Physiographic Regions of Colorado

Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds, Rocky Mountain National Park

With Colorado being my home state, it makes sense to begin an in depth study of Physiography in my own back yard. Colorado can be divided into several distinct physiographic sub regions. They are, in alphabetical order:

Physiographic Regions of Colorado
Physiographic Regions of Colorado
  • Colorado Plateau
  • Great Plains
  • Southern Rocky Mountains
  • Wyoming Basin.
From Mesa Verde National Park looking north towards the San Juan range, across the Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau occupies the western edge of the state, spilling also in surrounding Utah, Arizona and northern New Mexico. Containing so many of the land mark National Parks we love to visit every year, the Colorado Plateau holds a special place in America’s heart. The name is a bit misleading, however, because it occupies much more than Colorado. But for our purposes here, the Colorado Plateau region of Colorado is what we’re discussing.

Colorado’s Great Plains

The Great Plains can be further divided into several categories: Colorado Piedmont and High Plains. Occupying essentially the Eastern half of the state of Colorado, the Great Plains are a substantial portion of a state so famous for its mountains to the West.

Ikonact – Own work Sources of data: Topography: ETOPO1 (public domain); Public domain data provided by the National Atlas of the United States of America; Tool: The map is created with Octave scripts developed by Ikonact
Longs Peak massif seen through Rock Cut, Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

The Southern Rocky Mountain Province is again, a little misleading. Remembering the Southern Rocky Mountains are part of the much larger Rocky Mountain System extending from Canada to Mexico, it’s reasonable to think of Colorado’s portion of the Rocky Mountain System as ‘southern’ because it’s south of Canada, Montana and Wyoming to the north. But within the state of Colorado, the ‘southern mountain ranges’ might be considered the San Juan Range or Sangre de Cristo Range, while the northern ranges might be the Medicine Bow or Never Summer Ranges. But from a Physiographic point of view, all are contained in the Southern Rocky Mountain Province.

Descending from Snowy Range towards the Little Snake River Valley
Descending Snowy Range Road, just over the Colorado-Wyoming border, heading west, down into the Wyoming Basin.

The Wyoming Basin is located in the extreme North Western corner of the state and contains areas such as Dinosaur National Monument. At first glance the Wyoming Basin may seem relatively insignificant based on geographic area, but it contains some of the richest geologic deposits in the state. When the view is pulled back revealing it in the larger context of the country, the Wyoming Basin area enlarges, seen to extend quite a bit further North.