Rocky Mountain National Park includes some of the highest, most spectacular, and rugged mountains in Colorado. In the park are Longs Peak, at 14,255 feet above sea level, and many other peaks. Wildlife is abundant throughout the park. Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado contains ruins of Anasazi pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings, which are considered some of the best-preserved in the country.
One of the most spectacular tourist attractions is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, which contains the narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River. Colorado National Monument, near Fruita, features deep gorges and huge solitary rock formations, such as the 500 feet Independence Rock.
Dinosaur National Monument, which is located on the Utah-Colorado border, is famous for fossilized remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Great Sand Dunes National Monument, near Alamosa, contains some of the largest and highest sand dunes in North America. Hovenweep National Monument, which is in both Utah and Colorado, has ruins of many Native American cliff dwellings and other structures.
Also in the southwest is Yucca House National Monument. It contains the ruins of an ancient pueblo yet to be excavated by archaeologists and is not open to the public. In southeastern Colorado is Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstruction of the first American settlement in Colorado.
A rich deposit of fossil plants and insects gives a detailed look at life in ancient North America at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, west of Colorado Springs. Curecanti National Recreation Area has fine recreational facilities centering around reservoirs.
There are 11 national forests (and part of a 12th) in Colorado. In Rio Grande National Forest are several active mining camps and also vast wilderness sections. In Roosevelt National Forest are Arapaho Glacier and the deep canyons of the Big Thompson, Boulder, Cache la Poudre, and St. Vrain rivers.
Routt National Forest includes sections of the Continental Divide above the timberline. In San Isabel National Forest, near Pueblo, are dude ranches and scenic motor drives. San Juan National Forest is the largest national forest, covering more than 2 million acres. Manti-LaSal National Forest is shared with Utah. The Arapaho National Forest, established by President Theodore Roosevelt, is named after the Plains people who frequented the region for summer hunting. The forest includes land on both sides of the Continental Divide, which separates the Platte River watersheds that flow toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Colorado River watersheds that flow toward the Pacific Ocean.
The White River National Forest is one of the largest and oldest national forests in the Rocky Mountains. Its national popularity is growing because of the many opportunities for recreation. The Uncompahgre National Forest contains primitive routes to old mining operations that are now popular with off-road vehicle drivers. Grand Mesa National Forest contains Grand Mesa, one of the largest flat-top mountains in the world, which boasts hundreds of small lakes and a reputation for excellent fishing. Gunnison National Forest contains many areas popular with backcountry enthusiasts. Pike National Forest features the famous Pikes Peak, the top of which can be reached by a scenic toll road.
State parks in Colorado provide outdoor activities for users year-round. Dozens of facilities include opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. Lory State Park is noted for its rock formations and for its numerous ecosystems that change with altitude. The park preserves 2,400 acres of the transition ecosystems of the Rocky Mountain foothills. At Navajo State Park the main attraction is the long Navajo Reservoir that extends well into New Mexico. Barr Lake State Park is lined with cottonwoods, marshes, and aquatic plants, and its southern half has been designated as a wildlife refuge to shelter animals and birds in a number and variety unequaled elsewhere in Colorado. Some 12,100 acres of spring-watered meadows, forested ridges, and massive rock formations comprise Mueller State Park and Wildlife Area.
Denver maintains more than 50 parks in the mountains west of the city. The parks offer excellent recreational facilities.