Colorado offers many choices, from noted ski resorts and mountain lodges to rustic cabins in the woods, welcoming B&Bs in historic small towns, or charming hotels conveniently located in the state’s major cities.
With diverse natural beauty and a wealth of activities and attractions, it can be hard to pick the perfect location because there are so many options! But don’t worry — we’ll break them all down in detail below.
Why You Should Visit Colorado in 2023
Although Colorado is the eighth-largest state in the nation, it only has a handful of larger cities. Its major attractions are its natural beauty and the diversity of its geography.
The Rocky Mountains run through the state’s western portion, with forests, high mountain lakes, rivers, and streams. Colorado has four distinct seasons. Winters can be brutally cold with “mountains” of snow. But that’s why skiers flock to the state.
While skiing and winter sports are the prime attractions in winter, summer offers a wider range of outdoor activities. In the fall, the changing color of Aspens entices nature lovers, and spring offers sunshine, budding trees, and wildflowers.
Wilderness hiking and camping are allowed in many parts of the state in all but the most severe weather conditions, and anglers fish in the lakes, rivers, and streams from early spring to late fall.
Boaters, campers, and hikers take to the trails in state and national parks and protected areas, and city dwellers head to nearby mountains and lakes whenever the weather allows.
While natural beauty is undeniable, the state also has historic old mining towns and innumerable other attractions. However, the state only has two interstate highways. Interstate 25 runs north-south from Wyoming to New Mexico, and Interstate 70 is the east-west route.
Grand Junction, about four hours west of Denver, requires a drive across the Continental Divide, and traveling the mountainous highway can be dicey in bad weather.
Even though it’s a great way to see the state, you might not want to schedule that trip during the winter.
Colorado boasts four national parks, nine national monuments, sprawling national forests, and scores of protected sites, including a petrified redwood forest, towering sand dunes, and a “disappearing” river.
There are state parks, cliff dwellings, fish-filled rivers, lakes, streams, and thermal hot springs in different parts of the state. Hot-air ballooning is an attraction in some areas, as is white-river rafting, horseback riding, and fishing.
Well-known winter resorts in Vail, Steamboat Springs, Aspen, Crested Butte, and Breckenridge, among others, are equally popular in the spring, summer, and fall.
Visitors flock to Colorado during every season, with a variety of camping areas, resorts, hotels, lodges, and B&Bs in all price categories.
The 5 Best Areas of Colorado
Colorado, of course, has the Rocky Mountains and incredible ski resorts. However, it also has regional grasslands in the northeast, an arid high-country desert between the south-central San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the southeast.
It also has the historic old mining towns scattered throughout the state, pristine wilderness areas, and an abundance of alpine lakes, fishing streams, and forests.
Most of the state’s population is centered around the Denver area and its suburbs and in the other cities convenient to Interstate 25. We recommend that first-time visitors to Colorado head to one of its cities.
Each has a distinctive personality, with unique local history, culture, sightseeing and outdoor attractions. No matter what season you visit, or where you stay, you can take day trips to nearby landmarks.
Be sure to check on local celebrations and festivals.
Colorado is used to tourists, and it’s possible to arrange for public transportation via bus, small airplane, or shuttle, especially to well-known resorts, but travel is easier if you have a car available. If you fly into Denver, rental vehicles are readily available at the airport.
We recommend you consider one of the following cities as a vacation destination:
- Denver: Best for business travelers, major sports fans, museum lovers, shopping, and culture.
- Colorado Springs: Best for foodies, craft beer lovers, and Air Force Academy access.
- Fort Collins: Best for relaxing, shopping, and exploring a quaint but lively small town.
- Boulder: Best for students, hiking and biking trails, restaurant-hopping, and street performers.
- Grand Junction: Best for its downtown area, diverse outdoor vistas, and local wine.
Estes Park, with its beautiful mountain lake, is known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and has hiking and horseback riding trails, whitewater rapids, and popular ghost tours.
