99 Gorgeous Places in Colorado: Part 1, The Postcard Places

In the first of three stories about iconic places to Come to Life in Colorado, we’ve rounded up 33 of the state’s most spectacular vistas (in no particular order). Point your camera’s viewfinder at these epic landscapes, and you’re practically guaranteed a postcard-worthy result.

The Maroon Bells peaks are painted yellow and blue by the fading sunlight. Their image is reflected in Maroon Lake near Aspen and Snowmass.
Maroon Bells near Aspen and Snowmass
Boulder's famous slanted Flatiron mountains rise above vast, green rolling foothills.
Boulder's famed Flatiron mountains
A rocky outcropping on a forested ridge stands in the looming shadow of the Spanish Peaks near La Veta, Colorado.
Spanish Peaks near La Veta
Two towering pinnacles of gray rock defy gravity's pull at Chimney Rock National Monument.
Towering pinnacles at Chimney Rock National Monument
A highway sign denotes the elevation of the Dallas Divide Summit. In the distance, gray snow-capped mountains stand tall over a aspen forest near Ridgway, Colorado.
Dallas Divide near Ridgway
The Pawnee Buttes are tinged orange as the sun fades rise in Pawnee National Grassland near Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Pawnee Buttes in Pawnee National Grassland near Fort Collins, Colorado
Runners race through the stairs at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The area is dominated by a giant, red rock formation at one end of the amphitheater.
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison
The waters of Grand Lake are still and calm. The lake reflects the blue sky dotted with white clouds above.
The calm waters of Grand Lake
A scenic outlook offers views of forest-covered mountains along the Independence Pass near Aspen and Leadville, Colorado. The sky above is blue and streaked with clouds.
Landscape along Independence Pass near Aspen and Leadville

Click here to read Part 2: The Local Favorites and Part 3: The Hidden Gems.

1. Maroon Lake

The Scene: An alpine lake perfectly positioned to reflect the image of the Maroon Bells, two purple-and-white-striped peaks. The idyllic display lures photographers with tripods trying to find new angles, fly fishers arcing their lines upon its placid waters and hikers humbled by the panorama. Nearby Towns: Aspen, Snowmass

2. Dallas Divide

The Scene: No other place in Colorado encompasses such a variety of settings in one view: ranch country, rolling foothills giving way to aspen, spruce and fir trees, and peaks so jagged it seems they were carved yesterday. Visitors in autumn find a rainbow of blue skies, plum-colored mountains, orange and gold leaves, and outstretched green meadows. Nearby Towns: RidgwayTelluride

3. Trappers Peak  

The Scene: Off the Flat Tops Trail and set in the Flat Tops Wilderness, just beyond serene Trapper’s Lake and a swath of 60-foot spruce trees, sits this striking plateau. Because of its level summit, hikers can walk along this most iconic Flat Top, glimpsing dozens of tiny lakes below. Nearby Towns: Meeker, Yampa

4. Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The Scene: Every spring, a wide, shallow and gently flowing creek emerges from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind Great Sand Dunes National Park to form a oasis for those waiting to build sandcastles and cool off in its divinely chilly waters. Just as quickly, come summer, the creek disappears for another year. Nearby Towns: Alamosa, Mosca

5. Pikes Peak 

The Scene: Christened America’s Mountain for its part in inspiring the words to “America the Beautiful,” Pikes Peak's 14,110-foot-high summit is busier than most of the state’s tallest peaks. It bustles with lovers of spacious skies and purple-mountain majesties who arrive via winding road or hearty hike. Nearby Towns: Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs

6. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

The Scene: Massive, slanting red-rock outcroppings rise from the earth to create the acoustically ideal natural Red Rocks Amphitheater. Hikers explore every curious crevice and concertgoers savor the crystal-clear sounds that emanate from its famous sandstone-surrounded stage. Nearby Towns: Morrison, Lakewood, Golden, Denver

7. City Park, Denver

The Scene: Looking west from the park’s lake offers a snapshot of what makes Denver such a special place. The surrounding stretch of green gives way to downtown’s skyscrapers. And beyond those, the Front Range mountains — skyscrapers of a different sort — cut through the sky, reminding residents of the playground that awaits when they leave the office. Nearby Town: Denver

8. Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

The Scene: At sunrise, the lake’s waters mirror the light show displayed on the snow-capped mountains behind it. The sun takes full advantage of the Continental Divide’s unobstructed exposure, turning the peaks inside Rocky Mountain National Park a brilliant shade of pink. Nearby Town: Estes Park

9. Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Scene: Pinkish-white veins of rock infiltrate the otherwise dark cliff face of the tallest vertical wall in Colorado. Ascending 2,300 feet from the Gunnison River, the cliff face is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s signature vista. Nearby Towns: Gunnison, Montrose, Crawford, Hotchkiss

10. Pawnee Buttes 

The Scene: Vibrant green shortgrass sways in the wind as far as the eye can see. The only interruption in the endless flat horizon is two 300-foot-high mesas, the Pawnee Buttes, visible from miles around. These “two sentinels of the plains,” as dubbed by author James Michener, are the only companions of the remote area’s pronghorns, coyotes, kit foxes, hawks and falcons. Nearby Towns: Sterling, Grover

11. Royal Gorge Bridge

The Scene: From the cars of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad — which traverses a 120-year-old route along the rushing whitewater of the Arkansas River — passengers gaze 1,200 feet up a sheer-walled canyon at North America’s highest suspension bridge, which spans the breathtaking gorge. Nearby Town: Cañon City

12. Steamboat Rock, Dinosaur National Monument

The Scene: Amid Dinosaur National Monument's red- and purple-streaked sandstone mesas and canyons, a 1,000-foot-high, mile-long monolith emerges at the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. Through the summer, rafters swing around this curve on a rollercoaster ride built by Mother Nature. Nearby Towns: Dinosaur

13. Hanging Lake

The Scene: Appearing to cling to the edge of a mountainside, the almost supernaturally green Hanging Lake is surrounded by moss-covered rocks and a meandering trail. Wisps of water cascade quietly off a cliff into the lake’s still depths, adding to an already surreal atmosphere. Nearby Town: Glenwood Springs

14. Fish Creek Falls

The Scene: The falls are spectacular any time of year, but they are most breathtaking in the spring. When temperatures rise and the snowmelt reaches its peak and winds its way downhill, water whooshes over Fish Creek’s cliff, emitting a thunderous sound and a gentle spray that serves as a cool reward to those who’ve trekked in to see the water works. Fish Creek Falls is a rare cascade in that it has an overlook that's accessible to wheelchair users. Nearby Town: Steamboat Springs

15. Grand Lake

The Scene: Each summer, the state’s largest natural lake serves as the embodiment of a bucolic, lazy day. Shore dwellers can while away an entire afternoon watching red, yellow and white sails catch the mountain wind and skitter across the sapphire-hued water, which has Rocky Mountain National Park as its backdrop. Nearby Towns: Grand Lake, Granby

16. Garden of the Gods

The Scene: Those who walk the trails that run around and between Garden of the Gods' 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. Nearby Towns: Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs

17. Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park

The Scene: Staircases, sunken niches, multistory towers and more than 150 rooms carved out of rock thousands of years ago by the area’s Ancestral Puebloans sit abandoned by their creators beneath a protective cliff inside the Mesa Verde National Park. Nearby Towns: Cortez, Dolores, Mancos

18. Mount Blue Sky

The Scene: Atop the highest paved road in North America sits Mount Blue Sky (formerly Mount Evans). The mountain's crystalline lakes, granite walls and stands of ancient bristlecone pine paint a beautiful picture, but the real draw is the mountain goats and bighorn sheep that can often be found scampering around this alpine paradise. (Closed in winter.) Nearby Town: Idaho Springs

19. Bridal Veil Falls

The Scene: The well-preserved Victorian-era town of Telluride — nestled at the foot of a box canyon — is a beguiling sight all on its own. But 365 feet above, the white spray of the state’s tallest waterfall plummets to the canyon’s depths, adding the final touch to a charming scene. Nearby Town: Telluride

20. Book Cliffs Viewpoint, Colorado National Monument

The Scene: Amid the Colorado National Monument’s countless orange-and-brown cliffs and rock formations, these cliffs attract the lion’s share of attention, calling to mind the image of a mighty giant who would deposit his treasured volumes on the world’s largest bookshelf. Nearby Towns: Grand Junction, Fruita

