1. The Great Outdoors
Enjoying Colorado’s natural beauty is the most obvious budget-friendly option. Just-right temperatures year-round draw outdoor enthusiasts to our open lands and thousands of miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, wildlife watching, fishing and much more. Check out 99 Gorgeous Places on our interactive map for ideas on where to head first.
2. National Wildlife Refuges
Colorado is home to seven National Wildlife Refuges that are free and open to the public. The refuge system was created to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and natural areas across the country. Each of Colorado’s refuges is home to diverse ecosystems where visitors can spot everything from bison and moose to hawks and bald eagles living and nesting among some of the state’s most spectacular scenery.
3. Geologic Marvels
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison is comprised of massive, slanting red-rock outcroppings that rise from the earth to create an acoustically ideal natural amphitheater. Joggers love to run up and down the calf-burning steps (on non-concert days), hikers weave around the rock formations on a network of easy trails and all visitors enjoy the views of downtown Denver. In Colorado’s Springs’ Garden of the Gods, those who walk the trails that meander around the park’s otherworldly red-rock figures search for geologic formations in the shapes of kissing camels, cathedral spires, praying hands and sleeping giants — and a few that seem to teeter in gravity’s grip.
4. People Watching
16th Street Mall and Pearl Street Mall — in Denver and Boulder respectively — are the two most popular outdoor pedestrian malls in Colorado. They’re also the perfect place to get to know the character of these two Front Range towns. Peek in the shops, lounge on green areas and benches, and watch the local characters come and go.
5. Air Force Academy and Olympic Training Center Tours
Take in two symbols of American pride in Colorado Springs. The U.S. Air Force Academy’s visitor center and iconic chapel give you a glimpse of cadet life, academy history and the chapel’s beautiful stained-glass windows. The U.S. Olympic Training Center is home to a state-of-the-art sports medicine and science center, headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee and hundreds of training athletes. Tours include a film, the Olympic Hall of Fame and a walking tour of the complex.
6. Brewery Tours
With more than 100 breweries, Colorado’s love of beer is well established. Many around the state offer tours of their operations. See how major producers and craft brewers use the mountain spring water to make well-known varieties and seasonal blends. For a different kind of brew, Celestial Seasonings in Boulder offers free tours of its herbal tea factory.
7. Dinosaur Walks
In Picket Wire Canyonlands outside La Junta, you can stand in a three-toed impression left in the bedrock by a brontosaurus 150 million years ago. The footprints, located in North America’s largest dinosaur track site, are reached after a very flat five-mile hike, bike or horseback ride. At Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison, you can take self-guided tours (guided tours are $4) of exposed fossils and footprints, as well as the excavation sites, including the site where the world’s first stegosaurus was discovered in 1877. (For more, read Where to See the Dinosaurs of Colorado.)
8. Only-in-Colorado Events
Coloradans celebrate heritage and holidays with great pageantry. Events listed on our site range from holiday fests to historic tributes to just plain zany gatherings. Check our events page for free winter carnivals, farmers’ markets, artwalks, Oktoberfests, balloon festivals and much more, which can be searched by city, region, date and event type.
9. Scenic and Historic Byways
While driving is not technically free, you won’t have to pay admission on Colorado’s scenic and historic byways — 25 routes that pass through the Rocky Mountains, the canyons and gorges of the Western Slope and the sun-kissed prairies of the eastern plains. With so many pathways connecting the dots between historic sites and vast acres of majestic scenery, Colorado’s the best state in the union for road tripping.
10. A Taste of the Wild West
Colorado has dozens of downtown historic districts that offer a peek into the state’s rough-and-tumble past. Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Durango, Telluride, Georgetown, Manitou Springs and many others have maintained several of the buildings built in the towns’ earliest days. Check each town’s visitor center for walking tours of sites with the most storied bygones.
Photos: Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Academy; courtesy of Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitors Bureau/Steve Crecelius, Red Rocks Amphitheatre.