Designated as some of the most cherished public lands in the country due to their unique features and breathtaking views, Colorado’s National Parks are some of the best places in the state to get your nature fix. In case you didn’t know, Colorado is home to 4 very different National Parks. Here’s how to get the most unique experience out of each.
1. Sled the Dunes
Located near Alamosa in the San Luis Valley, the Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the country. Not only is this destination home to the largest dunes in North America, a massive mountain range, and a diverse collection of wildlife, it’s also home to a hobby that you can’t try just anywhere…sand sledding. It’s really as simple as it sounds, similar to sledding you’d find in the winter but on sand instead of snow. Getting the most out of this experience is simple. Once you arrive at the park, find a place to rent a sand sled. Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa rents out sand sleds year-round while Oasis Store rents from spring to fall if you’re looking for a rental place closer to that park. It’s important that you use a board specifically for use on sand as these have a slicker surface on the bottom and special wax to prevent them from digging into the dune and slowing you down. Looking for a more extreme experience? Rent a sandboard instead.
2. Explore An Ancient Palace
Starting around 600 AD, Ancestral Pueblo people started making their mark in Mesa Verde National Park, today one of the most well-preserved sites of ancient life in the continental United States. Home to roughly 5,000 protected archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park is the premiere place in the West to visit for a one-of-a-kind cultural experience. One destination within the park that will give you the best look at this ancient culture is the 150-room Cliff Palace. Ranger-guided tours give you a chance to explore this massive structure literally built into a cliff and once capable of housing 100 people.
READ MORE: Colorado’s Cliffside Palace!
3. Live Life on the Edge
If one had to describe the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in two words, they would be “steep” and “deep”. Most visitors prefer to simply stand on the edge of the sheer cliffs that form its walls, one of which is 2,250 feet tall, while a select few of the more adventurous guests will enter the canyon. The descent isn’t easy, and it’s not well marked. It even requires a backcountry permit in most instances. However, as one nears the bottom of the canyon, it’s much easier to grasp what makes this spot so special. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is no ordinary canyon. For how massive it is, it’s also one of the most narrow canyons around, at one point just 40 feet wide. In fact, the canyon is so narrow at points that some parts of the gorge are only able to get sunlight 33 minutes a day. If you’re wanting to hike into the canyon, the views are stunning, but you’ll need to make sure you prepare properly and have significant hiking experience. Keep in mind that if you’re planning to camp at the bottom, changing water levels can wash away campsites built in the wrong place within a few moments.
LEARN MORE: Colorado’s Darkest Canyon!
4. Conquer a True Beast of a Peak
People travel to Colorado from all around the country to try to climb a mountain. If you think you’re ready to tackle one of the most difficult, but more rewarding climbs in the state, Longs Peak won’t let you down. The only mountain over 14,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak is truly iconic amongst the Colorado climbs. Many sources point to this mountain as being the Colorado 14er with the highest fail rate, partially because it is a difficult and unpredictable climb, but also because many people attempt it without preparing properly. In order to summit before afternoon storms roll through, it’s recommended that you leave the trailhead between two and three in the morning. Start the climb knowing that there’s a good chance weather will change, sending you home before you reach the top. Many people attempt this climb several times before they’re successful at completing it. However, once you’re on top, you’ll have one of the best views in the state, surrounded by the smaller peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, high alpine lakes, and green landscape that stretches for miles.