Updated date:

Five Reasons to Plan a Colorado Vacation

America's Purple Mountain Majesties on Display in Colorado

At the top of Game Creek Bowl in Vail, Colorado

At the top of Game Creek Bowl in Vail, Colorado

"Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain."

In 1893, a trip to the top of Colorado's Pikes Peak inspired English professor Katharine Lee Bates to write the poem that later would become the lyrics to "America the Beautiful." Bates was not the only person to be inspired by Colorado's wide-open vistas and spectacular mountain-top panoramas. The beauty of the Centennial State has been capturing visitors' imaginations for generations.

But there's more to Colorado than its incredible views. From its vast natural resources to posh year-round resorts with first-class culinary and shopping options, the state offers something for everyone. Here are five reasons to plan your own Colorado vacation.

1. Year-Round Recreation

Colorado offers myriad opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts any time of the year. In winter, Colorado offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in North America, if not the world. There are more than two dozen ski resorts in the state for those seeking powder, bumps, and exhilarating runs. Popular Colorado resorts like Vail, Aspen, and Breckenridge rank among the world's best.

On top of the Rockies at Mt. Elbert's summit.

On top of the Rockies at Mt. Elbert's summit.

The rest of the year, miles of trails through Colorado's scenic wonderland invite exploration by backpackers of all abilities. For a true test of endurance, the state has more than 50 mountain peaks above the elevation of 14,000 feet to tempt those seeking to join the exclusive "14ers club." Mt. Elbert is the tallest of them all, rising 14,433 feet above sea level. Its out and back trail, at 5.5 miles each way with an elevation gain of 4,600 feet, may not be for the faint of heart but is not technically difficult if one is properly conditioned.

Mountain biking, zip lining, and whitewater rafting adventures also await thrill-seeking visitors to the state. The world's largest elk population attracts thousands of hunters to the state each season, while anglers have 6,000 miles of streams in which to cast for trout.

2. The Country's Best Ski Resort

America's largest single-mountain ski resort is a winter paradise. Vail Mountain offers 193 trails and 5,289 acres (approximately 10 square miles) of skiable terrain for skiers of all ability. Vail is famous for its back bowls, which offer a seven-mile expanse of powder with double and triple fall lines that challenge even the most expert of skiers. Blue Sky Basin, the resort's innovative recent expansion, provides a back country experience through glades and meadows with no defined trails. Even novice skiers need not confine themselves to the bottom of the mountain; many beginner runs are located on the upper portion of the Vail Mountain, and the resort has one of the biggest and best ski schools in the country.

Vail Village at sundown

Vail Village at sundown

At the base of the mountain lies picturesque Vail Village, built in the Bavarian style with covered bridges and pedestrian-only streets. Accommodations include luxurious ski-in/ski-out lodges and condominiums with amenities like ski valets, in-room fireplaces, and outdoor hot tubs. The village's more than 100 dining options range from casual pizza joints and pubs to world-class restaurants, and there is plenty of high-end retail shopping, too.

Getting to Vail:

Vail is located 100 miles west of Denver on I-70 through the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel. There are direct flights available from several U.S. cities to Eagle County Airport, located 35 miles west of Vail.

Where to Stay in Vail:

The recently-renovated Tivoli Lodge is located in the heart of Vail Village just steps from the Vista Bahn Gondola and a short walk to many restaurants and shops. The family-owned and operated hotel offers unobstructed mountain views, free hot breakfast, and ski valet service. After a day on the slopes, you'll love curling up in a comfy chair in front of the lodge's massive stone fireplace with complimentary hot chocolate and homemade cookies.

Where to Eat in Vail:

  • Pazzo's Pizzeria: A Vail institution known for its handmade pizzas and laid-back atmosphere. Inexpensive; walk-ins welcome.
  • Sweet Basil: Consistently ranked Vail's top restaurant featuring contemporary American cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients and an extensive wine list. Expensive; reservations recommended.

3. Diverse National Parks

Colorado is home to four national parks, all of which offer accessible sightseeing, stunning terrain, and lessons about our land's geology, nature, and history.

Colorado's national parks, from north to south, are:

  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States, climbs above the tree line and above the clouds across a long, tundra-covered ridge, with many places to stop to take in 12,000-foot views of the park's rugged scenery and abundant wildlife.
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: A drive along the rim offers plenty of scenic overlooks to peek into one of the most dramatic canyons in the country.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park: An ocean of breathtaking sand hills provides visitors an otherworldly experience
  • Mesa Verde National Park: The archeological mysteries of an ancient cliff dwelling civilization are hidden in the walls of a rocky canyon.

Learn more about Colorado's national parks, historic sites and trails, and other sites operated by the National Park Service.

