While Colorado’s national parks might steal the spotlight, its 42 Colorado state parks shouldn’t be overlooked. These beautiful public lands are often less crowded and just as beautiful. Here are eight of our favorite picks.
1. Cheyenne Mountain State Park
This beautiful park 7 miles west of Colorado Springs just added new sections to the Dixon Trail, which provides 23 miles of easy-to-moderate terrain perfect for hiking and mountain biking. Meander through prairie grasslands and into the foothills to get a taste of the diverse terrain of Colorado’s Front Range. All Colorado state parks offer ranger-led nature talks, so be sure to check the park’s website for the most up-to-date schedule to learn more about the area you’re visiting.
2. Steamboat Lake State Park
This alpine park 29 miles north of Steamboat Springs has so much to offer year-round, but winter might just be the best time to visit. A winter wonderland awaits. Rent a snowmobile in Steamboat Springs, or join a snowmobile tour and safely explore miles of trails patrolled by park rangers. Or, if you’d rather get out on your own two feet, strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis and head out on trails closed to snowmobiles for a peaceful experience. You can even cross the frozen lake. Visiting in the summer? Hiking, camping and watersports abound.
3. Rifle Falls State Park
This unexpected oasis located on the western side of the state just 13 miles off Interstate 70 in Rifle, Colo. is the perfect place to bring your family. Playing in the rainbows of mist from its 70-foot triple waterfall offers a respite from the summer heat as do shady campsites along the river. Even for a day trip, make sure to bring a flashlight to explore the caves along the Coyote Trail, one of which has a 90-foot room.
4. Ridgway State Park
Ridgway State Park might just offer some of the best views in Colorado. It’s located 17 miles south of Montrose and at the junction to the picturesque towns of Ouray and Telluride. Rent a SUP or canoe to explore the reservoir but beware: you may just be too distracted by the stunning views of the San Juan’s jagged peaks to do much paddling. Below the dam, along the Uncompahgre River you’ll find excellent fishing, with trout larger than normal because of the warm waters from the dam’s generator.
5. Eleven Mile State Park
Located 50 miles west of Colorado Springs, the adventure starts before you get to this state park. Drive through stunning Eleven Mile Canyon and keep your eyes peeled for rock climbers. If you have time, stop along the shores of the river for a picnic to soak in the scenery. The park itself offers a 3,400-acre reservoir where you can take both motor and paddle watercrafts for a spin, available for rent at the reservoir. For a backcountry adventure, rent a boat and head to one of the park’s 14 secluded backcountry campsites.
6. Staunton State Park
Just 40 miles outside of Denver, Staunton is one of the state’s most accessible state parks. If you, or someone you are traveling with are disabled, the park’s Track-Chair program is a great way to get out and experience Colorado’s wilderness. Reserve an Action Track-Chair, which is a wheelchair on large tracks that make navigating trails a cinch. The chairs are allowed on designated trails, which offer beautiful views of Pikes Peak, Lions Head and Mount Rosalie. The park is full of trails for all abilities, including a beautiful waterfall hike.
7. Eldorado Canyon State Park
When you are hiking in the solitude-filled Eldorado Canyon State Park, it’s hard to believe you are just a couple miles from Boulder, a thriving university town filled with a vibrant downtown and restaurants catering to foodies.
A magnet for climbers from around the world, Eldorado features jaw-dropping cliffs that soar into the blue sky. As you gaze at the walls above you, you’ll start to spot tiny, bright-colored figures climbing the park’s 500-plus climbing routes.
Bring a picnic here [two grocery stores are 6 miles away, Lucky’s Market and King Soopers] and sit alongside South Boulder Creek to gaze up at the climbers. Or cast your line in the creek in search of brown and rainbow trout. Then explore the trails. Fowler Trail is an easy hike while the more moderate Rattlesnake Gulch Trail starts in the canyon before climbing 1.4 miles up 800 feet to give you spectacular views.
Stop in the visitor center to buy a fishing license and get hiking information. The best time to visit Eldorado is during a weekday. If you go on a weekend, arrive early as the park reaches capacity often during summer months.
When you get hot, jump off the diving board at Eldorado Swimming Pool literally right outside the park. It opened in 1905 and is fed by an artesian spring.
8. State Forest State Park, Colorado’s Moose Capital
Looking to escape the crowds after you visit Rocky Mountain National Park?
Head to State Forest State Park in Walden, an hour and 30 minutes from Grand Lake. Alpine lakes, peaks that stretch to the sky and a mixture of camping and yurt and cabin rentals await.
Hike less than a mile to Lake Agnes, an alpine lake filled with stunning turquoise waters. There’s actually an island in the middle of it.
Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for moose. The North Park area, where the park is located, is considered Colorado’s “moose capital” with more than 600 of the large animals living here. Stop at the Moose Visitor Center for maps, information and to view interpretive displays.
For More Information:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
State Park Camping Reservations: 800-244-5613, cpw.state.co.us