I’m gonna say it, “I LOVE COLORADO!”
From the moment I stepped off the plane…actually scratch that…more like left Denver, I knew in my heart that Colorado was such an amazing place full of diverse landscapes. It’s no wonder people move out to the rocky mountain state nowadays.
Don’t believe me? Well, here are the top 12 outdoor gems in Colorado that will literally take your breath away!
1. Lookout Mountain
What I love about this hike is THE SCENIC OVERLOOK! Seriously? Who doesn’t want to stand on top of a mountain and catch the views of Downtown Denver? Plus, you’ll take in views of giant, flat-top mesas known as Table Mountain.
I recommend arriving at sunset as there’s less people and you’ll have more time to enjoy the lookout for yourself.
Also, I recommend checking out Buffalo Bill’s Grave as it’s close by. It’s a short, walk up the concrete path to a lonely gravesite of the infamous buffalo hunter and showman.
Address: 987 Lookout Mountain Rd, Golden, CO 80401
2. Garden of the Gods
The title says it all…well, I guess for me at least. Garden of the Gods is Colorado’s top geological wonder with its towering sandstone and amazing red rock formations. It’s so magnificent that I often wonder if these rock gardens came from the gods.
Plus, this park is close to Manitou Springs which has 8 different mineral spring water (aka “healing water”) and Pikes Peak.
And the best part? It’s FREE!
Address: 1805 N 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO 80904
3. Bishop Castle
Ok. This is not really an outdoor gem, but more like a roadside attraction.
But hey, this place is located in San Isabel National Forest so what the heck!
Anyways, this castle was a one-man project built by Jim Bishop since 1969. Now, everyone can climb and explore this eccentric monument from its rooms all the way up to the stairtop. Just make sure not to look down as you climb up those creaky, metal stairs…
Address: 12705 CO-165, Rye, CO 81069
4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Similar to the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one you can’t miss! With its steep cliffs and sheer vertical walls of over 2,000 ft., this canyon is like no other in terms of its vast beauty.
Now, there are two entrances to the park: the North Rim and the South Rim. As you drive through different viewpoints, the views of the canyons and the Gunnison river get more and more spectacular each time!
And if that wasn’t enough, you can even hike down the steep 1,800 ft. drop to the bottom of the canyon. Or you can drive. Your choice!
Address: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Montrose County, CO
Entrance Fee: $15 per vehicle
5. Last Dollar Road
An alternative and more scenic route to get to Telluride, this unpaved road stretches for miles and miles through ranches and aspen groves. A four-wheel drive is highly recommended, but my rental car survived this drive (sort of). Just be cautious as you’ll drive through large puddles and bumpy rocks.
If you love taking photos (I know I do 🙋), I recommend visiting during the fall as this is a very popular photography spot.
Address: Last Dollar Road, CO
6. Rifle Falls
Known for its 70 ft. triple falls, Rifle Falls is a nice quick stop if you’re on a road trip adventure.
Plus it’s a short hike to get to the falls so this is perfect for families (even dogs! 🐶).
Personally, I didn’t stick around much since I only came for the waterfalls, but whenever you get the chance, make sure to check out the limestone caves.
Address: 5775 Highway 325, Rifle, CO 81650
Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle
7. St. Mary’s Glacier
One of my personal favorite, this hike takes you up to a pristine lake and, of course, glaciers! If you’re like me and love adventure, then I recommend hiking a bit further to the base of the glacier for best views of the lake. Just be careful of loose rocks and slippery ice.
Address: 7599 Fall River Rd, Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Parking Fee: $5 per vehicle
8. Paint Mines Interpretive Park
This neat little gem is another one of my personal favorite!!! 💖 A short hike is all it takes to explore these rainbow-colored spires and hoodoos.
And believe it or not, these rock formations are actually made out of CLAY! Who knew?!
Also pay attention to the signage. As tempting as it looks, I don’t recommend climbing the colorful rocks as these beautiful geological formations are quite fragile.
Address: 29950 Paint Mine Rd. Calhan, CO 80808
9. Hanging Lake/Spouting Rock
Located off of I-70 just before Glenwood Springs lies this popular hiking spot. Although its trails are steep, this doesn’t stop locals and tourists from reaching this gorgeous gem.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be BLOWN AWAY by the clear, turquoise-green lake standing in front of you. Just be mindful and don’t touch the lake water or walk on the log.
If you want to add a bit more adventure, I recommend hiking a bit more to Spouting Rock. It literally is a ginormous rock that spouts water!
What I love about this hike is that it’s not as restricted as Hanging Lake and plus, it’s got a ton of shade to help you cool off from the summer heat.
Oh and just a heads up, the park may issue a permit system and fees to restrict visitors. I’m not sure about the full details, but make sure to check out their website for updates.
Address: 70 County Road 125, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
10. Rainbow Falls
Located close to Manitou Springs, this waterfall is a must-stop before leaving Colorado Springs. Plus, it’s a very short walk to the falls so it’s perfect for families. Once you reach the falls, you’re basically standing under the bridge surrounded by graffiti.
Some people might not like the graffiti, but hey, it does bring vibrancy and vast amount of colors to the falls.
Address: US-24, Cascade, CO 80809
11. Helen Hunt Falls
Located near Colorado Springs, this quick hike takes you to a 35 ft. waterfall. What I love about this hike is the higher you go, the views of the falls drastically change too!
Oh and if that wasn’t enough, I recommend checking out Gold Camp Tunnel. From what I heard, the tunnels are supposedly haunted by spirits of children killed in a schoolbus accident many years ago. Sounds like something out of a horror movie…👻
Address: Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado 80906
12. Devil’s Head Lookout Tower
Another hike you shouldn’t miss! This hike takes you up a steep trail until you reach about 143 metal stairs up to a lone fire tower. Once you reach the top of the firetower, you’ll be rewarded with 360° panoramic views of Colorado from Colorado Springs to Denver (if the skies are clear of course).
Also be sure to sign in at the register inside the tower and receive your certificate of completion. IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT!
Address: 5900-6518 S Rampart Range Rd. Sedalia, CO 80135
Well, that’s it! I hope this blog inspires you to visit Colorado and explore its beautiful outdoor gems. Let me know if I am missing any other outdoor gems and I’d be happy to check them out!
What are your favorite outdoor gems in Colorado? Let me know by commenting down below.