Crazy Facts About Colorado's 4 National Parks

  • 01 of 05

    Like Nowhere Else on Earth

    Rocky Mountain National Park
    Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. Brad McGinley Photography/Getty Images

    Colorado is one of the states with the most national parks. It's No. 4 in the nation, with four parks. This makes Colorado and outdoor lover's paradise, as well as a great vacation destination for a thrilling, sight-seeing road trip.

    Each of Colorado's national parks is totally unique from the others and from any other national parks in the world. Here's a peek at Colorado's four national parks, plus some inside tips to help you get the most out of them. 

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  • 02 of 05

    Rocky Mountain National Park

    Rocky Mountain National Park
    A deer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Michael Riffle/Getty Images

    Rocky Mountain National Park is the most famous of Colorado's national parks. 

    What makes it unique: Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the country, with 60 different mountains, including many "fourteeners," or peaks that exceed 14,000 feet. 

    Highlights: 

    • Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in any national park in the nation. It peaks at more than 12,000 feet, providing some of the most jaw-dropping views you'll ever experience. It's so high that it brings you above tree ​line. 
    • The park features more than 300 miles of trails stretching across 415 square miles.
    • Visit the Continental Divide, the drainage divide across the continent.
    • A quintessential Colorado activity is to go camping in the park. Two of the favorite tourist towns are Estes Park and Grand Lake. 
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  • 03 of 05

    Great Sand Dunes National Park

    Great Sand Dunes National Park
    The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Danita Delimont/Getty Images

    The Great Sand Dunes have to be one of the strangest natural features in Colorado: the tallest sand dunes in North America. 

    What makes it unique: Rolling hills of sand with a mountain view and no ocean is pretty bizarre. 

    Highlights:

    • In the winter in Colorado, you can go snow sledding and snowboarding. But in the Sand Dunes in the summer, you can go sand sledding and sandboarding. You need a special sand sled or board for this, though. Don't hop on your regular skis and hope it'll work. Plan your adventure early or late in the day, when the sand isn't too hot, and to avoid sandstorms. 
    • See the 750-tall sand dune, the tallest in the nation. It reaches an elevation that makes many mountains look small. 
    • Don't miss Medano Creek, if you want to add a little water to that sand. 
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  • 04 of 05

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
    A view atop the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Ethan Welty/Getty Images

    The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park features an unusual, dark, steep canyon forged over the course of millions of years by the Gunnison River. 

    What makes it unique? This canyon is surreal, with some of the oldest rocks and steepest cliffs in North America. Why it's called the "Black Canyon?" It's said light never reaches some points here. 

    Highlights: 

    • It's a major feat for experienced rock climbers to take to these 2,000-foot cliffs that plunge nearly straight down. 
    • Even some of the regular hikes along the rim may bring you close to dangerous drop-offs, so stay away from the edge. But the views will stop you in your hiking boots. More extreme adventurers can try the inner canyon hikes but leave the kids at home. This is not for newbies. 
    • Camping is another way to experience this natural beauty. You can find RV and ​​campsites in the national park. 

     

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  • 05 of 05

    Mesa Verde National Park

    Mesa Verde National Park
    A cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. Alan W. Cole/Getty Images

    Mesa Verde National Park is like traveling back in time. Way back in time. It's simultaneously a history lesson and an outdoor, hiking adventure for people of all ages and fitness levels. 

    What makes it unique? The shockingly well preserved (and restored) cliff dwellings, built between 600 and 1300 by the Ancestral Pueblo people. These are some of the most famous and best preserved archeological sites in the country. 

    Highlights:

    • Climb down a ladder underground into an ancient kiva. 
    • Take a guided bus and hiking tour through the national park to see many of the almost 5,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings. 
    • Pick and choose between hikes into some of the more notable dwellings, such as the Cliff Palace. Pick your best fit, depending on your level of exertion, time available and, well, bravery. There's one site that requires a pretty high climb up a ladder, and then a tight squeeze through a tunnel. It's not for everyone. But how often can you get an adrenaline rush touring a history site?