Clear blue skies, warm weather, and fresh mountain air are hallmarks of Colorado in the summer. With countless hiking trails and campgrounds, the possibilities for outdoor activities are practically limitless.
Meanwhile, bustling cities and quaint mountain towns offer dining, shopping, and nightlife opportunities. Visiting Colorado in the summer is a memorable experience, and there is something for any traveler to enjoy.
As a long-time local, I have spent over 15 years exploring the Centennial State and have found some of the best spots to visit. In this article, I walk you through the destinations you don’t want to miss during your trip to Colorado in the summer. Let’s dive in!
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1. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the country’s most popular national parks and for good reason. Over 260,000 acres of rugged terrain are home to more than 300 miles of hiking trails, several campgrounds, and diverse wildlife.
Check out the hike to Emerald Lake, which passes by three alpine lakes, to get a sense of the beauty in this park. The route is 3.7 miles long round-trip and gains 700 feet of elevation. It’s manageable for most visitors, but it doesn’t skimp on the views.
Other options for hiking abound, and the rangers at the entrance station are happy to provide personalized recommendations along with a trail map to guide you.
To enjoy the park from the comfort of your car, drive along Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States. Passing east to west, the road winds upward past stunning views of the expansive valley below and jagged peaks in the distance.
From the Alpine Visitor Center, you will have a vantage point to some of the best scenery in the park, with panoramic views stretching as far as the eye can see.
Note that a timed entry permit reservation is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May through October. To plan, consider making a reservation in advance of your trip.
Alternatively, 40 percent of reservations available are released the day before the arrival date.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, is centrally located and serves as a hub for travelers to explore the city and head out for day trips. The “Mile-High City” comes alive in the summer, featuring public parks, restaurants, breweries, and many attractions for all ages.
Washington Park and Cheesman Park are two of the best open spaces in the city. Enjoy an evening visiting when the temperatures cool to the perfect level and locals gather to enjoy each other’s company.
When the sun sets, make your way to Lower Downtown (LoDo) or River North Art District (RiNo), where you will find countless choices for dining and nightlife.
Sports fans will want to catch a baseball game at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. It is one of the most beautiful stadiums in the country, with the Rocky Mountains serving as the backdrop to the action below.
Sunsets are stunning in Colorado in the summer, and Coors Field is one of the best spots to sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle.
My favorite part about living in Denver is that it provides all the benefits of a big city, but it’s located close to nature. Many open spaces and parks are accessible within a 30-minute drive of downtown.
You can go for a hike in the morning and easily be back by noon for a day full of urban adventures. Mount Falcon Park offers more than 12 miles of trails, and Matthews/Winters Park is steeped in the history of early Colorado mining towns.
You may know Vail as a renowned ski resort, but it is also desirable in Colorado in the summer. The mountain town has no shortage of luxurious hotels, spas, and restaurants. At the same time, it is in a prime location for outdoor recreation, including mountain biking and hiking.
Treat yourself to a stay at one of the high-class hotels and unwind at the spa after a day of playing in the mountains. The scenic gondola offers a unique perspective on Vail Valley. It climbs to over 10,00 feet and brings you to a summit where several restaurants await.
A packed events calendar contains concerts, art expositions, comedy shows, and more.
Several festivals are hosted in the area over the summer, with the Vail Jazz Festival being one of the most popular. World-class performers take the stage. Jazz enthusiasts flock to the area, making it the perfect chance to enjoy the music.
4. Buena Vista
Situated at the foot of the Sawatch Mountain Range, Buena Vista is a mountain town that dates back over a hundred years. Strolling through the streets, you can sense the history as you pass by old churches and saloons that dot the town.
You will find several friendly bed and breakfasts here. It’s worth staying overnight, so you can take your time to explore the nearby area. Some of the highest peaks in Colorado are visible from the town, such as Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, and Mount Princeton.
When the mercury rises, make your way a short distance north to Twin Lakes, where the cool mountain water offers a refreshing respite from the heat. Rent a kayak or paddleboard to spend the day paddling around this breathtaking location.
To get activity, follow the Interlaken Trail along the water bank. Or journey into the mountains on a hike like the Hope Pass one.
5. Fort Collins
One of the fastest-growing cities in Colorado, Fort Collins is a fun-loving destination with something for everyone. Growing up in Fort Collins, I experienced firsthand the best spots and activities.
Downtown Fort Collins is teeming with breweries, restaurants, and bars. In the summer, huge flower pots line the streets. Musicians sharing their talents with pedestrians usually occupy the stage in the main square.
Breweries are integral to the culture in Fort Collins, so stop by one to try a local recipe and take in the ambiance. New Belgium and Odell Brewing Company distribute nationally but have maintained a local feel at their establishments, so you will surely find great-tasting beer at them.
