Are you planning to road trip Colorado? There are many attractions worth adding to your Colorado itinerary including the stunning Rockies, beautiful towns like Aspen, hot springs, and cultural attractions including Mesa Verde National Park. Plan the ultimate road trip around these attractions using our flexible Colorado trip planner. You might also like our post on the Best Things to do in Colorado.
Welcome to our Colorado road trip planner!
For many years, the only part of Colorado that we had visited was the Four Corners National Monument. And then, we went on a memorable Colorado road trip that had us wishing, why hadn’t we visited the state sooner?!
Colorado is truly beautiful and colorful. It has everything from mountain scenery, hot springs, sand dunes, ancient dwellings, romantic railroads, trendy city life in Denver, charming mountain towns like Aspen, and even breweries!
It turns golden in the fall and comes alive in the spring and summer when wildflowers bloom on mountain slopes. But Colorado is most fun in winter when you can go snowshoeing, sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling. A Colorado road trip is always spectacular and among the best road trips you can take, year-round.
Colorado is home to 4 national parks: Rocky Mountain National Park, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We have designed this road trip itinerary such that you can visit all 4 of them in one Colorado National Parks road trip.
10 Day Colorado itinerary
Denver – 2 Days
Denver is popularly called the Mile High City because of its high elevation. It makes the ideal city to fly into and begin your Colorado road trip from Denver. It is well connected by air to most major cities and is the hub for Frontier, a low-cost carrier. That means cheap tickets to Denver are often available. We have scored deals for as low as $70 round-trip from Houston and recommend starting your road trip from Denver.
Things to do in Denver
Denver is famous for its food and art scene. Art lovers should visit the Denver Art Museum. This striking building has a stunning collection of artwork from around the world. Along with famous paintings, you will also find historic sculptures and artifacts from around the world.
If you are visiting Denver with kids, then see the enormous dinosaur skeletons at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The museum also has many other interesting exhibits including gold nuggets found in Colorado and a planetarium.
Other popular things to do include the Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, and Coors Field, home to the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Denver also has plenty of free attractions for budget travelers.
Spend a romantic evening walking under the twinkling lights of Larimer Square. The beautiful Colorado State Capitol can be seen on a free guided tour on weekends. The Denver Public Library building is a beautiful structure while the pedestrian 16th Street Mall is a beautiful example of landscape architecture.
Read about other Denver attractions including the Union Station and the famous Blue Bear in our post on Best Things to do in Denver.
Optional: Red Rock Amphitheatre and Golden
For a day trip on your 2nd day, consider visiting the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This concert venue is famous for its acoustics and the striking red sandstone formations. If you can, try to attend a summer concert at the amphitheater – it is an exhilarating experience to see rock bands perform in a beautiful location.
Nearby you will find Dinosaur Ridge where you can see fossils and footprints of many dinosaurs including Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus. The Coors Brewery in Golden is free to visit, has samples included, and can be easily seen with Red Rock amphitheater and Dinosaur Ridge for an ultimate day trip.
Optional: Boulder and Loveland
Another option for a day trip! Boulder is located on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, north of Denver. It makes a great day trip from the city. Boulder is most famous for its craggy rock formations known as the Flatirons. Visitors can hike along several trails in the flatiron formations.
Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian mall located in historic Downtown, is a great place to go for people watching, boutique shopping, souvenir hunting, and dining. It also has many art galleries and cafes. Boulder History Museum and the Farmers Market are also popular places to visit.
If you love drinking tea, then you should definitely visit Celestial Seasonings. This tea factory is located in Boulder and offers free factory tours for its visitors. At the end of the tour, you can also sample many teas and purchase your favorites.
Loveland, located near Boulder, is also worth a visit for their gigantic love sculpture. They are also famous for their Valentine re-mailing program and an outdoor sculpture garden. Loveland makes a great Valentine’s Day getaway. You can read more in our post on Best Things to do in Loveland, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park – 2 Days
After exploring Denver, leave for Colorado’s famous Rocky Mountain National Park. The park’s eastern gateway city is Estes Park, a delightful mountain town surrounded by mountains and wildlife. The park has spectacular scenery and is a must for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Once near the Rocky Mountains, you have a few options. You can either spend a day in Estes Park or Grand Lake and a day in Rocky Mountain National Park or spend both days in the National Park. We recommend spending some time in all three destinations and have listed attractions for all here. This itinerary makes for a perfect Colorado summer road trip as the national park is blooming with wildflowers during the season.
