Colorado has quite a few National Park Sites including 4 National Parks with some amazing amounts of diversity. From impressive peaks, cultural sites, sand dunes, canyons, the state has an abundance of incredible natural and cultural wonders to explore. Several national trails also traverse the state as well as several national monuments as well.
National Parks in Colorado
National Parks are the crown jewels of the National Park System. Of the 63 current national parks, 4 of these are in the state of Colorado. The impressive part of Colorado’s national parks is the diversity. From impressive mountain ranges, to a canyon with little sunlight, to the largest sand dunes in North America, and impressive cliff dwellings, you’ll be shocked they are all in the same state.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The Gunnison river has spent millennia carving this impressive canyon through the black rock of the hillside. From geological incidents of the past, the river has carved slowly through the canyon. While the canyon rock is black, that is not where the park gets its name. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park‘s name instead came from the fact that many areas of the canyon only see mere minutes of sunlight given the impressive depth and narrowness of the canyon walls.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
The largest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve protect this natural wonder in a place that makes it seem illogical that such dunes would exist. The dunes rise hundreds of feet into the air constantly being reshaped by the strong wind in the area. The multitude of impressive mountains that circle the dune field also add to the landscape and also act as the buffer that keeps these dunes in their general location.
Mesa Verde National Park
Established in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park protects hundreds of years old Puebloan cliff dwellings. The park protects 26 Pueblos and the history of the tribes that lived in the area. The park is also a world heritage site as well and also protects many varieties of species endemic to the area as well. There truly is no place like it anywhere else.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain NP protects impressive mountains, forests, alpine areas along the continental divide that runs through the state as well. At over 415 square miles, the parks size and range of peaks and trails is impressive and worth experiencing what many people think of when they imagine Colorado. Much of the park is high elevation with Longs Peak (14,259 ft.)at the highest point. The roads at some point as well pass over 12,000 feet through some of the passes.
Other National Park Service Units in Colorado
Other National Parks Sites in Colorado beyond the National Parks. These are impressive as well with some quite larger than national parks in other states.
Remembering a sad chapter in American and World War II history, Amache (formerly Granada War Relocation Center) was a Japanese interment camp located in Colorado. Amache was the smallest of the camps but still housed over 10,000 people, many of whom were American citizens of Japanese descent. There were 10 sites, with Manzanar, Minidoka, Tule Lake, and Amache managed by the National Park Service.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site
Designated as a National Historic Site in 1960, Bent’s Old Fort NHS protects the 1833 Fur trading post. Much of the fort was reconstructed and it was later opened to the public to show the historic forts of the time during the height of the fur trading in the area.
The Fort became a center of Bent, St. Vrain Company, and the company also had several other forts in the area as well as stores in Taos and Santa Fe New Mexico. The fort was also a stopping point along the Santa Fe Trail and one of the sites to see on the trail in Colorado.
Colorado National Monument
Colorado NM is huge, one spanning a beautiful plateau and canyon area that overlooks the lands near Grand Junction. Established in 1911, protects an old feeling of Colorado Wildlife and Landscape. The Sheer Canyon walls, rock formations, juniper forests and high desert landscapes give a feeling of yesteryear. There’s a lot of great places to explore and interesting trails such as Otto’s Trail, Window Rock Trail, and Coke Oven Trail.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Located on the Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area, offers hiking, fishing, camping, boating, and wildlife viewing on the once wild river. The recreation area is a series of 3 reservoirs on the river that give visitors an opportunity for great recreation in the area. Established in 1965 and administered by the National Park Service, is a great destination for outdoor activity in central Colorado.
Dinosaur National Monument
Established in 1915, Dinosaur National Monument in Northwest Colorado protect its famous Dinosaur Quarry. The Monument straddles Colorado and Utah, with the actually Quarry located in the state of Utah. The Colorado portion came as part of an expansion of the site in the 1930s to protect more of the nature and history of the area. The first dinosaur skeleton, a Apatosaurus was discovered in 1909 and the rest was as they say history. [ CO UT ]
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
One of the largest fossil beds in the world, and the largest one for insect and plant fossils. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument protects this land, legacy, as well as many petrified redwood trees. It’s impressive to learn how much the geology and geography of the land has changed over its history.
Hovenweep National Monument
Located in Southwestern Colorado, Hovenweep NM protects six prehistoric villages built between 12 and 1300AD. Established in 1923, the site has excellent Pueblan examples and a great way to explore this area of North American history and culture. The name Hovenweep, means “deserted valley” in the local Ute language.
The site straddles parts of Utah and Colorado with different villages in each. [ CO UT ]
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site
One of the Saddest Chapters in Colorado History. The Sand Creek Massacre NHS traces the history of the leadup and massacre of over 230 Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes folk. The aftermath and letters from folks at the site led to an investigation and changes on how some of the activities towards the native inhabitants.
Yucca House National Monument
Established in 1919, Yucca House National Monument protects a large unexcavated pueblo in the Montezuma Valley. Since Establishing the site, the NM has seen very little development and further excavation of the site. The Village sites were likely inhabited between the 11th and 13th century AD. The 33 acre site is not highly visited and the untouched ruins do prevent more from tourists to see. But the importance of protection of this incredible site remains.
National Trails are trails that often span across states for various geological or historical nature. Four of these trails traverse Colorado. They are also national park service administered (with cancellation stamps) but are so diverse and connect across various parks and other sites that its not necessarily just one spot to visit.
California National Historic Trail
California National Historic Trail covers over 5,000 miles of trail (over several branches) and traces the historic emigrants who traveled across the west in search of rich farmland and gold. The trail itself hits portions of 10 different states, including Colorado. The Trail only touches the top Northeastern corner of Colorado (where it connects with the Pony Express Trail). [ CA CO ID KS MO NE NV OR UT WY ]
Old Spanish National Historic Trail
Explore the old historic trail that took people and goods from Santa Fe New Mexico and Los Angeles California. The trail spanned over 2,700 miles and ran through 6 states. The Old Spanish Trail National Historic Trail protects this trail which was considered one of the most arduous trade routes and was certainly difficult for travelers over the years.
In Colorado, visitors can visit the Dunefield in Great Sand Dunes National Park which was an important landmark for travelers on the trail. [ AZ CA CO NV NM UT ]
Pony Express National Historic Trail
One of the most incredible and ingenious ideas in America, the Pony Express brought mail from Missouri to California (over 1,800 mile) in 10 days! Young men would ride and drop mail bags for other men to take and continue on the journey on and on and on. The service itself only lasted about 18months, ended by the installation of the transcontinental telegraph service. However, even with its short life, the history and allure still remains over a hundred years later (and learned by all American school children). Among the places to visit in Colorado include, Fort Sedgwick, Upper California Crossing, and various towns and trail markers. [ CA CO KS MO NE NV UT WY ]
Santa Fe National Historic Trail
The Santa Fe Trail was a Historic Trail connecting Franklin Missouri with Santa Fe New Mexico. The trail was a commercial as well as emigration “highway” of wagons traveling west that touched 5 different states. The trail was two ways and used for commerce that saw use by both Mexican and US traders. Following the treaty of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the trail became a national road connecting settled parts of the American Southwest with areas further east.
Check out Nearby States National Park Sites