National Parks near Denver! There’s so much more to the Centennial State than the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium.
As someone who has seen a lot of national parks, two of my absolute favorites are within a short drive of the city.
In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national parks that are within a day’s drive of Denver.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
So let’s go ahead with 6 reasons why you’ll want to hop into your car and make a day’s drive from Denver to one of these truly amazing places.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near Denver
Table of Contents: National Parks Near Denver
- Facts About Denver
- National Parks Near Denver
Facts About Denver
Denver is the capital and largest city of the state of Colorado in the United States. It is located in the Rocky Mountains and has a semi-arid climate with cool winters and warm, dry summers.
Denver is a vibrant and diverse city with a thriving economy and a strong focus on technology, healthcare, and education. It is home to several major companies, including Arrow Electronics and DaVita, as well as several universities and colleges, including the University of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver.
Denver is known for its outdoor recreation opportunities, with easy access to the Rocky Mountains, which offer skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. The city is also home to a number of parks and green spaces, including City Park and Washington Park.
Denver is a popular tourist destination, with many visitors coming to enjoy the city’s cultural attractions, including the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, as well as its thriving music and nightlife scenes.
The city is also home to several professional sports teams, including the Denver Broncos football team and the Colorado Rockies baseball team.
National Parks Near Denver
1. Arches National Park
Distance From Denver: 5 hours and 44 minutes (350 miles) via I-70 W.
I retired as a teacher so that I could join my two sons on an incredible adventure bringing America’s national treasures to life. So let’s go!
Arches National Park is perhaps the most interactive of all the Utah parks filled with scenery that brings out the child in all of us. Sandstone hallways and tunnels, rocks to climb on and over, sandy trails perfect for sandals or even bare feet at times, and red rock vistas that make for an unforgettable experience.
It’s close proximity to Moab does make it a bit of a crowded park at times so be sure to take advantage of early mornings when visiting and consider going during the shoulder seasons.
Delicate Arch (featured in the first image above) is the iconic arch featured on the Utah license plate and the arch everyone plans their trip around. The hike up to Delicate Arch isn’t a walk in the park as it involves a solid incline and a bit of navigating the sandstone, but is more than doable for most visitors.
Landscape Arch is the largest arch on earth spanning some 306 feet of weathered sandstone. This one is an easy 1.5 miles round trip and a must on your Arches trip.
Double O Arch featured in the image above is a very unique arch on top of an arch. This 4.1 mile out and back hike is a bit more strenuous, especially in the summer heat, so plan accordingly and bring plenty of water.
2. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
Distance From Denver: 5 hours and 4 minutes (262 miles) US HWY-285 S & US-50 W.
Resources: Where to Stay
Of all the underrated national parks out there, this one is near the top of the list. As a relatively new park it has flown under the radar of most park-goers’ summer travel plans.
For those who love Black Canyon, this is great news as it means more of the park for us. This is a great, unsung national park near Denver that’s ripe for the visiting.
The scenery here is breathtaking and warrants the same long gazes afforded to places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
The catch of course is that the park is remote, and when we say remote, we do mean remote. The nearest services are quite a ways from the park entrance so you’ll wan to bring everything you need with you.
That said, this one is worth a visit if you can swing it.
3. Canyonlands National Park
Distance From Denver: Six hours (363 miles) via I-70 W.
Canyonlands is one of the parks that has views that one can seemingly gaze upon for days without losing interest or comprehending exactly the vastness of the landscape.
Mesa Arch here represents one of the most photographed sunrises in all of the national park system and Green River overlook one of the most dazzling sunsets.
The catch? Four-wheel drive. If you’ve got it you’re set and have full access to all of the unbelievable destinations the park has to offer.
Without it, your time in the park will be mostly limited to overlooks from above, which are still well worth the trip.
Highlights At Canyonlands
The Needles makes up the southeastern corner of the park and is named after the multi-colored spires of sandstone that dominate the area. The Needles area offers a multitude of hiking opportunities as well as 4WD roads leading to fascinating ruins.
Mesa Arch is the most photographed feature in the park and is where you’ll find the bulk of tourists looking to snag their very own photo of this arch with a view. Sunrise is the best time to head over and see the sun makes its way up through the arch while illuminating the vast landscape.
Shafer Trail is perhaps the pinnacle of 4WD trails in the United States. Here you can put your high clearance four-wheel-drive SUV through the wringer on this challenging, unpaved, and downright scary road.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Distance From Denver: 3 hours and 52 minutes (236 miles) via I-25 S.
Imagine the Sahara Desert with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains – you’re looking at one of the most underrated national parks in America, Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Great Sand Dunes is a spectacular park located in southern Colorado that features some of the most breathtaking and unique scenery anywhere in the world.
The park is fairly remote and not necessarily near other big attractions, but it’s certainly more than worth the trip. Due to its remote location you won’t have to deal with crowds which are becoming more and more of a problem in many other once-quiet parks.
We recommend late-summer for optimal conditions at Great Sand Dunes. Late summer brings few bugs and slightly cooler temperatures on the dunes making for enjoyable hiking and overnight camping.
5. Mesa Verde National Park
Distance From Denver: 7 hours and 45 minutes (389 miles)
Known for the cliff dwellings it protects, Mesa Verde is a budding archaeologists’ dream national park.
Ancient pueblo dwellings and ruins are beautifully preserved throughout this remote desert park.
Getting to walk amongst the exquisite ruins and ponder the lives of those who made this place home so long ago is a rite of passage for any historical-minded American.
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado this park is a bit out there but totally worth a trip if you can make it happen.
Sunsets here are spectacular as you walk amidst vast ruins and gaze out at the never-ending expanse of sage-brush desert beyond.
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Mesa Verde Highlights
Cliff Palace is the show-stopper and the main attraction at Mesa Verde. A guided tour is required and is highly enjoyable as a park ranger explains to you historians limited understanding of what went on at Mesa Verde so long ago.
Cedar Tree Tower is a great example of the many ruined towers that have been discovered along mesa tops in this area. It requires a very short hike and is self-guided so you can take your time exploring the area.
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Top 10 National Parks Near Denver
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance From Denver: 1 hour and 48 minutes (66 miles) via US-36 W/Denver Boulder Turnpike & CO-7 W.
Tucked into the heart of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park spans more than 400 square miles of breathtaking mountain scenery.
This national park is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the American Rockies and it’s no wonder why.
Rocky Mountain is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, beaver, deer, black bear, eagles, marmots, mountain lions, and so much more.
However, in recent years visitation has increased dramatically at the expense of the visitor experience (not to mention the impact on the park itself).
What was once mostly an issue reserved for the bear lake area of the park has now spread to the rest of the park (especially around the Estes Park entrance).
Crowd sizes have swelled to the point that the National Park Service has instituted a timed entry program to control the crowds. With population centers soaring near the park, we expect this issue to become more exacerbated with each passing year.
Map Of National Parks Near Denver
List of National Parks Near Denver
- Arches National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.
I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!
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