Things to do in Estes Park
Estes Park is the perfect gateway to stay and explore Colorado’s famous Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is located less than an hour away from the eastern entrance to the park. It offers access to the most popular national park attractions on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, making it popular to visit even during the winter.
The town itself is charming and considered among the best small towns in America. It has many attractions including the Visitor Center, Estes Park Museum, Rocky Mountain Conservancy and Art Center. You can also tour the famous Stanley Hotel, which served as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s book ‘The Shining’.
The main street in Estes Park is called Elkhorn Avenue. We recommend walking along this street to explore candy stores, taffy shops, art galleries, and boutique stores. This is also where you need to visit to rent outdoor gear for the park.
Another popular attraction is the Estes Park Riverwalk which starts at the Visitor Center and follows the Fall River through the town. Also must visit is Lake Estes where you can see many elk grazing around the shore.
To read more about all the attractions in Estes Park including distilleries and wineries, read our post on 20 Delightful Things to do in Estes Park.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the country. The park has good wildlife sightings, many miles of hiking trails, beautiful mountain lakes, scenic drives, and many activities to satisfy outdoor enthusiasts.
The most popular roads in the park are Bear Lake Road, Fall River Road, Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, and the Trail Ridge Road. We recommend visiting Bear Lake Road, Fall River Road, and the attractions along the roads on your first day in the National Park.
To reach Bear Lake Road, you will need to enter Rocky Mountain National Park through the Beaver Meadows Entrance from Estes Park. Bear Lake Road has amazing views of the Continental Divide peaks. You can also often spot a large elk herd near Moraine Park.
Our favorite stop on Fall River Road is the Alluvial Fan trail, where you can hike to see giant boulders that washed down the mountain slopes in a major flood. This is an easy hike and good for all skill levels. Posing on top of the giant boulders is popular with visitors.
On your second day inside the Rocky Mountain National Park, drive the Trail Ridge Road. This road has panoramic views over the national park and is stunning to drive. There are many hikes and lookout points along the Trail Ridge road.
One of the most famous lookout points is Many Parks Curve Overlook. From here, you can see a beautiful 360 view of the area. The road also offers beautiful views of the Mummy Range of the Rockies. The road is especially scenic in summer when wildflowers bloom all around you.
If you are visiting between Memorial Day and September end, then the Trail Ridge Road is usually open and you can drive all the way across the Continental Divide to Grand Lake, the western gateway city for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Things to do in Grand Lake
Grand Lake is the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The distance between Estes Park and Grand Lake is about 50 miles long and takes about 2 to 3 hours depending on how many stops you take.
Located on the shores of Grand Lake and adjacent to Shadow Mountain Lake, this charming mountain town has plenty of attractions for all visitors. We recommend taking a walking tour of the town and its historic structures including the wooden boardwalks.
In the summer, water sports on the lake are a great way to cool down in the heat. Grand Lake is the biggest lake in Colorado and is popular with kayakers, paddleboarders, and swimmers. You can relax on the sandy beaches by its shore or rent a pontoon to spend a day on the water.
In the winter, Grand Lake is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination. Granby Ranch ski resort is one of the top ski resorts in Colorado. Other popular winter activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snow tubing, ice skating, and ice fishing.
Rocky Mountain National Park in winter
If you are visiting Colorado in winter or even in early spring, then you will find that the park is a winter wonderland. The most popular activities in the park include skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking to frozen waterfalls. This is a truly wonderful time to visit the park.
Bear Lake is completely frozen and you can snowshoe or even go hiking in regular winter hiking boots around the lake. Hidden Valley Sleigh Area on Trail Ridge Road is open and fun for skiers and sleighers of all ages.
Trail Ridge Road itself is open only till Many Parks Curve Overlook in winter. If you are visiting when the road is closed, then you can’t reach Grand Lake. During this time we recommend taking the beautiful Peak to Peak Scenic Byway while exiting the park. Drive along the byway towards Mt. Evans and take I-70 towards Breckenridge.
