The Beauty of Colorado’s National Parks
Aimee Heckel, author of Colorado Day Trips by Theme, talks to us about Colorado’s National Parks.
Colorado has more National Parks—more than almost any other state. Rocky Mountain in the north is home to 124 named peaks; Great Sand Dunes in the south boasts the country’s tallest dune; Mesa Verde in the southwest is a step back in time; and the western Black Canyon of the Gunnison is famous for its steep gorge. Let’s look at three of them.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
The highlight here is the tallest sand dunes in North America, which might come as a shock in a state not known for desert conditions. Coast down these dunes on special sand-boards and cool off in Medano Creek, which snakes through the preserve. Or just hike the dunes for a unique experience and excellent views. (Just make sure you pack plenty of water because it can get toasty in summer, and there’s not much shade.)
It’s a bucket-list item to conquer the tallest sand pile at 750 feet high, set to the backdrop of mountain peaks. Bonus: The sand dunes are open year-round, day and night, so you can go camping or even midnight hiking here.
Mesa Verde National Park
Five thousand archaeological sites, including Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings, are preserved in this national park where ancient history comes to life. Mesa Verde boasts some of the best-preserved and most notable cliff dwellings in the country. Climb inside kivas, through tunnels, and up tall ladders, and experience what life might have felt like for Colorado’s first residents.
Mesa Verde is great for families; it’s an educational vacation that is simultaneously active (prepare for lots of walking), scenic, and adventurous. There’s a hotel and campground in the park, but if those are booked, you’ll find cute cabins in the nearby mountains and hotels in the towns of Mancos and Durango.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Stand on top of it all in this national park, which boasts the highest continuous paved road in the country (Trail Ridge Road) and multiple peaks taller than 13,000 feet. A lifetime goal for many outdoor lovers, climbers, and fitness extremists (it’s not an easy challenge) is to conquer Longs Peak.
Rocky Mountain National Park is family-friendly and has offerings for all levels of ability. It is packed with outdoor adventure, including more than 350 miles of hiking trails, great wildlife-watching (such as bighorn sheep, elk, and eagles), plenty of fishing, and views that go on forever. Summer can get busy, so consider visiting in the fall, when the changing aspen leaves paint the forest a surreal gold. In winter, enjoy the park via sledding, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. There aren’t any ski resorts in
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