Dually a part of the Western and Mountain West United States, Colorado is most famous for its colorful landscapes that vary from the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains and the mighty Colorado River. The sheer diversity of the landscape makes it a popular tourist destination for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Most of the tourism in the state is directed to the Rocky Mountains and Front Range Urban Corridor. With the highest average elevation of all the US states (6,800 feet), Colorado is well-known for its 58 mountains that reach elevations higher than 14,000 feet. Called “fourteeners” by the locals, the landscapes around these peaks are perfect for hiking, camping, biking, fishing, and off-roading.
Although much of the attention is drawn to Colorado’s wilderness, there are plenty of cities and towns to explore too. From major metropolises along the Front Range to quiet communities nestled deep in the mountains, visitors will love Coloradans’ friendly and warm welcome. Major cities in the state include Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins.
Livin’ La Vida Colorado
History of “The Centennial State”
The land that makes up the state of Colorado has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. Paleoamerican ancestors are believed to have settled in the area as early as 37,000 years ago, while modern Native American tribes emerged about 13,500 years ago.
Europeans arrived in the area in the 1600s beginning with Spanish conquistadors. The first settlements were not very successful and as a consequence, Colorado was integrated into the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.
During the early 1800s, the state was home to many traders, trappers, and settlers. When Mexico lost the war against the United States, Colorado was relinquished. The US in turn made the region a part of two territories – New Mexico and Utah.
During the Gold Rush, the territory held many important stops for settlers who were headed further west. By 1850, gold had been found in the area around Pikes Peak, which led some settlers to permanently stay in the territory. However, Colorado would not become its own territory until 1861. On August 1st, 1876, Colorado was admitted to the Union, becoming the 38th state.
After statehood, the gold rush continued and mining became an important part of the local economy. As the mining boom ended, many of the towns like Black Hawk, survived by turning to gambling. The increase in gambling also brought outlaws with the most famous being Butch Cassidy, Soapy Smith, and Doc Holliday.
Capital City of Denver
Known as “The Mile High City” because of its elevation of 5,280 feet, Denver is the capital and largest city in Colorado. Home to 715,522 as of 2020, it is the 5th most populous state capital in the United States. The city sits on the High Plains and is part of the front range at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Areas that receive most of the tourism include Capitol Hill, the Central Business District, Cherry Creek, City Park, North Capitol Hill, Union Station, Lower Downtown (LoDo), and River North (RiNo). Within the city, most of the attractions are centered around history, museums, art, culture, breweries, dining, and shopping.
Denver’s location along the front range urban corridor ensures that people don’t have to travel too far to get to the mountains.
Denver is the perfect city that caters to all types of travelers. Families will love the museum and kid-friendly attractions, while adults will enjoy the bars and clubs. Sports fans can also congregate to watch teams like the Rockies, Nuggets, or Broncos play. There are also plenty of venues to see live music shows, theatrical performances, or musical symphonies.
There are a ton of things to see and do in Denver, but some of the busiest attractions are the Denver Art Museum, Coors Field, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, City Park, Larimer Square, 16th Street Mall, the Downtown Aquarium, Union Square, Elitch Gardens, and Confluence Park.
Colorado Springs, the Second Largest City in Colorado
The second largest city in the state is Colorado Springs with a population of 478,961 as of 2020. Sitting at the base of Pikes Peak, the city’s elevation is relatively high at 6,035 feet above sea level. A mere 69 miles from Denver, many travelers head down to “The Springs” for weekend trips.
The local lifestyle is also greatly influenced by the United States Air Force Academy, which has a campus and base on the north end of town. When people aren’t visiting the academy, most will head to the downtown area or enjoy recreational activities in the nearby Southern Rocky Mountains. Pikes Peak is also a major attraction with the summit easily accessible.
In the downtown area, there are more than 180 locally owned shops and restaurants. On the fringes of the city, major attractions include the Garden of the Gods, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and the Manitou Incline.
Boulder, “The People’s Republic of Boulder”
Known as “The People’s Republic of Boulder” because of its distinct culture, Boulder is a lively college town that sits at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Home to the University of Colorado at Boulder and boasting a permanent population of 108,250 people as of 2020, the city is 25 miles northwest of Denver.
Most people who live in Boulder eagerly take advantage of the city’s access to outdoor recreation and locals are known for being very liberal and earth conscious. The most famous feature of the city is the Flatirons, which jut out from the Rocky Mountain foothills. An icon for the city, Chautauqua Park at the base of the Flatirons, as well as the stone slabs themselves are popular places to hike and climb.
There are plenty of places to check out in Boulder, but a few of the highlights are the open walking malls at Pearl Street and 29th Street. Pearl Street is the most famous of the two and has hundreds of shops, restaurants, and bars to explore. Additional attractions in Boulder include the Boulder Dunshanbe Teahouse, Boulder Farmers Market, Avery Brewing Company, and the Eldorado Canyon State Park.
