A Guide to Colorado's National Parks
This is a big year for the National Parks Service. August 25, 2016 is the service’s 100th birthday, and the party is happening all year. As part of the celebration, the National Parks Service launched the #FindYourPark campaign, a movement to spread the word about national parks and the stories they tell.
Colorado is home to four national parks and they each tell a very different story.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is located in Southwest Colorado. The closest towns are Montrose, Gunnison, and Crawford, depending on whether one is on the South Rim or North Rim of the park. Fall is a glorious time to visit as the entire canyon turns a beautiful hue of gold.
Hiking is best way to explore the park, although there are lots of car pullouts throughout the canyon as well. I’d encourage visitors to stop and visit at the Visitors Center and chat with the knowledgeable park rangers before heading out on an excursion.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve has to be seen to be believed. When I moved to Colorado in 2000, I had no idea that there was a huge sand pile in the mid-lower part of the state.
I’ve visited this park several times, and the best season for a visit is springtime when Medano Creek is flowing rapidly through the dunes.
The closest towns to the park are Hooper and Alamosa. Hooper’s Sand Dunes Pool & Hot Springs is an excellent place to stay while exploring the park.
Mesa Verde National Park is simply incredible, and for anyone interested in history, it’s a must-visit. There are 5,000 known archeological sites in the park dating back to AD 600 to 1300, as well as 600 cliff dwellings, and you can see them up-close when you visit.
The closest town to Mesa Verde is Cortez, although Ryan and I stayed in the charming, albeit tiny, town of Dolores on our visit.
Last, but certainly not least, Rocky Mountain National Park is Colorado’s most-visit national park. Within an easy drive from Denver, it can get pretty crowded on Trail Ridge Road during the summer. Avoid the crowds at Rocky Mountain National Park by getting into backcountry. With 300 miles of trails, hitting the trail is a great way to leave the tourists behind
I like visiting the park in July when the wildflowers are at their peak. The park comes alive with colors during mid-summer and it’s a photographer’s delight.
Estes Park is located on the east side of the park, while Grand Lake is on the west. Both towns are worth exploring as they are similar and yet very different.