Resting elks against a backdrop of Colorado's Rocky Mountain

25 Colorado Travel Tips & Things to Know (By a Local)

Colorado is an amazing destination with something for everyone! Whether you want great restaurants and live music or outdoor adventure and stunning scenery, we’ve got it here.

I’m a Colorado local, and I’m here to share some Colorado travel tips to make your visit go smoothly. From safety to getting around and can’t-miss things to do, I’ve got a few quick tips to make this an awesome trip for you!

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25 Travel Tips for Colorado

📺 Prefer a video? Hit play to watch Abigail’s top tips for visiting Colorado

#1 DIA Isn’t Close To Denver

A sunflower field and the Denver International Airport from afar

Denver International Airport is forty minutes from downtown Denver, and even farther from the mountains. While you’re at the airport, you’ll need to use the airport train to get to and from several of the concourses. Allow plenty of time to arrive at your final Colorado destination, and to get to your flight at the end of your trip. 

🚗 Need a ride? If you need a lift to or from the airport, consider these private shuttle services.

#2 Watch for Altitude Sickness

Scenic view from the Indian Peaks Wilderness
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is beautiful, but can be a challenge if you’re not used to the elevation!

Lots of visitors to Colorado find they have to catch their breath more often, and some people even suffer from full-blown altitude sickness. Make sure to drink plenty of water when you first arrive. If you’re coming to hike or visit one of Colorado’s ski resorts, plan at least 24-48 hours of non-strenuous activity. We have lots of great museums you can check out in the meantime!

It also helps to increase your altitude gradually. Plan a day or two in Denver before heading to higher elevation mountain towns

#3 Consider I-70 Traffic

View of cars driving in I-70 in Colorado
I’ve experienced my share of mountain traffic!

I-70 is our main freeway in and out of many mountain towns, and the traffic on summer and winter weekends can be brutal. Be sure to check traffic apps or reports, and if you can be flexible with your drives to the mountains, you may save yourself a lot of travel trouble! 

#4 Drink Lots of Water

A woman drinking from her tumbler with a scenic view from her background

One of the best ways to fight altitude sickness is by drinking plenty of water. I carry a water bottle around with me constantly, and I’ve lived here for more than 15 years! Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, especially if you’ll be outdoors and active. 

📚 Related reading: The Grayl GeoPress water bottle tops Abigail’s list of what to pack for Colorado. Check it out to avoid forgetting any of the essentials! 

#5 Pack Lots of Layers

The author posing for a photo beside the Frisco Kayak Park sign
A rain jacket is essential in summer!

Sunny summer days can quickly turn chilly, and winter snowstorms can change to warm afternoons pretty fast in Colorado! Bring plenty of layers that you can easily put on and remove throughout the day. This is especially important if you’re planning on skiing, exploring Colorado hiking trails, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors. 

#6 Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

View of the Rocky Mountain National Park sign in Colorado under the clear blue sky

If I had to pick only one of the many places to visit in Colorado, this is it. You’ll get amazing views of the Rocky Mountains and you have a good chance of seeing a variety of local wildlife. The 90-minute drive from Denver is also short enough that you can go just for a day trip and still have a wonderful experience. 

If you’re staying in Denver or Boulder, I recommend leaving for the park pretty early in the morning, spending the day there, and ending with dinner in Estes Park before you head back. 

#7 Prepare Well If You’re Hiking a 14er

Travel Lemming Editor Abigail with her husband at the top of Quandary Peak
Travel Lemming editor, Abigail, and her husband at the summit of Quandary Peak.

Lots of people – both locals and visitors – want to hike a mountain that is 14,000 feet or higher (known as 14ers). However, you shouldn’t just wake up one morning and decide you’ll attempt to hike one that day! You’ll want to train for such a strenuous hike, and make sure you’re well-prepared with everything you’ll need for hiking

👉 Pro Tip: Abigail shares the 11 Best 14ers in Colorado, if you’re looking for advice on which one to hike!

#8 We Love Our Dogs

A dog on top of a mountain during a hike in Colorado
He appreciates a good view!

