Colorado is peppered with 42 state parks that offer a wealth of activities among spectacular backdrops of natural beauty. Often overshadowed by the state’s four national parks — including Rocky Mountain National Park, the fourth-most visited national park in the country — these parks beckon not only with scenic hiking trails and campgrounds under shady forest canopies, but conditions that are perfect for other outdoor pursuits.
Whether you’re a geology geek, paddleboarder or rock climber, there’s a state park for you. We’ve chosen nine, highlighting activities for each. It’s just a sampling of what the state has to offer, but a great place to start exploring.
1. Barr Lake State Park
Good for: Bird watchers, cyclists, hikers, kayakers, canoers
There’s something for every type of outdoors person at Barr Lake State Park in Brighton. Cyclists of all ages and abilities, hikers and horseback riders enjoy the level 8.8 mile multi-use trail that circles the lake, passing by several wildlife viewing stations and the parks’ wildlife refuge. More than 350 species of birds have been spotted at the park. Fishermen and boaters, including kayakers and canoers, enjoy the lake’s calm waters as well. Powerboats are limited to electric trolling or motors of 10 horsepower or less.
2. Pearl Lake State Park
Good for: Paddleboarders, kayakers, canoers
Thirty miles north of Steamboat Springs, Pearl Lake is a serene getaway set in a quiet mountain valley below often-snow-capped Farwell Mountain. Though small — just 170 acres — this park is noted for water sports on the 105-acre lake where boats are not allowed to create wakes. No wonder paddleboarders love it — particularly the boat ramp cove that’s protected from the wind.
3. Roxborough State Park
Good for: Geology and history buffs
Roxborough is just a short drive southwest of Denver. A landscape of dramatic, red sandstone monoliths and spires formed some 300 million years ago attracts geology geeks. One of the oldest outcrops is the Fountain Formation with rocky slabs jutting up at a 60-degree angle. Their red color results from the iron content in the clay that’s holding the sand together. Not quite as old as the Fountain, the Lyons Formation — which is lighter in color due to the amount of quartz — developed from ancient sand dunes becoming fossilized. A good hiking loop to access views for both formations is the moderate, 2.5-mile Fountain Valley Trail.
4. Eleven Mile State Park
Good for: Anglers, kayakers, canoers
Eleven Mile State Park, located in Park County, 11 miles south of Lake George, is defined by its 3,400-acre reservoir that’s rimmed by rock outcrops and wetlands. No matter where you gaze, you’ll have grand views of the Collegiate Peaks. If you’re an angler, you’ll be more than satisfied with fishing Eleven Mile Reservoir, whether by boat or along the shoreline. No matter where you cast from, you can snag trout (rainbow, cutthroat, brown) — sometimes quite large — as well as pike and kokanee.
5. Eldorado Canyon State Park
Good for: Rock climbers, wildlife fans
Boulder County’s own Eldorado Canyon State Park is a magnet for climbers from across the country and around the world. They come to tackle the hundreds of technical routes along sandstone cliffs that rise up to 700 feet. This is a place for traditional climbing routes, where you use your own removable gear. Skillful climbers will want to check out the Naked Edge, an iconic, 5.11 technical climb with significant exposure, a chimney, finger cracks and other intriguing features.
6. Mueller State Park
Good for: Equestrian, mountain bikers
Whether you’re in the saddle of a mountain bike or a horse, Pikes Peak, Mount Ouray and Pahlone Peak all provide stunning views in 5,000-acre Mueller State Park. The park is studded with aspen, blue spruce and pine trees and has a network of more than 44 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Check out the Livery Trail that wanders through the less-traveled southern section of the park to the placid, cattail-rimmed School Pond.
7. Jackson Lake State Park
Good for: Stargazers, bird watchers
Jackson Lake State Park in western Morgan County is one of the best venues in Colorado for stargazing. It is the state park system’s only official International Dark Sky site. Both expert and amateur astronomers gravitate here, where the calm lake reflects the glow of the stars in the tranquil night. For clear views, set up your telescope either in the marina parking area or, if you’re camping, in the Northview campground. In summer you’ll spot the constellations of Andromeda, Virgo and Scorpius and other celestial objects.
8. Rifle Falls State Park
Good for: Waterfall enthusiasts, casual cave explorers
Rifle Falls, northeast of Rifle, is Colorado’s smallest state park — barely 50 acres — yet it has a well-earned reputation for its stunning waterfalls. Visitors are enamored with the triple cascades, each dropping about 70 feet over a moss-covered limestone cliff. To observe the falls from different angles — and to see them close up — hike the Coyote Trail along the right side of the falls. This trail also gives you access to several small limestone caves that will especially delight young hikers.
9. Lory State Park
Good for: Mountain bikers, wildflower fans
Criss-crossed with 21 miles of trails to delight mountain bikers, Lory State Park has something for every skill level. (Most of the routes allow bikers to share the trail with equestrians and hikers.) A popular intermediate/advanced mountain biking loop combines the Timber, Howard and West Valley trails for almost nine miles of exhilarating singletrack. Pedal on tight switchbacks, climbing steeply through pine forest, and then tackle a challenging descent. The Corral Center Mountain Bike Park will also appeal to thrill-seekers with its dirt jumps and a circuit of banked turns. Novices can also tackle the Bike Park section that allows them to hone their skills.
For a complete list of state parks, visit cpw.state.co.us/ .
–Denver Post, The Know and Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Family Activities Backpacks: Four Easy Steps to Adventure
Check out a state park pass and backpack from the Longmont Library at 409 Fourth Ave.
- Use the pass to get into a state park for FREE.
- Use the backpack to explore and learn. The backpack includes binoculars, a wildlife viewing guide, a Colorado bird guide, a tree and wildflower identification guide, a start guide, a park brochure, suggested activities list and the Leave No Trace outdoor ethics principles.
- Share a photo with #CheckOutColorado on Twitter or Instagram.
Visit longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-e-m/library/bags-kits and click on “Check Out Colorado State Park Passes Kits” for more information.