Some of the important attractions along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway include Lily Lake, Longs Peak Scenic Byway, and the charming town of Nederland. Whichever road you use to exit Rocky Mountain National Park, we recommend driving towards Mt. Evans / Breckenridge / Aspen for your next destination.
Optional: Mt. Evans – 1 Day
If you are driving the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway during summer and have extra time, drive up Mt. Evans Scenic Byway to the famous”fourteener” peak of Mt. Evans. A fourteener is basically a mountain peak with an elevation of 14,000 feet or more. The Byway is open just from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in America and is worth the trip. The road can be dangerous to drive with switchbacks and turns. The temperature drop at the top is staggering and we recommend carrying jackets even during summer. This road is closed during the winter.
The Byway begins at Idaho Springs which is at an elevation of 7526 feet and climbs up over 7000 feet to the peak in the distance of 28 miles. You will need roughly an hour to drive the Byway. The views from the drive are superb: you have a bird’s eye view over the Rockies and can spot a range of wildlife, wildflowers, and more. The Continental Divide peaks can also be seen very well from the drive.
The main attractions of the drive are Echo Lake, Mt. Goliath Natural Area, and Summit Lake. Echo Lake, located at 10500 feet has picnic tables and is great to take a rest and acclimatize to the air. At Mt. Goliath you can see protected bristlecone pine trees while at Summit Lake you can admire one of the highest lakes in the country. At the top, you need to hike the last few feet on foot to reach the summit. The views from here are beautiful.
There are two most important things to remember about the Byway: the air is very thin at the top, so take your time and keep sipping water to replenish the oxygen. The other thing is that (as we mentioned before) Mt. Evans is always cold, so be sure to layer up and bring a jacket. On the way down, drive slowly and follow warning signs.
After seeing Mt. Evans you can proceed to Aspen or take another break in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Optional: Hot Sulphur Springs and Frisco
If you are driving from Grand Lake towards Aspen or Breckenridge, then you will pass Hot Sulphur Springs. This quiet town is most famous for its hot springs. There is nothing better than soaking in the mineral springs followed by a spa massage after a day of skiing or snowshoeing.
Another pit stop just before reaching Breckenridge is Frisco. This small town is located less than 30 minutes away from 6 of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts making it very popular in the winter. In summer, Frisco is popular for hiking and water activities. Stroll through the charming Downtown, go thrifting, and step inside pubs and breweries.
Optional: Breckenridge – 1 Day
Breckenridge is one of America’s most popular ski towns. Breckenridge’s resorts offer excellent skiing for all levels. Other winter activities include dog sledding, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. Breckenridge’s distillery is also popular to visit in the winter. The town also has winter events including a snow sculpture competition.
In summer, Breckenridge is a beautiful mountain town filled with outdoor activities. Popular summer activities include hiking, fishing, searching for wildflowers and wildlife, camping, boating, and white water rafting. You should also drive down the Boreas Pass Road, a 20-mile long scenic route that follows the Pacific Railroad. It is particularly beautiful in the fall when the Aspens turn color.
Whichever season you visit, you must see Breckenridge Main Street. This area is part of the Breckenridge National Historic District. Breckenridge started as a mining town and on Main Street, you can see many historic landmarks and buildings from the Victorian times. We recommend spending at least a day or two in Breckenridge to get a feel of the town.
Or instead of Grand Lake or Breckenridge, you can also choose to visit Vail. Located within the White River National Forest, Vail is home to the Vail Ski Resort and has been Colorado’s top ski destination for decades. But there are many other things to do in Vail besides skiing.
Other popular winter activities include snowboarding, playing in the snow, sleighing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and taking in the dramatic winter landscape. The holiday decorations make Vail postcard-perfect in the winter.
In the summer, you can explore Vail Village and the adjacent Lionshead Village. The architecture is distinctly European and shopping opportunities abound throughout the town. Take a trip in the Vail gondola, which was the first gondola in the US!
Aspen and Maroon Bells – 1 Day
Finally, it’s time for the highlight of your Colorado road trip – Aspen and Maroon Bells area!
Aspen located high up in the Rockies is a charming ski resort town. It offers year-round fun and is exceptionally popular during the holiday season. Maroon Bells is the highlight of any trip to Colorado and ideally, you should not leave Colorado without visiting it.
