Colorado’s 8 Most Overlooked State Parks

Mountains or prairies, rivers or forests, out in the country or next to the city… Colorado’s 41 state parks offer something for everyone.

From some of the highest summits in America to the broad sweeping plains, Colorado’s diverse landscapes boast world-renowned beauty. And wherever you go in Colorado, there’s a state park waiting to welcome you. Mountains or prairies, rivers or forests, out in the country or next to the city… Colorado’s 41 state parks are as diverse as the state itself, and they offer something for everyone. Within the parks system, several of our more remote parks are truly hidden gems, offering great rewards to outdoor enthusiasts looking to get away from the crowds. Here’s a list of eight parks that should be considered when planning your next Colorado outdoor adventure.

8. Navajo State Park

Navajo Reservoir
Photo by © Dustin Doskocil/CPW

Touted as “Colorado’s Lake Powell,” Navajo State Park begins in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and extends 20 miles into New Mexico. Whether you whiz along in a powerboat, paddle the shoreline, bike on the trail or relax on a houseboat, the 15,000 surface acres of water and 150 miles of shoreline offer nearly unlimited recreation under the sunny, southwestern sky.

Wildlife watchers may see deer, elk, foxes, beavers, muskrats, river otters, jackrabbits, prairie dogs and numerous bird species. In winter, bald eagles hunt along the lake and shore. Navajo is a recreation paradise!

Navajo Icons

NAVAJO STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, basic campsites, boat ramp, boat rental, cabins, campsites with electrical, dump station, full-hookup campsites, laundry, marina, mooring/docking, picnic sites, primitive campsites, showers

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback trails, hunting, jet skiing, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, swimming, water skiing, wildlife/bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From Pagosa Springs, take U.S. 160 W 17 miles. Go SW on Colo. 151 for 18 miles to Arboles. Go 2 miles S on CR 982.


For more information on Navajo State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

7. Trinidad Lake State Park

Bull Elk
Photo by © Vic Schendel/CPW

Sunshine, piñon pine- and juniper-covered hills, great fishing, water sports, abundant birds and wildlife, rich history and heritage. At Trinidad Lake, visitors can roll any or all of these attractions into an outstanding day, weekend or extended vacation. Throw a line in and cook up your catch over a campfire as you lounge at one of 73 campsites in two campgrounds. Wander historic sites such as the coal mining ruins at Cokedale and the Santa Fe Trail.

Trinidad Lake icons

TRINIDAD LAKE STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, archery range, basic campsites, boat ramp, campsites with electrical, dump station, full-hookup campsites, group campground, group picnic area, laundry, mooring/docking, picnic sites, shower

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, geocaching, hiking, horseback trails, hunting, ice fishing, ice skating, jet skiing, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, water skiing, wildlife/bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From I-25, take Exit 13B for Main Street in Trinidad. Turn left at the four-way stop onto Nevada. At the next intersection, head west onto Hwy. 12/Highway of Legends. Continue 3 miles W to the park entrance.

For more information on Trinidad State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

6. Rifle Gap State Park

surfing the crystal clear water at rifle gap.
Photo by © Dustin Doskocil/CPW

Do you enjoy boating, fishing or other water sports? Then you’ll love the clean, clear waters of Rifle Gap Reservoir. Check out the cascades and caves at Rifle Falls, but don’t forget Rifle Gap’s sailing, jet skiing and paddleboarding opportunities. Take a dip at the swim beach, and wind down at one of the 89 campsites. A great “home base” for fun!

COMING SOON: Rifle Gap’s first trail will be available in spring 2020.  The 1.2 mile trail connecting the Lakeview and Cottonwood campground loops will offer great views of the lake and nearby hogbacks.

Rifle Gap icons

RIFLE GAP STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, boat ramp, dump station, group picnic area, picnic sites, primitive campsites

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, ice fishing, ice skating, jet skiing, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, snow tubing, swimming, water skiing, wildlife viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From I-70 exit at Rifle, take Hwy. 13 N through Rifle 3 miles. Turn right on Hwy. 325 and go 6 miles.

