9 Best National Parks Near Denver Colorado

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From flowing rivers and red-rocked mesas to mountaintop lakes in the Rockies,  Colorado is one of the most scenic states in the U.S. Colorado is home to four national parks and is surrounded by eight others in nearby states. In this article, you’ll find the best national parks near Denver Colorado, all within an 8-hour drive.

Some of our recommendations below can be a day trip from Denver, while for others you should plan a weekend visit. Keep reading below to escape the city and find the best national parks near Denver Colorado.

National Parks Near Denver Colorado

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Snow covered ground with a wooden sign that reads "Grand Teton National Park"

Starting our list of national parks near Denver Colorado is the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The dramatic, rugged mountains are an iconic sight. It’s home to more than 60 wildlife species, from moose to black bears and bison.

Grand Teton is also home to more than 300 species of birds, like the bald eagle. It takes just under 8 hours to get to the park from downtown Denver.

You can start your visit on the 40-mile scenic loop, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway, to scope out the stunning scenery and get a feel for the area.

Popular stops along the route are the Jackson Lake Overlook, with sweeping views of the lake and Teton mountains as a dramatic backdrop. From there, you’re en route to the Jenny Lake Overlook. It’s hard to say which is more impressive, but they’re both worth the winding drive.

Off the scenic loop, you can explore by foot on one of the park’s 100+ trails. Two moderate trails with unbelievable scenery are the Cascade Canyon Trail and the Hidden Point + Inspiration Point Trail. Each offers wonders like creekside views, ideal for spotting wildlife and flowing waterfalls. 

Remember that Wyoming is very cold most of the year, and the best time to plan your visit is from May to late September. You can immerse in nature by camping or opt for one of the park’s lodges. Just be sure to secure your reservation well in advance.

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    Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

    A grassy mountain range with small patches of snow on it.

    The Rocky Mountain National Park is the closest national park in driving distance from Denver. You can get there in about 90 minutes, so it’s perfect for a full-day trip.

    Bear Lake is one of the busiest areas of the park, but also the ideal hike for a day trip. The trail is easy to take on, even for beginners, and you get the complete nature experience with views of lush green trees reflecting against the mirror-like lake.

    If you have more time, there are plenty of scenic stops along the Bear Lake corridor, like the Moraine Park Area. Moraine Park is a great picnic stop, and there’s a chance you will see bighorn sheep and deer.

    Whether you’re visiting in the summer or colder seasons, Alberta Falls is an easy trail with a cascading waterfall. It’s perfect for all ages to enjoy. The waterfall flows beautifully in the warmer months and freezes up in the winter, which is equally impressive.

    Camping overnight at the Rocky Mountain National Park offers stargazing opportunities, and you can leave early the next day to head back to the city.

    Arches National Park, Utah

    A sign low to the ground placed between stones that reads "Arches National Park"

    The red rocks at Arches National Park in Utah are a striking alternative to some of the lush green landscapes you find around Denver. You will drive west from Denver for about 5.5 hours to get there. It’s one of the closest out-of-state national parks near Denver Colorado.

    There are more than 2,000 enormous arches scattered throughout the park grounds. The most famous arch to visit is the Delicate Arch. It’s also the tallest at nearly 50 feet high.

    You can drive to the parking lot and walk a short way to see the arch or embark on the 3-mile trail. For the best view, plan your hike as the sun rises so you can beat some of the crowds. Parts of the trail are steep but overall very doable.

    The moderate-difficulty Double O Arch Trail is a 4-mile out-and-back trail offering clear views of sandstone red rocks. Double O is named after the arches you find on the trail that form massive circles. It’s one of the best views in the park! 

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

    Dramatic, jagged mountain faces jut into the depths of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s a long drive from Denver, even though it’s in the same state. It takes about 5 hours to get there.

    Millions of years after volcanoes erupted around the park, the Gunnison River began flowing through it and created the steep canyon you see today. 

    If you love to fish, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the best-known areas for trout. All rainbow trout are catch and release, but you can keep a limit on brown trout. Take the steep drive down East Portal Road to access Gunnison River fishing.

    Many of the hikes at this park are challenging, but the Rim Rock Nature Trail is a 2-mile back-and-out trail perfect for moderate hikers. Some of the best views are from overlooks you’ll find along the South Rim Scenic Drive. Geology buffs will love visiting this park! 

