Tips for Traveling to Colorado National Parks

Colorado has one of the most diverse landscapes of all the states in the US. If you’re looking for your next vacation spot, it’s time to make your way to The Centennial State. Colorado is home to four National Parks, which means you have plenty of areas to explore when visiting this Rocky Mountain state. However, no matter the park you choose to adventure in, it’s important to be prepared. Below, we’ll go over a list of tips for traveling to Colorado National Parks, so you can make the most out of your visit.

What National Parks Are in Colorado?

Before diving into the travel tips for Colorado National Parks, it’s important to be informed about Colorado’s National Parks and Monuments. Here’s what to know about Colorado’s National Parks:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

In Western Colorado, you’ll find Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This Colorado National Park was formed over the course of two million years, with the Gunnison River carving its way through Precambrian rock to form a massive gorge with steep cliffs and breathtaking spires. In this park, you can spot wildlife such as deer, elk, and golden eagles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

As you make your way to Southern Colorado, you’ll come across Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is home to North America’s largest dunes, such as Star Dune and Medano Dune. A diversified landscape of grasslands, wetlands, woods, alpine lakes, and tundra can also be found in this park.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park resides in Southwestern Colorado, and is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, such as the Cliff Palace. Mesa Verde is also home to over a thousand different species, with several that are only found in this National Park. When exploring Mesa Verde, you can take in great vistas, learn about the Ancestral Pueblo people, and walk on the mesas and along the cliffs of this nationally protected area.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Along the Continental Divide, you’ll find Rocky National Park. In this park, you can drive along the famous Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road, climb up the Keyhole Route, and make it to the top of Longs Peak, the park’s tallest peak. Rocky Mountain National Park also has three unique environments, including the meadows found in the montane life zone, the subalpine zone with crystal clear lakes, the alpine zone with steep mountains.

Travel Tips for Colorado National Parks

Now that you know more about the different Colorado National Parks, it’s time to get prepared for your adventure. As you get ready to pack your bags, consider these tips for traveling to Colorado National Parks below:

Best Time of Year to Visit

The National Parks inside Colorado are known for their beautiful landscapes and biodiversity. However, most are also known for their extreme weather, which can make or break your travel experience. Below are some of the best times throughout the year to visit each Colorado National Park:

  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: April through November are the best times to visit, as the South Rim Road is open and the weather is pleasant
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park: Visit during the late spring or early fall to avoid the hot summer temperatures and crowds
  • Mesa Verde National Park: Spring and fall offer comfortable temperatures and fewer crowds
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Explore during the summer when most of the snow is melted and the trails are open

Closest Airports

Now that you know the best time of year to visit the Colorado National Park of your choice, it’s time to book your flight. These are the closest airports to each of Colorado's four National Parks: 

  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Montrose Regional Airport
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park: San Luis Valley Airport
  • Mesa Verde National Park: Cortez Airport
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Denver International Airport

It’s important to note most of these airports are smaller regional airports, which can make finding flights more challenging. Denver International Airport is the largest in the state and offers the most accommodations, so flying to Denver and booking a rental car can be another option.

Lodging

With your flight booked, now comes the exciting part—finding a place to stay. You can start by looking for rental homes through sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, or consider one of the hotels below:

Preparation

The last set of tips for traveling Colorado National Parks is knowing how to prepare. No matter the National Park you choose to visit, it’s always important to keep these ground rules in mind:

  • Respect the environment by staying on designated trails and cleaning up after yourself
  • Watch wildlife from afar
  • Pack layers, as this can allow you to dress up or down depending on the weather
  • Bring snacks and hydration to ensure you’re fueled for your adventure
  • Pack a camera to document your journey
  • Pack safety supplies such as bandages and sunscreen
  • Enjoy your time!

For a complete understanding of how to make the most out of your trip, review our National Parks travel guide.

Explore Colorado National Parks With Road Scholar

At Road Scholar, we have a wide range of Colorado National Park learning adventures you can choose from. With tours of some of the most popular National Parks, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in some of America’s most iconic parks, learning about the people, biodiversity, and environments that make up each park.


Every Road Scholar experience is led by an expert guide who will teach you about the history, traditions, and culture of your destination. Whether you’re exploring Southwest National Parks or National Parks in the Pacific Northwest, our educational travel programs will allow you to make memories that will last a lifetime.

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