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15 Best National and State Parks Near Denver, CO

Known for its majestic peaks and rugged beauty, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most iconic national parks in the U.S. It also happens to be a quick 1.5-hour drive from Denver—but that’s just the beginning of what the area around Colorado’s capital has to offer. 

The Centennial State is packed with breathtaking sites, from the colossal sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to the nesting bald eagles of Barr Lake State Park. Read on to learn more about the 15 best national and state parks near Denver.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Image by Mark Newman

Where: Larimer, Boulder, and Grand Counties, Colorado

What to expect: The third most popular national park in the country, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in the Rocky Mountains. Take a scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road, which crosses the Continental Divide. Spot grazing elk and bighorn sheep. Discover over 300 miles of hiking trails. Try your hand at climbing some of the state’s most impressive peaks. 

Size: 415 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, visitor center, ranger-led programs, concessions, stables and shuttles and hiking, cycling and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are allowed on a leash in specific areas.

Accessibility: Accessible trails are limited, however the park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including all-terrain wheelchairs.

2. Browns Canyon National Monument

Image by USDA Forest Service

Where: Chaffee County, Colorado

What to expect: Declared a National Monument in 2015, this pristine tract of wilderness is best explored  by whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River. Rush over Class IV and V rapids, then stick around to hike through the canyon’s rugged cliff and river corridor. Browns Canyon represents one of the only undisturbed riparian ecosystems in the region, providing an important migration route for birds as well as a habitat for mule deer, black bears, bighorn sheep and golden eagles.

Size: 34 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps and hiking trails

Pets policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible rafting operators and campgrounds.

3. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Image by Cavan Images

Where: Saguache and Alamosa Counties, Colorado

What to expect: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is close to three hours away from Denver, but the drive is more than worth it to see the tallest sand dunes in North America. Climb up the towering dunes—the biggest, Star and Hidden, are tied at 741 feet—then slide down on a sand board or sand sled. Exhilarating! 

Size: 234 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, visitor center, picnic areas, hiking trails and ranger-led programs

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome in some areas.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including a hardened, accessible trail and sand wheelchairs.

4. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Image by Peter Unger

Where: Teller County, Colorado

What to expect: One of the most intriguing parks in the state, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument showcases Colorado’s diverse fossil deposits of insects and plants. Hike through petrified redwood tree stumps—some up to 14 feet wide—and picture what these giants looked like during the late Eocene period.

Size: 9.4 square miles

Amenities: Visitor center, exhibits, guided tours, concessions, picnic areas and hiking trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome in some areas.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible exhibits and assisted-listening devices.

5. Eldorado Canyon State Park

Image by Welcomia

Where: Boulder County, Colorado

What to expect: Eldo, as the locals call it, is heaven for rock climbers, with more than 500 technical climbing routes. If you prefer to stay grounded, enjoy a hike along the canyon walls or a picnic on South Boulder Creek.

Size: 1.4 square miles

Amenities: Visitor center, junior ranger program and picnic areas and equestrian, cycling and hiking trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible trail.

6. Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Chaffee County, Colorado

What to expect: One of the most popular whitewater rafting destinations in the entire country, this park includes all 150 miles of the Colorado portion of the mighty Arkansas River. Experience the thrill of riding Class II to V rapids, many of which start out of the Buena Vista entry point.

Size: 9.7 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, boat ramps, amphitheater, visitor center and picnic areas and hiking, biking and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and camping.

7. State Forest State Park

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Jackson and Larimer Counties, Colorado

What to expect: Nestled next to Rocky Mountain National Park, this lesser known jewel is worth a special trip for outstanding snowshoeing and skiing (cross-country and downhill) with epic XC trails and black diamond peaks. It’s also an epic spot for moose sightings—more than 600 of the animals call the park home.

Size: 111 square miles 

Amenities: Campgrounds, boat ramps, amphitheater, cabins and yurts, visitor center, picnic areas, stables, fishing piers and showshow rentals and hiking, biking, skiing and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: This park has limited accessibility.

8. Mueller State Park

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Teller County, Colorado

What to expect: The site of a working cattle ranch until 1978, this park at the foothills of Pikes Peak became a conservation success story when its owner turned his land over to the state. Today its 50 miles of trails—many of them original ranch roads—are ideal for spotting wildlife, including mule deer, migratory birds and a 200-head elk herd.

