With dramatic and diverse landscapes, Colorado is a magical place if you’re an avid outdoor adventurer, urban explorer or just someone looking to swing by some of the highest, longest and largest attractions in the United States. Nicknamed the Centennial State, Colorado was inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloans as early as 7,500 B.C., although it wasn’t until the discovery of gold during the early 1800s that the state began to see large influxes of settlers and wealth.
Modern-day Colorado is known for its winter activities, with the Centennial State home to some of the most famous ski resorts and charming mountainside towns in North America, including Vail, Aspen and Telluride. Venture to the southern and western parts of Colorado to be treated to otherworldly natural features that are entirely different from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, such as the tallest sand dunes in North America and the world’s largest mesa, or flat-topped mountain. If you’re an adventurous foodie, be sure to sample a serving of one of the state’s most popular dishes, Rocky Mountain Oysters, which are bound to either delight or disgust unsuspecting tastebuds with its main ingredient.
- What Is Colorado Known For?
- Top Tours
- 1- The Rocky Mountains
- 2- Four Corners Monument
- 3- Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
- 4- Colorado’s 14ers
- 5- Mesa Verde National Park
- 6- The Highest Paved Road In The US
- 7- Aspen And Vail
- 8- Denver’s Mile High Markers
- 9- Colfax Avenue
- 10- Rocky Mountain Oysters
- 11- The Legend Of Buffalo Bill Cody
- 12- Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
- 13- The Grand Mesa
- 14- The Cheeseburger
- 15- The Great Dinosaur Rush
What Is Colorado Known For?
- Discover Rocky Mountain National Park – from Denver or Boulder.
- Small Group Tour of Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods – iconic tour from Denver.
- Visit Red Rocks Park, Continental Divide – plus explore Breckenridge.
1- The Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains, or simply the “Rockies” for short, is one of North America’s greatest and most captivating natural features, stretching from Canada in the north to New Mexico in the southern United States.
This striking 3,000-mile-long (4,828 km) mountain range cuts right through central Colorado, splitting the Centennial State into east and west and creating in the process some of the world’s best ski runs and picturesque small resort towns.
The Rocky Mountains’ Colorado section has several alpine peaks topping 14,000 feet (4,267 m), known as the Centennial State’s “14ers”, each more mesmerising and visually stunning than the next.
Easily accessible from downtown Denver, and pretty easy to spot too, the Rockies are home to several famous Colorado destinations including Aspen, Vail, Telluride and Breckenridge, and are perhaps more synonymous with the state than any other singular feature, be it natural or man-made.
2- Four Corners Monument
The Four Corners Monument is a unique landmark that marks the geographical meeting point of four states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
Situated in Colorado’s sparsely populated southwestern corner, the Four Corners Monument is a one-of-a-kind place in the United States as it is the only spot in the nation where four states meet.
Besides serving as the border of four US states, the monument doubles as a boundary between the lands of the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, two semi-autonomous Native American governments that perform the day-to-day management of the Four Corners Monument.
Not only does the Four Corners Monument allow visitors to stand in all four states simultaneously, it has also made cameo appearances in numerous films and TV shows, most notably in the 2015 film “Vacation” starring Ed Helms and a 2011 episode of “Breaking Bad”.
3- Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
Mostly known for its ritzy ski resorts, bustling capital and towering Rocky Mountain peaks, many first-time travellers to the Centennial State are stunned by Colorado’s vast and contrasting landscapes, and it doesn’t get more contrasting than in southern Colorado.
In southern Colorado, you might come across the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, an enormous 149,028-acre (60,309 ha) outdoor attraction that’s home to the Great Sand Dunes, the tallest sand dunes in North America.
Standing out from Colorado’s alpine snowy peaks and open plains, the Great Sand Dunes offer those who stop by an almost otherworldly landscape where adventurers and thrill seekers can enjoy outdoor activities that include sandboarding, hiking, horseback riding and four-wheel-driving.
Despite having to compete with world-class Colorado attractions such as the Rockies and the Grand Mesa, the Great Sand Dunes have established themselves as one of the state’s most-visited and most-photographed places and one of the natural attractions Colorado is known for.
4- Colorado’s 14ers
One of the most impressive things Colorado is know for is its mountains.
With the tallest section of the entire Rocky Mountain Range, Colorado has no shortage of peaks eclipsing the 14,000-foot (4,267 m) threshold, known locally and among mountaineering circles as Colorado’s “14ers”.
