While exploring what makes Colorado cool, we checked in with Steve Turner, the state preservationist who was named director of History Colorado this summer; he has a vast appreciation of Colorado’s past and present, while also looking to the state organization’s future. Asked for some of his favorite spots, Turner said that he’d recently taken his sister and brother-in-law on a road trip that looped through Glenwood Springs and Aspen, and that they were blown away just by the beauty of the stretch of the interstate that passes through Glenwood Canyon. But there are many, many more places around the state that put the cool in Colorado. Here are some of Turner’s top picks, in alphabetical order.
A soaring achievement: The Air Force Academy Chapel.
Air Force Academy Chapel
Built in 1962, this iconic building in the Brutalist style is a world-famous example of modern architecture.
Antlers Cafe and Bar
The Antlers Cafe was built between 1904 and 1906. It started as a saloon and became a pool hall during Prohibition, giving the Antlers a rich history worth celebrating.
Atlas Missile Site
The Atlas Missile Site, where nuclear warhead Atlas E missiles were constructed during the Cold War, is today a park owned by Weld County and a popular tourist destination.
This ranch was built from logs in 1869 but expanded into a “mansion” by 1880. Now restored, its signature red roofs and mountain views make it a popular event center.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site features a reconstructed 1840s fur-trading post on the Santa Fe Trail where traders, trappers and Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes could peacefully gather and trade. Today the fort houses tours, demonstrations and special events.
Bent's Old Fort.
Trinidad’s streets are made of red bricks stamped with “TRINIDAD,” manufactured locally in the early part of the twentieth century. They complement the city’s beautiful brick buildings.
Brown Palace Atrium: The stunning Brown Palace Hotel features an incredibly ornate and historic atrium where you can grab a cocktail or enjoy high tea in downtown Denver.
The Bucksnort Saloon is a historic Colorado watering hole not far from Arapahoe National Forest. It’s famous for its authentic Old West style and half-pound Buck burger.
Burlington Carousel, Burlington: Also known as the Kit Carson County Carousel, this is a preserved and still-active carousel built in 1905. Intricately designed steeds, artwork and artifacts make this community treasure a true piece of art.
Built out of recycled aluminum, Cano’s Castle features five structures that show off its unique construction materials: wire, hubcaps, grills, doors, bike parks, beer cans and more. The eccentric owner claims that Jesus Christ has been living in the building since 1987 and that he is trying to convince him to go meet the president.
Opened in 1898, Chautauqua Boulder originally served as a cultural and educational retreat for Texas teachers. It’s been in use as a cultural site and event space ever since, and has a rich history of intellectual retreats, education and music performances.
Cherokee Ranch and Castle
Cherokee Ranch and Castle
This historic building is reminiscent of a 1450s Scottish castle, with walls made out of stone. Cherokee Ranch hosts cultural events every month.
Colorado National Monument
Plateaus, canyons, wildlife and more are just some of natural wonders at this national monument.
Coney Island Hot Dog Stand
This 1950s-style diner shaped like a giant hot dog with toppings has changed locations and hands, but it remains a landmark on U.S. 285.
Conundrum Creek Trail
Conundrum Creek Trail is a challenging hike that starts in Aspen and ends at Conundrum Hot Springs. The trail is known for its incredible views of meadows, forests and abundant wildlife.
A well-known 1892 powerhouse above the Crystal River, the Crystal Mill still stands, one of the most photographed sites in Colorado. It is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles or ATVs.
Gagliano’s Italian Market
Established in 1921 by Joseph and Carmela Gagliano, Gagliano’s Italian Market is a still-bustling neighborhood Italian grocery store that today attracts visitors from around the world who are shopping for authentic Italian foods and pastries.
The pool at Glenwood Springs.
Glenwood Springs is a popular vacation spot known for its history, location and natural hot springs. Tourists visit year-round to enjoy many of the natural and historical features of this Old West town.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
Georgetown to Silver Plume
This historic stretch of track still makes runs for tourists interested in incredible mountain and forest views, from Georgetown up to a set of former silver mines. This is an official History Colorado attraction (see more below).
A stunning castle nestled in the mountains, Glen Eyrie was built by General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. Today it functions as a meeting place, event center and spiritual retreat.
The ride and scenery are free.
This free transport ferries skiers and locals alike between historic Telluride and Mountain Village, offering stunning views.
An incredible feat of engineering, the Flume was used to divert water to several mining claims. What remains is still preserved for its historic importance.
Howelsen Hill is the oldest continually operating ski area in Colorado, open since 1915. It’s known around the world for its natural ski-jumping complex, which has been the training ground of more than 79 Olympians.
