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Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Colorado's scenic terrain draws millions of travelers looking to get swept up in its natural splendor. With a bevy of cities and towns, each with its own unique outdoor offerings, cultural attractions and general Colorado charm, it may be difficult to choose the best place for your next vacation. U.S. News took into account a number of factors, including the variety of attractions, as well as the opinions of experts and travelers, to determine the best places to visit in Colorado. Have a favorite? Cast your vote below to help determine next year's list.
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Telluride may be small in size, but it is big on outdoor fun and adventure. Best known for its highly regarded ski slopes, Telluride offers 2,000-plus skiable acres and terrain suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. Meanwhile, hikers and cyclists flood the trails, paragliders soar through the air and festivalgoers attend the town's plethora of food-, music- and film-focused events during the warmer months. For some of Telluride's best panoramas, drive the San Juan Skyway or ride the gondola to Mountain Village.
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Take a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park to see for yourself why it is one of the most-visited national parks in the country. First, stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to learn about the park and find out which trail you should hike. Or, swap hiking shoes for a pair of skis or snowshoes in winter. If you'd rather explore in the comfort of your own vehicle, drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road and feel on top of the world. At its highest point, the road reaches an elevation of more than 12,000 feet.
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Colorado's most populated city is also its cultural hub. While you can go just about anywhere in Colorado to find outdoor adventures galore, in Denver you get the best of both worlds. The city is filled with top-notch museums, lively sports venues, prime shopping streets and an unmatched brewery scene. Meanwhile, just outside city limits, you'll enjoy easy access to the Rockies, as well as the photogenic Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
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If you're looking to splurge during ski season, Aspen is the place to be. This small town is conveniently tucked between four renowned ski spots that offer quality slopes for all levels of skiers. Not only that, but the town features the crème de la crème of luxury resorts, a growing culinary reputation (the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is held here every summer) and an après-ski scene so appealing it'll be pretty tough to leave.
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Remnants of Breckenridge's history as a mining hub give the town a distinct aesthetic. The Rocky Mountains that serve as the town's backdrop, the locale's thousands of acres of skiable terrain and the area's long ski season make Breckenridge a ski destination for the books. When the powder melts, the verdant vegetation that floods the trails make Breck (as locals call it) magical. What's more, the beer scene is an attraction in its own right.
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This iconic ski town is a popular haven for celebrities and winter sports enthusiasts. With thousands of acres of snowy trails spread across one of the largest single-mountain resorts in the country, Vail is known for its top-notch skiing and snowboarding. But there is more to the town than just its slopes. When the snow melts and the temperatures rise, Vail's Epic Discovery area invites visitors to engage in other outdoor activities like zip lining and mountain coaster rides. Those looking for less adrenaline-inducing entertainment should check out the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and central Vail's boutiques.
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Colorado Springs stands out from its mountainous counterparts because it's not a ski destination. But what the city lacks in slopes it more than makes up for in incredible hiking areas like Pikes Peak, the mountain that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful." Mix that in with a good helping of small-town charm and a diverse array of attractions (including the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center) and Colorado Springs has all the makings of a great vacation.
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Although Boulder is Denver's slightly smaller neighbor, it is no less impressive. With both the Rocky Mountains and the Flatirons in the background, Boulder combines all of the relaxation of an outdoor escape with the energy of a city. Nature lovers will feel right at home while hiking and biking the city's trails or tubing down its stretch of Boulder Creek. Those looking for more urban entertainment can explore Boulder's beer trails or shop and dine at Pearl Street Mall's boutiques and restaurants.
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Powder hounds take note: While it may not be as glamorous as some of its Colorado counterparts, Steamboat Springs is unabashedly a ski town. After all, it maintains the nickname of Ski Town, USA. Here, travelers can take advantage of nearly 3,000 acres of skiable terrain covered in snow so light it's commonly called Champagne Powder snow. After a long day of shredding powder, visitors can head to Strawberry Park Hot Springs to soothe aching muscles with a massage or a soak in a thermal pool.
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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve#10 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers a unique outdoor experience. Visitors can sled down the tallest sand dunes in North America or float down the park's stretch of Medano Creek. Hiking, fat biking and horseback riding are other fun ways to explore the area's diverse ecosystems. And at night, travelers can admire the unfiltered night sky while camping. Great Sand Dunes is open year-round, but keep in mind that winter can be chilly and summer can bring scorching sand and thunderstorms, so parkgoers should plan their trips accordingly.
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Grand Junction#11 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
The largest city in Colorado's Western Slope region, Grand Junction makes an excellent base for exploring area attractions like Colorado National Monument and the Grand Mesa. But don't overlook the city itself. Downtown Grand Junction's Main Street is full of shops and restaurants. Plus, the city is home to a vibrant arts community and one of the largest outdoor sculpture collections in the country. Its location in Colorado's wine country also means it's one of the best places to taste wine in the state.
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Crested Butte#12 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Known as both the last great Colorado ski town and the wildflower capital of Colorado, Crested Butte beckons to outdoorsy types year-round. In winter, skiers and snowboarders will find trails for all skill levels, though the town is most famous for its extreme terrain and steep slopes. When temperatures rise, visitors can trade in their skis or snowboards for mountain bikes to take advantage of Crested Butte's hundreds of miles of bike trails. Arrive in July to see the town burst with color and partake in the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival's activities.
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Dinosaur National Monument#13 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Feel as if you've journeyed back in time during a visit to Dinosaur National Park. Spread across Colorado and Utah, this protected area is known for its archaeological treasures. You won't find any dinosaur bones on the Colorado side, but budding archaeologists can test their skills by looking for small sea creature fossils on the Harpers Corner Trail. This side of the park is also a prime spot for outdoor activities like hiking, river rafting, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. For breathtaking views of the surrounding canyons, go for a scenic drive on Harpers Corner Drive.
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park#14 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
Colorado's version of the Grand Canyon features some of the state's most stunning views. Carved by the Gunnison River millions of years ago, the Black Canyon's more than 2,000-foot depth has impressed spectators for centuries, including the Ute Tribe who once called the canyon home. Now, along with its incredible scenery, parkgoers can enjoy fishing in the Black Canyon's highly regarded waters, climbing its towering rock formations and hiking or skiing its impressive trails. At night, attention shifts from the rocks and river below to the sky above when visitors can stargaze in this International Dark Sky Park.
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Mesa Verde National Park#15 in Best Places to Visit in Colorado
The former home of the Ancestral Pueblo people, Mesa Verde National Park contains about 5,000 of America's best-preserved archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. Many of the sites can only be accessed by ranger-led tours that may involve quite a bit of walking, climbing and, in some cases, crawling, so travelers should keep their physical health and limitations in mind before visiting. Still, the park's rich history makes the sometimes strenuous journeys well worth the effort.
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