Snow capped red rocks in one of Colorado's state parks

11 Best Colorado State Parks in 2022 (By a Local)

I’m a local that loves exploring Colorado State Parks, but with more than 42 destinations to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start.

In this guide, I share 11 of my favorite Colorado State Parks, each worth visiting for unique reasons. You can also check out my guide to the best National Parks and Monuments in Colorado for more!

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11 Best State Parks in Colorado

Before your adventure, take a look at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife FAQ page. This outlines important rules regarding alcohol, pets, camping, and more. Also, refer to our hiking essentials checklist so you arrive fully prepared! 

Cherry Creek State Park

Boat, fish, and camp at one of the state parks closest to Denver

View from the Cherry Creek State Park in Colorado
(photo: Rexjaymes / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Cherry Creek State Park Website 

This state park is home to Cherry Creek Reservoir, where visitors can use both motorized and non-motorized boats, plus fish and swim in the water. There’s a shooting range, stables, and a 107-acre dog park where your pup can roam. Some of the best campsites near Denver are also found throughout the park.  

A daily vehicle pass is $11, and dog park access requires an additional $3. Plenty of parking available, though on summer weekends and holidays, there may be longer waits to get into the park. It can even close if it’s at capacity. 

It’s possible to reach Cherry Creek State Park by light rail (use the Dayton station). But you’ll want to bring a bike to bridge the gap from the station to the park. 

Chatfield State Park

Eat at a floating restaurant, go hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and more

The Chatfield Reservoir under the clear blue sky in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Chatfield State Park Website

This park against the Rocky Mountain foothills is home to some of the best hikes near Denver. Bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, and hot air ballooning are other popular activities. The Chatfield Reservoir allows motorized and non-motorized boats, plus paddle boards and kayaks. Seagull’s Restaurant, a floating restaurant at the Chatfield Marina, is a great place to grab a bite and watch the boats. 

The park has a $10 vehicle fee and a $3 fee for the dog park. Camping is available year-round, but only electric sites are offered in winter. 

You’ll want a vehicle to get to Chatfield, as there isn’t an easy way to the park via public transportation. There is plenty of parking on your average weekday morning and off-season weekend, but summer weekends and holidays are crowded. The park may close if it’s at capacity.

Barr Lake State Park

Observe eagles wintering at Barr Lake

Scenic view at the Barr Lake in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Barr Lake State Park Website 

Many bald eagles spend the winter at Barr Lake State Park in Brighton, located 40 minutes north of Denver. The park has a boardwalk and wildlife viewing stations where you can try to get a good look at the birds, but bring binoculars as well. The park also has an accessible fishing pier, an archery range with a 3D target course, guided bird walks, and other ranger events. 

There is a $9 vehicle pass to get into the park. You’ll want a vehicle to visit Barr Lake as there isn’t an easy route via public transportation.

Rifle Gap State Park

Visit this Rifle reservoir for all kinds of water fun

View from the scenic landscape of Rifle Gap State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Rifle Gap State Park 

Rifle Gap has a 350-acre reservoir where visitors can go fishing, water skiing, and sailing. There’s also a spacious swim beach, making it a great destination in warmer months. 

The park has 89 campsites that are open year-round. Although the park is popular for water activities, there is also cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and hunting. In winter, there is ice fishing on the reservoir as well. 

A daily vehicle pass is $9. Dogs are allowed at the park if they are on a leash, and they can’t be left unattended, even in campgrounds. 

Ridgway State Park

A park known for its spectacular scenery, reservoir, and wildlife

Sunrise over the Ridgway State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Ridgway State Park Website 

Ridgway is tucked into the base of the San Juan Mountains, just 15 minutes from Ouray. In the park, you’ll find mountain biking and hiking trails, plus fishing, boating, and swimming. It’s also a great place to spot wildlife and go birdwatching. 

There is a $9 daily vehicle pass to enter the park. Dogs are allowed in the park, but must be on a leash and can’t be at the designated swim beach. 

After a day exploring the park, relax at the nearby Orvis Hot Springs, some of the best hot springs in Colorado

Roxborough State Park

Hike among red rock formations and leafy trees

View of a hiking trail in Roxborough State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Roxborough State Park Website 

Roxborough State Park is just a short drive from Denver, but feels like it’s a world away! The red rocks jutting out of the ground create a beautiful backdrop. This is a day-use park that doesn’t allow bikes, so your main activity will be hiking. 

It is a designated Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, so bring binoculars. Try the Fountain Valley Trail for an easier hike, or Carpenter Peak for an uphill challenge. The visitor center has fun displays, storytimes for kids, and rangers to helpfully answer questions. 