For more information on Rifle Gap State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

5. Jackson Lake State Park

OHV track at Jackson Lake State Park
Photo by © VerdonTomajko/CPW

Ranked by Reserve America as one of the “Top 15 Park Beaches,” this is a great place to kick back with the family and cool off in the summer. Jackson Lake’s staff likes to remind potential visitors that their lake is three times larger than Cherry Creek Reservoir and two times larger than Chatfield. And more importantly, it often contains a fraction of the boaters found on those reservoirs! Usually, there is less than a 10-minute wait to get out on the reservoir. For OHV owners, Jackson Lake State Park offers one of the only riding areas east of I-25.

binoculars icon

Birdwatchers will discover a variety of birds attracted to this cottonwood-lined reservoir on the Eastern Plains, including bald eagles, hawks, herons and grassland and riparian songbirds. Rafts of American white pelicans are common in summer. The park’s location on the Central Flyway means lots of migrating waterfowl and shore and wading birds, even long-billed curlews and an occasional whooping crane.

Jackson lake icons

JACKSON LAKE STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, boat ramp, boat/jet ski rental, campsites with electrical, dump station, group
campground, group picnic area, laundry, marina, mooring/docking, picnic sites, shower

RECREATION: Biking, boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, ice fishing, ice skating, jet skiing, OHV, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, swimming, water skiing, wildlife/bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From Hwy. 34 and I-76 interchange, go N 7.25 miles on Colo. 39, through Goodrich. Then go W on Y.5 (follow paved road) for 2.5 miles.

For more information on Jackson Lake State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

4. Crawford State Park

Photo by © Dustin Doskocil/CPW

At 6,600-foot elevation, the mild climate offers outdoor recreation four seasons of the year. Imagine fishing, water skiing or camping on a 400-acre reservoir against the backdrop of stunning mountain peaks and you’ll have an idea of the scene at this park just 12 miles from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Crawford State Park is home to one of the largest warm water fisheries on the West Slope. Anglers can look forward to a variety of action with crappie, pike, catfish, perch, rainbow trout, and largemouth bass found in the reservoir.

In-the-know tip: In the winter, Crawford is a great place to go ice fishing, snowshoeing, and X-skiing on the four-mile X-skiing trail. During the summer, Crawford State Park celebrates the City of Crawford with fireworks in June. Check the park calendar for details.

Crawford icons

CRAWFORD STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, basic campsites, boat ramps, dump station, campsites with electric, group picnic area, picnic sites, shower

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking, ice fishing, jet skiing, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, snow tubing, swimming, water skiing, winter camping, wildlife/bird viewing

DIRECTIONS: From Delta, take Hwy. 92 E to Hotchkiss. Veer right on Hwy. 92. Go 10 miles to Crawford. Park is 1 mile S on Hwy. 92.

For more information on Crawford State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

3. John Martin Reservoir State Park

Fishing on John Martin Reservoir
Photo by © Vic Schendel/CPW

A birders paradise, John Martin Reservoir State Park boasts of documenting 415 species of birds on the water, along the shore and in surrounding woodlands and grassy uplands. Additionally, the park is home to two annual birding festivals – the High Plains Snow Goose Festival and the Bent on Birding Festival.

Boating, swimming, water skiing and wind-water sports of all kinds are offered on this large lake, and its campground is a popular weekend destination. Whether from boat or shore, anglers can catch walleye, saugeye, bass, wiper, crappie, perch and catfish.

John Martin Reservoir State Park is located in an area of the state that is rich in history. A portion of the Santa Fe Trail runs right through the park; there are petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks in the immediate area as well.

john martin icons

JOHN MARTIN RESERVOIR STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Visitor center, basic campsites, boat ramps, campsites with electric, dump station, group campground, group picnic area, laundry, picnic sites, showers

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, geocaching, hiking, horseback trails, ice fishing, ice skating, jet skiing, ranger/nature programs, sail/paddle sports, swimming, water skiing, wildlife/ bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: Take Hwy. 50 W from Lamar about 20 miles to Hasty. Go S on School Street (CR 24); go 2 miles to park entrance.