Despite their notoriety and legendary status throughout the Centennial State, it’s not clear exactly how many 14ers there are in Colorado, with estimates placing the number anywhere between 52 and 58 peaks.
Some of Colorado’s most notable mountain peaks are members of the illustrious 14ers club, including Pikes Peak, Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, the latter of which is the tallest peak in the entire Rocky Mountain Range at a staggering 14,440 feet (4,401 m).
With well over 50 peaks measuring 14,00 feet (4,267 m) or higher, Colorado enjoys the distinction of being the state that’s home to the most 14ers in the United States, with second-placed Alaska’s mere 29 showcasing just how special of a place Colorado is.
5- Mesa Verde National Park
The Mesa Verde National Park is a special place in Colorado as it is the only place in the Centennial State that’s a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich collection of preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites.
Established back in 1906 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, the Mesa Verde National Park comprises roughly 52,485 acres (21,240 ha) of land in southwest Colorado’s Montezuma County and is but a short drive away from the Four Corners Monument.
Known for its extensive collection of ancient Ancestral Puebloan artefacts rumoured to be among the most comprehensive and best-preserved in the United States, it’s no wonder that the Mesa Verde National Park is among the most-visited places in Colorado every year.
The park is one of only 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States and is synonymous with Colorado and its prehistoric cultures, offering interested travellers a unique insight into life in the American West stretching as far back as 7,500 B.C.
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6- The Highest Paved Road In The US
Stretching for 49 miles (79 km) from the town of Idaho Springs to just below the summit of Mount Blue Sky, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is credited with being the highest paved road in the United States.
Soaring to a maximum elevation of 14,140 feet (4,310 m), the Mount Evans Scenic Byway passes by attractions such as Echo Lake Park and the Mount Goliath Natural Area as it twists and turns its way up one of the Centennial State’s tallest peaks.
Completed and opened to the public in 1991, this popular toll road that’s formally known as State Highway 5 overtook Pikes Peak Highway, the second-highest paved road in the US and another Colorado landmark, by an elevation of just 25 feet (8 m) and continues to draw large crowds every year.
7- Aspen And Vail
Aspen and Vail are two of the most famous and well-visited ski towns in Colorado, each attracting millions of travellers and thrill seekers every year with their world-class ski slopes and natural beauty.
The cities both feature a good sprinkling of modern and historic architecture, with high-end boutiques and shops standing next to theatres and opera houses which frequently attract wealthy socialites and Hollywood elite during peak season.
Skiing isn’t the only activity you can expect to find in Vail.
The city has European-style neighbourhoods with charming cobbled streets and wonderful hiking trails.
Regardless of whether you’re planning on stopping by to enjoy their stunning outdoor amenities or their luxurious creature comforts, Aspen and Vail are two scintillating Colorado destinations that are as synonymous with the Centennial State as Denver and the Rockies.
8- Denver’s Mile High Markers
Denver is the official capital city of Colorado and the Centennial State’s unrivalled economic, political, cultural and entertainment hub, dating back to 1858 when gold was first discovered in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
The city is best known by its endearing nickname, the “Mile High City”, which was first coined shortly after 1869 when Denver’s altitude was measured for the first time by Franklin F. Coors, with the city topping the 1-mile mark at exactly 5,280 feet (1,609 m) above sea level.
Since then, Denver has done a great job at embracing its unique nickname, with countless mile markers scattered around many of downtown Denver’s buildings and attractions where the elevation above sea level is equal to a mile (1.6 km).
Among the places where visitors can spot these unique mile markers are the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, Coors Field, City Park, the Denver International Airport and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
9- Colfax Avenue
While Colorado’s high elevation would make the state a rather obvious spot to search for the highest paved road in the United States, Colorado is also home to the longest continuous street in the United States, that honour belonging to Denver’s Colfax Avenue.
Cutting through downtown Denver from east to west, Colfax Avenue measures 26.5 miles (43 km) in length and served as one of the city’s two main thoroughfares before the completion of Colorado’s Interstate Highway System.
The street was named after former journalist, businessman and 17th US Vice President Schuyler Colfax and exploded as an entertainment destination in Denver during the early 20th century when numerous theatres, opera houses and concert venues started popping up along the street.
Even though Colfax Avenue is more a regular thoroughfare than a touristy travel destination.
