Colorado's National Monuments & Historic Sites
Half of Colorado is public land, preserved in five national parks, three national monuments, one national monument and preserve, 11 national forests, 40 state parks and three national recreation areas. Start exploring now!
Rocky Mountain National Park
65 miles/104 km northwest of Denver on U.S. Hwy. 36
Rocky Mountain National Park is Colorado's most popular attraction, with more than three million visitors every year. Trail Ridge Road crosses the park, forming the highest continuous highway in North America, reaching heights of 12,183 feet/3,736 meters. Massive peaks, rugged canyons, flower-studded meadows, peaceful lakes and thundering waterfalls combine to offer a complete look at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Activities include hiking, biking, camping, horseback riding, climbing, fishing and viewing wildlife. There are four visitor centers; two of the visitor centers and Trail Ridge Road are generally open from late May to mid-October and are closed because of snow the rest of the year. A popular stop is Bear Lake, which has a paved trail around it and offers a chance to view beaver dams and a high mountain basin lake. Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west are two resort villages filled with shopping, dining and accommodations.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
8 miles/13 km east of the Montrose exit on U.S Hwy. 50.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park preserves the most spectacular 12-mile section of a 53-mile-long gorge carved by the Gunnison River. Other canyons in America are longer or deeper, but no other combines the depth, narrowness, sheerness and somber countenance of the Black Canyon. A paved road circles the rim of the canyon, offering many thrilling viewpoints over the lip, which at some points drops a half-mile down! There are many hiking trails, including one that takes you down the 2,000-foot high gorge to the river at the bottom. A museum and visitor center is located within the monument.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
31 miles/50 km northeast of Alamosa on Colo. Hwy. 150
Recently elevated to a national park, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve contains some of the highest inland sand dunes in the world. Located at the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado, the dunes rise to heights of 800 feet/252 meters. It is possible to walk and climb the dunes. Special sand dune trucks take visitors to otherwise inaccessible points in the monument. The dunes change colors throughout the day, forming a dramatic and beautiful natural landscape, with the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. There is a visitor center and museum on the site
Mesa Verde National Park
10 miles/6 km east of Cortez on U.S. Hwy. 160
Located in the high plateau country of southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is designated a a World Heritage Site and contains some of the largest and best-preserved examples of the amazing Anasazi cliff dwellings. Built more than 700 years ago, some of these incredible structures have more than 200 rooms. The park has paved roads offering viewpoints of the major ruins. Under the guidance of park rangers, it is possible to enter and explore several of the largest dwellings. A museum has exhibits on the Anasazi and attempts to explain the riddles of why the Indians built their villages in caves and why by the year 1300 they had completely abandoned the Mesa Verde plateau.
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
8 miles/13 km east of La Junta on Colo. Hwy. 194
Bent's Old Fort is an accurate reconstruction of an old adobe fort and trading post as it looked in 1845 when it was an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Visitors park a short walk away from the fort, which is screened from view by an earth wall. Once past this wall, you leave this century and return to the days of the frontier. Costumed interpreters demonstrate what life was like during the days of the mountain men. Visitors are free to walk the fort's ramparts or visit the blacksmith shop, trading post or the trapper's quarters.
Colorado National Monument
Just west of Grand Junction with easy access from I-70
An area of fantastic red rock canyons, monoliths, pillars and cliffs, Colorado National Monument is famous for a commercial in which a car was placed atop a red rock column, 600 feet in the air. Rimrock Drive follows a scenic course around the canyon's rim, 2,000 feet / 610 meters above the floor of Grand Valley. The park is open all year. There are self-guided walking trails and a visitor center, as well as numerous pull-offs offering spectacular views
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Between Gunnison and Cimarron on U.S. Hwy. 50, just a few miles east of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument
Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado's largest water area, is made up of three lakes (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal), all created by dams on the Gunnison River. It is an area of stark landscapes with treeless mesas and canyons dropping down to the the lake's shoreline. All water recreation is available and in the summer there are free boat tours on Morrow Point Lake.
Dinosaur National Monument
60 miles/90 km west of Craig on U.S. Hwy. 40
About 140 million years ago, this area of northwestern Colorado was a marshy lowland inhabited by hundreds of prehistoric creatures. Today, it is a plateau cut by two rivers, offering a landscape of arid mesas and canyons with some of the state's best river running. It is also one of the world's richest deposits of dinosaur and reptile fossils. At the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center, you can watch workmen dig away barren rock and expose fossil bone. Exhibits include one of the rarest fossil finds in the world -- an infant Stegosaurus. The visitor center is in Jensen, Utah; there is also a headquarters visitor center in Dinosaur, Colorado.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
35 miles/56 km west of Colorado Springs on U.S. Hwy. 24
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is a portion of an ancient lakebed that has preserved almost in its entirety an ecosystem that existed 35 million years ago. Leaf, insect and seed fossils are found throughout the 6,000-acre park. It is illegal to remove fossils from the park grounds, but outside the park limits, there are private fossil hunting areas where you can keep the fossils you find for a fee. The monument also features a museum and early Colorado homestead.
Hovenweep National Monument
40 miles/64 km west of Cortez
Hovenweep National Monument features the ruins of an ancient civilization of cliff dwellings built between 1100 and 1300 AD. There are prehistoric towers and pueblos among the cliff dwellings, all in beautiful southwestern canyon country. Access is via gravel and unpaved roads. The visitor center and museum are located in the monument.