At the west end of town, Horsetooth Reservoir beckons visitors to cool off at one of the several swim beaches. Or take a boat out on the water for water skiing and wakeboarding.
Horsetooth Rock is an iconic sight visible from most spots in Fort Collins. It’s fun to hike to the top for a panoramic view of the city below.
6. Garden of the Gods
Fascinating sandstone rock formations dot the landscape at Garden of the Gods. This spectacular natural wonder results from hundreds of millions of years of geological activity.
Located in Colorado Springs, this popular destination in Colorado in the summer is easily accessible and offers a myriad of things to do.
Try a jeep tour for a guided experience that takes you through the park and notable sights nearby, with the insight of a local expert along the way.
Or, strike out on your own and hike, mountain bike, or horseback ride to the rock formations. Some of the most notable ones you don’t want to miss are the Siamese Twins, Balanced Rock, and the Kissing Camels.
Be sure to stop by the visitor center, where exhibits tell the tale of the formation of the rocks and the long history of human activity in the region. Kids will love the Geo-Trekker Theater, where a show runs every 20 minutes and provides information about the park in a fun way.
Adrenaline junkies can try rock climbing at popular spots like Gray Rock, Sentinel Spires, and North Gateway Rock. Newcomers to the sport will want to tag along with a guide who can teach the fundamentals and point out the best routes to tackle.
Photo credit: Colorado Quests
7. Great Sand Dunes National Park
As the home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a fascinating destination. The vast dunes sit at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the winds continue to shape them.
Unlike any other area in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most interesting to visit due to the juxtaposition of the dunes and the craggy peaks behind them. Don’t forget your camera since you will have plenty of fantastic photo opportunities.
As an International Dark Sky Park, the area is known for spectacular night skies that twinkle with a vast number of stars. It is worth staying up late to gaze up at the sky and take in the sight.
Dive into something new and try your hand at sandboarding or sand sledding. You cruise down the dunes on specially-made boards and sleds. You can rent the necessary gear at several locations nearby, including the Oasis Store and Spin Drify Sand Board Rentals.
8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
In Southwestern Colorado, the Gunnison River cuts a deep path through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The National Park Service protects this precious area, and it serves as one of the top destinations to visit in Colorado in the summer.
Many miles of trails meander along the canyon’s edge. They provide access to the best vistas in the park, where you can peer to the bottom of the canyon.
Rim Rock Nature Trail and Oak Flat Loop Trail are two of the best options along the south rim. Chasm View Nature Trail and North Vista Trail are top choices along the North Rim.
To experience the park via car, drive along South Rim Road, where you will pass by 12 overlooks in about three hours. (This includes time to stop and enjoy the sights).
Alternatively, travel along North Rim Road, where six overlooks provide vantage points into different canyon areas.
Photo credit: Colorado Quests
9. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is the site of the dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. One of the most impressive feats of architecture in the park is Cliff Palace, which housed more than 100 people nearly 1,000 years ago.
Today, you can walk around this site and more, where you will be transported to an ancient time and marvel at the achievements of the Ancestral Pueblo people.
A ticket is required to access the dwellings. The entrance includes a tour with a ranger who will explain the history and significance of the structures you see.
Morefield Campground is the best place to spend a night in the park. Hikes such as Point Lookout Trail, Knife Edge Trail, and Prater Ridge Trail allow visitors to explore the surrounding area further.
Note that entrance to the park costs $30, which is due upon arrival. If you plan to visit multiple national parks, consider purchasing the America the Beautiful annual pass. This pass gives you access to any national park in the United States for an entire year for only $80.
What to Pack For a Trip to Colorado in the Summer
Temperatures during the day are warm in Colorado in the summer, so you will be comfortable in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Evenings cool off significantly, so pack a warm jacket. Packing layers is especially important in the mountains, where nighttime temperatures can drop surprisingly low.
Afternoon showers are not uncommon, so bring a rain jacket as well. Bouts of rain tend to pass quickly, but it’s nice to have rain protection in your backpack to avoid getting wet when they do occur.
Know that the sun is intense in Colorado, especially at high elevations, so sun protection is a must. Bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from UV rays.
If you plan on hiking, pack appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots or shoes. Drinking plenty of water on the trails is necessary, so carry one or two water bottles or a hydration pouch to help you stay hydrated.
So, Should You Visit Colorado in the Summer?
Colorado in the summer is a worthwhile destination for any traveler. It offers several national parks, lively cities, and beautiful mountain towns, all available to explore.
Whether you are a foodie who loves to uncover local eateries or an avid outdoor enthusiast who craves adventure, you will find something to satisfy your interests.
Dom is an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker who has been exploring Colorado for over 15 years. He believes that nature has the power to heal and inspire, so he helps people get outside through his blog, Colorado Quests.
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