Size: 8 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, amphitheater, cabins and yurts, visitor center, picnic areas, horse trailer parking and a playground and hiking, biking, skiing and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome in some areas.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and campsites.

9. Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Image by Education Images/Contributor

Where: Gilpin and Jefferson Counties, Colorado

What to expect: Boasting more than more than 12,000 sprawling acres of aspen groves, rocky peaks, wildflower meadows and pine forests, Golden Gate Canyon offers just about any outdoor activity you can think of, such as biking, fishing, hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing. With all that space, there are plenty of campsites, too, including yurts, cabins, and the historic Harmsen Ranch Guest House.

Size: 19 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, amphitheater, cabins and yurts, picnic areas, visitor center and stables and cycling, equestrian and hiking trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including picnic areas and an accessible trail.

10. Roxborough State Park

Image by Cyrus McCrimmon/Contributor

Where: Douglas County, Colorado

What to expect: Designated a natural landmark in 1980, Roxborough is known for its towering red sandstone formations, formed by billions of years of erosion. Hike through the unique ecosystems and keep an eye out for rare birds like Cooper’s Hawks and Western Tanagers—the park is one of the Audubon Society’s “Important Bird Areas.”

Size: 5.2 square miles

Amenities: Amphitheater, visitor center, picnic areas and guided programs and hiking and skiing trails 

Pet policy: Dogs are not allowed.

Accessibility: This park has limited accessibility.

11. Lory State Park

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Larimer County, Colorado

What to expect: An enchanting mix of ponderosa pine forests, rock outcroppings and wildflower meadows, nature doesn’t get much more picturesque than at Lory State Park. Explore by hiking Arthur’s Rock, an iconic summit with panoramic views, or by horseback riding along over 20 miles of meandering trails.

Size: 3.9 square miles

Amenities: Campsites, picnic areas and visitor center and hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: This park has limited accessibility.

12. Barr Lake State Park

Image by Glenn Martin/Contributor

Where: Adams County, Colorado

What to expect: Known as “the oasis of the prairie,” 2,000-acre Barr Lake serves as the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and provides refuge for around 350 bird species, including nesting bald eagles and blue herons. Enjoy a guided nature tour or head out onto the water for some boating and fishing.

Size: 4.2 square miles

Amenities: Archery range, boat ramps, guided tours, fishing piers, picnic areas and a visitor center and hiking, cycling and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including an accessible fishing pier and picnic areas.

13. White River National Forest

Image by Robert Alexander/Contributor

Where: Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Summit, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Gunnison, Routt, and Moffat Counties, Colorado

What to expect: Located in the heart of the Rockies, this massive National Forest boasts 11 ski resorts, 10 peaks over 14,000 feet and eight wilderness areas—and that’s just the beginning. This is where you’ll find some of Colorado’s most popular natural sites, including Hanging Lake and the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

Size: 3,571 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, picnic areas, historic sites, visitor centers, ranger-led programs and concessions and hiking, cycling, skiing and equestrian trails

Pet policy: Varies by destination

Accessibility: Varies by destination

14. Eleven Mile State Park

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Park County, Colorado

What to expect: This 3,400-acre reservoir is a true escape for watersports enthusiasts. Go fishing for brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout, paddle around in a kaya, or rent a motorboat. There’s also hiking and backcountry campsites.

Size: 12 square miles

Amenities: Campgrounds, amphitheater, boat ramps, marina, boat rental, picnic areas and visitor center and hiking and cycling trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: This park has limited accessibility.

15. Chatfield State Park

Image by Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Where: Douglas and Jefferson Counties, Colorado

What to expect: Located just outside the Denver metropolitan area, Chatfield State Park proves you don’t have to go far from the city to find wide open spaces in Colorado. The park is a popular destination for horseback riding, boating, hiking and—wait for it—hot-air ballooning.

Size: 6 square miles

Amenities: Boat ramps, campgrounds, swim beach, picnic areas, boat rental, marina and stables and cycling, equestrian and hiking trails

Pet policy: Dogs are welcome but must be on a leash.

Accessibility: The park offers a variety of accessible amenities, including accessible trails and campgrounds.

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