Don’t miss a view of the night sky from the Estes Park Observatory! Dozens of charming small towns throughout the state are worth visiting, including old mining towns that seem frozen in time.
Loveland is an art center with several noted galleries. But others – Greeley and Littleton, Pueblo, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, Gunnison, Grand Lake, or Ouray all have unique “flavor,” and can be considered “destination resorts” if you’re in the mood for the unusual.
Pagosa Springs, close to the New Mexico border, has healing thermal waters, unique shops and eateries, and an off-the-beaten-track location.
If hot water soaks in an outdoor pool aren’t your style, take to the skies from Pagosa Springs in a hot air balloon, go whitewater rafting, or head further east towards Alamosa and Great Sand Dunes National Park, in south-central Colorado.
Surf the dunes or sunbathe near a stream. And don’t miss the petrified remains of a redwood forest not far away.
You’ll be transported to the era of a rip-roaring mining town in Durango, near Mesa Verde National Park. Take a ride through the mountains on the Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad. It can be a nail-biting journey.
The Best Areas & Hotels in Colorado
Denver is relatively centrally located in the state, and if you fly to Colorado, you’ll no doubt fly into the sprawling Denver International Airport, located northeast of downtown.
It’s the largest airport by land area in the western hemisphere and the second-largest in the world. Denver has big-city amenities and is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city with a decidedly informal flair.
The city welcomes foodies, sports fans, culture lovers, techies, and geeks, but it also caters to families with children, seniors who prefer to spend time in museums or out in nature, and single travelers.
There are more than a million people in Denver and its surrounding suburbs. You won’t escape the traffic or occasional congestion. But visiting Denver can also be an exhilarating experience.
Things to Do
Take a free tour of the Capitol. The golden dome of Colorado’s capital, built in the 1890s, wasn’t added until 1908 to commemorate the state’s gold rush.
Visit the U.S. Mint. The Denver Mint is the largest producer of coins in the world. In addition to producing American coins for circulation, it produces mint sets and commemorative coins.
Here’s how to obtain free tickets for same-day guided tours. Be sure to visit the Mint’s gift shop as well. There are so many other things to do in Denver that you’ll just have to follow your interests.
Pick from the Denver Art Museum, the Botanic Gardens, Red Rocks Park, the Denver Zoo, and Molly Brown House, or take a beer, wine, whiskey, or food tour! Even if you stay for a week, you won’t exhaust your options.
Where to Eat
Choosing places to eat is an area where you’ll just want to “trust your gut.” Ask your hotel staff for recommendations. Better yet simply download the Food and Drink section of Denver’s Free Official Visitor’s Guide to get a feel for the variety that the city offers.
Then, just follow your taste buds to the breakfast café, the casual eatery, or the fine dining establishment that captures your imagination. Humble food carts and street-corner diners are popular with locals.
If you really want to fit in with the local foodie crowd, try Cherry Cricket. The original location in the city’s Cherry Creek neighborhood has been there since the 1940s.
Noisette is a relatively new hotspot, featuring both a dining room and a casual bakery. Operated by a husband-wife team, enjoy anything from early-morning croissants to French delicacies served on antique floral plates.
Downtown Denver Budget Hotels
- Budget hotels in Denver will typically be further from the central business district, and farther away from popular tourist sites, but one great choice is Vib Hotel by Best Western RiNo. It’s near Union Station and not far from the Denver Zoo, aquarium, and Elitch Gardens. It also has all the amenities you could ask for.
- Another option for a lower price hotel would be the Element Denver Downtown East. It’s a sustainable property only a short walk from the Denver Art Museum, the public library, and Civic Center Park.
Downtown Denver Mid-Price Hotels
- The Slate Denver, Tapestry Collection by Hilton is conveniently located in Denver’s central business district, close to the Convention Center and the capital. It’s only a short walk from the U.S. Mint, the Denver Art Museum, and the Colorado History Museum. It’s close to restaurants and shopping, with secure onsite parking.
