DENVER — In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years of protecting the many beautiful and unique national parks across the country. From fishing in one of the deepest canyons in the Western Hemisphere to surfing down the highest sand dunes in North America, Colorado’s four national parks offer vastly diverse and unique experiences. The state is also home to eight national monuments, four national historic trails, a national recreation area, two national historic sites and a river corridor.
Below is a sampling of unparalleled experiences for those hoping to get outdoors to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in every season in Colorado throughout 2016 and beyond. For more information on Colorado’s national parks, visit http://www.colorado.com/national-parks-colorado. For more information on Colorado’s national monuments, visit http://www.colorado.com/articles/quick-guide-colorados-national-monuments.
Colorado’s Four National Parks
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park —The drama of 2,700 feet of sheer black walls falling into the Gunnison River make for one of the deepest canyons in the Western Hemisphere. Located in the Southwestern part of the state, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park features a multitude of activities offering year-round fun. When snow blankets the ground in winter, snowshoe trekking, cross country skiing and winter backcountry camping allow for views of the snowy canyon and pure white overlooks. The warmer months are plentiful with natural pursuits. Rafting, fishing and stargazing are just some of the ways to enjoy the canyon. Expert rock climbers can put their skills to the test on Painted Wall, the tallest vertical wall in the state, measuring at a height of 2,250 feet.
Surrounded by mountain landscapes, there are plenty of recreational activities and lodging offerings in the nearby town of Montrose. After a long day of adventuring, four local brew pubs are ready to serve up refreshing suds.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve—Mountains of sand stand higher in the San Luis Valley than anywhere else in North America at this unique landscape that was created over one million years ago. In late spring, visitors can soak in Medano Creek, a popular stream at the foot of the dunes and one of Colorado’s best beaches. Guests can even bring flat inflatables to use as they float down the waves. A new type of boarding adventure presents itself in the summer months. Sandboards feature a special design and slick bases for prime sliding on any size dune from the small to the mighty. Late September and early October provide opportunities for photography with unusual contrasts of colorful trees, dunes and snowcapped mountains. The dunes are also great for sledding or cross country skiing in the snowy winter months.
Just a few miles from the sand dunes, Alamosa offers visitors scenic wonders, outdoor activities, culture and plenty of history. The hungry guest can find many locally-based restaurants ready to serve up an authentic dining experience.
Mesa Verde National Park —As the first park to be established in efforts to “preserve the works of man,” Southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde takes visitors back in time to showcase more than 700 years of Ancestral Puebloan history. Mesa Verde is also the largest archeological preserve in the U.S. There are a variety of summer itineraries for those who have a few hours to a couple of days to spend in the park. Tickets can be purchased for ranger-guided tours throughout the largest cliff dwellings in North America, including Cliff Palace, the park’s biggest cliff dwelling. The abundant winter ecology allows for snowy hikes. Because of Mesa Verde’s bare trees, wildlife is more visible in the winter. Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are perfect opportunities to find animal tracks in the snow.
To cool off in the summer heat, nearby Durango has an abundance of refreshing mountain lakes and rivers. After a dip in the water, stay at one of Durango’s many historic and unique lodging properties. Along with many restaurant offerings, the town of Cortez gives visitors the opportunity to buy local and prepare their own foods from the seasonal farmer’s markets.
Rocky Mountain National Park—Nestled between the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake, 415-square-miles encompass and protect spectacular mountain environments located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Trail Ridge Road takes visitors up to 12,183 feet in elevation on the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. A variety of ranger-led programs teach visitors about the park, wildlife and flowers. During the fall, visitors can’t miss the annual elk rut when bull elk gather in meadows with viewing areas available for onlookers. In the colder winter months, cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoeing are all popular diversions for those wanting to play in the snow.
Nearby downtown Estes Park features a charming village filled with shops and galleries, many of which are independently owned. Grand Lake offers a variety of options for those looking to stay along Rocky Mountain National Park’s backdrop including, cabins, resorts, ranches and more.