I’m a Colorado local with insights into the best national parks near Denver!
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.
Table of Contents
- 17 Best National Parks Near Denver
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Badlands National Park
- Colorado National Monument
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Browns Canyon National Monument
- Chimney Rock National Monument
- Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Capulin Volcano National Monument
- FAQs About National Parks Near Denver
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Canyonlands National Park
Stunning red rock formations and striking cliffs abound in this Southwestern landscape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Play on the three reservoirs and go boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and more.
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Hike an extinct volcano and see four different states from the top.
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?
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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