- Denver’s Limelight Hotel has a terrace with stunning mountain views and free use of bicycles for registered guests. Its location is perfect – close to the 16th St. Mall, Union Station, and Coors Field. It also has an excellent on-site restaurant.
Downtown Denver Luxury Hotels
- Treat yourself to a stat at Denver’s Ritz-Carlton, and you might never want to leave. With an onsite fitness center and available daily spa treatments, this hotel caters to the individual desires of every guest. You’re in the heart of Denver’s downtown, with everything you want to see and do virtually at your fingertips!
- The Crawford Hotel provides unique amenities with décor that is a throwback to the opulence and décor of the past century. In the heart of downtown, it’s just a stone’s throw from Union Station and only a few minutes’ walk from the Pepsi Center.
2. Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, just a little more than an hour’s drive from Denver, is home to the United States Air Force Academy. It’s known as a city that’s easy to love, with a thriving foodie and craft beer culture.
The Broadmoor, one of the West’s most magnificent golf resorts, lies nearby and is a popular super-luxury destination for visitors from around the globe.
Foodies and culture geeks will have a great time here any time of year, and there is a thriving craft beer industry in Colorado Springs, as in many of Colorado’s smaller towns.
Sustainability is practiced on many levels, with locally produced foods, artisanal restaurants, farmers’ markets, arts and crafts venues, and unique summer celebrations in many areas.
What to Do
- Take a tour of Glen Eyrie Castle, built by General Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs.
- Enjoy dinner and a show at the Flying W Ranch, only about 5 miles from the Springs.
- Visit Garden of the Gods, for sure.
Where to Eat
- Mountain Shadows Restaurant: A budget-friendly café with an extensive menu and great service – it’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike, even Guy Fieri.
- Carlos Bistro features American and Japanese specialties artfully prepared and served, along with seafood and international dishes. It’s pricey but worth it.
- Uchenna is a moderately-priced eatery with a large following for its Ethiopian specialties.
Colorado Spring Budget Hotels
- This pleasant chain motel, Super 8 by Wyndham, is perfect for a short day. Situated just off the interstate, it is only 7.5 miles from Garden of the Gods and about 6 miles from Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
- Rainbow Lodge and Inn is a real find with an excellent location, large rooms, outdoor pool, barbecue grills, picnic area, and children’s playground. Each room also has a microwave and fridge and a work desk.
Colorado Springs Mid-Price Hotels
- Holiday Inn & Suites on Federal Drive has an outdoor pool and a hot tub and is convenient to the Academy, Peterson Air Base, and the city. Either continental or American breakfast is available.
- The updated My Place Hotel is quiet and serene, with a location less than 7 miles from the Air Force Academy, making it a good choice if you’re visiting a cadet relative. It offers a good American breakfast and free Wi-fi.
Colorado Springs Luxury Hotels
- Cheyenne Mountain Resort is a superb property with championship golf, 5 swimming pools, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and a 25-acre sailing lake. Guests have full access to the onsite restaurant and bar.
- Garden of the Gods Resort and Club is an exceptional property, with 27 holes of golf, a clubhouse atmosphere, and accommodations ranging from rooms in the lodge to private cottages and casitas. Amenities are too many to list, but you’ll be pampered in every possible way here.
3. Fort Collins
Fort Collins, about an hour north of Denver, still has a quintessential “small town” appeal and is said to have been the model for Disneyland’s Main Street.
It’s also a college town, home of Colorado State University. In addition to its walkable downtown, it has old-time streetcars and modern buses, and you’ll find ice cream parlors as well and friendly local eateries here.
Things to Do
- Take a guided food tour through Fort Collins Old Town or sign up for a guided ghost tour of the city.
- See what wildlife you can spot in the Coyote Ridge Natural Area. It’s a pleasant way to spend some time out in the fresh air.
- Take in a Concert at the Lincoln Center or follow the jogging path through the Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado. Both are stellar experiences.
Where to Eat
- Sign up to attend a Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show. You’ll satisfy your hunger and have fun at the same time. Be warned – the actors are not in costume and could even be your tablemates for a delicious dinner. Hopefully, you won’t become a prime suspect in the crime!