View from Trail Ridge Road

View from Trail Ridge Road

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

National Parks in Colorado

4. Lessons in History

Colorado has a rich and fascinating history. Humans have inhabited the area since at least 9200 B.C., when big game hunters roamed its plains. They were followed by the Cliff Dwellers, who built a great civilization in the Mesa Verde region during the first millennium. Numerous Native American tribes would settle in the land that would become Colorado, including the Utes, who moved to the southern Rocky Mountains around 1500 A.D. and became the longest continuous residents of the state. Later, Spanish and French explorers would journey to the area to stake their claims.

The United States acquired a large chunk of the future Colorado through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Most of the rest was ceded by Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. American settlement of the territory began in the early nineteenth century when fur trappers and traders established frontier outposts. Further settlement was spurred in the middle of the century with the advent of the railroad and the discovery of gold, silver, and other valuable mineral deposits.

Site of the Sand Creek Massacre

Site of the Sand Creek Massacre

Life on the frontier was difficult, with frequent food shortages and escalating tensions with Native American tribes. The Colorado War, an armed conflict between the United States and an alliance of several Native American tribes between 1863 to 1865, resulted in the removal of four tribes to reservations in Oklahoma. One notorious episode of the conflict, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, is viewed as a shameful incidence of genocidal brutality against the native people.

Colorado became the 38th state in 1876. Mining, particularly coal mining, would remain a significant industry in the state well into the twentieth century. Mining was a dangerous way to make a livelihood, and the state saw numerous occupational deaths as well as violent confrontations between miners and mine owners over wages, hours, and working conditions. Agriculture also became an important part of the Colorado economy and huge cattle ranches flourished. Today, tourism plays a central role in the state's economy.

Today, visitors to Colorado have many opportunities to explore its history. The state's numerous historical places include:

  • Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway: Visit archeologically significant sites of the ancient Pueblo people on this scenic tour of southwestern Colorado. The 116-mile drive around Cortez, Colorado, will take you by Hovenweep National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.
  • Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site: Experience life on the American frontier at the reconstructed adobe fort that served as a fur trading post on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840s. The fort is located 8 miles east of La Junta, Colorado.
  • Leadville Historic District: Relive the heady days of Colorado's silver rush with a visit to historic Leadville, Colorado. The former boomtown's seven museums include the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum and the Matchless Mine. Tours of the Hopemore Mine take visitors 600 feet below ground to experience the life of a Colorado miner in the late 1800s.
  • Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad National Historic Landmark: Take a ride on the historic narrow gauge railroad between Durango and Silverton, Colorado. A vintage steam locomotive makes the scenic 45-mile trip through the mountains. The line originally was used to carry gold and silver ore from mines in the San Juan Mountains and has operated continuously since 1881.
Bent's Old Fort

Bent's Old Fort

The Matchless Mine in Leadville

The Matchless Mine in Leadville

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

5. Cultural Opportunities

Colorado's beautiful natural setting provides a splendid backdrop for a thriving arts community. From small-town art galleries to the world-class Denver Performing Arts Complex (home to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Denver Center Theater Company, and Opera Colorado), the state's creative industries are flourishing.

Colorado also is home to numerous annual festivals that celebrate music, dance, art, film, and the culinary arts in gorgeous Rocky Mountain venues, providing multiple cultural opportunities for visitors throughout the year. Events include:

  • Aspen Food & Wine Classic: Each June, some of the world's greatest chefs and wine experts are showcased at this premiere culinary event presented by Food & Wine Magazine. Three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and seminars culminate with the spectacular Grand Tasting at the base of Aspen Mountain. The steep ticket price ($1,125-$1,225 for a full pass in 2012) doesn't deter dedicated foodies who want to mingle with celebrity chefs and other culinary luminaries; the event is always a sell-out. Future dates: June 15-17, 2018
  • Telluride Bluegrass Festival: The historic mountain town of Telluride has a reputation as the festival capital of Colorado, playing host to more than 25 events each summer. One of the best is the four day celebration of American roots music held every year around the summer solstice. Festivarians, as festival-goers are known, dance away the longest days to a musical lineup ranging from legendary bluegrass pickers to contemporary folk bands. Recent line-ups have included such artists as Elvis Costello, Mumford & Sons, and Sam Bush. Future dates: June 21-24, 2018.
  • Aspen Music Festival: The nation's premiere classic music festival for over 60 years is held for eight weeks each summer, featuring over 300 orchestral, chamber, and operatic events held in venues throughout Aspen. The Aspen Music School runs concurrently with the festival, bringing together more than 600 talented students and 130 faculty/artists for a program of intensive instrumental and vocal instruction and professional performances. Future dates: June 28-August 22, 2018.
  • Crested Butte Art Festival: One of the country's top art festivals is held in the ruggedly beautiful Crested Butte, a former coal mining town now known as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. The weekend-long festival features a juried art show, eclectic entertainment, culinary events, artist demonstrations, and an art auction. Festival proceeds support sustainable arts outreach programs for the Gunnison Valley community. Future dates: August 3-5, 2018.
  • Boulder Fringe Festival: Part of the international Fringe movement with its roots in Edinburgh, Scotland, Boulder's festival is a 12-day celebration of arts events, including live theater, dance, visual arts, and workshops, featuring local, national, and international artists and held at multiple venues throughout downtown Boulder. Future dates: August 17-26, 2018.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Grand Tasting at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Grand Tasting at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Comments

