Whether you’re craving scenic views, a white-water adrenaline rush, top-notch rock climbing, or a camping getaway with the family, Colorado’s got a state park for that.
Colorado has 41 state parks that draw more than 11 million people every year. Each park is slightly different and all are worthy in their own rights. But a handful stand out above the rest.
Here’s a look at our favorite state parks in Colorado, and what to do at each one.
Eleven Mile State Park: For the Fishing
If an action-packed excursion of outdoor excitement is what you’re craving, head to Eleven Mile State Park, about 40 miles west of Colorado Springs.
The highlight here is a huge reservoir and nearby wetlands that are a huge draw to boaters, fishers, paddlers, and windsurfers. While you can’t go swimming, you can go sailing or kayaking. Anglers, alert: Trout abounds in this body of water. Even in the winter, Eleven Mile is big for fishing. It hosts an annual, statewide ice fishing tournament.
You can hike five miles of trails and backcountry camp here, too, as well as look for wildlife (bald eagles, falcons, elk, and even black bears, so beware). Best of all, the Eleven Mile State Park feels like it’s deep in nature, surrounded by scenic hills, but it’s not too far from Denver.
Roxborough State Park: For the Ancient Sandstone Formations
Roxborough State Park is where to go for the natural, unique scenery. The park is home to 300-million-year-old red sandstone formations. They emerge from the earth at a shocking 60-degree angle that makes you wonder how they don’t topple over.
With dramatic geological masterpieces galore, it is no surprise that this is one of Colorado’s official National Natural Landmarks. But that’s not all. Roxborough has an impressive resume. It’s also a State Historic Site, a Colorado Natural Area, and a National Cultural District (yup, there are also a bunch of archaeological spots in Roxborough). Hike along the multiple, easy to intermediate hiking trails throughout the park, and take in the views.
This 3,339-acre state park is easy to get to, too. See this real-life marvel just 20 miles south of Denver.
Rifle Falls: For the Waterfalls
There’s something magical about a waterfall. If you’re looking for that kind of enchantment while in Colorado, hike on up to Rifle Falls, not far from Rifle. It’s a bit of a trek from Denver (more than three hours west) but well worth the drive.
Rifle Falls State Park is home to three, 70-foot waterfalls surrounded by mysterious limestone caves (full of bats) at the water’s base. It feels like you have been plucked out of reality and dropped into a fairy tale.
But it’s more than just a pretty site. Rifle Falls State Park is packed with adventure options, such as biking, hiking, bird-watching, picnicking, and camping. So you can stay immersed in this wonderland for a few days, until you are ready to return to the real world.
In addition to birds, you can spot other wild critters living here, from big ones like elk to little guys like chipmunks. Also, keep your eyes open for deer, coyote, and fish in the creek (you're allowed to fish here).
Tip: Don’t forget to consider this for a winter destination. Have you ever seen a frozen waterfall? Add that to your bucket list. The hike up to the falls isn’t too tough so it’s appropriate for all seasons and for all visitors, even kids. Hike a bit farther up for a surreal view of the world from behind one of the waterfalls.
State Forest State Park: For the Moose
Moose live in Colorado, and seeing one in person is truly jaw-dropping. If you want to spot a moose (safely, from a distance), venture out to the 71,000-acre State Forest State Park, in the small town of Walden. That’s not quite three hours northwest of Denver. Because of its northern location, this is a popular destination for people visiting Colorado State University in Fort Collins or the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
The State Forest State Park is Colorado’s moose capital, home to more than 600 of the big guys.
Moose aren’t the only attraction in this large, adventure-filled park. It’s also home to black bears and elk, it boasts alpine lakes and tons of trails (about 90 miles of hiking trails, plus more for biking), and to top it all off, there are sand dunes here.
Eldorado Canyon State Park: For the Rock Climbing
Rock climbers around the world know Eldo is where to go.
Eldo, short for Eldorado Canyon, is a super popular rock climbing destination just outside of the city of Boulder. This mountainous state park features a whopping 1,000 different technical climbing routes. It’s well known in the climbing community. The routes are accessible to all levels and open during daylight.
Even if you don’t climb, this 885-acre state park is worth your time for the amazing views and activities, such as hiking, biking, and fishing. There’s even a hot springs pool here, the closest hot springs to Boulder. It’s not as hot as some natural hot springs, but the water does hover between 76 and 80 degrees. This artesian-spring-fed pool has been open since 1905. And no, the water is not dyed. It’s naturally that deep of a blue.
In the winter, this is a fun place to go cross-country skiing and slice through the powder without the long lift lines. Don’t miss the views from the Continental Divide Overlook. That’s the line in North America where water flows in two different directions.
You may also see wildlife while you’re here, like mountain lions to black bears. The history of Eldo is pretty fascinating, too. The Ute tribe used to live here, building homes in the walls of the canyon.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park: For the Views
In the fall, Golden Gate Canyon State Park earns its name. This stunning park is packed with aspens, which turn a glowing gold when the leaves change colors in the fall.
But the nearly 12,000-acre Golden Gate Canyon is worth a visit any time of year, in large part due to the views for days. The place to station for the best views is (also fittingly titled) Panorama Point Scenic Overlook. You can see forever, or technically about 100 miles into the distance.
If the views capture you, which they will, you can camp here; there are more than 100 campsites and more than 100 picnic spots, more than many other state parks. That means you have at least a better chance of finding an available spot.
Or at least spend some good time exploring the trails. Hiking is great in Golden Gate. You can even go horseback riding.
As with all other state parks, wildlife abounds. Expect to possibly see bobcats, black bears, deer, elk, various types of squirrels and mountain lion. Maybe even the occasional moose. You can also go fishing, biking and rock climbing here, if action is on your agenda.
Golden Gate Canyon is located near Golden, the home of the Colorado School of Mines.
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area: For the Rafting
Yeah, Colorado is a land-locked state, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little splish-splash here. A great state park for water activities is the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
Whitewater rafting is the main spotlight here. This park features 150 miles of it, and the rapids vary from pretty chill and peaceful to thrilling and roaring. This makes the Arkansas Headwaters State Park ideal for all levels of rafting.
If rafting isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to entertain yourself in this state park, from rock climbing to biking to hiking on the trails.
Camping is a given. If you can score a campsite, you will be rewarded with some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery and up-close access to nature.
This park is located in Salida, about two hours south of Denver.