If you plan a winter Colorado road trip around skiing, then you will be delighted with Aspen. The town is surrounded by 4 amazing ski areas, the most popular of which is Snowmass ski resorts. Aspen is perfect for beginner to expert skiers. The town also looks very pretty in the holiday season when lights and decor like wreaths and holiday displays are seen all over the town.
In summer, you must take the beautiful scenic drive to Independence Pass. This scenic road follows the peaks of the Continental Divide and is one of the highest roads in America. The scenery all around is breathtaking and the short hike to the overlook has jaw-dropping views of the Continental Divide.
Another essential in Aspen: taking the Silver Queen gondola up to Aspen Mountain! The views as you travel up to the top are breathtaking and the facilities at the top are worth the rather pricey tickets. Downtown Aspen is also delightful for a stroll. See the historic Wheeler Opera House and explore the charming buildings.
Iconic Maroon Bells has the honor of being the most photographed place in Colorado. The twin peaks of Maroon Bells are among Colorado’s fourteeners. The craggy, jagged peaks rising towards the sky, colorful mountain slopes, and placid Maroon Lake at the foothills all together make Maroon Bells one of the most beautiful places to visit in the USA.
This spot is a photographer’s paradise, especially at sunrise and sunset. If you plan to visit Maroon Bells during these peak hours, we recommend arriving well in advance as the crowds can be overwhelming. Maroon Bells is also popular for hiking, wildlife watching, and camping.
If you have the time, consider taking a trip to Glenwood Springs in Roaring Fork Valley. Located about an hour’s drive northwest of Aspen, Glenwood Springs is famous for its natural hot springs. Here you can relax and soak in the bubbling hot spring pools and be thrilled to know that even President Teddy Roosevelt came here to relax!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – 1 Day
Located in the Western part of the state, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in Colorado. The Park has a spectacular dramatic landscape and is full of steep cliffs, sharp spires, and valleys that seem to disappear into their own depths. A product of weathering and erosion carried out by the Gunnison River, Black Canyon is beautiful in its stunning wilderness.
The National Park has stunning scenic drives and hiking trails along the rim to explore its beauty. The rim trails are of varying difficulty level: many are family-friendly and great for kids including the Cedar Point Nature Trail on South Rim. One essential trail is the Painted Wall View trail which has great views of the canyon walls.
We recommend driving along both the South Rim Road and North Rim Road to see different views of the canyon. Drive along the scenic hairpin bends of the East Portal Road towards the Gunnison River. The view of the canyon walls as you descend into the canyon is fantastic.
For experienced hikers, rock climbers, and kayakers, the Inner Canyon holds special attractions. You need a wilderness permit to access this area and need to be experienced and prepared to explore here. The Inner Canyon is truly remote and recommended only for expert outdoor explorers. You can climb down to the river, go rock climbing up the canyon walls, or even go rafting in the water.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park also has abundant wildlife. On a visit, you can spot mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and even an occasional mountain lion or black bear! Other activities in the park include fishing, camping, and stargazing. Many of the park activities, the North Rim Road, and certain parts of the South Rim Road are closed in the winter so we recommend looking at the park website before planning a winter trip.
Optional: Telluride – 1 Day
Telluride is a charming small town set in the Colorado Rockies. Located in the southwest part of the state, Telluride is also one of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado. It has world-class ski slopes and has hundreds of trails for all difficulty levels. The Telluride ski resort offers family fun during the winter.
Telluride has an interesting history. It has its origins as a small Victorian mining town. Its historic downtown district has several well-preserved buildings in the Late Victorian and Gothic Revival style of architecture. Several of them are located on and around Colorado Street, the main street of Telluride.
Some of the prominent landmarks to watch out for include the Telluride Historical Museum, New Sheridan Hotel, Sheridan Opera House, San Miguel County Courthouse, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, and The Rio Grande Southern Railway Depot. We recommend taking a self-guided walk through the historic buildings and understanding Telluride’s history.
Telluride also enjoys a unique location. It is located inside a box canyon and is surrounded by steep mountain slopes. The hills surrounding Telluride look breathtaking in the fall when leaves change color. For a beautiful panoramic view of the area, we recommend taking the Telluride Gondola up to the pretty European style town, Mountain Village. The ride is over 10 minutes long and offers one of a kind experience year-round.