21. Shrine Pass

The Scene: In summer, this route dips drivers into meadow after meadow blanketed with wildflowers. Yellow daisies, coral-colored Indian paintbrush, spikes of purple lupine and fuchsia fireweed spread out in a kaleidoscope of nature’s brightest pigments. Nearby Towns: Frisco, Vail, Red Cliff

22. Crystal Mill

The Scene: Perched atop a rocky crag next to a lively waterfall and surrounded by aspens, this dark-wood mill, idle since 1917, has a romantic, ghost-town feel that makes imaginations run wild picturing what life was like there 100 years ago. (Closed in winter.) Nearby Town: Marble

23. The Flatirons

The Scene: Five reddish-gray monuments, named by pioneers for their shape, jut up from the grassy foothills to stand guard over the city of Boulder below. They also mark a sort of finish line for the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who make their way to their iconic flat faces each year. Nearby Town: Boulder

24. Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

The Scene: Climbing Trail Ridge Road — the highest paved through road in the nation — drivers have the unique ability to see all the way to Wyoming in the north, to Colorado’s vast plains and Longs Peak to the east, and to the headwaters of the Colorado River in the west. (Note that the road is closed in winter and Rocky Mountain National Park requires a timed-entry reservation from late May through mid-October.) Nearby Towns: Estes Park, Grand Lake

25. Wilson Peak

The Scene: Ask a child to draw a mountain, and they’re likely to produce something that resembles Wilson Peak. The peak dominates the landscape that surrounds it, and can be recognized as the one represented on every can of Coors. Nearby Town: Telluride

26. Kebler Pass

The Scene: In September and October, there are few better places to see Colorado’s fall color splendor. Boasting the largest aspen stand in the state, the pass is completely covered by the quaking trees. The winding route promises one last hurrah — a parade of color before winter descends on the region. Nearby Towns: Crested Butte, Gunnison

27. The Spanish Peaks

The Scene: A welcome sight for those entering Colorado from the flat and dusty south, the two majestic peaks’ most interesting feature is the 25-million-year-old volcanic dikes that emanate from their base like spokes from a wheel. Nearby Town: La Veta

28. Rabbit Ears Pass

The Scene: Another of the state’s extraordinary rock formations named for their shapes, Rabbit Ears served as a distinct landmark to settlers and trappers of yore. In winter, snowmobilers flock to the area’s extensive trails and dependably deep snow. Nearby Towns: Kremmling, Steamboat Springs

29. Longs Peak

The Scene: Rising up from the plains, Longs Peak demands to be noticed. The mount is known for its dramatic east face — The Diamond, which is depicted on the Colorado state quarter. The face presents an immense challenge for even the most technical climbers. Nearby Town: Estes Park

30. Picketwire Canyon

The Scene: The canyon is like a lush green crack in the middle of a flat, arid plain. During a summer-evening rainstorm, the 150-million-year-old brontosauruses footprints left in its bedrock fill with water. When the rain lifts, the prints become miniature lakes that reflect the image of the cloudy sky above. Nearby Town: La Junta

31. Chalk Cliffs

The Scene: These grayish white cliffs emerge from Mount Princeton and are unlike any other mountains in Colorado. Though they look like chalk, they’re actually made of granite, which changed colors when other minerals leached out of fractures. Legend has it that gold was hidden in the cliffs’ crevices by 17th-century Spaniards and is yet to be rediscovered. Nearby Towns: Buena Vista

32. Independence Pass Summit

The Scene: Known for its expansive views, more fourteeners (peaks that stand more than 14,000 feet above sea level) can be seen from this spot than any other place in the state, including three of the five tallest: La Plata Peak, Mount Massive and the tallest, Mount Elbert. Independence Pass is the high point of the Top of the Rockies scenic byway. (Note that Independence Pass is closed in winter.) Nearby Towns: Aspen, Leadville

33. Chimney Rock National Monument

The Scene: These two skyward-reaching pinnacles were revered by the land’s ancient people, the Ancestral Puebloans, who built ceremonial structures around them. Every 18.6 years, when the winter solstice moonrise reaches its northernmost point, people gather to photograph the full moon as it rises perfectly between Chimney Rock National Monument's features. Nearby Towns: Pagosa Springs, Durango

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