#1 Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak, at 14,115 feet, is one of the most famous summits in the United States. The discovery of Pikes Peak dates back to the early 1700s but the famous “fourteener” – a mountain exceeding 14,000 ft. above sea level – was not called Pikes Peak until an expedition led by explorer Zebulon Pike. Fortunately, present day travelers still have the option to hike but can also take the Cog Railway to the summit, as well as make the hour and a half drive up the narrow road provided to the near summit. Visitors are warned of the 30-degree difference between the base and the summit of the mountain, but can purchase hot drinks as well as Pikes Peak’s famous donuts, a recipe that cannot be repeated at any lower altitudes.
#2 The Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes is a high elevation park in the Rocky Mountains, 285 miles from Denver via US 285, ranging from 7,515 ft. to 13,604 ft. Visitors often hike the dunes in the early morning and evenings, sled and sandboard, float on nearby Medano Creek, and hike up the river and into Zapata Falls. The Dunes are home to at least six endemic insect species found nowhere else on earth.
#3 Hanging Lake
Suspended on the edge of one of Glenwood Canyon’s cliffs, Hanging Lake and the waterfalls that spill into it are a breathtaking sight. Designated a National Natural Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 2011, Hanging Lake’s steep, mile-long climb is well worth the time. The trailhead is located approximately 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs along Interstate-70 in Glenwood Canyon and follows Dead Horse Creek. The hike takes two to three hours and there is no cellphone service along the trail. Visitors can stay on the boardwalk that frames a portion of the lake as well as follow the signs to Spouting Rock, where snowmelt atop the Flat Tops barrels through the limestone cliff.
#4 Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Park offers 300-foot towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of Pikes Peak. A registered National Natural Landmark, Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s most photographed views and is the most visited attraction in the region. Charles Elliott Perkins, head of the Burlington Railroad, meant to establish a home in the Garden of the Gods but never built on it, preferring to leave it in its natural state.
#5 Fancy Pass: Holy Cross City
Fancy Pass and Holy Cross City are parts of a loop hike that passes through the Missouri Lakes Basin surrounded on three sides by peaks nearly 13,000 feet high and Cross Creek glacial valley along with Fancy Pass and Holy Cross City. Holy Cross City is an 1800s mining town now inaccessible to most vehicles. Fancy Pass is a few days hike from the nearest road but offers access to Fancy Lake, a frigid above-tree-line snowmelt lake.