The 365 foot tall Bridal Veil Falls are another primary highlight of Telluride. The hike to the fall is a bit steep but pleasant and worth the effort. Telluride has many other popular hiking trails including Bear Creek Trail, Jud Wiebe Trail, and the Telluride Trail. For a tranquil walk, consider visiting the Town Park.
Mesa Verde National Park – 1 Day
Mesa Verde National Park located in Southwest Colorado is one of America’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park is famous for its unique history and has been home to the Anasazi Indians and their striking cliff dwellings for thousands of years.
Touring these extremely well-preserved cliff dwellings is one of the highlights of Mesa Verde National Park. There are over 4000 archeological sites inside the park however only a few of them are open to the public on ranger-led guided tours. The two most famous dwellings are Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
Cliff Palace is vast and immense and has over 150 rooms. The Balcony House has 40 rooms and is also amazing to see. The tours involve climbing down steps and ladders, so wear hiking boots and be prepared for an adventure. Tickets to both the time tours have to be purchased separately and well in advance of your visit.
We also recommend hiking in Mesa Verde National Park. The hikes will take you deep within the canyons and the protected ecosystems of the park. Petroglyph Point Trail is one of the popular trails. It is around 2.5 miles round-trip and leads to many petroglyphs created by the Anasazi people.
Another must-see site inside the park is the Chapin Mesa Museum. Here you will find archeological remains, interactive exhibits, historic information, and Native American arts and crafts. The museum is an excellent place to learn about the pueblo culture.
We also recommend driving along Mesa Verde’s scenic drives: Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop. Along the drives, you will find archeological sites, trailheads, overlooks, and stunning landscapes. The best time to visit Mesa Verde is during summer to fall, we recommend checking the park for closures during winter.
Optional: Durango – 1 Day
After visiting Mesa Verde National Park, you can either head to Great Sand Dunes National Park or take a detour to Durango or Pagosa Springs.
Durango is one of the popular places to visit in Colorado for multiple reasons. The charming town has something to offer for all types of tourists: whether you are an outdoor enthusiast or cultural traveler. In winter, it is famous for the Purgatory Ski Resort.
The #1 tourist attraction in Durango is the Silverton-Durango Railroad. This narrow-gauge route is very scenic and offers breathtaking panoramas as it travels through a narrow canyon. The train has vintage carriages and an authentic steam engine, adding to the fun of the ride. Keep aside an entire day to enjoy this spectacular train ride.
The town of Durango itself is pretty charming. A major part of it is preserved as the historic district and dates back to the late 19th century. On a stroll along Main Avenue, you can see several historic buildings including the grand Strater Hotel among other landmark buildings. Also worth visiting is the free Railroad Museum.
If you have extra time, consider driving along the San Juan Scenic Byway which connects Durango to Telluride. The 230 miles road crosses three mountain passes, goes through the San Juan National Forest, and offers some of the best views in Colorado. A part of the road from Silverton to Ouray is known as the Million Dollar Highway.
Alternatively, after visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, you can also drive the San Juan Scenic Byway from Telluride to Durango, and then visit Mesa Verde National Park before heading back to Colorado Springs.
Optional: Pagosa Springs – 1 Day
Located in the San Juan Mountain ranges, Pagosa Springs is one of the most underrated towns in Colorado. With its hot springs, hiking trails, wilderness areas, waterfalls, lakes, fishing, camping, biking, and more, Pagosa Springs is a paradise for outdoor lovers.
After spending a day outdoors, you can relax in the hot springs and visit the area’s breweries. If it gets too hot, you can spend the day cooling off in the San Juan River. The river runs through downtown and is popular for river tubing, kayaking, and fishing.
While in Pagosa Springs, we recommend taking the ride to Treasure Falls. Not only is this 100-foot tall waterfall beautiful, but the route itself is super scenic. The views from West Fork Valley Overlook are incredible while at Wolf Creek Pass, you are right on top of the Continental Divide!
