Travel Guide, Travel Inspiration

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn’t Miss

If you haven’t been to Colorado yet then it’s about time to add it to your list! There are so many amazing places in the state to experience, some fairly easy and some are more challenging to get to. I have collated this list of my favorite “easy to get to” and reasonably accessible outdoor adventures.

1. Maroon Bells – Aspen

In my opinion Maroon Bells is the most beautiful place in the whole state that you can simply  drive up to and experience. This gorgeous lake and mountains are located 12 miles out of Aspen. I would suggest visiting at sunrise or sunset – but be ready for large crowds! This is a popular spot, especially in the fall time when the aspens are golden. While you are in the area I would highly recommend driving over Independence Pass (12,095ft) and taking in the glorious mountain vistas, including some 14ers! (14,000+ ft mountains).

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

2. Dream Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park

Located 30 minutes from Estes Park, Dream Lake is 100% fitting to its name. This short and easy hike will take 2.2 miles return from the trail head and back. You will pass Bear Lake (at the trail head) and Nymph Lake’s on the way. If you are feeling adventurous then I would recommend continuing onto Emerald Lake (about another 0.7 miles). This is a very popular trail and the parking lot fills up quick, so I would suggest going early morning to avoid the crowds! 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

3. Brainard Lake – Indian Peaks Wilderness

This gorgeous lake is located about 50 minutes northwest of Boulder. The road doesn’t open until mid June due to its high elevation and lingering snow. Take a picnic, kayak, fishing gear, and camera and you’ll be all set. Nearly every time I visit Brainard I see at least one moose, so be on the lookout! If you are in the mood for hiking then definitely trek the 5 miles return to Blue Lake (11,320 feet high) – absolutely stunning! 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

4. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve – San Luis Valley

The tallest sand dunes in North America! It is quite a surreal experience standing on top of these dunes overlooking the 13,000 foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Anyone can have fun here – from trekking up the dunes, to sand boarding, or splashing in the Medano Creek, it’s definitely a unique location. You do have to drive about 4 hours south of Denver to reach the dunes, so I would recommend camping nearby or staying the night in Alamosa (40 minutes away). 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

5. Trial Ridge Road – Rocky Mountain National Park

This drive is phenomenal and its no surprise why it’s considered Colorado’s “highway to the sky”. The road covers 48 miles between Estes Park (east side) and Grand Lake (west side). You will cross the Continental Divide and travel up to 12,183 feet in the comfort of the car. If you’re lucky you might even spot eagles, marmots, big horn sheep, pikas, and ptarmigans. There are lots of pull offs and view points so that you can take in those jaw dropping mountain vistas. Grand Lake and Lake Granby on the west side of the park are beautiful places to stop and have a picnic lunch. While you are there you could also check out beautiful Monarch Lake, just by Lake Granby. 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

6. Experience one of Colorado’s hot springs – various locations

Colorado has an abundance of hot springs to relax in after a day of adventuring. My favorite so far has been Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs. Though I hear Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgeway and Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs are absolutely lovely (on my bucket list!) 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

7. Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Calhan

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, this diverse ecological site is worth checking out. It’s a short walk into the first part of the park, where you will be surrounded by beautiful hoodoos and colored spires. I would suggest going in the afternoon and staying to watch the sunset over the interesting formations. Allow for a 1 hour 40 minute drive southeast from Denver. 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

8. Chautauqua – Boulder

My hood! I love everything about Chautauqua… well, except the weekend crowds. This park is filled with beautiful hiking trials (from easy to challenging), meadows, wildflowers, a nice eatery, restrooms, and views of the 5 famous “Flatirons”. My favorite short hike is the Baseline/Bluebell-Baird Trail (1-2 miles) and if I am in the mood for something more challenging I will hike the Mesa Trail (7 miles one way), or Bear Peak (4 miles one way, depending on which trailhead). 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

9. Garden of the Gods Park – Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is about 1 hour and 20 mins south of Denver and here you will find loads of tourist activities, including the Garden of the Gods Park. There is a lovely walk through the park that provides views of the dramatic 300 foot sandstone towers. It’s worth hanging around until sunset to witness the rock formations glow with the fading light and Pike’s Peak (14,114 feet) tower in the background. While you are in the area you may consider taking the cog rail up to the top of Pikes Peak, or challenging yourself by climbing the Manitou Incline (be warned, it’s a serious thigh burner!)

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

10. Hanging Lake – Glenwood Springs

I wouldn’t say this 2 mile hike is “easy” but it’s definitely worth the climb if you’re reasonably fit. The lake itself is a stunning clear blue/green color and you will witness many waterfalls along the trail. This is a very popular hike so go early in the day! 

10 Colorado Outdoor Adventures You Shouldn't Miss

Have you been to Colorado? If not, which outdoor adventure are you most excited to try?

Let me know in the comment section below.


downloadAbout the Author: Renee Hahnel

Renee is a Colorado based Australian photographer, adventurer and blogger behind ReneeHahnel.com. Her passion is capturing moments through image, whether it be travel, adventure, people, or an incredible landscape. She has been fortunate enough to travel around the world, 28 countries and counting. Experiencing new places and meeting interesting people is what always leaves her wanting more. *This post was originally published on her blog.*


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37 Comments

  1. Florence

    June 23, 2016 at 1:21 pm

    You really make me dream about Colorado! Your pictures are stunning and there’s so much to do! 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Florence. You are absolutely right. Renee’s photos are outstanding!

