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hidden gems in colorado

Hidden Gems in Colorado [Off The Beaten Path]

Colorado is one of the most diverse U.S. states with countless opportunities for an active lifestyle and well-established outdoor destinations that attract thousands of tourists from all over the country. A quick Google search will reveal a myriad of popular hiking trails, mountain towns and scenic vistas that can also be found on every traveler’s bucket list. 

As many people flock to these more well known outdoor havens, they are inevitably getting crowded. But the good news is that there are also plenty of hidden gems in Colorado that are visited by less people.

In this article, we are going to take a look at some of the most beautiful destinations in Colorado that have managed to fly under the radar for years. Many of these places offer a combination of nature, history, archaeology and good family fun – so there’s something for everyone. 

If you are looking to escape the crowds that are increasingly becoming a norm in many parts of Colorado, and want to enjoy some of the most stunning unspoiled landscapes that the Centennial State has to offer, consider visiting these Colorado hidden gems.

Hidden Gems in Colorado

  1. Grand Lake 

Many Colorado visitors head to the Rocky Mountain National Park, and enter it from the eastern entrance near Estes Park missing out on a different area of the park near Grand Lake. 

There’s also a western entrance to the Park that sees far fewer people, and is located near Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado which is also one of the most scenic lakes in the state. Head to Grand Lake to escape the crowds and see a different side of Colorado and explore this beautiful alpine lake.

You can also camp here or spend the night in one of the cozy cabins near the lake after a day of hiking and mountain biking. In winter the area around Grand Lake is popular for snowmobiling.

  1. Paint Mines Interpretive Park 

Located near the small town of Calhan, and 30 miles east of Colorado Springs, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is a true hidden gem of Colorado that even many locals don’t know about. 

While Colorado is famous for its mountains, Paint Mines Interpretive Park delivers a whole different kind of scenery with badlands, prairies that come in shades of pink, orange and brown and incredible hoodoos, spire-like formations protruding from the bottom of the canyon. Hoodoos can be found only in a few places in the world including Alberta, Canada, Cappadocia, Turkey and Bryce Canyon in Utah,  where they look like a picture painted by watercolors.

Although you will not find challenging trails here, the cool scenery will compensate for it, and your walk will feel like a breeze except for a couple of hills.

The park has 4 miles of trails and covers 750 acres. You will certainly want to snap a couple of photos as you walk through these quirky formations, so don’t forget your camera. 

  1. Dinosaur National Monument 

hidden gems in colorado
Photo by Backroad Packers on Unsplash

If there’s one place in Colorado that hasn’t been affected by mass tourism, it’s Dinosaur National Monument in the desolate northwestern corner of the state.

Spanning over 200,000 acres across Utah and Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is often called the hidden gem of the National Park System. Along many trails you can find dinosaur tracks and fossils that have been preserved for millions of years. But that’s not everything: this place also boasts tons of history, wonderful landmarks and incredible undisturbed landscapes with only a handful of tourists making their way here. 

Aside from the dinosaurs, you can also find evidence of ancient civilizations in this place. There are several panels with petroglyphs (carvings in stone) as well as pictographs (paintings on stone) that were created by the Fremont people who used to populate this area from 1 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

If you are looking for some solitude after exploring more popular places in Colorado with tons of tourists, make sure to include Dinosaur National Monument on your itinerary.

The entrance to Dinosaur National Monument is located not far from the town of Dinosaur where you can also find the Monument headquarters. As with other national monuments, the facilities within Dinosaur National Monument are limited, and cell phone service can be scarce, so make sure to bring a paper map, snacks and water

And, if you are a dark sky enthusiast, make sure to bring your astronomy equipment, because Dinosaur National Monument boasts phenomenal clear skies at night and you can also see the Milky Way here. 

  1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park 

hidden gems in colorado
Photo by Tevin Trinh on Unsplash

Did you know that Colorado is home to three national parks? 

While Rocky Mountain tends to have the most clout with more than 4 million visitors per year as of recently, there are a couple of other national parks in Colorado that are worth your attention, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of them. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison doesn’t offer a ton of hiking trails, but it boasts spectacular landscapes with impressive steep walls, jagged spires and dizzying depths. It’s one of the most impressive canyons in the country – and yet, only a handful of people make their way here perhaps because of its remote setting. 

To access this national park, drive along Highway 347 from the intersection with U.S. Highway 50 east of Montrose. The north rim of the canyon is 11 miles southwest of Crawford. 

Just like the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison has the north and south rim, with the south rim being more popular because it’s open year-round. Meanwhile, the North Rim is home to some of the most beautiful views of the steep canyon walls that drop down below. 

  1. Palisade 

Mountains are what attract so many people to Colorado, but what about the high desert on the state’s Western Slope? There’s so much to explore here, and the town of Palisade is one of these places. 

Colorado might be famous for its micro breweries, but there's a wine scene here too. Palisade is a small town near Grand Junction, and it is home to the majority of vineyards, and the state’s oldest winery, Colorado Cellars, where you can sample some of the best wine in Colorado.

In addition to the wineries in Palisade, you will also find many fruit orchards. The best way to explore both the vineyards and the orchards is via the Fruit and Wine Byway. You can drive or cycle this lovely route stopping to sample from any number of locally grown lavender, fruits and wine.