For more information on John Martin Reservoir State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

2. Mancos State Park

Family sitting around the campfire.
Photo by © Dustin Doskocil/CPW

Surrounded by the stunning scenery of the San Juan Mountains and the archaeological mysteries of southwestern Colorado, Mancos is a great destination for a vacation or getaway any time of year.

Sound like a local! The first challenge with Mancos is nailing the pronunciation. Although Spanish-derived, it isn’t Mahn-cose. And it sure as heck ain’t Man-cose. It’s Mane (like the horse’s locks) cuss (like the locals do when folks call it Mahn-cose or Man-cose). Clear accent on the Mane. If you have any trouble, it helps to put a pinch of almost anything between cheek and gum (even your tongue), spit a little, and try… Manecuss. Manecuss. Ptooeyy.  Manecuss. Now you got it!

Other than lots of character, here are FIVE more things that make Mancos great:

  1. Breakfast in the alpine, dinner in the desert; it’s in a sweet spot.
  2. Yurts! Hike, bike and XC ski-in/ski-out, walk to great fishing, and be snug as a bug in the Ponderosa pines.
  3. The park connects to the Colorado Trail (CT) via the Mancos Spur, originating in the park and connecting to the CT near Taylor Lake.
  4. Ever seen a cliff dwelling? Mancos is only 20 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park.
  5. Location, location, location! Durango-Silverton Railroad, Four Corners National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Purgatory Ski Resort… all a quick trip from the park.
Mancos icons

MANCOS STATE PARK

FACILITIES: Basic campsites, boat ramp, dump station, group picnic area, picnic sites, yurts

RECREATION: Biking, boating, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback trails, ice fishing, ranger/nature programs, wildlife/bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From Durango, take Hwy. 160 W 27 miles to Mancos. Go N on Hwy. 184 approximately 0.25 of a mile, turn E on CR 42 (USFS Rd. 561). Go 4 miles and take CR ‘N’ to park entrance.


For more information on Mancos State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

1. Mueller State Park

Mueller State Park Landscape
Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

Hushed forests, spring-fed mountain meadows, wildflowers of every hue, massive granite rock formations and the iconic form of Pikes Peak rising above. At Mueller, visitors can enjoy a wonderful outing in the mountains within easy drive of Front Range communities.

With over 5,000 acres and miles of trails, biking, camping year-round, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, you won’t be bored at this beautiful park full of rock outcroppings, craggy peaks and quiet ponds.

Visitors will discover great activities any time of year. Explore the trails on foot, mountain bike or horseback, find a secluded picnic spot, fish a backcountry trout pond, watch birds, discover the four geocaches and hunt in the 800-acre hunting area. In winter, there’s cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.

Mueller cabin

You’ve got to see the cabins!

Nestled among meadows and conifer forests lie the three beautiful rustic-style log cabins. The fantastic​ view of Pikes Peak, tall pine trees and a variety of wildlife add to the charm of these mountain retreats. A great option for that special vacation!

Mueller state park icons

MUELLER STATE PARK

FACILITIES: visitor center, basic campsites, cabins, campsites with electric, dump station, group campground, laundry, picnic sites, showers

RECREATION: biking, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback trails, geocaching, hunting, ranger/nature programs, snow tubing, wildlife/bird viewing, winter camping

DIRECTIONS: From Colorado Springs, go 25 miles W on Hwy. 24 to Divide. Go S on Hwy. 67 for 3.5 miles to park entrance.


For more information on Mueller State Park, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Follow the progress!
Get the top news and information from Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Each month, CPW provides the latest info about Colorado’s state parks, fishing and hunting. To receive tips, news, events and promotions, sign up for the CPW E-Newsletter.​​​

For more information about Colorado State Parks, download and read Your Guide to Colorado’s 41 State Parks.


Article by Michelle Seubert. Michelle is the Park Manager at Barr Lake State Park.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

✉ Follow for Updates

Never miss a post! Enter your email address and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More Posts