Great Sand Dunes National Park – 1 Day
One of the highlights of a Colorado road trip is the suddenness with which the landscape changes. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park has some of the highest sand dunes in America. The tallest dune here, Star Dune, is over 750 feet high! One of the favorite visitor activities in the park is to climb to the top of the sand dunes and sled down its slopes. Be sure to rent sleds or sand boards in Alameda, which is the gateway town for the park prior to your visit.
The sand dunes are also popular with photographers. The ripples look striking against the sand and photograph really well. To take the best photographs, either hike to the top of the tallest dunes or hike really deep into the dunes to where the ripples are undisturbed by human feet. The dunes look especially beautiful at sunset when the sand glows under the orange sky.
The park also has picnic tables, well-maintained hiking trails, campgrounds, and spectacular scenic drives. Because of its remote location away from most major cities, the park also has great stargazing opportunities.
If you have a true 4WD vehicle, then you must definitely drive the Medano Pass Road. This primitive road is 22 miles long and full of soft sand, so even AWDs get stuck here. The road has many creek crossings, goes along primitive campsites, and takes you deeper into the wilderness.
If you visit in spring or early summer, then the Medano Creek will be flowing which transforms the park into a water park for the kids! We recommend taking swimsuits and towels during this time. The kids can enjoy splashing in the water and building sandcastles.
The park basically feels like a giant beach, especially when the Medano Creek is flowing and provides a fun experience for the whole family. In spite of this, Great Sand Dunes National Park continues to be one of the less-visited national parks in the country, and you are guaranteed a crowd-free time!
Colorado Springs – 2 Days
Colorado Springs is a must-stop on any Colorado road trip for its stunning natural beauty. It is located on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and is just 1.5 hrs away from Denver. You will find a range of cultural as well as natural attractions in Colorado Springs, hence we recommend spending a minimum of 2 days in this resort city.
One of the must-visit attractions here is the Garden of the Gods. This nature area is famous for its unique red sandstone formations and is extremely photogenic. We recommend driving the scenic drive and doing a few hikes to explore the beautiful landscape. If possible, visit the Garden of the Gods during the golden hours of sunlight or sunset for epic photos. While you are there, visit the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic area.
The second most visited attraction in Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak mountain. To reach the summit, you need to drive along the Pikes Peak Highway, a 19-mile scenic drive with multiple pullouts, lakes, and picnic areas. From the parking lot, you can take a shuttle to the peak or better, take the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway to the top. This is the highest railway in the country and has the most frequent runs during the summer season.
7 Day Colorado Road Trip
Our one week Colorado itinerary is perfect if you have just about 7 days to see the state. With just 7 days in hand, we would recommend focusing on Denver and the surrounding area of Colorado Springs.
Spend a couple of days in Denver, enjoy the downtown and museums, and have lunch at the city’s finest restaurants. Then spend a day either in Boulder or Golden followed by a couple of days in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Enjoy the mountain scenery in the park, go hiking and see the mountain lakes, and spot iconic Rockies wildlife including elks and deer. Drive the Trail Ridge Road and visit the gateway cities of Estes Park and Grand Lake.
Then head down to Colorado Springs and see the beautiful landscape of the Garden of the Gods. Take the cog railway up to Pikes Peak. If you have more time, then visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
4 Day Colorado Road Trip
Are you short on time? You can also cover the highlights of this colorful state in a 4 or 5 Day Colorado Road Trip. We recommend starting this 5 day road trip from Denver and seeing the Rockies or Colorado Springs. Spend a day or two each in the Mile High City followed by a couple of days in either Estes Park or Colorado Springs.
Another option for a 4 day itinerary is to visit the southwestern part of the state. Start your trip in Durango, drive the San Juan Scenic Byway to Telluride, and then visit the famous Mesa Verde National Park.
For a short winter road trip, consider basing yourself in Frisco and checking out the surrounding mountain towns and ski resorts in Vail, Aspen, Durango, and Grand Lake. This makes a great trip for Christmas or Thanksgiving when the towns look straight out of a fairytale due to the holiday decor. This also makes for a great romantic Valentine’s Day Colorado road trip.
Two to Three week Colorado Road Trip
If you have two to three weeks to spend in Colorado, then you can easily see most parts of the state. Here are some sights to add to your Colorado itinerary for a longer trip. Most of these stops are located between Grand Lake / Aspen and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in the western part of the state.