- The Emporium: An American Brasserie at the Elizabeth Hotel can be your place to grab a quick bite with a glass of wine, or a signature dinner entrée. After dinner, make your way to the enclosed rooftop lounge to watch the sunset.
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery is the place for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. The original is in the heart of Old Town, but a second location is on Montgomery Street, and there’s also a Snooze in Greeley.
Fort Collins Budget Hotels
- America’s Best Value Inn & Suites, just off I25, provides nicely provisioned rooms with complimentary breakfast at a super-low price. It’s a great way to save your money to spend on other things.
- For just a few more dollars, you can book a stay at the Days Inn on East Mulberry. It’s located close to both the Fort Collins Museum and Lincoln Center and provides a “grab and go” breakfast on request.
Fort Collins Mid-Range Hotels
- The modern Fort Collins Marriott is a delightful hotel, with a gym and indoor, and outdoor pools, a charming Copper Kettle restaurant and bar, and a location less than a minute’s drive from Warren Lake.
- For a unique experience, spend the night at Yurt Retreat, an upscale “glamping” experience that offers an option for outdoor dining on your private terrace! You’ll be talking about it for months afterward.
Fort Collins Luxury Hotels
- The Armstrong Hotel is just a 15-minute walk from the CSU campus, and it offers everything you could possibly want in terms of amenities, with free bikes and complimentary concierge service as well as a fridge and coffee machine in each room.
- Perhaps the most unique hotel in the area, The Elizabeth features a fitness center, an upper terrace, a great restaurant and bar, and a host of personal services. It’s a great example of a classic luxury hotel and the rate is quite reasonable.
- We just must mention Edwards House, an exceptional B&B, rather than a hotel. With a great location and stellar reviews from guests, if you’re looking for unequaled luxury, this is it!
Just a bit northwest of Denver, the craggy bluffs of the Flatirons stand guard over the city of Boulder. With the largest campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder is a college town with a pedestrian-friendly downtown area.
The Fiske Planetarium and the wonderful Museum of Natural History are primary attractions. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 52 Best Places in the world to visit in 2023.
What to Do
- Spend an afternoon at the Pearl Street Mall, with its shops, street performers, and eclectic eateries.
- Take a self-guided audio tour of downtown and become immersed in the culture and flavor of the former “Hippie town.”
- Sample food and tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse, a unique hand-crafted gift from Boulder’s sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Where to Eat
- Spruce Farm & Fish walks the line between casual comfort food and upscale dining. Like many of Boulder’s eateries, fresh and locally sourced fare is what’s on the menu, whether it’s a tasty burger or perfectly grilled fish with a great salad.
- If you’re in search of the unusual, you’ll find it at Oak at Fourteenth. The menu features ethnic specialties from around the globe, pairing its menu options with wonderful wine and spirits selections.
- Dinner with a view is served up at Flagstaff House, atop Flagstaff Mountain. Choose a flat-fee four-course dinner as you enjoy the spectacular setting, and enhance your meal with a glass of fine wine.
Budget Hotels in Boulder
- The Quality Inn Louisville is farther from downtown Boulder, but it’s close to the highway and shopping center, and it’s clean, convenient, pet-friendly, and has a fitness room, business center, and a great nightly price.
- Boulder’s Twin Lakes Inn is a great choice for families, with kitchenettes as well as eating areas and sitting rooms in the suites. Breakfast and bikes are provided for guests, and it’s close to campus.
Boulder Mid-Range Hotels
- The Boulder University Inn is in a great location, and all rooms have a fridge, microwave, and coffee machine, in addition to a seasonal outdoor pool, free WiFi, and free parking.
- Foot of the Mountain Motel is a charming choice with a great location and a relaxed vibe. The complex offers an outdoor barbecue area, concierge service, and WiFi throughout the property.
Boulder Luxury Hotels
- Staying at the Residence Inn Boulder feels like having your own apartment, with a separate entrance, a fully-equipped kitchen in each suite, an outdoor firepit with comfortable seating, and a full breakfast every morning, as well as a fitness room and pool.
