Spectacular red rock formations thrusting towards the sky at the Garden of the Gods and towering dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park, intriguingly shaped landmarks like Rabbit Ears Pass and Chimney Rock are only a few of the stunning natural Colorado landmarks to see.
The state’s four national parks, 42 state parks and eight national monuments are packed with stunning landmarks. With more mountain peaks above 14,000 feet (4267 m) than any other state in the USA, Colorado has natural landmarks galore. Colorado’s 58 mountain peaks are known as the “fourteeners” or “14ers” and are a magnet for hikers and wildlife lovers. With hot springs, hiking trails, ghost towns and a list of National Historic Landmarks, there are plenty of places with the ‘wow’ factor in Colorado. Here are 21 Colorado landmarks to get you started.
- 21 Colorado Landmarks
- Natural Landmarks in Colorado
- Denver Landmarks
21 Colorado Landmarks
Natural Landmarks in Colorado
1- Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods consists of 1,300 acres (526 ha) of spectacular sandstone formations and is a registered US National Natural Landmark.
This famous landmark in Colorado is older than the dinosaurs!
The rocks started evolving a billion years ago when molten rock cooled to create Pikes Peak.
Then 250 million years ago, the Garden of the Gods had an inland sea.
These 300 foot (91 m) soaring sandstone rocks used to be dunes, and during the Jurassic period about 225 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the area.
Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center is at 1805 N. 30th Street, Colorado Springs.
2- Maroon Bells
Aspen’s Maroon Bells consists of two ‘fourteener’ peaks and is a stunning natural landmark of Colorado and a magnet for photographers.
Shaped by the forces of nature over 300 million years ago, Maroon Bells are peaks that have developed into distinctively bell shapes.
Towering over the glacial waters of Maroon Lake, which is in a basin sculpted by glaciers during the Ice Age, the reflections of Maroon Peak (14,163 feet/4317 m)and North Maroon Peak (14,019 feet/4273 m) in the lake are simply stunning.
Maroon Bells is one of the famous landmarks of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and a popular destination for hiking and fly fishing.
A fantastic time to visit is in Autumn when the fall colours of the leaves on the aspen trees are breathtaking.
300 million years of geological uplift, wind erosion, and the effects of water and ice have created Maroon Valley.
The mountains’ maroon colouring is due to the weathering of hematite, an iron-bearing mineral, while Maroon Lake occupies a basin sculpted by Ice-Age glaciers.
Maroon Bells is on Maroon Creek Road off Hwy. 82, 10 miles west of Aspen and 16 miles from Snowmass.
3- The Star Dune
The towering Star Dune is an icon of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado.
Star Dune is part of the Sangre de Cristo Range and rises to 750 feet (229 m) from the San Luis Valley.
The dune is massive, covering around 30 sq mi (78 km2) and has 1.2 cubic miles (5 billion cubic metres) of sand.
Other features of the Great Sand Dunes National Park are Medano Creek and beach, which are at the base of the dunes, and the alpine Medano Lake.
Because of the park’s elevation at 8,200 feet (2499 m) and its remote location away from city lights, it’s a perfect spot for stargazing.
It snows in winter, and activities here include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and sledding.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is at 11999 CO-150, Mosca.
4- Guanella Pass
The Guanella Pass passes starts in the former mining town of Georgetown in the Arapaho National Forest and ascends by 11,669 feet within a distance of 12 miles.
It’s a breathtaking landmark in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and provides a view of the Alpine tundra and Mount Bierstadt.
The trailhead to Mount Bierstadt is off the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, and it’s best to explore it between June to September.
Autumn is a stunning time to visit for fall foliage everywhere, and the byway is 22 miles and takes about an hour to drive.
5- Mount Sneffel
Another Rocky Mountains landmark in Colorado is Mount Sneffels (14,158 ft/4315m), the highest summit of the Sneffels Range.
The mountain is within the Mount Sneffels Wilderness of Uncompahgre National Forest in Ouray County and is one of the most stunning mountains in Colorado.
Known as the Queen of San Juans, its rugged ridges, flowered-covered slopes, spires, and pinnacles attract hikers and climbers.
Fans of western movies will recognise the mountain, which has featured in numerous shows such as How the West Was Won.
Mount Sneffels has a range of hiking routes of various difficulty.
The first to climb the mountain were miners, and in 1874, the Hayden Survey team recorded their ascent and named the mountain after the Icelandic volcano Snaefell.
Mount Sneffel is in the Saint Juan mountains in Ouray County, Colorado.
6- Hanging Lake
Hanging Lake is another otherworldly landmark of Colorado and is unusual because it’s a travertine geological formation.
The lake in Glenwood Canyon was created when the bed dropped from the valley floor due to a geological fault.