Hanging Lake, located in Glenwood Canyon, near Glenwood Springs is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. The lake looks almost ephemeral with its multiple waterfalls and emerald water. To reach Hanging Lake, you need to hike a 3-miles long moderate trail. We recommend keeping aside half a day to explore Hanging Lake at your leisure.
Colorado’s resort city, Glenwood Springs is famous for its hot springs. The city enjoys beautiful mountain scenery due to its location in the Rocky Mountain ranges and the White River National Forest.
Stay in the beautiful Glenwood Hot Springs Resort and enjoy a luxury spa vacation. Dine in Glenwood Springs restaurants and enjoy the charming vibe of this small town.
Glenwood Springs is also famous for its outdoor excursions into the scenic Glenwood Canyon, hiking trails, wildlife viewing, Glenwood Caverns tours, and the kid-friendly Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
If you love drinking wine and touring wineries, then you are going to love Grand Junction! Located on the western slope of the Rockies, the climate here is perfect for growing grapevines. You can take a tour of the wineries and enjoy tastings while in Grand Junction.
Apart from the wineries, there are many things to do in Grand Junction. Explore the charming downtown and nearby attractions including the Avalon Theatre, the Museums of Western Colorado, and the Dinosaur Journey Museum. Also, check out the Art on the Corner outdoor sculpture gallery in downtown.
For outdoor lovers take a drive along the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway in Grand Mesa National Forest. The drive has many overlooks and pull-outs from which you can enjoy breathtaking views. There are also many hiking trails in the area.
Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is one of Colorado’s most photographed attractions. The monument is famous for its iconic red and orange natural rock formations. Located less than an hour away from Grand Junction in the small town of Fruita, the monument is a must-visit if you are in this area.
This enchanting landscape of canyons, sandstone towers, spires, and juniper trees is best explored by driving along the Rim Rock Drive. The route is 23 miles long and takes visitors to striking rock formations such as the Pipe Organ, Praying Hands, and Kissing Couple.
You will also have memorable wildlife encounters in the park and can hike among the sandstone formations. Some of the exposed rocks here are almost as old as the earth itself! For an easy hike, go along the Devil’s Kitchen Trail; for a challenging hike that takes you close to iconic formations, try the 5 miles long Monument Canyon Trail.
Another great National Park site to add to your Colorado road trip after visiting Mesa Verde National Park is the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
There is something magical about the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado. Here you will find more archeological sites than at any other place in the country. You can find cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, kivas, and ceremonial platforms.
This area was once home to the Anasazi Indians around 1500 BC. They built elaborate multi-room cliff dwellings, similar to the ones at Mesa Verde, and also left behind many other artifacts and artwork. Start your visit at the Visitor Center and Museum and learn more about Anasazi culture.
Lowry Pueblo is one of the most popular cliff dwellings in the park. It has 40 rooms and is fascinating to see. There are many other pueblos, hiking trails, and kivas worth seeing in the monument. Also worth visiting is the nearby Hovenweep National Monument on the Colorado Utah border.
Four Corners Monument
If you are traveling as far as Mesa Verde and Canyons of the Ancients in southwestern Colorado, then we recommend making time for Four Corners Monument.
This is one of the unique geographic points in the country where the 4 states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado meet. There is a marker here depicting the boundaries and you can take a photo with a limb in each state!
Visiting Four Corners Monument is a truly one of a kind experience. The shops surrounding the marker are great to purchase Native American souvenirs like dream catchers and other handicrafts. The Native fry bread that we are here has also been one of the best we have ever tasted!
Besides these, Colorado has many other beautiful towns and places to visit including Canon City, Buena Vista, Steamboat Springs, Dinosaur National Monument, Lyons, and more. Read our post on the Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Colorado for more ideas.
Many times you will be close to the Utah border, and attractions such as Arches National Park will be pretty close. If you get the temptation to continue to Utah, then you can also check our comprehensive post on the Ultimate Colorado Utah road trip itinerary.
As you travel towards Four Corners, we definitely understand the urge to visit Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon. Check out our Las Vegas Grand Canyon road trip itinerary to continue on an American Southwest road trip.
We hope you liked our post on the Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary. What was the favorite part of your Colorado road trip? Let us know in the comments!