Building Your 2021 Bucket List: The Best Things to Do in Colorado

by Carrie Nicholson | Last Updated:  July 8, 2021

The content of this website may contain affiliate links and we may be compensated (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support!

Colorado boasts some of the best things to do and epic places to see in America. 

The state is known for its wildlife, outdoor activities, ghost towns, gold rush days, and rich history.

There are so many places to see, hiking destinations, and cities to explore it can be hard to figure out what to do first.

So what are the best things to do in Colorado and destinations that you should add to your bucket list in 2021?

That’s what we are here to help you find out. 

Important: If you just moved to Colorado consider taking several months to acclimate to the weather and altitude.

Living at high altitude is much different than sea level and you may get altitude sickness if you attempt to do too much within your first year living here.

Read on, or listen in as we share what’s on our bucket list this year, as well as the best things to do in Colorado.

iTunesGoogle Play | StitcherSpotify

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

rocky mountain national park

Rocky Mountain National Park is another iconic destination in Colorado. The landscape is quite large and can be very rugged.

Visiting it anytime of year will yield a completely different, and amazing experience.

Whether you’re just going on a drive, or stopping for a hike, there are limitless areas to see and explore.

The park’s varying habitats include deer, moose and elk, and even black bears and cougars. So beware when visiting for the first time.

Within the park is Trail Ridge Road, which is a paved road that takes up a staggering 12,183 feet, quite a bit above treeline.

It will give you unmatched views of the surrounding areas, so you’ll want to bring your camera.

2. Garden of the Gods

garden of the gods colorado springs

If you are planning to move to Colorado Springs you have likely Googled to learn more information about the city.

Likely, the first thing to pop up was a photo of the Garden of the Gods.

And with good reason. Garden of the Gods is one of the most photographed places in Colorado.

This park is home to stunning red rock formations which are totally free to visit.

You can take a slow drive through the park and get out to take pictures, or go for a relaxing hike.

We recommend checking out the Nature & Visitor center for a free tour of the museum.

Then, walk out onto the balcony for some of the most breath-taking views of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak.

3. The Breckenridge Troll

the breckenridge troll

Yep, Breckenridge has a troll problem, but it’s a good one!

The Breckenridge Troll is a 15-foot wooden sculpture expertly crafted by Danish artist, Thomas Dambo.

Isak Heartstone, as he is named, is located just southeast of downtown Breckenridge, by the Illinois Gulch trailhead.

You will find him along the appropriately named, Trollstigen Trail.

The trail is considered easy to moderate difficulty and goes on for about 1.25 miles.

Isak was originally built as a part of the annual Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA).

The artist, Thomas Dambo, is known worldwide for bringing awareness to recycling and upcycling by building epic sculptures and artistic items out of trash.

4. Colorado National Monument

colorado national monument

If you’re looking for one of the best places to take photos with breathtaking views, check out the Colorado National Monument.

Located near Fruita, the Colorado National Monument is the state’s mini version of the Grand Canyon.

Towering canyons and rock formations cover over 20,500 acres and can be over 450 feet tall.

Be sure to bring your camera and be on the lookout for mule deer, bighorn sheep, eagles, coyotes, prairie dogs, and other ground animals.

One of the best ways to see the area is to drive along Rim Rock Drive and stop at the many overlooks along the way.

You can also explore the endless hiking and biking trails, like Devil’s Kitchen which is an easy out-and-back trail. 

But beware that there are moderate elevation changes that can be more than 1,000 feet high.

5. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

cheyenne mountain sky ride colorado springs

Voted the 6th best zoo in the country, in 2019, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is another must-see.

This is one of the only zoos in America where it is built into a mountain, and is a bit of a hike to see.

It offers panoramic views of Colorado Springs below and rustic animal exhibits. It really feels like the animals are in a natural environment.

The zoo was founded in 1926 by Spencer Penrose to house his growing collection of exotic animals.

After he died he deeded it over to the city of Colorado Springs in 1938 as a public zoo.

We highly recommend going on the Mountaineer Sky Ride gondola which is a short chair lift ride up and back down the mountain.

You can stop at the top for photos or let the kids play in the small play area.

6. The Great Sand Dunes

The Great Sand Dunes is a National Park and Preserve just outside Alamosa, Colorado in the San Luis Valley.

The dunes exist here because long ago there was a lake that covered almost all the Valley.

But due to climate change, the lake suddenly disappeared and all that was left was lots and lots of sand.

There are so many things to do when visiting the Great Sand Dunes, including hiking, biking, sandboarding, and sand sledding.

Fun fact: the Great Sand Dunes are home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. It’s true, the Star Dune is over 700 feet tall.

7. Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument

florissant fossil beds colorado

The Florissant Fossil Beds is a national monument that has fields of petrified redwood stumps (sometimes getting up to 14 feet wide!).

Plus, you’ll find thousands of insect and plant fossils.

The fossil beds are located just west of Woodland Park, near Colorado Springs, and north of Cripple Creek near Lake George.

It is believed that this area used to be an ancient lakebed, making the fossils well preserved because of the volcanic ash from a nearby volcanic field.

It is still an ongoing site for paleontological activity and investigations.

In 2019 the national park celebrated its 50th anniversary and started undergoing an expansion to include more hiking trails

8. The Dillon Ice Castles

Ice Castles Trip

The Ice Castles in Dillon are back for winter 2020, and we couldn’t be more excited!

These giant ice sculptures are only one of six other ice castles in cities across the country.

The castles are all hand built by ice artists and thousands of LED lights to give them a glow at night.

You can also find things like ice slides, thrones, and sculptures available when visiting.

You can go on weekends during the day or during weekdays at night.

The sculptures make for an awesome place to get some family, wedding or other photos done.

And be sure to bundle up as this experience is completely outdoors and is completely made of ice!

9. The Royal Gorge Bridge

royal gorge suspension bridge

The Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge outside Canon City is quite a spectacular thing to behold.

It is a somewhat terrifying, but an amazing experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

In fact, the number one bucket list item for visiting Colorado is the Royal Gorge suspension bridge.

It’s the tallest suspension bridge in the U.S. at 1,250 feet at its highest point off the canyon floor.

Even though we visited the bridge back in 2018 we are planning to visit it again this year! And will be doing a jeep tour of the canyon too.

The drive there from Denver or Colorado Springs is actually pretty pleasant.

The area is a valley so you are surrounded by mountains that protect the Bridge from harsh weather conditions.

This makes it a great place to visit year round!

10. Glenwood Springs

visit hot springs

Colorado is full of hot mineral springs that naturally pop out of the ground at very warm temperatures.

Our favorite destination is the hot springs pool at Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

It is home to the largest mineral hot springs pool and produces over 3.5 million gallons of water a day.

The resort has upgraded the pool with a lazy river ride for the entire family and fountains for kids to play in during the summer months.

A local favorite hot springs is Pagosa Springs, which we currently have been on our bucket list.

Or check out the Dunton Hot Springs Resort.

This was originally an old mining town where they turned the old buildings and structures into cabins for a nice resort feel.

11. Saint Elmo Ghost Town

dearfield colorado

Colorado has countless ghost towns and gold rush mining stories. And one of the best ways to experience them is by visiting Saint Elmo.

St. Elmo is one of the best preserved and most easily accessed ghost towns in Colorado.

It actually feels like you’re on the set of an old movie!

The main street features 43 buildings near Chalk Creek Canyon, including a saloon, courthouse and jail, and many private homes.

And the ghost town is not totally abandon as there is the St. Elmo General Store you can stop by for snacks, antiques, and souvenirs.

Or spend the night at the local bed and breakfast, Ghost Town Guest House.

12. Mesa Verde National Park

Southwest Colorado is a remote gem compared to the hustle and bustle of the cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

And this is particularly true for Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde is home to the largest Archaeological Preserve in the country.

It has more than 5000 points of interest and 600 cliff dwellings (which is really what it’s known for).

The cliff dwellings are as they sound… literal buildings built into the side of cliffs under overhangs.

The cliff dwellings were built and occupied nearly 1,000 years ago but were abandoned for unknown reasons.

They weren’t rediscovered by Europeans until the 1800’s despite many passing through the area but simply not having the right angle to see the dwellings.

13. Crested Butte

colorado festivals wildflowers

Home to the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival that happens in mid July each year, this is another popular Colorado bucket list item.

The wildflowers can be seen from spring through fall.

In the summer they have mountain biking, hiking, fishing, climbing, horseback riding, river rafting, kayaking, and more.

If you prefer to visit during the winter, there are plenty of things to do this time of year as well.

You can ski and snowboard, enjoy sleigh and horseback rides, snowshoeing, and ice skating.

But the wildflower fields and gorgeous green hills make for beautiful summer experiences and one-of-a kind photos.

Crested Butte is even know as the “Wildflower Capital of the World” and has been around since 1986.

14. Denver’s Union Station

denver union station

Denver’s Union Station is a 100 year old landmark located in the city’s downtown area.

It has been renovated and updated in a way that still captures the history of the past but has many modern features.

It is a historic feature you don’t want to miss!

You can shop at the station’s Great Hall with retail stores, eat award-winning food prepared by local Colorado chefs, or stay at the historic Crawford hotel.

