A Guide to Colorado’s National Parks

By Lex Griggs

Colorado is home to some of the best parks in the country, and many of them are only a few hours from the Colorado College campus. National parks are a great way to learn about the history and diversity of the landscape, and with four national parks in Colorado, you are sure to find one that will make your road trip more exciting. Parks have a small entrance fee, or you can purchase an annual pass for just $80 if you are planning on visiting different parks multiple times.
Located near Estes Park, Colo. About three hours from campus, Rocky Mountain National Park is perfect for a weekend away from campus or for a Block Break. The park has over 300 miles of hiking trails to explore, with lake hikes, waterfall hikes, and summit trails. With trails ranging from less than half a mile to over six miles, every hiker can find a hike that suits their needs.
RMNP also boasts five campgrounds, some that can be reserved and others that are first come, first served. Most of the campgrounds are open year-round and have seasonal amenities, such as staff on-site, vault toilets, and firewood for sale. Reservable campsites are typically booked well in advance, so if you find a site you want, make sure you reserve it early.

Photo by Bibi Powers

Located roughly six hours from campus in the southwest corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park offers a look into the archeological history of the Southwest, with over 5,000 archeological sites to visit. A museum within the park guides you through the history and landscape of the park, where the Ancestral Pueblo people lived for over 700 years. You can also sign up for a tour of the park at the museum, where a ranger will take you on a hike to the best sites the park has to offer.
Located four and a half hours west of campus, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers a look into the cliffs shaped by the Gunnison River that runs across the western part of Colorado. The park’s rugged terrain makes it the perfect place for hiking, scenic drives, rock climbing, and seeing wildlife, while the river makes it accessible for kayaking and fishing. If you are planning on hiking down to the river, be aware that routes are considered extremely strenuous due to the terrain, so come prepared. The Visitor Center offers daily “Geology Walks” where you can learn more about the formation of the canyon, as well as daily “Night Sky Viewing” with a telescope area. There are also three campgrounds with reservable and first come, first served sites.
Colorado’s national parks are home to a vast diversity of landscapes and learning opportunities. Making the trip to one of the parks for a weekend or break is a great way to get outside and see more of Colorado, as well as to learn about the state’s history.

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