Panoramic view of Great Sand Dunes National Park, one of the best national parks near Denver Colorado

17 Best National Parks Near Denver in 2023 (By a Local)

I’m a Colorado local with insights into the best national parks near Denver! 

This guide overviews all four Colorado national parks, plus several other US national parks in nearby states.

It also includes national monuments where you can admire the natural beauty and history of the Rocky Mountains. I share key attractions at each destination, as well as nearby lodging, additional activities, and where to head to avoid crowds.  

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. See our Advertising Policy for further explanation. Thank you!

17 Best National Parks Near Denver

Rocky Mountain National Park

The Colorado you see on postcards: snow-capped Rocky Mountains, alpine lakes, and lots of wildlife.

View of the highest continuous paved road in Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road, North America’s highest continuous paved road
An elk in the middle of the forest in in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

🚗 Distance from Denver: 66 miles (1.5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Rocky Mountain National Park Website 

Rocky Mountain National Park is the closest national park to Denver at just 90 minutes away. It’s the most popular of the four national parks in Colorado. You can see this national park in a day, but you can easily spend more time here! 

There is no lodging inside Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are plenty of places to stay in Estes Park nearby. There is a restaurant at the top of Trail Ridge Road along with plenty of picnic areas. Fuel up, as there are no gas stations inside Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Dogs aren’t allowed on Rocky Mountain National Park trails. They can be in picnic areas, campgrounds, and on the roads.

👉 Pro Tip: Nab the America the Beautiful pass if you plan to visit several national parks. It will pay for itself in just a few site visits!

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

The tallest sand dunes in North America, with the majestic Rockies looming behind.

Travel Lemming Editor, Abigail ad her husband posing on a jump shot at the top of High Dune
Travel Lemming editor Abigail and her husband at the top of High Dune

🚗 Distance from Denver: 235 miles (3.7 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve 

Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve makes for a memorable experience.

Run up the towering sand dunes that are the tallest on the continent — or walk… maybe crawl. Hiking here is tough given the terrain and elevation! Rent a sandboard from the Oasis Store for a quick descent. 

Seasonal Medano Creek flows at the bottom. You may even be able to tube, depending on when you’re there. You’ll quickly see why the dunes are on our list of the best things to do in Colorado

There is camping at the Great Sand Dunes, but no lodging inside this national park. There are a few hotels near the park, but your best bet for lodging is going to be in Alamosa, about half an hour away. This is an International Dark Sky Park, so try to get to the dunes at night for an awe-inspiring experience. 

Dogs can be on the preserve and in main use areas of the park. Here’s a map with more details on exactly where your furry pal can roam.   

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Views of the steep Black Canyon carved out over millions of years.

Overlooking view from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during autumn season
See the impressive canyon that has developed over millennia

🚗 Distance from Denver: 262 miles (5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Black Canyon of the Gunnison 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the least-visited national parks in the US. The park is also smaller and has fewer amenities than the other national parks on this list. 

Take in the view from the south rim, or try a challenging hike into the inner canyon. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park so you can stargaze at night. 

Mesa Verde National Park

Fascinating ancient cliff dwellings at a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

🚗 Distance from Denver: 371 miles (6.7 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Mesa Verde National Park 

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park is the largest cliff dwelling in North America and one of the best things to do in Durango! View 800-year-old buildings in Mesa Verde on the Cliff Palace Loop Road. There are campgrounds inside the park, along with lodging. You can find more places to stay in Durango nearby. 

Arches National Park

These striking red arches are the biggest group of natural arches in the world.

Travel Lemming Editor, Abigail and her friend posing at the "Welcome to Utah" landmark signage
Moab is one of the best weekend getaways from Denver
Travel Lemming Editor, Abigail and her friend posing beneath Delicate Arch
Editor Abigail and her friend beneath Delicate Arch

🚗 Distance from Denver: 350 miles (5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Arches National Park 

Plan an early day to beat the heat and the crowds when visiting Arches National Park in the summer! There are several places to stay in Moab, but leave town no later than 7 am. 

Landscape Arch is an easy trail that’s under 2 miles, and Delicate Arch is the one you see on Utah license plates. Arches National Park is one of the most striking Utah national parks so have your camera ready!

👉 Pro Tip: You can take some great pictures with your smartphone. I like this tripod and this phone mount and remote as well — make sure you get in the shot!

Canyonlands National Park

Stunning red rock formations and striking cliffs abound in this Southwestern landscape.

The author at the scenic Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands has gorgeous views year-round!

🚗 Distance from Denver: 361 miles (6 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is a less-popular Utah national park, although it’s the biggest. This means it’s one of the less crowded things to do in Moab! There are hiking trails, plus mountain biking, rock climbing, and scenic drives.

Cell service at the park is sketchy or nonexistent in many places. There are two campgrounds at the park, but it has no lodging or places to eat. 

Grand Teton National Park

Amazing mountains and wide Wyoming vistas.

🚗 Distance from Denver: 479 miles (8 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Grand Teton National Park 

Grand Teton isn’t the closest of the national parks near Denver. But the nearly 8-hour drive is absolutely worth it! You’ll find sweeping scenic views that look like they’re straight out of a Western movie. 

Jenny Lake is the most famous of the many lakes in the park, but you can’t go wrong at any of them. Grand Teton is not as popular as nearby Yellowstone, so you’ll have plenty of hiking trails to yourself. 

👉 Pro Tip: This park is less crowded, so book a campsite or lodging here and drive to Yellowstone for the day!

Yellowstone National Park

The country’s first national park contains about half of all active geysers in the world.

Aerial view of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
Grand Prismatic Spring
Aerial view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

🚗 Distance from Denver: 508 miles (8.5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Yellowstone National Park 

Yellowstone is a little farther from Denver than Grand Teton, but you can make the drive in a day. It has many amenities including several lodging options, restaurants, and gas stations. 

