Colorado’s a big state, the eighth largest in terms of square miles at 104,094. It’s also a diverse state geographically, ranging from grassland plains to alpine tundra.
Most folks start out in Denver, Colorado, a fast-growing capital city, boasting around three million residents in the greater metropolitan area. It’s located in an area known as the Front Range.
Welcome to Colorado! Learn the lay of the land
There are six physiographic provinces of Colorado. Each is unique in natural landmarks. They are divided by changes in the landscape. Often tourists consider Colorado all mountains, or all mountains plus Denver.
Most Coloradoans divide Colorado into 4 general regions, starting east to west:
- Eastern Plains – Towns in the plains further east from Rockies – i.e. Sterling, Limon, etc.
- Front Range – Cites along the plains near the mountains – i.e. Denver, Colorado Springs, etc. This is technically the Front Range Urban Corridor and spans from Casper, WY south to Pueblo, CO. The whole front range would really span into the mountains including the eastern slope of the continental divide, and towns such as Idaho Springs, Fairplay, and Buena Vista.
- Rocky Mountains – Any mountain towns – i.e. Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride, Georgetown, etc.
- Front Range Mountains
- Sangre de Cristo Mountains
- Sawatch Range
- San Juan Mountains
- Western Slope – Towns at the west edge of the Rockies – i.e. Grand Junction and Montrose, etc., however, by definition the western slope includes any towns west of the continental divide, which would include Summit County and Winter Park.
Topography of Colorado
There are a lot of ways to divide and section off Colorado based on topography and landmarks. Let’s look at some of the common lingoes of places and things you might hear about in Colorado.
Here are some major landmarks in Colorado, in no particular order:
- Continental Divide – This divides the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and determines whether the major rivers ultimately flow east or west. Will the water empty into the Pacific Ocean or Atlantic?
- Major Rivers – Affected by the side of the continental divide the waterway lies on, determines whether it will join up with a river heading west or east. There are countless creeks and river tributaries to the major rivers in Colorado.
- Biggest Lakes – Colorado has hundreds of different lakes, some natural, and others manmade dammed reservoirs. Learn some of the biggest ones to get an understanding of where the aforementioned major rivers flow in and out.
- Parks, Valleys and Basins – A park is a basin, which is a vast valley with a lot of lower land between mountain ranges. An example would be Middle Park, which contains most of Grand County. However, specific valleys can be within the greater park or basin. For example, the Fraser Valley (formed by the Fraser River) is located in southern Middle Park.
Here are some major parks and basins in Colorado, north to south:
- North Park – Within Jackson County
- Middle Park – Within Grand County
- South Park – Within Park County
- Upper Gunnison Basin – Within Gunnison County
- Sand Luis Valley – Within Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande, and Saguache counties
Most people arrive in Colorado via the Denver International Airport on the Front Range. They fly completely over the Great Plains, with a seldom few driving east to explore. That leaves the Front Range as the most visited, with tourists flocking south to Colorado Springs, or north to Boulder. Nearly every traveler comes to Colorado with the mountains in mind, so from Denver or Colorado Springs, people generally head west. Then, the further remote into the Rocky Mountains you get, the less crowded it is.
Summit County is less than 1.5 hours from Denver, making it the most popular tourist hub for the mountains, especially its county seat, Breckenridge. Thanks to Highway I-70 blasting through the heart of the state east-to-west, the mesas of the Western Slope and Grand Junction are relatively easy to access in under 5 hours.
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Colorado is a land that inspires. If you need some motivation to plan your trip, skim these inspirational travel quotes, and you’ll be packing in no time!
Vacation planning in Colorado can actually be a challenge because there are so many bucket-list items. Naturally, it depends on the season you visit, on where and what you will do. Luckily, it’s always a delight to visit here and there’s stuff to do year-round. Look over these Colorado destinations for help picking the perfect vacation spot!
