With more public recreation areas going to some variation of timed-entry permit reservation systems, it takes a bit more to plan trips this summer.
The thought behind timed-entry permits is to address overcrowding and protect visitor experiences as well as resources, an equation further complicated the worker shortage faced by many public lands.
Rocky Mountain National Park draws the most visitors by far — 4.5 million annually — and can still be accessed at certain times of the day without a permit.
But if you don’t want to mind those times or hassle with timed-entry permit reservations, Colorado offers many options where you don’t need to reserve a spot to bask in the natural splendor.
But if you do head to Rocky:How to book Rocky Mountain National Park timed-entry permits in 2022
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is known for its incredible collection of dwellings and petroglyphs among its mesas and cliffs that capture the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people.
Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon is famous for its spectacular scenery punctuated by a deep, steep and narrow canyon, which draws comparison on a smaller scale to the Grand Canyon.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes is uniquely odd with the tallest sand dunes in North America juxtaposed with the towering Rocky Mountains.
Northern Colorado fishing woes:Poudre River trout population devastated by last year’s Black Hollow flood, officials confirm
Hovenweep National Monument
Mesa Verde’s lesser-known cousin is Hovenweep National Monument, which is an hour’s drive from Mesa Verde. Remains of ancestral Puebloan villages dot the dessert and canyon rims while petroglyphs are hidden among sparsely visited trails that wind among the rugged landscape.
If you want to ditch Mesa Verde’s crowds, this is the place to go.
Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs’ Gardens of the Gods is another to-do in Colorado with trails taking visitors up close to its awe-inspiring rock spires and formations.
Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument
Colorado is home to many breathtaking drives and Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction is among the best.
The 23-mile paved road is not for the faint of heart as the road twists and turns with sheer drop-offs with no shoulder. Good thing there are ample pull-offs to allow you to safely take in sheer-wall red rock canyons, monoliths and bighorn sheep.
Trails on the canyon floor offer a more personal view of the rock formations.
Feeling a little bit more adventurous? Check out nearby but difficult to access Rattlesnake/Mee Canyons.
It’s 13 miles of bumpy four-wheel-drive road to get to the heart of Rattlesnake’s 35 arches, the world’s second-largest concentration of arches outside of Utah’s Arches National Park, but worth it to those who seek solitude.
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.