    Canyonlands National Park, Utah

    Trees along a desert landscape looking out over a large canyon.

    Canyonlands National Park is another sandstone-filled park in Utah within a 6-hour drive from Denver. The movie 127 Hours is based on true events that happened at this park. Canyonlands is split into three districts, with the Island in the Sky as the best starting point if you’re visiting for the first time.

    The Mesa Arch Trail is a must for first-time visitors and offers some of the best views of the Island in the Sky scenery. The roundtrip distance is less than a mile and an easy hike.

    Once you make it to the top of the trail, you’ll have a close-up view of the 27-foot Mesa Arch, and you’ll see the La Sal Mountains in the distance. The winter can be slippery, but it’s incredible to see snow-capped mountains in the distance.

    Another incredible viewpoint in the Island in the Sky district is the Green River Overlook. There is an easily accessible parking lot nearby. From here, you can see the chiseled areas cutting into the massive Green River Valley below, dating back millions of years. The best time to go is at sunset. Stay after sunset for immaculate stargazing.

    Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

    Head south from Denver, and within 4 hours, you’ll reach the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s the second-closest Colorado national park near Denver. You’ll feel immersed in a desert in the middle of nowhere. It’s a great day trip to get off the beaten path and take a break from the bustling city. 

    Snowboarding, sledding, or sandboarding down the sprawling dunes is one of the most entertaining activities at Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can rent sandboards just outside the park for the day. 

    Strolling around the dunes and taking in the dramatic scenery may seem simple, but it’s also one of the best ways to appreciate the park. There are no marked trails, so the terrain is open for exploring. You’ll find a mix of wetlands, forests, and alpine lakes. Splashing around at Medano Creek is ideal for hot summer days. 

    Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Trees and grass leading to a rocky canyon.

    Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is about a 6.5 to 7-hour drive from Denver. It’s home to sandstone domes, dramatic cliffs, and canyons. Ancient layers of Navajo Sandstone are what make this park special.

    Although it seems dry, wildlife has adapted to survive here. You can find evergreen trees, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.

    Get big-picture views of the park by taking the scenic route along Highway 24. This will expose you to a mix of landscapes like domes, sandstone mountains, white Navajo sandstone, and the historic town of Fruita.

    Hike the Cassidy Arch Trail to see one of the park’s famous arches up close. The 3.5 out-and-back trail is moderate difficulty. The rim overlooking the massive arch is spectacular.

    Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

    Ancient buildings built into the side of a rock formation with trees on top.

    Explore ancestral Puebloan remains tucked under cliffs and mesas at the Mesa National Park in southwest Colorado. It takes about 6.5 hours to drive there from Denver. You can arrange a guided tour of the park’s cliff dwellings or embark on a self-guided tour.

    Keep in mind that not all cliff dwellings are accessible for preservation reasons, but you can still see them from overlooks.

    The most well-known dwelling is Cliff Palace, and it’s worth a tour. It has more than 150 rooms and is the largest dwelling in the park. Another must-see dwelling is the Balcony House. You’ll scale ladders and squeeze through a tunnel to get out! You can only visit Balcony House through a guided tour.

    Take in views of the Montezuma and Mancos valleys on the 2-mile Point Lookout Trail hike. You’ll wind up switchbacks to the top of the mesa for beautiful views at sunset. 

    Badlands National Park, South Dakota

    A long road winding through white rock formations.

    The 6-hour drive from Denver to Badlands National Park in South Dakota is worth the effort. It’s one of the best places in the world to see fossil beds. One of the most impressive things about the park is the rock formations. The best way to see them all is by car. 

    A great way to start your visit is by taking the scenic Loop Road. You can stop at dozens of overlooks along the way to see the diverse and colorful rock formations. There are also plenty of chances to spot wildlife like bison, elk, and pronghorns.  

    Take a hike on the popular Notch Trailhead for sweeping views of the White River Valley. The 1.5-mile roundtrip hike is moderate but not for the faint of heart if you’re scared of heights!

    If you have time to extend your visit, the Badlands National Park is en route to Mount Rushmore. It’s only an hour and a half away. 

    Final Thoughts: Colorado National Parks Near Denver

    There are a dozen national parks near Denver Colorado ready for you to explore. Whether you take a full day or a weekend, this list should give you plenty of inspiration for your next road trip. Happy travels!

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