There is a $10 daily vehicle pass fee. Dogs are not allowed at Roxborough State Park. 

St. Vrain State Park

A park with several ponds that are great for fishing

Colorful sky over the St. Vrain State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 St. Vrain State Park Website 

Once known as Barbour Ponds, St. Vrain State Park is located in Longmont. It’s one of the best day trips from Denver, and not a far drive from Fort Collins, either. The park has camping, hiking, birding, and great photography spots. However, it’s most known for its stellar fishing.

There is a $9 daily vehicle fee to enter the park. Dogs are allowed in the park if they are on a six-foot leash, but are not allowed in any of the waterways.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

A park known for its rock climbing, but with mountain biking and hiking for all levels

Overlooking view from the Eldorado Canyon State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Eldorado Canyon State Park Website 

Eldorado Canyon State Park is one of the top Boulder day trips. It’s a day-use park with great fishing and some of the best hikes near Boulder. In winter, you can go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the trails.

A $10 vehicle entry pass is required to get into the park. Alternatively, you can take an RTD bus to the free shuttles that run in the summer and fall. If you take the shuttle, those 16 and up will need to pay a $4 entry fee (bring exact cash or buy online). An annual state parks pass is also permissible. 

Note that it gets very crowded on summer days, and a timed entry permit is required on July – September weekends and holidays. Dogs are allowed in the park if they are on a six-foot or shorter leash. 

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Enjoy beautiful vistas on the park’s 35 miles of trails

Vide of the sunrise over the Golden Gate Canyon State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Golden Gate Canyon State Park Website 

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is 30 miles west of Denver. It has hiking trails that wander through the forest and up to sweeping views of the foothills. There is also mountain biking, fishing, and hunting. In winter, you can cross-country ski and snowshoe. Watch for wildlife including moose, bears, beavers, eagles, and foxes. 

A daily vehicle pass to enter the park costs $10. For an additional fee, you can enjoy rustic camping in the park. Cabins, yurts, and the Harmsen Ranch Guest House are also available, though note that they require a two-night stay. 

Steamboat Lake State Park

Swim and paddle on a lake near the charming town of Steamboat Springs

Scenic view of the Steamboat Lake State Park in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Steamboat Lake State Park Website 

Steamboat Lake State Park features a scenic 1,053-acre reservoir. Here, you can go water skiing, jet skiing, paddling, fishing, and swimming. There are also lots of hiking and mountain biking trails, and you can watch for wildlife in the park. Fishing and hunting licenses are available at the visitor center. Regardless of your preferred activity, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful views, including Hahn’s Peak in the distance. 

There is a $9 daily vehicle fee to enter the park. Camping is available and there are basic or electric sites at the campground. Camper cabins are also available for rent. Dogs are allowed if they’re on a leash that measures six feet or less.

Boyd Lake State Park

Enjoy a variety of water activities at this northern Colorado park

A man paddleboarding on the Boyd Lake State Park

📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Boyd Lake State Park Website

Found in Loveland, Boyd Lake offers great views of the Rocky Mountains, Longs Peak, and the Continental Divide. Visitors can go boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, hunting, and more. Motorized boats are allowed on the lake, so you can waterski as well. Camping is available year-round, and there are electric and basic sites.

You will need to purchase a $10 vehicle pass to enter the park. Dogs are allowed at the park if they’re on a leash, but they are not allowed at the swimming area.

FAQs About Colorado State Parks

How many Colorado state parks are there?

There are currently 42 Colorado State Parks, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife. 

What is the most popular state park in Colorado?

The most popular state park in Colorado is Chatfield State Park. This is because the park is in the Denver area, making it a popular choice for people living on the Front Range. Activities include horseback riding, boating, swimming, hiking, and biking.

Are Colorado State parks free now?

Colorado State Parks are not free. Each state park charges an entrance fee between $9-11 per vehicle. 

Beginning in 2023, Colorado residents will be charged $29 with their vehicle registration for a Keep Colorado Wild Pass. This allows them entrance into Colorado State Parks. Residents will need to opt out when paying registration if they do not want the pass.

Is there a senior discount for Colorado state parks?

There is a senior discount for Colorado State Parks if you are a resident. Colorado residents 64 years and older can purchase an Aspen Leaf Pass for $70, providing entry to all Colorado State Parks for one calendar year. Aspen Leaf Pass holders also get a $3 discount per night on camping, excluding holidays.

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Exploring Colorado State Parks is one of the best things to do in Colorado. It’s a great way to appreciate the different regions and landscapes of this beautiful state. Safe travels! 

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