They don’t call it Colorful Colorado for nothing, but did you know some of the gems in our state actually look like famous exotic destinations? From the Sahara Desert, to the blue mountain basins of Switzerland, Colorado has attractions that will offer you a foreign travel experience without spending a dime on airfare. If you don’t have the vacation time, don’t worry — a weekend getaway in this beautiful state might fool your friends into believing you’re somewhere else. Perhaps it might even be better than the real thing.
COVID-19 note: make sure to check with county rules and regulations before you go, as some areas may be closed or have new restrictions. Make sure to wear and bring a mask as well.
1. Denver Botanic Gardens :: Kenroku-en Garden, Ishikawa, Japan
Where in Colorado: 1007 York St., Denver
Similarities: You don’t need to travel to southeast Asia to find the same blossoms, bonsai trees, and peace and tranquility you’d experience in an authentic Japanese garden. Near Cheesman Park in Capitol Hill, the Denver Botanic Gardens have their very own Japanese garden called Sho-Fu-En, which means “garden of the pines and wind” (things you’d find in Colorado). This serene spot resembles the Kenroku-en Garden in Ishikawa (one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan) and even features a bridge and a tea house. You don’t even need to leave Denver for this one. To purchase tickets to the Denver Botanic Gardens, click here.
2. Mesa Verde National Park :: Bandiagara Escarpment, Mali
Where in Colorado: Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center — 35853 Rd. Highway 5, Mancos
Similarities: Similar to the ancient cave dwellings you’d find in Mali in west Africa, Colorado’s very own Mesa Verde National Park is home to carefully preserved villages made of sandstone in the sheltered alcoves of cliffs. Both the Bandiagara Escarpment and Mesa Verde are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and offer you a glimpse of the past on the edge of the world. To learn more about Mesa Verde, click here.
3. Rifle Mountain Ice Caves :: Ice Caves, Skaftafell, Iceland
Where in Colorado: Rifle Mountain Park — 13885 Colorado Rd. 217, Rifle
Similarities: Colorado winters bring skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, but did you know that during winter months, you can also climb through ice caves? Located in Rifle Mountain Park, these spectacular ice caves are created when waterfalls over the canyon walls freeze and create stunning ice formations and icicles. This natural winter wonder looks like the ice caves you’d find near Skaftafell, Iceland — caves that feature magnificent formations of blue ice for which the country is named.
4. Great Stupa of Dharmakaya :: Tengboche Monastery, Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Where in Colorado: 20 minute walk from Shambhala Mountain Center — 151 Shambhala Way, Red Feather Lakes
Similarities: In Red Feather Lakes, the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya stands at 108 feet tall and is considered sacred Buddhist architecture that you won’t find often in North America. Built to honor the Shambhala Mountain Center’s founder, the Great Stupa in Colorado is a monument that serves as inspiration for peace. In Nepal, a similar white stupa is part of the Tengboche Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist place of worship that is frequented by trekking and mountaineering tourists in the area to visit Mt. Everest. To find out more information about the Great Stupa, click here.
*The Stupa is closed from July 14 – July 25, 2017.
5. Great Sand Dunes National Park :: Sahara Desert
Where in Colorado: Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center — 11999 CO-150, Mosca
Similarities: Colorado may be known for its mountains, but near the small southern town of Alamosa, you’ll find the tallest sand dunes in North America. These dunes tower up to 750 feet tall and stretch far enough to make you feel as though you’re wandering the Sahara itself (minus the mountains in the background). This is the travel experience you won’t want to miss if you’re searching for a location like a truly exotic destination. Click here for more info.
6. 16th Street Mall Clock Tower :: Clock Window, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Where in Colorado: 1601 Arapahoe St. #17, Denver
Similarities: Everybody in Denver is familiar with the iconic Clock Tower on 16th Street Mall, but did you know you can go inside it? The giant clock features a similar silhouette to that of the Clock Window at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and provides a romantic backdrop for weddings and other special events. You can book a tour of the Clock Tower and see the clock up close here.