If you’re traveling with your pup, don’t worry – Colorado is very dog-friendly! We have plenty of breweries, outdoor cafes, and other spots where you can sit with your pooch and enjoy a meal or a drink. Many hiking trails allow dogs, and lots of hotels and vacation rentals also allow your furry BFF. 

👉 Pro Tip: National parks and monuments put more constraints on pets than many other outdoor spaces in Colorado. Oftentimes, dogs are only allowed in parking areas and campgrounds but not on trails inside the parks. 

#9 You Can Smoke Pot… But There Are Rules

View from the outside of a marijuana dispensary in Colorado
Dispensaries are often indicated with a green cross (photo: Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock)

As one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, Colorado has become a popular spot for pot tourism. You’ll find plenty of dispensaries here, and even helpful budtenders who can help you select your weed. 

However, there are rules about when and where you can toke up. The big one is that you can’t smoke in public spaces – only in private residences (with permission, of course!) or at a licensed marijuana hospitality business. 

Here’s a helpful list of all the rules governing the use of marijuana in Colorado.

#10 Consider the Off-Season

The author with her daughter holding their dog
The aspens are gorgeous in fall!

Curious about the best time to visit Colorado? September and October are beautiful months to do so. Most kids are back in school, so crowds die down at popular spots.

Also, autumn foliage is usually at its best sometime between late September and mid-October. You may find cheaper hotels and off-season prices for places you want to visit in the state as well.

#11 Keep It Casual

It’s rare to see people dressed up here! I do try to get a little fancy when I head to the theatre, but not everyone does and we keep things laid-back. It’s convenient when you want to head straight from a hiking trail to dinner. It’s also practical in winter, when ice patches could send someone in heels spiraling pretty quickly!

#12 Where to Change Money

If you’re traveling to Colorado from out of the country, you can change money when you land at DIA. There are several exchange places in downtown Denver, and you’ll also find them in large cities like Colorado Springs. Ski resort towns like Vail also have places with currency exchange services. 

#13 Secure Valuables When Hiking

It’s easy to get lulled into a sense of safety when you’re in the mountains hiking, mountain biking, or paddling. It doesn’t feel like anything bad should happen in such a beautiful place! 

However, thieves have been known to target parking lots at popular mountain parks and other outdoor areas. I even got a note on my car from the local sheriff’s office once, warning me not to leave my wallet in plain view (oops!). 

Always lock your car doors. Don’t leave any valuables in the car that can be easily spotted from outside. Take the same safety precautions to protect your things in the mountains that you would in the city.

#14 Try Moisture-Wicking Outdoor Gear

A path on the Mt. Evans wilderness in Colorado

I mentioned earlier that temperatures change quickly in Colorado! This can get uncomfortable when you’re sweating while hiking one minute, then shivering the next when a breeze kicks up. Moisture-wicking gear for skiing, hiking, and other outdoor sports can keep you comfortable and help regulate your temperature while you’re out for the day.

#15 Watch For Afternoon Thunderstorms

Thunderstorm forming over a mountain in Colorado

Colorado can get violent afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. If you’re planning a hike or other outdoor activity, go early in the morning to make sure you’re safely back before a threat of lightning. 

As a general rule, you may need to be flexible with your plans in both winter and summer. Snowstorms and thunderstorms are possibilities and you’ll want to wait them out before heading on your adventures. 

#16 Always Wear Sunscreen

Thomas Lakes view from the summit of Mount Sopris during winter season

The sun’s rays are actually more intense at higher elevations, so be sure to protect your skin! Also, be sure to apply sunscreen in winter (it may be cold, but the sun can reflect off the snow and actually make things worse). Finally, make sure you have it on even if it’s cloudy, since we know Colorado weather changes quickly! 

👉 Pro Tip: I like to use a high-SPF face sunscreen like La Roche-Posay, plus a separate sport sunscreen for the rest of my body. 

#17 You Probably Want to Rent a Car

View of the Avis Car Rental building from the outside
(photo: MIRAJA DESIGN / Shutterstock)

If you’re planning to spend all of your time in the Mile High City, then you may be able to get around without a car. It’s possible to take the train from the airport and rely on rideshares or public transportation. Also, if you’re headed to a ski town, you can likely take a shuttle to your destination, then walk around town. 