Dissolved carbonates in the water that flowed over Bridal Veil Falls continued to build around the lake’s edge.
Because of its uniqueness, the area was designated a National Natural Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 2011.
The 1.2 miles (1.9 km) steep, rocky hiking trail usually takes between two and four hours to climb.
At the top is the incredible Spouting Rock, where water from snow-melt pours through a hole in the limestone cliff.
Hanging Lake is in Glenwood Canyon, White River National Forest, about seven miles (11km) east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
7- Colorado River
The Colorado River flows for 1,450 miles (2333 km) through 11 national parks and monuments, seven states and two countries.
The sixth-longest river in the USA rises in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and flows westward into the Gulf of California.
Also known as the ‘Lifeline of the Southwest’, the river is the international boundary separating Arizona and Mexico for 17 miles.
Over time, this river has cut deep gorges.
It is responsible for some of the USA’s most famous canyons, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Cataract Canyon and Marble Canyon in Utah.
The river flows through several canyons in Colorado, including Little Yellowstone Canyon, Byers Canyon, Gore Canyon, and Glen Canyon.
8- Colorado National Monument
The Colorado National Monument is a grand landscape of America’s west and a canyon landscape with towering monoliths, rock arches and striated cliff walls.
The monument’s rock layers at the bottom of the canyons are 1.7 billion years olds and range from pre-Cambrian gneiss, schist, and granites.
John Otto was the first explorer to discover the area, build trails and settled in Grand Junction in the 20th century.
Rim Rock Drive is one of the USA’s most spectacular drives.
The 23-mile road of winding switchbacks has spectacular vistas, scenic overlooks and a nature trail.
Colorado National Monument is at Rimrock Dr, Fruita. The Saddlehorn Visitor Center has exhibits and ranger sessions.
9- Mount Sopris
Mount Sopris was formed around 30 million years ago by an igneous intrusion, when magma cools and solidifies before reaching the surface, after the initial uplift of the Rocky Mountains.
Its two summits, East Sopris and West Sopris are 12,965 feet (3,952 m) and one-half mile (0.8 km) apart, towering over the Roaring For River Valley and Carbondale.
Mount Sopris is part of the Elk Mountains composed of 300 million-year-old stratified, red sediments and younger white, Oligocene-aged intrusives that pierced the sediments around 34 million years ago.
The white Oligocene rock that Mount Sopris is made up of is a stark contrast to the lush green vegetation of the Elk Mountains.
Mount Sopris is south of Carbondale in western Pitkin County.
10- Cedar Tree Arch
Cedar Tree Arch is one of 35 naturally formed arches and a stunning natural landmark in Colorado’s Rattlesnake Canyon.
The canyon is part of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness and is off the beaten path.
These arches along the upper rim of the canyon are formed from 175-million-year-old sandstone in a high-desert ecosystem, where cacti, yuccas and sagebrush grow.
With a 76ft (23m) span, Cedar Tree Arch is the longest arch in the group.
The desert landscape is home to rattlesnakes, turkey vultures, coyotes and golden eagles.
The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Trail passes eight arches, and there’s an overlook down onto Cedar Tree Arch along the footpath.
The start of the trailhead can only be reached by a road accessible only by 4WD.
Cedar Tree Arch is in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, Colorado Plateau.
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11- Estes Lake
Lake Estes is a 185 acre (75 ha) reservoir built as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
The lake is 7,522 feet (2300 m) high and is a fantastic spot for fishing, boating, hiking, bicycling and picnics.
Home to various bird species, including Mergansers, Warblers, Goldeneyes, American Dippers and Violet-green Swallows, the lake is a birder’s paradise.
Lake Estes Marina has paddle boats, canoes, pontoon boats and stand up paddleboards for rent.
The lake is famous for rainbow and brown trout fishing (a licence is necessary), and there are 3.8 miles (6 km) of paved trails around the lake suitable for jogging, walking and riding bicycles.
Wildlife at the lake includes elk, moose and mule deer.
Lake Estes Marina is at 1770 Big Thompson Ave, Estes Park.
Historic Landmarks in Colorado
12- Crystal Mill
In 1893, Crystal Mill was originally a power plant for the Sheep Mountain Tunnel and housed a turbine driven by the Crystal River.
The plant provided ventilation and electric lights to the silver mines and a waterwheel powered an air compressor that powered rock drills in the mine until it closed down in 1917.
In 1985, many years after the plant was abandoned, it was declared a Colorado landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The powerhouse also provided power to the Inez and Bear Mountain mines, and later on, a dynamo was installed to power electric lights in the mines.
By harnessing the power of water, the Sheep Mountain mines could stay open when the price of silver crashed in 1893.
Crystal Mill is at 11520 Co Rd 3, Carbondale.
13- Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway is a famous drive in the USA and is only a small section of Route 550, which connects Colorado to New Mexico.
