While this trip will take you through 10 of Southwest Colorado’s most gorgeous state parks, the journey in between won’t be lacking in views either. On the contrary, this route will see you across more than five Colorado State Scenic Byways, including the San Juan Skyway, Frontier Pathway, the Highway of Legends, and Los Caminos Antiguos.
1. Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Just south of Colorado Springs lies Cheyenne Mountain, an excellent place to begin this adventure. Beautiful and mostly undisturbed nature abounds in the surrounding park, where birdwatchers can spot the one hundred or more species that fly in the skies above. The park contains all essential camping amenities, and to release some stress, visitors can work on their target practice at the park’s very own outdoor archery range.
2. Lake Pueblo State Park
Your first encounter with the Arkansas River will take place further south in the city of Pueblo, where the Pueblo River Trail leads the way towards this water-sports-obsessed location. Enjoy tubing, power boating, jet skiing, kayaking, rafting, and sailing in a park that boasts two marinas as well as the Rock Canyon Swim Beach.
3. Lathrop State Park
Walsenburg, a dreamy Western town nestled between dark green evergreens and close to the Spanish Peaks, serves as the gateway to Colorado’s first state park, established in 1962. Enjoy many more water sports here — or switch it up with a game of golf in the only course located within a Colorado state park. On your way out, the ethereal drive down the Highway of Legends awaits.
4. Trinidad Lake
Take a trip back in time in Trinidad Lake Park, where you can find attractions from various ages in Colorado geologic history. Start by observing the exposed rock that marks the K-T boundary: the geological end of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the Cenozoic Era more than 60 million years ago. Continue to find a Native American archaeological site located near the park’s amphitheater, as well as a mountain section of the historic Santa Fe Trail. Finally, more recent reminders of Colorado’s past can be found in the ominous coal mine ruins that dot the park.
5. Navajo State Park
After a drive through Los Caminos Antiguos, which stretches along the San Luis Valley floor, you’ll arrive at Navajo State Park. Bordering New Mexico and dubbed “Colorado’s Lake Powell,” over a hundred miles of scenic shoreline are to be found across this park. Houseboats can be seen peacefully floating in the water, log cabins can be rented for overnight stays, and wildlife viewing can be enjoyed throughout the surrounding Sambrito Wetlands.
6. Mancos State Park
The two heated and fully equipped yurts that can be rented in this park might make for one of the most interesting overnight stays in this journey. These tents are naturally illuminated by skylights and sleep up to six people. For another unforgettable experience, take a trip to the nearby Anasazi Heritage Center.
7. Ridgway State Park
Head to the picturesque alpine town of Ouray to drive the Million Dollar Highway, one of Colorado’s most scenic drives. After taking in the glorious vistas and exploring the mining ghost towns along the journey, continue to Ridgway State Park for some fly fishing along the Uncompahgre River under the grand San Juan Mountains.
8. Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area
Here, at one of America’s most popular whitewater rafting destinations, the river is undoubtedly the main attraction. However, visitors can also go rock climbing and gold panning at the river’s edge.
9. Spinney Mountain State Park and Eleven Mile State Park
Located just a few miles from each other, both parks offer spectacular fishing and water sports activities — but overnight stays can only be planned in Eleven Mile, a park with its more than 348 campsites.
10. Mueller State Park
Mueller State Park concludes your journey and offers 5,100 acres of natural forests and meadows. The park includes spectacular views, miles of secluded trails, and challenging mountain bike paths.
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