7. Hanging Lake :: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Where in Colorado: Take Hanging Lake Trail. Parking at 60657-62583 I-70, White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs
Similarities: This popular hike near Glenwood Springs is a Colorado favorite that’s been facing environmental challenges from too much tourism, but if you leave Hanging Lake exactly how you found it, this gem promises the same pristine, turquoise water you’d find in Croatia. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the similarities to Hanging Lake are astounding. Can you even tell which one’s which?
8. Maroon Lake :: Moraine Lake, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Where in Colorado: Maroon Bells Welcome Station, Colorado Rd. 13, Aspen
Similarities: The Maroon Bells in Aspen are some of the most photographed peaks in the world, and they look just like another famous view in the Canadian Rockies. Maroon Lake lies beneath the majestic maroon-colored rocks and features the same mirror-glass water you’d find at Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada. Find out more information about the Maroon Bells here.
9. Vail Village :: Bavaria, Germany
Where in Colorado: Vail Welcome Center — 241 S. Frontage Rd. West #8150, Vail
Similarities: Walk the streets of downtown Vail to experience a little bit of Bavaria. Full of painted shutters, flower boxes and alpine architecture, Vail is its own mini-European village experience — in Colorado. The streets of Rothenburg, Germany bear an uncanny resemblance to this famous ski town that’s only an hour and 45 minutes away.
10. Blue Lakes :: Oeschinen Lake, Kandersteg, Switzerland
Where in Colorado: Take Blue Lakes Trail. Parking at Blue Lakes Trailhead, Blue Lakes Trail, Telluride
Similarities: Some of the bluest alpine water lies within the peaks of fourteeners, and if you hike the Blue Lake Trails below Mt. Sneffels in Telluride, you’re in for a real treat. These turquoise-colored basins are breathtakingly magical and rival even that of Oeschinen Lake in the Swiss Alps.
11. The Rock Garden :: Stonehenge, United Kingdom
Where in Colorado: 167 Spaulding Lane, Fort Collins
Similarities: Clonehenges are famous around the world, and there’s one in Fort Collins. The Rock Garden offers unique natural stone products for landscaping, but it also features a replica of a rock structure that mimics Stonehenge. Trick your friends with a selfie here and make them jealous. Find out more about the Rock Garden here.
12. Walker Castle Ruins :: Egremont Castle Ruins, United Kingdom
Where in Colorado: Take Mount Falcon Castle Trail. Parking at Castle Trail, Morrison
Similarities: You’ll find castle ruins all over the U.K., but you can find them on this hiking trail in Mount Falcon Park in Morrison too. History says this used to be John Brisben Walker’s mansion that burned down after being struck by lightning. Brisben was a businessman who owned Cosmopolitan Magazine. The castle ruins are similar to many in the U.K. such as the Egremont Castle in England, which once inspired a poem by William Wordsworth.
13. Red Rock Canyon:: Kings Canyon, Petermann, Australia
Where in Colorado: 3550 West High St., Colorado Springs
Similarities: This 789-acre park in Colorado Springs is popular for the same red rock formations you’d find at Garden of the Gods, and it actually looks like a famous canyon in Australia too. Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a hotspot for mountain bikers, rock climbers, hikers and joggers and is definitely worth checking out.
14. Bridal Veil Falls :: Cuquenan Falls, Venezuela
Where in Colorado: Take Bridal Veil Falls Trail Telluride. Parking at Forest Service Rd. 648, Telluride
Similarities: Bridal Veil Falls is hands-down one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Colorado and is an astounding 365-feet high — making it also the tallest in the state. At the end of the box canyon overlooking Telluride, the hike to this powerful waterfall is truly spectacular and resembles Cuquenan Falls, the second tallest waterfall in Venezuela, with its massive rocky cliff face.
15. Black Canyon of the Gunnison :: Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico
Where in Colorado: South Rim Visitor Center — 10346 Colorado 347, Montrose
Similarities: Black Canyon of the Gunnison is often overlooked in the National Park system, but this park is home to some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America. The black rock formations resemble those found in Copper Canyon, a series of massive canyons in northern Mexico. Learn more about Black Canyon here.