In Colorado, the stretch of road along Route 550 between Silverton and Ouray passes through a stunning landscape of mountain passes and cliffs.
Key landmarks along the way include Red Mountain Pass, where the view is fantastic, Uncompahgre Gorge, Idarado Mine, Animas River and Twilight Peak.
Although this stretch of road has million-dollar views, it got its name because one of the planners thought it would cost a million dollars to build the road.
The Million Dollar Highway is about 25 miles (40km) has hairpin bends and curves through the San Juan mountains.
14- Pike’s Peak Train
Pikes Peak Cog Railway is North America’s highest railway.
The historic 19th-century tourist train travels for 8.9 miles to the summit of Pikes Peak (14,110 ft).
The railway dates back to 1891 when mattress inventor Zalmon Simmons (founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company) rode to the top of the mountain by mule and was so in awe of the incredible views, Zalmon decided he needed a train to traverse the mountain.
The train went through a $100 million revitalisation project and relaunched it in May 2021.
The Manitou depot has the look and feel of a 19th-century mining town but also has 21st-century facilities such as an overhead walkway and a gift shop.
The traditional land of the Ute people, Pikes Peak, a National Historic Landmark, is a granite mountain carved millions of years ago by glacier activity.
Pikes Peak Cog Railway is at 515 Ruxton Ave, Manitou Springs.
15- Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is an archaeological site and a sacred place to two dozen tribes.
Located at the southern end of the San Juan Mountains, the area was home to the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) of the Chaco clan.
Chimney Rock is spread across an area that has 1000-year-old archaeological ruins include 200 ancient homes, a pit house, a Chacoan-style Great House Pueblo and a Great Kiva.
There is a stunning 360-degree view of Colorado and New Mexico.
Chimney Rock is at Chimney Rock (between Durango and Pagosa Springs), Colorado.
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16- The Cliff Palace
The Anasazi (or Ancestral Puebloans) were a thriving prehistoric Native American civilisation between 100 to 1600 in an area spread across Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The Anasazi passed on the history of the culture through oral storytelling, and the site is rich with archaeological remains.
In the Navajo language, Anasazi means “the ancient ones” or “enemy ancestors.”
Although this civilisation did not have a writing system, they employed an advanced mathematical ratio to construct their Sun Temple.
They built their homes using sandstone blocks and mud for mortar beneath overhanging cliffs for protection.
In Colorado, the most significant is the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, which housed over 100 people in 150 rooms and over 20 kivas, round ceremonial rooms with sunken floors.
The Cliff Palace is at Cliff Palace Loop, Mesa Verde National Park.
17- Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a unique open-air amphitheatre constructed around a huge disc-shaped rock.
There’s a vertical feature rock angling outwards from the right side of the stage and other rocky outcrops from the left.
The arena seats 9,525, and since 1941, many performances have been held there, including the only concert by The Beatles that the band didn’t sell out, Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band, Jimi Hendrix, and The Blues Brothers.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is at 18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison.
18- Colorado Capitol Building
Colorado State Capitol’s golden dome is a recognisable landmark in Denver.
The beautiful Neoclassical building built in 1901 is also the Colorado central administration and home to the Senate and House of Representatives.
The building’s design is similar to the US Capitol building in Washington DC.
It is a local Colorado landmark constructed from Colorado granite, rare rose onyx found in Beulah and yule marble from Marble.
The gold dome was created with 200 ounces of 24-karat gold leaf commemorating the heydey of the Gold Rush in Colorado.
Free guided tours are available and include a visit to the dome, which is only accessible by climbing 99 steps.
Colorado Capitol Building is at 200 E Colfax Ave, Denver.
19- Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum in Denver houses 70,000 works from across the centuries and is famous for American Indian art.
The museum’s Martin (or North) Building is an iconic Denver landmark designed by Italian modernist architect Gio Ponti in 1971.
Its facade has two towers, 24 sides, and over one million reflective glass tiles.
The museum has a range of programs and exhibitions that inspire artistic creativity.
Denver Art Museum is at 100 W 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver.
20- Denver Civic Centre
Not far from the State Capitol and the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Civic Center is a public landmark within Denver’s green Civic Center Park.
Each year, 25,000 square feet of flower beds bloom with colourful flowers in summer and is where events are held.
Past events include a vigil for the victims of the Columbine High School massacre and 9/11.
Denver Civic Centre is at 101 W. 14th Ave., Denver.
21- Colorado Convention Centre
The Colorado Convention Center (CCC) is the 12th largest convention centre in the United States and has a range of halls and ballrooms.
The “Exhibit Hall”, which is used for conventions and shows, consists of six halls, while the “Mile High Ballroom” is the largest in Denver.
The Colorado Convention Centre is at 700 14th St, Denver.
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