Compiling a list of Colorado’s most picturesque places is as difficult as a book enthusiast naming his or her all-time favorite novels—there are too many great options to choose from!
Despite the difficulty, some of these locations just can’t be beat and are even relatively easy to reach. No, there’s no need for your snowshoes, ice pick and overnight bag in order to get to these scenic perches. A few of our top picks are even fully accessible by car, like the red rock spires at Garden of the Gods, the town of Telluride and two beautiful drives: Mount Evans Scenic Byway and San Juan Skyway.
If hiking is your thing, however, visiting Hanging Lake requires a short trek from the parking lot, some of the best views of Roxborough Park are found along the trails, and the difficult Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak is the distance of a full marathon—26 miles—round-trip (don’t worry, non-hikers may ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway or drive Pikes Peak Highway all the way up to the summit instead).
Our 13 most picturesque places are perfect for any travel itinerary, and should all be visited at least once in a lifetime.
Five large sandstone rock formations border the city of Boulder to the west and are a feature focal point of the city. Hikers and rock climbers take to the trails surrounding the mountains located within Chautauqua Park, as do photographers.
Best time to take a photo: Get the camera ready in May when wildflowers are in full bloom at the base of the mountains, or don your winter weather gear to get a shot of the snow-covered ridges—Both times of year produce stunning shots.
How to get there: From Denver, take Interstate 25 north to US Route 36 toward Boulder. Exit Baseline Road and head west to the Chautauqua Trailhead or Gregory Canyon Road/Gregory Canyon Trailhead.
12.) Pikes Peak
One of the most well known 14ers (Colorado’s mountains rising above 14,000 feet in elevation) frames Colorado Springs and is accessible by foot, car and railway. The 26-mile round-trip Barr Trail, the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway all lead to the 14,115-foot summit.
Best time to take a photo: There’s no bad time of year for photos atop Pikes Peak—the views are incredible during any season, but be sure to check weather conditions to ensure your desired route is clear. For the most colorful photos along the journey to the top, plan to visit late September for sights of the colorful aspen leaves.
How to get there: Pikes Peak Highway is 1.5 hours south of Denver. Take Interstate 25 south to US Route 24 to Pikes Peak Highway. For the Cog Railway Depot and Barr Trail, follow Route 24 to the Manitou Springs exit, go west on Manitou Avenue and take the second right (Ruxton Avenue) at the traffic circle.
11.) Bear Lake
Search for the right camera angle along the half-mile trail around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, or find a perch just steps from the parking lot. The sparkling waters provide radiant reflections off of the high-altitude lake. BONUS: For a real treat, visit at dawn or twilight in fall months when large numbers of male elks congregate to bugle as they court females and challenge other bull elks.
Best time to take a photo: Get there early in the morning during summer months to avoid the crowds and to take advantage of the best lighting.
How to get there: From Denver, take Interstate 25 north to US Highway 36 toward Boulder. Turn left on Bear Lake Road (past Estes Park) and follow for nine miles to the parking lot.
This town is nothing short of magical. It may not be located in the Swiss Alps, but this just might be the next best thing.
Best time to take a photo: There’s never a bad time to pull out the camera here. The snow-covered mountains and town may be preferred by some, while others may opt for the fall aspens, the summer wildflowers, live music festivals or vantage points from the gondola.
How to get there: Telluride is a 6.5-hour drive from Denver, located in southeastern Colorado.
9.) San Juan Skyway
The 230-mile loop travels through the San Juan Mountains and some of the state’s most beautiful landscapes. Pass through the towns of Ouray, Silverton and Durango, and get a glimpse of more than a dozen of the state’s 14ers, along with crystal clear lakes and expansive forests and fields.
Best time to take a photo: Capture wildflowers in bloom in May and June or the aspen colors in September. NOTE: Driving time to complete the San Juan Skyway loop is an estimated five to six hours, so you could potentially complete the full trip in one day, but an overnight stay would be well worth it.
How to get there: From Denver, the closest starting point is a five-hour drive to Ridgeway, where US Highway 550 meets Colorado State Highway 62.
8.) Roxborough State Park
Views of the majestic rock formations located just south of Denver are conveniently enjoyed from the visitor center and nearby Fountain Valley Overlook. For those who wish to dig deeper into the 4,000-acre park, trails are fit for any level of hiker, and the 6.4-mile “moderate” Carpenter Peak route provides panoramic photo ops at the trail’s summit.
Best time to take a photo: Though the snow-covered spires are a sight worth seeing, we think the best time to photograph Roxborough State Park is during the summer months. Deep and vibrant greens of the surrounding vegetation give a drastic contrast to the red rock formations.
How to get there: From Denver, take Broadway/Santa Fe Drive/US Route 85 south to West Titan Road/North Rampart Range Road. Turn left on Roxborough Park Road, right on Roxborough Drive and follow to the visitor center.
7.) Zapata Falls
Zapata Falls is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just a few miles from our No. 3 pick. A half-mile hike from the parking lot takes visitors along a rocky route and through chilly waters to a private, stunning 25-foot waterfall.