Fort Collins, “The Choice City”
Another college town is Fort Collins where the main campus of Colorado State University and the Front Range Community College is located. Supporting 169,810 residents as of 2020, the city is 56 miles north of Denver. Similar to Boulder, Fort Collins is an outdoor-oriented city, but most of the landscape features much more remote wilderness.
Highlights include the Chache La Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway, the Cache La Poudre River, Horsetooth Reservoir, and Lory State Park. Within the city, tourists head to the downtown district, which includes Old Town Fort Collins, the Mishawaka Amphitheatre, and the Gardens on Spring Creek.
Fort Collins is also famous for its breweries including the Odell Brewing Company and New Belgium Brewing Company. Additionally, there are dozens of smaller breweries worth checking out too. Most of the breweries offer public tours and tastings.
Epic Mountain Towns
Throughout Colorado, there are hundreds of smaller cities and towns worth visiting too. Located deeper within the Rocky Mountains, there are an array of colorful alpine towns, many of which began during the gold and silver rushes.
In Southwest Colorado, Telluride is a former mining camp turned into a mountain resort. Sitting in a box canyon, the main town is known for its historic district, which includes Colorado Avenue and many surrounding city blocks. Close to Telluride and connected by a gondola is Mountain Village, a companion town and ski area.
Just a few hours from Telluride, Durango is a smaller city that is known for its historic Main Avenue and Fort Lewis College. Departing from the historic district, many tourists are drawn to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which stretches for 45.2 miles to Silverton. Other top sights in Durango include the Animas River and Purgatory Ski Resort.
Deep in the Rocky Mountains east of Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs is a small city that is best known for its mineral pools. The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and Iron Mountain Hot Springs are the two resorts in town for a soak. Those up for a more thrilling excursion can visit Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, raft on the Colorado River, fish the Roaring Fork River, or bike through Glenwood Canyon.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Sandwiched between the towns of Estes Park (to the east) and Grand Lake (to the west), Rocky Mountain National Park was the 5th most visited national park in the US in 2021 with 4.43 million visitors. Featuring a combination of 265,461 acres of federally protected land and 253,059 acres of U.S. Forest Service wilderness, the national park is reputed for its landscapes and wildlife.
Two of the most prominent natural features in RMNP include the headwaters of the Colorado River and Longs Peak, which stands at 14,259 feet tall. During the summer, visitors can drive along Trail Ridge Road, which provides excellent views of more than 60 mountain peaks with elevations higher than 12,000 feet.
Park visitors will have the chance to view iconic Colorado wildlife including moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, black bears, and coyotes. Elk are the park’s most famous animal and the herds are known to congregate both in the national park and the town of Estes Park. More elusive animals living in the park include Canada lynx, bobcats, and cougars.
Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain”
Standing at 14,115 feet tall, Pikes Peak is called “America’s Mountain” because the mountain inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful”. Now, this fourteener is a major attraction in Colorado Springs with millions of visitors seeking to see the views from the summit. To reach the summit, visitors can drive, hike, or take the Cog Railway.
Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
On the Arkansas River, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is a stunning attraction just outside of Cañon City. Many visitors head to the suspension bridge, which stretches over the canyon, but there is also a railroad route that is becoming increasingly popular. Whether you’re taking in the view from above or winding through the canyon on the train (or a raft), the beauty of the Royal Gorge will leave you breathless.
One thing that Colorado is world famous for is its skiing and snowboarding. With deep winter snow blanketing the Rocky Mountain winter landscapes, millions of people travel to this state to hit the slopes.
Aspen is known for its celebrity status as it attracts some of the world’s richest people to the resort and slopes. With luxurious hotels and designer stores, the Roaring Fork Valley is known for being the place where you can enjoy the great outdoors, but also still shop at designer boutiques. Between Snowmass Village and the town of Aspen are four amazing ski resorts: Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen Mountain.
Another luxurious destination is Eagle County, home to the neighboring ski resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek. With easy lift access, skiers and snowboarders will find plenty of beginner, intermediate and expert trails to explore. About 2 hours from Denver, these ski resorts are popular places for locals to spend the weekend.
Even closer to Denver is the Winter Park Ski Resort. With more than 3,000 acres of terrain, this ski area caters to all levels. There is even the National Sports Center for the Disabled where children and adults can find support and accommodations to hit the slopes.
“Come to Life”
While the Rocky Mountains are the number one reason why people travel to Colorado, there are plenty of hidden gems scattered throughout the state too. For those who like big adventures, epic scenery, rich culture, and dynamic cities, this state will sweep you off your feet. Whether you’re visiting rain, shine, or snow, without a doubt, your trip here will be extraordinary.