We feature a range of travel planning resources, including activities, events, towns, hotels, dining, transportation, and local Colorado companies. Find specific activities and festivals, or explore towns to find local things to see and do. Browse hotels and dining to see if there are any cool places worth checking out. Transportation covers airports, trains, buses, etc.
Colorado Summer Vacation Ideas
Despite its reputation for arctic level winters, Colorado can get very hot during the summer. Temperatures of more than 100°F are heard of on the Front Range and Western Slope. It’s a dry desert heat so you’re not constantly sweating, however, it still can feel unbearable without A.C.
Most residents of the Front Range and lower elevation towns cherish the Rocky Mountains as an escape. The highs in the mountains rarely exceed the 80°s, perfect for exploring. At night, temperatures drop quickly as the sun sets, and 40°s are common at high elevations. This is the season for exploring the Rockies’ vast collection of hiking trails.
Colorado Fall Vacation Ideas
Fall’s a true in-between season, where you’re camping under the stars during the first half and skiing over that said campsite in the second. Enjoy those final days of warmth before the sporadic and consistent cool weather settles in by November.
Autumn colors begin at the highest elevation places first, usually sometime in early September. This lasts for several weeks in each region, generally starting earlier to the north, such as Walden and Steamboat Springs, and beginning later in the season further south in Pagosa Springs or Durango. By the end of October, most of the colors have turned and leaves have fallen.
Colorado Winter Vacation Ideas
By the third week in December, it’s full-blown cold and winter driving conditions are always to be expected. Snow’s usually in the forecast and if you’re looking for guaranteed powder and 100% open status on the trails, wait until January to plan your epic ski vacation. Head to Powderhorn or Purgatory to avoid the crowds.
If you’re not the outdoor recreation type, consider a hot springs adventure. Aside from the trek to the mineral-filled pools, it’s an easy-going, luxury spa-type experience. There are dozens of hot springs around the state to choose from.
Colorado Spring Vacation Ideas
Locals love their snowy activities, however, even the most die-hard snowboarder secretly loves to bask in Colorado’s spring paradise. Waterfalls are raging from snowmelt, and the summertime activities are beginning to offer themselves. By May, camping, rafting, and hiking are common talk at the office coolers.
You can usually ski through the whole spring season with an Arapahoe Basin pass if it’s a good regular season. By the final days at most resorts in early April, pond skimming is popular. It’s a hilarious impromptu or organized event where skiers and snowboarders will ride over ponds on the ski slopes formed from melted snow. Arapahoe Basin has the best pond skimming in Colorado, available while it’s during its last weeks.
Read about the top items for your Colorado bucket list.
Colorado Trip Packing Checklist
If picturesque Colorado beckons you with its incredible nature and challenging paths, our list of travel hints will definitely be helpful when preparing for this unforgettable trip. Unpredictable and erratic, the state is constantly surprising visitors with rapid weather changes and its bipolarity. So, to properly enjoy everything that Colorado has to offer, follow the Scout motto “Be Prepared!” and take at least a week or two to explore it.
See Tourist Attractions
Do Outdoor Recreation
1. Decide When And Where To Travel
Thanks to the state’s climate diversity, you can choose from a great range of activities, including everything from snowboarding and whitewater rafting, to camping and taking a scenic drive to the tourist attractions. Depending on what you pick, decide what season is more appropriate and research your costs. If traveling without a guide, make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there, so mapping your route ahead of time would be a smart idea.
2. Make All Necessary Arrangements In Advance
Proper planning is the key to a successful trip, no matter where you go. Book the vacation and tickets, reserve the rental equipment, and confirm check-in time. If skiing or snowboarding – purchase your lift tickets beforehand, if driving – get directions or check them on your GPS device and make sure that all car maintenance is done, as well as the registration and insurance.
3. Pack Like For the Beach
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses (affiliate link) or goggles – these three items will help you tremendously while you’re in Colorado. With a reputed 300 days of sunshine per year, they don’t seem so weird even though you’re coming during colder months. SPF 30 and a pair of sunglasses do make a life-changing difference indeed.
