BROWNS CANYON NATIONAL MONUMENT
Located 120 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 2 1/2 hours
Recently designated as a National Monument, Browns Canyon defines Colorado's great outdoors with its exceptional recreational opportunities and natural beauty. This gem is also one of Colorado's most popular sections of whitewater.
DON'T MISS: The ultimate Centennial State experience. Colorado Adventures is famous for their full- and half-day rafting trips down this beloved section of the Arkansas River.
BENT'S OLD FORT NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Located 181 miles southeast of Denver; driving time: 3 hours
This painstaking reconstruction of an old adobe fort and trading post takes visitors back to 1845 when Bent's was an important stop along the Santa Fe Trail. 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.
DON'T MISS: The fun living history interpreters who provide guided tours and demonstrations June 1 through September 1.
CURECANTI NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
Located 217 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 4 hours
Explore Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado's largest water area. Curecanti is made up of three lakes (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal), all created by dams on the Gunnison River. Enjoy the starkly beautiful landscapes and water sports all summer long.
DON'T MISS: The amazing Morrow Point Boat Tours through the upper Black Canyon within Curecanti.
GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK & PRESERVE
Located 235 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 4 hours
This astonishing natural wonder 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 Great Sand Dunesrise to heights of 800 feet. 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, and you can walk, climb and even ski the dunes!
DON'T MISS: The refreshing Medano Creek, where you can splash, swim and relax with the magnificent dunes all around.
COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
Located 255 miles west of Denver; driving time 4 1/2 hours
Colorado National Monument is an area of fantastic red rock canyons, monoliths, pillars and cliffs, with self-guided walking trails and a visitor center, as well as numerous pull-offs offering spectacular views.
DON'T MISS: Rimrock Drive, which follows a scenic course around the canyon's rim, 2,000 feet above the floor of Grand Valley.
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK
Located 262 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 5 hours
Discover the most spectacular 12-mile section of a 53-mile-long gorge carved by the Gunnison River. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers many hiking trails, including one that takes you down the 2,000-foot-high gorge to the river at the bottom.
DON'T MISS: The paved road that circles the rim of the canyon, offering many thrilling viewpoints over the lip, which at some points drops a half-mile down!
DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
Located 297 miles northwest of Denver; driving time: 5 hours
About 140 million years ago, this area of northwestern Colorado was a marshy lowland inhabited by hundreds of prehistoric creatures. Today, Dinosaur National Monument one of the world's richest deposits of dinosaur and reptile fossils.
DON'T MISS: The Dinosaur Visitor Center, where 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.
COOL MOUNTAIN TOWNS
SOUTH PARK / FAIRPLAY
Located 85 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Experience the best of Colorado's high country in South Park, including skiing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, historic ghost towns and much more.
DON'T MISS: South Park City Museum, a remarkable, "living history" restoration of a 19th century Colorado mining town.
Located 97 miles west of Denver; driving time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Vail is a year-round playground with a pedestrian village lined with upscale shops and outdoor cafes, as well as the largest ski mountain in North America.
DON'T MISS: The stunning Eagle-Bahn Gondola ride, which gives you unparalleled views of the Rocky Mountains.
Located 142 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Located right in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Salida boasts a hopping, historic downtown, with great restaurants, bars and shops, all just steps away from the peacefully flowing Arkansas River. Beyond downtown, enjoy great biking, hiking and rock climbing, among other outdoor pursuits.
DON'T MISS: Whitewater rafting on the Arkansas — there are dozens of outfitters in the area who cater to all skill levels.
Located 159 miles southwest of Denver; driving time: 3 1/2 hours
Known as a hotspot for the rich and famous, Aspen is actually a welcoming, authentic mountain town — with just a touch of glamour. It's a top destination for skiers in the winter, while in the summer, the area attracts mountain bikers, kayakers, zip-liners and other outdoor adventurers.
DON'T MISS: The John Denver Sanctuary, an idyllic location with many of the singer's best-loved songs etched into the rocks — including "Rocky Mountain High," of course.