- The Bradley Boulder Inn, in the heart of the city, is within walking distance of Pearl Street Mall, and close to the Boulder Theater and Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll also get a homemade breakfast every morning and a daily wine and cheese hour.
5. Grand Junction
Grand Junction, nestled into the Rockies’ western slope, is situated in wine county.
Known for its downtown– with shops, craft breweries, wine-tasting rooms, and distinctive coffee culture — it’s also loved by outdoor enthusiasts because of its proximity to McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and the Colorado National Monument.
Acres of huge, natural sandstone arch formations are located only about 10 minutes from town, and if they don’t take your breath away, Grand Mesa with more than 300 lakes scattered around its surface, certainly will.
What to Do
- Get out of town! Take a jeep tour, drive your own car, or book a guided tour, but you must see the natural terrain that surrounds Grand Junction!
- Go for a tasting at a winery, and sample local wines.
- Plan to spend a couple of hours – at least – at the Museum of the West. You’ll be entranced by the variety of exhibits and things to do, from ancient Anasazi artifacts to real outlaw firearms.
Where to Eat
- Bin 707 Foodbar is one of Colorado’s distinctive restaurants. It emphasizes local, including wines produced in this part of the state. You won’t be disappointed by the classy cuisine at this hometown eatery.
- Dream Café prides itself on its hip and friendly vibe as well as its unique food, from specialty pancakes to delicious Eggs Benedict. Enjoy a sparkling Mimosa or a tangy bloody Mary with a late breakfast or with your leisurely lunch.
- Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery will welcome you any time of day, but it’s a uniquely pleasant way to cap a busy day of sightseeing or touring in the area. A favorite in Grand Junction for nearly 30 years, you can order specialty brews and satisfy your craving for really good food.
Grand Junction Budget Hotels
- The Grand Vista Hotel gets high marks from guests who appreciate its indoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center, as well as its beautiful views! It also features an in-house restaurant and pub-style lounge.
- The adults-only Palomino Inn is located close to the center of town and features comfortable rooms with private baths, flat-screen TVs, and Wi-fi. Some have kitchenettes with microwaves.
Grand Junction Mid-Range Hotels
- Castle Creek Manor is a unique adults-only Bed & Breakfast that guests appreciate for its spacious rooms with private seating areas, balconies with outdoor tables and chairs, and homey atmosphere.
- The Residence Inn Grand Junction is perfect for extended stays. Each unit has a living and dining area, and there’s a fitness center with cardio equipment, a hot tub, and an indoor pool. A free, hot breakfast buffet is also available to guests.
Grand Junction Luxury Hotels
- Hotel Maverick is a premier property that features a restaurant and bar along with a fitness center, a business center, and free parking. Some rooms boast balconies with garden views.
- Tru by Hilton is a contemporary downtown hotel with hotel staff fluent in both English and Spanish. An American breakfast is offered, along with free parking and the usual amenities, including free toiletries.
So, Where Should You Stay in Colorado?
|✅ Best Area to See Everything||Denver|
|💰 Most Budget-Friendly||Fort Collins|
|🍽️ Best Area for Restaurants||Colorado Springs|
|🛍️ Best for Shopping||Bouder|
|🥾 Best Area for Hiking||Estes Park|
|🌳 Best for Nature Lovers||Durango|
Each area of Colorado has its ardent fans and supporters, and you might not find a lot of agreement if you ask a dozen strangers to name their favorite towns.
But one thing is certain: everyone will put natural beauty of one kind or another at the top of the list. Many of Colorado’s smaller cities and towns will appeal to different people for completely different reasons.
We love small towns that have a lot going for them – and most of Colorado’s small cities fit that description. So, buckle your seat belts, hit the roadways, and find something to love in every small town you visit in this large western state.
There’s a long list of great reasons to visit and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Once you’ve been to Colorado, chances are good that you’ll want to return again and again!