If you decide to make it all the way to Palisade, it’s a good idea to combine your trip with other destinations in the area including Grand Junction, Dinosaur National Monument, and Ridgway, a town with a Wild West flair.

  1. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument 

Another hidden gem of Southwest Colorado, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is an outdoor museum that boasts an impressive collection of archaeological sites from various Native American cultures. 

With its vast mesas and canyons that can be easily explored by foot, this undeveloped area is a true adventurer’s paradise with ancient ruins, artifacts and other relics dating back thousands of years. 

Most of the roads within the monument are unpaved and it takes a bit of effort to find these archaeological sites since many of them lack signage. This national monument is a perfect place if you want to channel your inner Indiana Jones and explore this vast landscape on your own. 

  1. Ouray 

hidden gems in colorado
Photo by Jakob Køhn on Unsplash

Located in the San Juan Mountains, the town of Ouray is often overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbor – Telluride. But make no mistake, Ouray is a world-class destination with rich history, friendly locals and countless outdoor opportunities. 

There’s a reason this small, quaint town bears the nickname “Switzerland of America.” Surrounded by the mountains, Ouray is a gorgeous – yet less touristy destination, famous for its rock climbing, hot springs and off-roading. You need to walk less than 15 minutes from your hotel to enjoy this outdoor gem.

Thanks to its location in Colorado’s Southwest Corner, Ouray boasts many cool off-highway dirt roads that meander through narrow passes, deep valleys and feature scenic vistas with waterfalls and colorful alpine meadows. You could spend weeks off-roading around Ouray and still barely scratch the surface, there’s so much to explore! 

And, if you are in a mood for hiking, explore the 5-mile Perimeter Trail that goes around Ouray and boasts magnificent views of the area. Many trails and scenic drives around Telluride require a high-clearance vehicle, so if you have one, by all means make sure to bring it to Telluride. 

After a day of adventures, head to Ouray Hot Spring Pool where you can enjoy pools with differing degrees of heat. It’s a perfect place to relax after spending time outdoors. 

  1. Silverton

hidden gems in colorado
Photo by Lucie Marchant on Unsplash

Located at 9,318 feet and well-off the beaten path, Silverton is a remote hamlet that makes you feel like you have been transported to Alaska. 

This rugged town that became famous for backcountry skiing and off-grid camping is one of those hidden gems in Colorado that are becoming increasingly popular thanks to social media and blogs that feature Silverton’s jaw-dropping landscape. Still, Silverton is quite a drive if you are making your way here from Denver, with over 7 hours on the road. 

Once a booming mining town, Silverton boasts perfect postcard views in every direction. Make sure to spend a few days in Silverton to enjoy the atmosphere of this place and its countless opportunities for outdoor adventures such as Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, mountain biking and camping. The list goes on. 

The One Million Dollar Highway that connects Ouray and Silverton deserves a special note. This alpine highway has a fair share of steep drop-offs and hairpin turns, and is often found on the list of the most scary drives in the United States. 

However, the challenge is well worth it – when you drive on this highway, you will be treated to scenic views on every curve. You will also have a chance to learn about how mining shaped the history of this part of Colorado. Many abandoned mines dot the area and you can find several interactive exhibits along the highway. 

  1. Pagosa Springs 

The Southwest part of the state (which is also part of the famous Four Corners Region) is home to some of the most breathtaking scenery and many hidden gems in Colorado. Pagosa Springs happens to be one of them. 

This off-the-beaten path destination has a lot to offer including great hiking trails, hot springs, some cool local restaurants and breweries. If you are visiting Pagosa Springs for the first time, and not quite sure where to begin your trip, make your way to Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park or Chimney Rock National Park to enjoy this outdoor heaven. 

Here you can also enjoy a plethora of water sports such as kayaking, paddle boarding and rafting. Pagosa Springs is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of a big city, and once you get to know this small, scenic town, you might never want to leave it. 

  1. St. Elmo Ghost Town 

hidden gems in colorado
Photo by Valkyrie Pierce on Unsplash

Colorado’s colorful mining past can be seen in full glory in its many mining towns left from the gold and silver boom that are scattered around the state.

While some of them take hours to reach and require a 4X4 vehicle, it’s not always the case. Saint Elmo is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the western part of the United States located not far from the town of Buena Vista. 

Saint Elmo has 43 buildings from the Gold Rush era still standing.

Here you can find an old saloon, jail, a courthouse, and random private homes all left from the heyday when thousands of people migrated to the area in hopes to strike it rich in nearby gold and silver mines. But don’t think this place has been completely deserted: you can spend a night at Ghost Town Guest House, a gritty bed and breakfast. Be sure to pick up a couple of souvenirs at St. Elmo General Store. 

And, if you have a 4X4, and are willing to go the extra mile, check out a couple of ruins near St. Elmo including Hancock and Mary Murphy Mine. 

Colorado Off The Beaten Path

Although Colorado has become a tourist magnet, it still has a fair share of places that most tourists don’t know about. Whether you plan on visiting the state’s most famous historic sites and museums or want to spend time outdoors exploring Colorado's most famous hiking trails, make sure to add a couple of Colorado’s hidden gems to your itinerary. It’s a great way to discover the state off the beaten path. 

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Daria Bachmann

Daria Bachmann

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