La Vega Commons
San Luis Valley
La Vega is a stretch of communal grazing ground, used as such since 1863 by farmers across seven villages. The grounds remain undeveloped and uncultivated.
Hurry! The Manitou Incline will close for repairs August 22.
Located just outside Colorado Springs, the Manitou Incline was originally built as a cable car to carry materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak. Today the Manitou Incline is a popular and challenging hike that climbs 2,000 vertical feet.
Million Dollar Highway
Silverton to Ouray
U.S. Highway 550, the “Million Dollar Highway,” runs from Silverton to Ouray for 25 miles. The ride can be thrilling — if not outright dangerous for those not paying attention — with sharp curves, steep cliffs, no guardrails and incredible views.
Mr. Brown’s Attic
Located on the third floor of the State Capitol, Mr. Brown’s Attic features an exhibit on Colorado’s early history, the Capitol’s construction and the legislature, with an interactive space for children.
Petrified Wood Filling Station
This former filling station is made out of petrified wood that has turned to stone. The amazing building is currently home to a tire shop and car dealership.
Red Cliff Bridge, an engineering marvel.
Red Cliff Bridge
U.S. Highway 24 crosses over Eagle River at this point. The steel bridge — also known as the Eagle River Bridge and the Silver Bridge — was built in 1940 in often below-freezing temperatures, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A world-famous concert venue sits at the heart of a series of hiking trails and scenic views of both the Front Range mountains and the Denver metro area.
This castle was built of hand-cut stone blocks in the style of an English Tudor and used as a wealthy man’s hunting retreat — built in a town that was once a utopian workers’ retreat.
This scenic road runs up a razorback ridge and overlooks Cañon City, just off U.S. Highway 50 on the west side of the town. At the top are dinosaur tracks embedded in the cliff face, complete with interpretive signage. The arch features stones from all fifty states.
The Trujillo Homesteads were often at the center of racial and cultural clashes between Anglo-Americans and the Hispano-American owners. They’re located inside the Nature Conservancy’s Zapata Ranch in Hooper, close to the Great Sand Dunes.
Wright Opera House
A preserved 1888 opera house that remains a center for the arts for the Ouray area.
David Tryba designed the History Colorado Center.
And the rest is history: Although Steve Turner modestly avoided listing History Colorado’s sites, they’re all can’t-miss spots for anyone exploring Colorado. These are the state-owned community museums; you can find more information on all of them at historycolorado.org.
History Colorado Center
This stunning, David Tryba-designed building opened in 2012, and the inlaid map of Colorado in the atrium continues to wow visitors with its trip-back-in-time design. The facility hosts permanent and visiting exhibits and a regular roster of events, and serves as home base for all History Colorado programs.
Byers-Evans House Museum
1310 Bannock Street
The Byers-Evans House was home to two prominent Denver families and is one of the city’s most historic landmarks. Built in 1883, it has been restored to the period between 1912 and 1924.
El Pueblo History Museum
301 North Union, Pueblo
El Pueblo History Museum showcases the city’s history and the region’s many cultural and ethnic groups. The property includes a re-created 1840s adobe trading post and plaza and the archeological excavation site of the original 1842 El Pueblo trading post. The museum also hosts many groundbreaking temporary exhibits and programs.
Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center
29477 Highway 159, Fort Garland
Fort Garland was once commanded by legendary frontiersman Kit Carson, and the garrison protected the earliest settlers in the San Luis Valley. From the fort, you can visit Pike’s Stockade, where Zebulon Pike and his men camped in the early 1800s as they explored the area.
Fort Vasquez Museum
13412 U.S. Highway 85, Platteville
The site of an 1835 fur-trading fort founded by Louis Vasquez and Andrew Sublette on the South Platte River: history right by the highway.
Georgetown Loop Historic Mining & Railroad Park
646 Loop Road, Georgetown
The Georgetown Loop was built in 1884 and is now owned by History Colorado, which contracts with a company to run the train between Georgetown and Silver Plume. There are parks, information booths and shopping opportunities at both ends.
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Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin
912 Harrison Street, Leadville
Fortunes were made and lost in Leadville, the country’s highest town. The Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin both hold a wealth of historic and scenic treasures of this storied mining town.
Trinidad History Museum
312 East Main Street, Trinidad
The museum features several attractions in one block of the acclaimed historic district of this old mining town.
Ute Indian Museum
17253 Chipeta Road, Montrose
Closed for renovation
This museum has one of the most complete collections of Ute Indian artifacts in the nation. It’s currently closed while undergoing a major upgrade.