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on August 29, 2015:

Sounds like you would never get bored in Colorado. Thanks for sharing.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on December 29, 2014:

I hope you get there some day, vocalcoach! Thanks for visiting.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on December 20, 2014:

Back for another visit to Colorado! I really like this hub. I hope to take a trip to see some of these terrific sites. Thanks again and sharing.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on December 17, 2014:

Thanks, Vellur. I love visiting Colorado because there are so many things to do and see. Lots of trails to be hiked!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on October 26, 2014:

Enjoyed the read, great hub. Colorado has so many things to do, I would love to visit the National Parks some day. Great pics, voted up.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on May 04, 2014:

Thank you all for reading and commenting. I spent spring break in Vail this year, and it was great to get back to one of my favorite states. (It had been a while!)

Jennifer Arnett from California on April 12, 2014:

Your pictures are making me want to go visit Colorado. The year round outdoor activities make it look very alluring. Great travel Hub!

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on April 12, 2014:

What a spectacular hub with such great photos. I have an interest in "cliff dwellers" and read about them whenever I can. This is so great!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 12, 2014:

Once again, all your reasons are very valid :)

Dianna Mendez on April 12, 2014:

Hello! Just popped in again to see the beauty of this place!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 12, 2014:

Your wish is my command, Deb. Back for a second visit and it's as good the second time as it was the first.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on March 09, 2013:

Thanks for the comment, keepyouinstitches. I agree, the Rockies inspire such awe.

Erica J from Seattle, WA on March 05, 2013:

Visiting Denver was an eye opening experience for someone from the west coast. Sure, we have mountains but they just did not compare to the majesty of the Rockies. Amazing part of the country!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on December 30, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone.

James, I'm envious of your recent trip. Did you ski while you were there? I'd love to get out there myself this winter. I have a hard time deciding what time of year is best for a trip to Colorado. I love hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on December 20, 2012:

Wow and wow and wow. You have amazing sights and places in Colorado. very beautiful hub!

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on December 19, 2012:

I'd love to take that train ride through Silverton, we drove through there on our way to the Blues festival in Telluride. The scenery is simply spectacular, but boy is that a narrow, steep and winding road.

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on December 18, 2012:

Colorado is very beautiful. Over the years, my family has spent many happy vacations in Keystone, Vail and the surrounding areas in Colorado. You provide great info!

James Timothy Peters from Hammond, Indiana on December 18, 2012:

Great article.

Funny...I just got back from Colorado myself two days ago.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 18, 2012:

Hi Deborah,

We have visited some of the gorgeous spots in Colorado but not nearly enough. The Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Springs with Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, etc. are some of the hubs that I have written regarding beautiful Colorado. I can see from your excellent hub that I have much more to see and do hopefully someday. Like you...I love visiting national parks. Many up votes and will share.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on November 06, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Eddy.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 05, 2012:

A wonderful share!!

Thanks for sharing.

Eddy.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 24, 2012:

Thanks, Mike! I hope you get there, too. It's well worth a visit.

Mike Robbers from London on October 24, 2012:

Fabulous pictures, and really interesting information. Thanks for this, I hope to get there one day... dream on, I may have to live it through you!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 15, 2012:

Thanks, vespawoolf. Hope it helps plan your next trip. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on October 14, 2012:

This will be a great resource next time we travel to Colorado. My family traveled to Golden to visit my great aunt every year when I was growing up. My in-laws live an hour from Durango and I'd never heard of the railroad that connects it to Silverton. Will have to put that on my list of things to see next time we're back there. The Aspen Food & Wine Classic would be right up my alley. Thanks so much for all this helpful information.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 13, 2012:

Thanks, Jools. I've had that happen, too, on hikes in the mountains. The jays and squirrels come begging for food. I'd love to have a vacation home in Vail! Every time I go there, I find myself looking at real estate ads. Maybe some day, when I sell the movie rights to my novel. : )

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on October 13, 2012:

Wow Deb what a comprehensive guide to Colorado's best vacation spots. I visited the rockies in Colorado and stayed in Denver in 1992 and it was lovely. It was very pretty and we went into the mountains and the birds ate nits straight out of our fingers. There were lots of land squirrels as well; still have lots of great photos from the trip. I don't ski so it would stay a Summer vacation for me. A friend of mine owns a holiday home near Vail; they spend Christmas there every year.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on October 04, 2012:

Thanks, Bill. Of course, I've never been to Washington. I'm sure it rivals Colorado in beauty.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 04, 2012:

For those who have never been there, Colorado really is a paradise they must see. Great job, Deb, of highlighting one of the prettier states in the nation.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 28, 2012:

Thanks, Linda! I never used to be a fan of winter. Coming from Iowa, I never understood why people would vacation somewhere cold. But then some friends convinced me to try skiing and I loved it! So now I could spend the whole year in Colorado!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 27, 2012:

You really rocked this hub. It makes me want to hop on a plane and visit Colorado. During the summer of course. Not a fan of the cold weather. UP! Awesome!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 25, 2012:

Thanks, Rachel. And no eggs yet, despite my daily pep talks. I had a dream two nights ago that the coop was full of eggs. Hopefully a premonition! : )

Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota on September 25, 2012:

I've always wanted to see Colorado, and now you've got me really interested! Voted this one up and more :) How are your chickens doing, by the way? Are they laying yet?

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 23, 2012:

Thanks, tillsontitan. It deserves a spot close to the top of the list for sure. Thanks for the comment and votes.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 23, 2012:

What a romantic place for a proposal! Thanks for the comment Glimmer Twin Fan.

Mary Craig from New York on September 22, 2012:

Colorado is on my bucket list and after reading this great hub I think I need to move it closer to the top! You've done more than justice to this historic and beautiful state. What a great selection of beautiful pictures.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Claudia Mitchell on September 22, 2012:

Fell in love with Colorado about 13 years ago. My future husband proposed to me in the mountains. The Silverton railroad is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately when we where there, there were massive wildfires and Mesa Verde was closed. Just an excuse for us to go back! Awesome hub.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 21, 2012:

Thank you, Rose and Teaches. I hope I've inspired you both to make a trip there someday (in your case, Teaches, a return trip). Thanks for the virtual visit and the comments.

Dianna Mendez on September 20, 2012:

Deborah, you reminded me of how much I enjoyed visiting Colorado years ago. I had never seen such beautiful blue skies before, similar to your photo posts here. Great hub post and voted up.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 20, 2012:

I would love to vacation in Colorado someday! Thanks for this great resource. Very comprehensive.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 20, 2012:

Thanks, drbj. Once you go, you'll want to go back. When I visit, I have a hard time leaving!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 20, 2012:

Vail is now on my bucket list after reading your great review of it as a winter paradise, Deborah. Great descriptions and perfect photos and video, m'dear.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 20, 2012:

Thanks, Gail. I didn't get to go on a ski trip last winter and writing this hub has made me anxious to get back out on the slopes!

Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on September 20, 2012:

I enjoyed your beautiful photographs and information hub! I have been to Vail and Breckenridge several times and it is just beautiful.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 20, 2012:

Thank you, rcrumple. Definitely get back there; you have so much more to explore!

Rich from Kentucky on September 20, 2012:

Great information! Have spent time in Denver and in Breckenridge, but none of the others. Need to get back there! Would love to get to the cliff dwellings and see those. Great Job!

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 20, 2012:

Thanks, tjdavis. There is so much to explore in Colorado. I've been vacationing there since I was a child and have hiked many of its trails and skied many of its runs, but know I've seen only a small portion of what the state has to offer. By the way, climbing and heights are no problem for me; that's me in the photo at the top of Mt. Elbert! : )

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 20, 2012:

Mary, put Colorado on your list! It is my favorite state to vacation in, as you probably can tell from this hub. : ) I appreciate the comment and the shares. Thanks for spreading the word!

Teresa Davis from Moscow, Texas on September 20, 2012:

This is a great hub and very informative. I have probably been to almost every place you've mentioned and even some other ones in all my vacations to Colorado. Mesa Verde was probably one of my first visits. It's an amazing place to see but you need to be in good shape to make it through...lots of climbing and you must not be afraid of heights lol. Colorado is a place you can never get tired of exploring. Thanks for the hub :-)

Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 19, 2012:

I have never been to Colorado, but would love it. I made a trip out west, but had no time to see CO, maybe next time.

I voted this Hub UP, etc. will share, Pin and Tweet.

Deborah Neyens (author) from Iowa on September 19, 2012:

Thanks for being the first to comment, Arlene! I am on a quest to visit all of the National Parks. I haven't made it to Mesa Verde yet, but have spent tons of time at Rocky Mountain National Park. Thinking of doing a future hub on my favorite hikes there.

Arlene V. Poma on September 19, 2012:

The Mesa Verde National Park is certainly on my Bucket List. I missed it during my last road trip. Fascinating travel Hub and a great reference piece, Deb. A+++