4. Clothing Issues
Choose comfort over fashion, bearing the variety of elevation and, eventually, the weather conditions in mind. That’s why the more multipurpose your outfit is, the better. Don’t underestimate the importance of layering up and packing clothes for all four seasons, as sudden temperature shifts are highly likely. In winter, try layers of breathable but warm clothing: sweatshirts, long-sleeved T-shirts, long underwear, waterproof pants, and coats.
Also, you can easily adjust to the changing weather and save space in the suitcase with such universal items as pants that zip off into shorts, swim trunks that can be worn as a pair of shorts, and walking shoes that look good enough for a party or dinner.
Don’t forget about comfy footwear that can cover mileage – an essential in Colorado, whether you’re gonna camping, hiking, biking, rafting, or just wandering around our outdoors.
5. Moisturizing & Other Must-Haves
Another important issue you should get ready for is Colorado’s dry climate. If you’re not used to it, pack a moisturizer, a lip balm (affiliate link), and a water bottle by all means.
Also, be prepared to deal with altitude sickness (affiliate link) or at least to treat the symptoms, which may include a headache, nausea, sleep disturbances, and decreased appetite.
Check all traveling must-haves like a camera, an MP3, earphones, painkillers, a bug spray, and so on to make your vacation as trouble-free as possible.
6. Be Adventurous!
When discovering new places in Colorado, plan some extra days for unexpected stops at some incredible attractions along your way, don’t feel married to your route. Follow our tips, make it a journey of a lifetime, and enjoy the majestic beauty of the world around you.
Our Travel Resources
Planning a vacation can be both a challenge and a reward, so take it easy and enjoy the process. Make the most of your time with these vacation travel resources, along with the following mix of Colorado-related tourism resources, and top travel tools.
Colorado Tourism Resources
Make your next trip to the Rocky Mountains the best one ever! Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular Colorado travel resources around, besides us.
- Colorado.com – Official tourism website for Colorado, from the state government. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re visiting, especially in the realm of seasonal vacation deals and packages.
- Mile High Happy Hour – This site shares all the best Denver bars and their respective happy hours. Restaurants are divided into neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill or South Broadway.
- 5280 – Denver magazine featuring a range of travel and entertainment-related articles. It’s a traditional monthly magazine that offers affordable subscriptions and online articles.
- Westword – Free weekly Denver alternative newspaper with an up-to-date concert calendar. This iconic newspaper-style magazine can be found at little complimentary kiosks and in businesses around the metropolitan area. If you want to see upcoming live music calendars or get weed coupons, this is THE source.
- 14ers.com – Photos, routes, and trip reports for Colorado’s 54 fourteeners. If you’re into hiking and climbing the tallest mountains in the state, they do a great job covering them here.
- Colorado Ski Country – Features daily snow reports for 21 ski resorts, excludes Vail Resorts. It’s probably the best comprehensive, in-one-place resource for up-to-date trail status and snow reports for nearly all the ski resorts in Colorado.
- Ikon Pass – SkiColorado.com now redirects to this website handling all sales for the Rocky Mountain Super Pass, which includes skiing at Copper, Eldora, Steamboat, and Winter Park.
- Snow.com – Vail Resorts’ website for snow reports, terrain status, and season passes. This covers the missing: Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Vail resorts. You can also buy the Epic Pass here, which includes skiing at those resorts, plus a handful of other Vail properties.
- CO Trip – Up-to-date road closures and live cameras for major highways including I-70 and US-25. Use it every time you are planning on driving I-70 and want to see how the traffic or roads look.
International Tourism Resources
It’s a big world out there with plenty to see and do. These trip planner tools will help you see the earth for less. Spend all your time and money saved on whatever you fancy.
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Do you know any good, online travel resources? Please contact us to add one.
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