However, the most convenient way to explore Colorado is with a rental car. Discover Cars, our preferred partner, provides great options for renting a car in Denver and other areas!

#18 But You Probably Don’t Need 4WD

Cars driving along the mountain highway in Colorado during winter season

If you’re visiting Colorado in winter, you may be wondering whether you need to rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Most major roads and highways are plowed regularly, and you can use an all-wheel drive vehicle to get around. 

However, front-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles may not be the best choice depending on your itinerary. Check traction laws before visiting during the snowy season. 

#19 Try the Rocky Mountain Oysters

Rocky Mountain Oysters with dip on a plate

Rocky Mountain Oysters aren’t seafood, my friend… they’re bull testicles. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are several places in Denver and elsewhere in Colorado where you can order them. They’re usually deep-fried and served with cocktail sauce… and honestly? They’re pretty good. 

#20 Practice Fire Safety

The author's family during one of their camping in Colorado
S’mores are great, just be safe!

If you plan to camp when you visit Colorado, make sure you know whether there are fire bans in place. This state can get really dry, and we’ve had several devastating forest fires, and fires in urban areas in just the last few years. Along with following any fire bans, practice campfire safety and make sure any fire is completely out before leaving it unattended. 

#21 Get Outdoors Early

View of the sunrise from the Wilderness of the Rocky Mountains

There are lots of reasons for hitting the trails, or lakes, or anywhere else first thing in the morning! For one thing, you’re more likely to avoid the crowds that start to form as the day gets later. You’ll also avoid very hot weather, and the afternoon thunderstorms that can hit in the afternoons in summer. 

#22 Go to Red Rocks

View from the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Colorado
(photo: EQRoy / Shutterstock)

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre has activities for just about everyone! If you’re visiting in summer, check out the lineup of bands, try Yoga on the Rocks, or check out the movies showing at the Film on the Rocks series. Year-round, there are hiking trails at the park, along with exhibits in the Visitor Center and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame at the Trading Post in the park.

#23 There Is Lots of Hiking Near Denver

The author's kids during one of their hike in Colorado

If you want to get out and hike but time or other constraints are keeping you near Denver, don’t worry! There are lots of hiking trails near Denver where you can go either for a day, or after a day of work downtown. 

#24 There Is Also Skiing And More Nearby

The Eldora Ski Resort during sunset
Eldora Ski Resort is near Boulder

You can also get to some ski resorts near Denver in just about an hour! If you’d rather spend the day soaking, there are also several hot springs options that aren’t too far of a drive, either.

#25 But There are Lots to See If You Branch Out!

View from the top of Pikes Peak

If you have the time, there are so many great places to visit in Colorado beyond Denver! Fort Collins, in northern Colorado has things to do at Horsetooth Reservoir, lots of places to enjoy local craft beer, and a university in town. 

Colorado Springs is home to the Garden of the Gods, the Olympic Training Center, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. And, of course, mountain towns like Vail and Breckenridge have plenty to offer year-round!

Closer to Denver, you can explore the towns of Littleton, Castle Rock, or Parker for a day outside the city. 

FAQs about Colorado

What should I know before traveling to Colorado?

You should know about the effects of altitude before traveling to Colorado. Make plans to take it easy the first day or two you’re here. If you’re headed to the mountains, it helps to spend a night in Denver first to adjust slowly. Also, always carry a refillable water bottle and drink lots of water! 

Where should I go in Colorado for the first time?

You should go to Rocky Mountain National Park if you’re in Colorado for the first time. Driving Trail Ridge Road through the park will take you on the highest continuous paved road in the U.S., with beautiful scenery and probably wildlife.

How do I prepare for a trip to Colorado?

You can prepare for a trip to Colorado by packing plenty of layers, especially moisture-wicking shirts that will help regulate your temperature. This Colorado packing list will be a helpful resource as you’re prepping and packing. 

What are the best months to visit Colorado?

September and October are the best months to visit Colorado. Summer crowds have lessened and the trees are showing their spectacular fall colors. You may also find cheaper prices in the off-season than during the busy summer months.

***

Hopefully, these Colorado travel tips help you plan your Colorado vacation! I also hope that once you see this beautiful place, you make this vacation one of many!

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