From the rugged Medicine Bow Mountains of State Forest State Park to the frothy rapids of the Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado has a state park system that makes other countries jealous. Funny thing is, many Coloradans don't know about these outdoor gems. Here, we introduce you to the best of the best.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
—Photo by Sarah Boyum
Highline Lake State Park
Plunked down in the middle of a stark desert landscape, Highline Lake State Park's two lakes form an oasis bordered by scrubland that extends all the way to Utah. Unhindered views of the desolate beauty abound. The park, however, is anything but deserted: There's rowdy motorboating on Highline Lake, peaceful rowing on Mack Mesa Lake, and single-track riding throughout the grounds.
The Draw Killer mountain biking. There are six loops to choose from, ranging from the easy one-mile Blue Heron Ponds Loop to the six-mile, world-famous 18 Hours of Fruita Loop. Trailheads for the Kokopelli Trail (a 142-mile epic ride west to Moab, Utah) and the North Fruita Desert trail system (five interconnecting trails totaling 73 miles that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management) are also nearby.
The Alternative Birding. The National Audubon Society has identified more than 200 types of birds—including blue herons, bald and golden eagles, and sandhill cranes—inhabiting the saltbrush encircling the park's two lakes. Grab a checklist at the park's entrance.
Only Here Visitors can take a dip at Highline Lake, where the water can hit a bathlike 80 degrees during the summer. There's a roped-off swimming beach by the picnic area.
For the Adventurous The 18 Hours of Fruita, a grueling endurance bike race for solo or team riders at Highline, is the keystone event of the annual Fruita Fat Tire Festival.
When to Go The park's open year-round; boating and camping are popular during the warmer months, so make reservations early.
Get There Take I-70 west past Grand Junction, exit onto Highway 139 northbound. Go six miles, make a left on Q Road; after 1.2 miles make a right onto 11.8 Road. Drive one mile to the entrance. For more information, call 970-858-7208.