Explore 4 Colorado National Parks
Colorado’s four National Parks are the Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Colorado is best known for the Rocky Mountains, but its four national parks show off its diverse landscape. In south-central Colorado are the Great Sand Dunes, less than 100 miles from the New Mexico border, while in western Colorado the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park shows features more associated with Arizona’s Grand Canyon, or some of the national parks in Utah.
Here are Colorado’s four National Parks, in alphabetical order:
The Black Canyon, and the Gunnison River within it, run for 48 miles through western Colorado, and about 12 miles of this are contained within the national park. As with the Grand Canyon, there are north rim and south rim entrances, and the south rim is also the more developed.
Access to this is easiest from the city of Montrose, while the less touristy north rim is close to Crawford. The Black Canyon may be a baby compared to the Grand Canyon, but it is unique in North America for the speed and scale of the river’s descent, and the depth and sheerness of the canyon walls. In places the walls block out the sunlight, giving the Black Canyon its name.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
The biggest sand dunes in the United States are not in Arizona, Utah, or Oregon, but here in Colorado within the 85,000 acres of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. They are up to 750 feet high, creating a landscape more like the Sahara Desert than the typical image of Colorado. But the national park has many other faces, too, and a range of landscapes which support a wide variety of wildlife including mountain lions, black bears, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorns, beavers, and badgers.
Mesa Verde is right in the southwest corner of Colorado, close to the Four Corners, and covers over 50,000 acres. Within that are over 4,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, as for over 700 years this was the land of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Their former homes here are among the best preserved in the United States. The most famous is the Cliff Palace, which has over 150 rooms and is the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
This is where visitors see the archetypal Colorado landscape of the Rocky Mountains. Although it covers an area of over 265,000 acres, the national park is still only a dot on the map of the vast Rocky Mountain chain. To the northwest of Denver and close to Boulder, the park is easily visited and has five information centers within its boundaries. Its highest point is Long’s Peak at 14,259 feet, and wildlife living in the park includes black bear, mountain lion, moose, elk, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.