Best time to take a photo: Anytime of the year provides photo-friendly views of the falls, but the most spectacular images are snapped during winter months when the falls appear frozen in time. For this shot, be sure to come prepared with the proper winter hiking gear. BONUS: Wildlife photographers are in for a treat as the American black swift bird nests here.
How to get there: The drive from Denver to Zapata Falls is just shy of four hours. Take Interstate 25 south to US Highway 160 west (exit 50) to Colorado State Highway 150 north. Look for the Zapata Falls Recreational Area sign, take a right and follow the road to the parking lot.
6.) Mount Evans
This 14er is especially unique, as it is one of the most accessible. It is in close proximity to Denver, and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway allows visitors to travel to the summit by car. The byway is the highest paved road in North America, and passes a variety of terrain along the route including ancient trees, lakes, forest and land above timberline. Adventurous hikers choose from a variety of trails up and around the Mount Evans Recreation Area ranging from 1 mile to 17 miles in length.
Best time to take a photo: The road is open seasonally, generally beginning around the end of May. Visit mid-September through the beginning of October for the colorful aspen leaves, but keep in mind that the last 5 miles of the byway close after the season’s first significant snowfall. BONUS: Hang out above timberline long enough and you’ll likely see a mountain goat!
How to get there: From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to Colorado State Highway 103. Follow Highway 103 to Echo Lake and continue on Colorado State Highway 5/Mount Evans Scenic Byway/Mount Evans Road.
5.) Hanging Lake
One of the most popular hikes in Colorado leads to a pristine turquoise lake surrounded by a hanging garden and waterfalls. Swimming—even entering the water—is prohibited, which helps keep this National Natural Landmark well preserved.
Best time to take a photo: Early morning or late afternoon, in order to avoid direct sunlight. BONUS: Along the Hanging Lake trail, you will encounter a short off-shoot trail to Spouting Rock Waterfalls for a few more photos.
How to get there: Hanging Lake is a “difficult” (steep and rocky), 2.4-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead with nearly 1,000 feet in elevation gain. Getting to the trailhead from Denver is a little tricky since the interstate exit is only accessible from the opposite direction. Take Interstate 70 west to Grizzly Creek, then head eastbound on Interstate 70 to Hanging Lake.
4.) Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
Music lovers and outdoor enthusiasts unite at this natural amphitheater and recreation area. The magical atmosphere is almost captured in the live performance photographs here—almost. And active bodies find plenty of places to snap a photo around the red rock monoliths along Trading Post Trail and Red Rocks Trail.
Best time to take a photo: Photography at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre runs the gamut. Our favorite images are of the performance lights against Ship Rock and Creation Rock during a live nighttime show, and of the Denver skyline captured in the distance—all taken from the steps of the amphitheater.
How to get there: Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is only a 25-minute drive from Denver. Take US Highway 6 west to Interstate 70 west, exit County Road 93 and follow to Alameda Parkway, to Trading Post Road.
3.) Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Where else can you see Saharan Desert-like sand dunes with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains? These sand dunes, located northeast of the town of Alamosa in southern Colorado, are the tallest in North America and are bordered by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (part of the Rocky Mountains) and Medano Creek.
Best time to take a photo: The sunlight within the first couple hours after sunrise and in late afternoon tends to highlight the sand dunes best. Spring and summer are great seasons to visit—though beware of afternoon thunderstorms and dangerously hot temps during summer months—and the fall colors are captured around late-September. Fewer visitors in winter months provide vast people-less views, but come prepared for extremely cold conditions.
How to get there: The drive from Denver to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve’s main parking lot and visitor center is just shy of four hours. Take Interstate 25 south from Denver to US Highway 160 west (exit 50) to Colorado State Highway 150 north.
2.) Garden of the Gods
This National Natural Landmark is a must-visit when in Colorado Springs. Find yourself immersed within the forest of natural red rock spires and precariously balanced boulders—there are photo ops in every direction.
Best time to take a photo: Spectacular photos of Garden of the Gods are captured year round, but we recommend April through September. You might be able to catch a final snow dusting in April before the wildflowers bloom in May for the summer months; the aspens begin to change into their beautiful gold leaves mid-September. You may also spot Rocky Mountain Goats or bighorn sheep perched on foothill ridges.
How to get there: From Denver, take Interstate 25 south to Fillmore Street (exit 145) in Colorado Springs, head west on Fillmore Street/Fontmore Road, and right on North 30th Street to the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center. From there, visitors may park and explore by foot or continue to drive along the park’s roads. Photography hot spots include the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center terrace, the North Main parking lot, the Balanced Rock parking lot and the Siamese Twins Trail.
1.) Maroon Bells
Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed peaks in North America and is only a short hop and a skip from Aspen, a popular ski resort town. Spend a few hours gazing at the mountain tops while perched aside the crystal clear lake.
Best time to take a photo: Have your camera ready at sunrise as the rays cast stunning color on the peaks.
How to get there: The road to Maroon Bells is open mid-May though mid-November, weather permitting. Because of the heavy visitor traffic, only travel by shuttle bus is permitted 8 am-5 pm from mid-June through the beginning of October. The bus departs from the base of Aspen Highlands. NOTE: You may hike the road to Maroon Bells year-round (12 miles round-trip), but be mindful of the weather conditions!