  2. Anne

    June 24, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Love the photos. If you fancy a relaxing stay after all that activity you could head to Devils Thumb ranch for spa treatments and yoga

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Anne for the tip! I would love to get a spa treatment after a full day of hiking.

  3. noel

    June 24, 2016 at 11:24 pm

    Wow gorgeous scenery and photography. It has been over 15 years since I’ve visited this stunning state and all the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Winter time looks so different and stunning from where I come from.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:15 pm

      Wow it’s been a long time Noel. Time to head back soon? Winter time does look so stunning with the Rocky Mountains in the background. So many beautiful snow capped mountains in Colorado.

  4. Anita Hendrieka

    June 24, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    I have never been but after your reading your article and seeing your pictures I may have to add it on my bucket list! Great read and I really love your photos! What camera do you use?

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks Anita! Great guest post by Renee. Actually, it’s not my photos so I’m not sure what camera Renee used for her photos. But I believe she uses a Sony and her husband uses a Nikon. 🙂

  5. Mellissa Williams

    June 25, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Such wonderful scenery. Colorado really looks a beautiful place to visit. I didn’t realise they had hot springs either.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:17 pm

      Agreed! Colorado looks amazing. Same here, never knew they have hot springs there!

  6. John Morris

    June 25, 2016 at 2:06 am

    Dream Lake is absolutely picture-perfect. What an incredible image you captured there! This post reminds me that I don’t have to travel to faraway places to experience nature’s beauty. The United States is filled with opportunities like these. 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:18 pm

      Dream Lake is so gorgeous! Yes, you’re absolutely right about that. There’s so many places to explore right in our own backyard.

  7. jen

    June 25, 2016 at 2:07 am

    Even though I’m from the US I haven’t spent much time in Colorado. What a stunningly beautiful place. I’d love to go and get in some hiking. Thanks for the great list of places to explore.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:19 pm

      Same here! I’m dying to explore Colorado. Hope you get to go soon Jen! 🙂

  8. Drew

    June 25, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I spent some time in Aspen last summer for a wedding, and was amazed at how beautiful it was. We went out to Maroon Bells, and also did the Independence Pass on our way to Denver. Couldn’t believe how much snow was up there in June! Colorado is such a beautiful state, with so many stunning sites.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:31 pm

      That must’ve been an amazing wedding! That’s awesome, sounds like you guys had an amazing time exploring Maroon Bells. And wow can’t believe they still have snow up there in June!

  9. Scott

    June 25, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Those pictures are absolutely beautiful. I have great memories of swimming in the big pool at Glenwood Springs as a kid. Thanks for rekindling them.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      I love the beautiful photos too! Renee did an amazing job with the post. Not a problem Scott! Glenwood Springs sounds awesome!

  10. Elaine J Masters

    June 25, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Nice trip, Janna. My sister lived in Glenwood Springs at one point. I still remember the Olympic sized pool and the mists. Lovely shots.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      It’s actually a guest post but I am dying to visit Colorado soon. Ooh that sounds cool! Glenwood Springs sounds amazing!

  11. Kerri

    June 25, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Can’t decide on a favourite. They are all absolutely stunning. What beautiful landscapes in all of them.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      I don’t blame you Kerri. So many beautiful spots in Colorado. It’s hard to choose!

  12. Vicki Louise

    June 25, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    Wow these places are gorgeous! You’re so lucky to live within driving distance and I can easily see why Maroon Bells is your favorite – it is just breathtaking!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      Colorado has been on my radar for quite sometime. It seems like a beautiful state to live in. So many gorgeous landscapes to enjoy!

  13. Andra

    June 26, 2016 at 2:06 am

    I had no idea Colorado has the tallest sand dunes in North America. Being a mountain and nature lover I have always had Colorado on my bucket list. And your amazing photos prove that it should be there

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      Me neither! That’s pretty cool, right? Hope you check it off your bucket list soon Andra! Happy travels! 🙂

  14. LeAnna Brown

    June 26, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Colorado just has so much to offer! These photos are stunning by the way! What I’d give for that view in those hot springs!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:22 pm

      The hot springs seems to be a popular spot to visit. I wanna try that one out too!

  15. Bell | Wanderlust Marriage

    June 26, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Wow, such beautiful spots 🙂 we drove just a little bit around the Rockies and it is by far one of our favourite road trips! Wish we’d checked out the hot springs! Need to add that to the list, great post!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      I agree! I’ve never been to the Rockies yet so hopefully I get to go soon.

  16. Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren

    June 27, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Lovely photos! I would love to visit Colorado soon. Happy travels 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 28, 2016 at 10:20 pm

      Thanks Lauren! Happy travels to you too!

  17. Sara Broers

    July 1, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    You recapped why this midwestern based traveler makes an annual trek to Colorado. Great post!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      July 3, 2016 at 11:59 pm

      I hope to make it out there and try these for myself Sara! Glad you enjoyed the post. Happy travels back to Colorado! 😉

  18. Elaine J Masters

    July 3, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    I’d love to see more of Colorado! Inspiring pictures.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      July 4, 2016 at 12:00 am

      Me too Elaine! Hoping to go back sometime this year!

  19. Karin

    July 20, 2016 at 1:16 am

    I love #4 on you list! I had no idea there were sand dunes in Colorado (which, considering my geography knowledge, is not such a surprise;-)) but the place sounds absolutely stunning and I would love to get there one day! I also heard Colorado is good for hitchhiking so that makes it two in one 🙂

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