The street’s countless historic landmarks and trendy downtown neighbourhoods have made it an iconic Colorado attraction by association, even earning the street a mention and a nickname in an edition of “Playboy Magazine”.
10- Rocky Mountain Oysters
With thousands of miles separating Colorado and the ocean, one wouldn’t expect to find that oysters are the proverbial signature dish of the Centennial State, however, Rocky Mountain Oysters are no ordinary seafood delicacy.
This popular dish is made of deep-fried bull testicles coated in flour, salt, pepper and usually served as an appetiser.
The dish is enjoyed throughout large parts of the Western United States, with variants of Rocky Mountain Oysters found throughout Canada, Spain, Mexico and Argentina.
Often served at most large sports gatherings and festivals across Colorado and the Midwest, the speciality dish is often served to unsuspecting patrons as a prank and is believed by some to be an aphrodisiac of sorts.
11- The Legend Of Buffalo Bill Cody
Born William Frederick Cody in Le Claire, Iowa in 1846, Buffalo Bill Cody was a legendary figure of the American Old West who entertained crowds across the Western United States with cowboy-themed shows and his larger-than-life persona.
Buffalo Bill Cody’s illustrious career includes being a rider along the Pony Express and fighting as a Union soldier during the American Civil War, as well as working as a hotel manager, bullwhacker, trapper and wagonmaster, though none of which can be proven for certainty.
The colourful legend of Buffalo Bill Cody began spreading like wildfire throughout the Wild West when Bill was just 23 years old, bringing with it fame and fortune for Bill as he travelled across the United States and Europe performing sold-out show after sold-out show.
An instrumental figure in the founding of the town of Cody in northern Wyoming, Buffalo Bill Cody passed away on January 10, 1917, and is buried in Golden, Colorado overlooking the Great Plains from atop Lookout Mountain.
12- Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Easily recognisable due to their large horns which could weigh as much as 30 lbs (14 kg), Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep dot the landscapes of the Rockies throughout Canada and the United States and were picked as the official state animal of Colorado.
The Bighorn sheep played a major role in Apsaalooka Native American culture, as evident in early petroglyphs depicting these unique sheep subspecies throughout Rocky Mountain states such as Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
Saved from widespread unregulated hunting during the 19th century which drastically lowered the Bighorn sheep population throughout the United States, these fascinating mountain-dwelling creatures are once again thriving in their natural habitat and can be seen in the wild and pop culture throughout Colorado.
13- The Grand Mesa
in western Colorado, the Grand Mesa is an enormous mesa (flat-topped hill or mountain) that’s recognised as the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, stretching for over 40 miles (60 km) between the Gunnison River and the Colorado River.
The Grand Mesa stands a staggering 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above the surrounding valleys and even borders the Grand Valley to the east, rising to a maximum height of more than 11,000 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.
Most of the Grand Mesa is within the borders of the Grand Mesa National Forest and is the premier outdoor landmark in western Colorado, boasting a collection of more than 300 different freshwater lakes and reservoirs along its flat-topped summit.
14- The Cheeseburger
Perhaps the United States’ most famous culinary export is the humble cheeseburger, a popular hamburger variant that was first invented sometime during the early 20th century.
The exact origins of the cheeseburger as well as who first slapped a slice of cheese onto a regular hamburger remains unknown, however, what doesn’t is the fact that the first trademarked cheeseburger was that of the “Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive”, the first drive-in in Denver, in 1935.
The drive-in became a popular dining spot in the Mile High City as a result of its cheeseburger claim-to-fame and was officially recognised by the state in 1987 when a 3-foot tall (1 m) granite monument was erected at the site of the former restaurant.
15- The Great Dinosaur Rush
The Great Dinosaur Rush, or the “Bone Wars” as it’s commonly referred to, was a heated and ultra-competitive period of fossil hunting during the American Gilded Age that was kickstarted by a clash between palaeontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope in Colorado in 1877.
The pair of rivals developed a bitter hatred of one another during the late 1800s, with each performing more backhanded tricks, bribery and shameless theft than the other to gain the upper hand in the rush to gain funding and notoriety among academic circles.
By the turn of the 20th century, both men were left financially ruined and morally bankrupt, however, they did make several major discoveries during the whole ordeal, many of which happened throughout Colorado’s Royal Gorge near Cañon City.
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