisade. The problem is, you’re missing out on the most incredible wineries in the state! If you’re a wine lover, plan a little half-day pitstop or a weekend getaway in Palisade! ESPECIALLY if you love fruit wines, this will be your jam because Palisade is famous for growing the best fruit (Palisade peaches, anyone?).
5. Summit a 14,000 foot peak
When I first moved to Colorado, I have no idea what a “14er” was. And once I found out, I certainly didn’t think I had any business hiking one! But after hiking a few, I can definitely say it’s an extremely empowering experience that I recommend! My advice is to start by completing some long, steep hikes with scrambling before you embark on a 14er. Then pick one of the 14ers is that rated as easy such as Bierstadt, Quandry Peak, Torreys Peak, Grays Peak. I also recommend going with someone who knows the route/has done a 14er before and make sure you have a map on your phone or a physical map.
6. Ski/Snowboard in Crested Butte
If you’re looking for the ultimate day on the slopes, make the further drive to Crested Butte. Because it is a longer drive than the front range slopes, it is way less crowded. It’s also considered to have some of the best runs in the country. Make a weekend of it; trust me, you’ll want to spend time in the cozy town of Crested Butte!
7. Experience fall in the San Juan Mountains
Some of the most stunning fall colors I have ever laid eyes on were in the San Juan Mountains. Word to the wise: the colors will be gone in this area before October. You will catch them at their peak in mid-September. Plan a weekend camping trip to Silverton, Ouray, or Telluride during this window of time and I promise you won’t regret it – just bring really warm layers!
8. Soak in the Strawberry Hot Springs
The Strawberry Hot Springs are some of the most well-known springs in Colorado; and for good reason! Nestled in the most idyllic setting just outside of the town of Steamboat, you’ll find massive naturally occurring “hot tubs”. They’re most popular for their size, proximity to town and gorgeous setting. Just be aware that there is a small cash fee to access the springs.
9. A lake day at Grand Lake
What could possibly be more perfect than a summer day on a lake that’s also in the mountains?! Honestly it’s hard to beat. While there are a few similar reservoir/lake settings such as this in Colorado, Grand Lake is my personal favorite option. While you could drive there and back in a day from Denver, I recommend making a weekend of it and camping nearby so that you can really enjoy all that the town and area have to offer!
10. Ride the gondola in Telluride
In general, Telluride is one of the coolest mountain towns you could ever visit. Unlike many of the front range ski towns, Telluride is a much farther commute from Denver (6.5 hours), making it less touristy in my opinion. So if you haven’t been, definitely add this town to your travel bucket list. And while you’re there, be sure to catch a gondola from town to the ski village. You’ll see breathtaking views that highlight the numerous 14er peaks that surround the town of Telluride!
11. Hike in Ouray
This one I just got to check off recently! And there’s a reason that the town of Ouray is referred to as the “Switzerland of America”. I recommend hiking the perimeter trail or nearby trails for the ultimate vistas. Plus the trailhead system is conveniently located right outside of town. Just prepare for quite the incline!
12. See a concert at Red Rocks
Seeing a concert at the iconic Red Rocks amphitheater was one of the only items on my Colorado Bucket List that I even knew about before moving to Colorado! And trust me, the experience does not disappoint! Whether you prefer country, EDM, reggae, folk or rap, the venue experience tops any other in perhaps the whole country! Be sure to do it up right and enjoy the best tailgating views of all time before the show!
13. Snowshoe on a mountain pass
Since I am not the worlds biggest skier, I had to find another mountain activity to keep me active in the winter! So a few years ago, I bought a pair of snow shoes and decided that anytime I didn’t feel like skiing, I’d do my own thing and find a snowshoeing trail! That being said, I definitely recommend mountain passes for the most scenic snowshoeing! Check this off your Colorado Bucket List this winter!
14. Ride the wine train in Durango
This is one of the most unique experiences on the list! Only twice a year (both dates typically in September), you can purchase a ticket for a wine train that runs from Durango and takes you to a canyon picnic stop to enjoy the most exquisite feast! While the tickets aren’t cheap, the experience is unlike anything else! You’ll get to sample special Colorado wines the whole ride while enjoying gorgeous scenery. It’s a full day event and you certainly get your money’s worth!
15. See the Maroon Bells in the summer (wildflower season)
One of the most iconic scenes in Colorado is the Maroon Bells in the Aspen wilderness. People travel from all over the country to witness the beauty in real life. If you want to really make the most of your trip to Aspen, I recommend timing it so that you’re there in wildflower season! Very few things are more eye-catching than the Aspen wilderness in late July/August when the wildflowers are poppin!
16. Hike to Hanging Lake
Another Colorado must-hike trail! Tucked in the beautiful Glenwood Canyon, this trail leads you to an extremely unique lake at the top of a mountain. Summer or winter, the lake is worth the steep hike and long drive from Denver! I’d recommend trying to check it out on a weekday to avoid the crowds. *Note that you cannot get into the lake as it is off-limits for preservation*
17. Visit Colorado National Monument
If you want Utah vibes without making the drive all the way to Utah, the Colorado National Monument will blow you away! Make a full day of driving through the monument and stopping to walk around/hike. You will get some amazing photos feel like you’ve transported to a different state altogether! This National Monument certainly highlights just how versatile the state of Colorado is.
18. Float trip on the Colorado River
This is the ultimate Colorado summer activity! You can book through a rafting company and float from western Colorado all the way into Utah, camping along the way. Just be sure to reserve your campsites along the river early! This is a great way to get a big group together for an outdoorsy adventure that includes camping, rafting, cliff-jumping and exploring all in one!
19. Hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
One of the prettiest areas to hike in Colorado is actually right in Denver’s backyard! With a multitude of trail options from easy to difficult, there’s something for everyone in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. I’d recommend making several day trips on weekends throughout the summer to check out as many trails there as possible!
20. Go white water rafting on the Eagle River
I was always a little hesitant to try white water rafting because I was sure I wasn’t tough enough to make it out in one piece. However a few years ago I went with a group of girl friends and it was a BLAST! We had such a fun guide who kept us safe but also kept us laughing the whole day! The Eagle River runs along Vail and is so scenic for this activity. Grab a group of adventure-loving friends and give white water rafting a try!
So I would love to hear what YOU would recommend adding to my Colorado Bucket List! How many have you completed??