We enjoy going into the station to have coffee and take in the sites during the cold winter months.

15. Red Rocks Amphitheater

Red Rocks Amphitheater

The Red Rocks Amphitheater is another iconic concert venue that’s hosted bands and musicians from Daft Punk to the Beatles.

The natural rock formations in the area make this outdoor amphitheater the perfect stage for acoustics.

We recommend going to see this venue at least twice — once in the daytime and the other at night.

Either way, it’s definitely an experience you’ll never forget.

If you don’t want to see a performance there, the park also has lots of hiking trails, and offers fitness and yoga sessions throughout the year.

16. Durango-Silverton Train

Located in the southwest corner of the state, Durango is a former mining town. And it offers a stunning steam train ride through the mountains of Colorado.

The train winds in and out of the mountains for three hours with views of Colorado’s vast landscapes.

The Durango-Silverton train makes a stop in Silverton, where you’ll take a step back in time.

You can visit a real old-west mountain mining village, with all of the history over the years. It is a great experience for kids and adults alike!

17. Hanging Lake

hanging lake colorado

It’s important to know that Hanging Lake is a VERY POPULAR destination and on nearly everyone’s bucket list.

So, take that into consideration when visiting this place.

But it is perfectly named because of its cliffside location, lush landscape, and pristine green water. You probably haven’t seen anything else like it!

Located right outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado makes it a nice day trip experience for any avid hiker.

You do need to make a reservation to visit as there are limited spots available each day.

18. The Continental Divide

continental divide colorado

A popular point of interest in Colorado is the Continental Divide, or the Great Divide.

The spine of this mountain range cuts through all of North and South America, starting in Alaska and going all the way down to Patagonia in Chile and Argentina.

From the top of this ridge, all water flows down either to the west coast or to the east.

You can drive through and visit this area of the mountains from Divide, Colorado or driving on I-70 into the mountains.

A popular drive is Trail Ridge Road which starts in Estes Park in the Rocky Mountain National Park area, and crosses the Great Divide.

This route is the highest continuous vehicle road in the country and should definitely not be missed.

19. Maroon Bells

the maroon bells

Have you ever seen a generic picture of Colorado’s mountains? This is mostly likely a photo of Maroon Bells!

Located in White River National Forest, Maroon Bells is about 10 miles from Aspen, Colorado.

It does require a bit of a hike to get to Maroon Valley.

But once you arrive you will see a beautiful reflective lake with two towering snow peaks — Maroon Peak and North Maroon peak.

Don’t be surprised if you see fields of wildflowers and wild animals in the summertime. And pictures can never do this place justice!

20. Paint Mines Interpretive Park

colorful hoodoos at paint mines park

If you are looking for a unique non-mountain Colorado experience, check out the Paint Mines Interpretive Park.

This is very unique it is actually out east on the plains instead of heading west into the mountains.

The park showcases painted rocks that are made up of layers of different colored rocks.

These rocks have varying degrees of iron oxidized in them that have been exposed to weather over thousands of years, giving it layers of different colors.

The park is actually located in the same county as Colorado springs, El Paso county via Highway 24 going out east from the Springs.

Fun fact: the Paint Mines rocks were used by the Native Americans for creating different shades of colors for painting.

21. Pikes Peak in Pike National Forest

pikes peak at garden of the gods

Pikes Peak is called America’s Mountain and is America’s most famous mountain because it was the inspiration behind “America the Beautiful”.

Yep, the “purple mountain majesties” part of the song is talking about Pikes Peak! And you really can ascend above the clouds here.

It is one of Colorado’s fourteeners, and you can bike up and down the mountain, hike the trails, or take a drive.

There is also a shuttle service to the top you can ride, or is mandatory for travelers during peak seasons due to limited parking at the top.

At the top is a visitor center and a View House where you can check out the amazing views from 360 degrees.

It is very high up so be careful of getting altitude sickness or if you are scared of heights.

Another thing to watch out for are the mandatory brake checks while driving down.

Taking your time when driving down the mountain as slow as steady is the best policy here.

There are so many things to do no matter how long you have lived in Colorado. And makes it difficult to know where to start.

Use this as a guide for your Colorado bucket list and enjoy your next year of living in this awesome state!

Carrie Smith Nicholson is one of the co-founders of Hashtag Colorado Life. After living in Texas for her whole life she moved to Colorado 5 years ago. As a travel blogger and entrepreneur for the past 10 years, her writing has been featured on NBC News, HuffPost Live, Glamour Magazine, Inc Magazine and many other media outlets. When she's not writing about new travel locations, she enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, camping in her NuCamp teardrop trailer, and trying new foods. You can follow her outdoor adventures on Instagram, @hashtagcoloradolife.