Of course, you’ll want to see Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, and you can view the bison that roam the park. You can also head to the backcountry for a rarer Yellowstone experience. 

👉 Pro Tip: Be sure to check out our national park packing list so you don’t forget anything on your trip!

Badlands National Park

Fossil beds and geologic deposits make this otherworldly park a fascinating spot.

🚗 Distance from Denver: 369 miles (6 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Badlands National Park 

Explore the fossils, take a backcountry hike, or drive the Badlands Loop Road. There is a restaurant and lodging at the Cedar Pass Lodge. Leashed dogs can be in campgrounds, picnic areas, and places open to vehicles. They can’t be on the trails. 

Badlands is about a 90-minute drive from Mount Rushmore if you want to knock another national park off your list! 

Colorado National Monument

A great spot for mountain biking and hiking through red rock formations.

Aerial view of the sandstone formations at Colorado National Monument
The beautiful cliffs change with the light

🚗 Distance from Denver: 258 miles (4.7 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Colorado National Monument 

Visiting the Colorado National Monument is one of the best things to do in Grand Junction! It’s a popular spot for rock climbing and hiking. Cycling is only permitted on the roads within the monument. Definitely take the Rim Rock Drive for scenic views of the area! 

There is no food or lodging at the monument, but there are lots of places to stay in Grand Junction nearby. 

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Explore fascinating fossils and petrified trees.

Trunk of the petrified tree at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
There are lots of petrified trees to see up close!

🚗 Distance from Denver: 104 miles (2 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Florissant Fossil Beds is a fascinating thing to do near Colorado Springs! The area is peppered with petrified tree stumps. The nearby Hornbek Homestead tells the tale of a single mom who carved a life out of the land with her four kids. 

There is no food or lodging at the Fossil Beds, but you can stay in Colorado Springs. Dogs are only allowed in the parking lot and the pet area near the picnic tables. 

Dinosaur National Monument

Learn about Colorado’s ancient inhabitants and go rafting along the CO/UT state line.

Closeup look at the fossils at Dinosaur National Monument

🚗 Distance from Denver: 283 miles (5.2 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Dinosaur National Monument  

Dinosaur National Monument isn’t close to any major cities or freeways so it’s an out-of-the-way trip, for sure! But you’ll find fossils and petroglyphs to investigate, plus hiking and rafting. Your best lodging options will be hotels in nearby Vernal. There are no restaurants within the monument. 

Cedar Breaks National Monument

A less-crowded option for sweeping canyon views and Southwest vistas.

Travel Lemming Editor, Abigail and her friend posing at the landmark signage of Cedar Breaks National Monument
Abigail and her friend at the monument entry
Aerial view of the scenic Cedar Breaks National Monument on a sunny day
Panoramic scenery at Cedar Breaks

🚗 Distance from Denver: 573 miles (9.5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Cedar Breaks National Monument

See cool geologic features at this monument including hoodoos and gorges. One of the world’s oldest trees is also here, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Utah! Find food and lodging in Cedar City, located nearby. 

Browns Canyon National Monument

Raft or hike through wilder parts of Colorado along the river.

Closeup look at the landmark signage of Browns Canyon National Monument
(photo: Gregory Kempers / Shutterstock)

🚗 Distance from Denver: 125 miles (2.5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Browns Canyon National Monument 

Whitewater rafting tours are definitely the most popular way to explore Browns Canyon! There is also hiking at this largely undeveloped monument. You won’t find lodging or food, and you’ll be driving unpaved roads with blind corners unless you opt to walk in. You’ll find places to stay in nearby Buena Vista or you can camp. 

Chimney Rock National Monument

A lesser-known archaeological site with Ancestral Pueblo homes.

View of the Pueblo II sites at Chimney Rock National Monument
See one of the largest Pueblo II sites in the area

🚗 Distance from Denver: 297 miles (5.5 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Chimney Rock National Monument 

Chimney Rock features cliff dwellings in an area off the beaten path. It’s a wonderful, less popular option than the better-known Mesa Verde. 

It’s one of the more interesting things to do near Pagosa Springs! You won’t find food or lodging at the monument, but you can stay in Pagosa Springs.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

Play on the three reservoirs and go boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and more.

Aerial view of the snow covered Curecanti National Recreation Area
Though cold, Curecanti National Recreation Area is a beautiful place to explore in the winter

🚗 Distance from Denver: 216 miles (4 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Curecanti National Recreation Area 

Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest manmade lake in Colorado. This is a great spot for a weekend of water fun including water skiing, fishing, or paddle boarding. Look for hotels in nearby Gunnison

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Hike an extinct volcano and see four different states from the top.

View of the signage and the Capulin Volcano in the background

🚗 Distance from Denver: 251 miles (3.7 hours) | 📍 Google Maps | 🌳 Capulin Volcano National Monument 

This New Mexico national monument features a cinder cone volcano. You can see Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma when you hike your way to the top. There is no food or lodging at the monument, but you can stay in Raton, New Mexico about 30 miles away. 

👉 Read Next: Best State Parks Near Denver

FAQs About National Parks Near Denver 

What national parks are closest to Denver, Colorado?

The national parks closest to Denver, Colorado are Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Sand Dunes, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Rocky Mountain National Park is the closest national park at 64 miles from Denver. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is 235 miles. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park distance is 262 miles from the Mile High City. 

How far is Denver from a national park?

Denver is 64 miles from a national park. Rocky Mountain National Park is about an hour and a half from Denver and is the state’s most popular national park. You can visit for a day, but there is enough to do to keep you busy for several days if you have the time. 


The national parks near Denver are some of the best places to experience nature. See our guide on things to do in Denver for more area activities! 

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