While traveling by airplane affords many opportunities to reach far-off destinations in a matter of hours, there’s nothing quite like exploring an area by car. On four wheels, you can control the speed, stop where and when you want, and meander along any side streets your heart desires.
Not to mention, there is so much to see right here in Colorado, from towering peaks to deep canyons, and sparkling lakes to winding rivers. Swap your plane tickets for a full tank of gas and hit the pavement for the Colorado road trip of a lifetime!
We created an extensive (and ambitious!) itinerary circling the western portion of the state, starting and ending in Fort Collins, so you could see as much of beautiful Colorado as possible. You can complete the loop in just seven days if you only have a week to spare, or you can take a more leisurely pace and draw it out over the course of several weeks. And if your schedule doesn’t allow, each destination on this list is worthy of a long weekend getaway, too. It’s really up to you!
Stops along the way include:
However you wish to approach it, we hope you enjoy your own personalized tour of our beautiful state!
Approximate Drive Time: 1 Hour, 15 Minutes
Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
Start in Fort Collins (or elsewhere in Northern Colorado!), and make your way west to Rocky Mountain National Park for a day of outdoor exploration. Whether you like hiking, biking, camping or wildlife viewing, there’s something for you to do at this massive 415-square-mile park. One of the best ways to explore the park is by hiking along a few of its 300+ miles of trails. Overwhelmed? Here are a few of our favorite hiking trails in the Estes Park area. NOTE: At this time, RMNP is requiring reservations at all areas in the park. Get more information here.
Explore Estes Park
Refuel before or after your hiking adventure in Estes Park, which has plenty of coffee shops, restaurants, shops and more to do. Consult our guide for things to do in Estes Park — and our kid-specific guide as well! — to enhance your trip. Of course, don’t miss The Stanley Hotel, the historic and potentially haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining!
Stay in the Estes Park Area
Unless you’re up for staying amongst the ghosts at The Stanley, book your stay at one of these unique getaways in the Estes Park area, which includes everything from tiny homes to treehouses.
Photo Courtesy of Glenwood Hot Springs Resort
Approximate Drive Time: 4 Hours
Stop in Grand Lake
Drive along Trail Ridge Road, one of the most scenic drives in Northern Colorado, for a slower yet more scenic experience. Towards the beginning of your drive, you’ll pass by Grand Lake, which is on the other side of RMNP (about an hour and a half away). Grand Lake is a quaint, historic town surrounding a large natural lake with the same name. The lake is known for its incredible views and water sports. It is actually the largest and deepest natural lake in the entire state! Visitors head to Grand Lake in the summer for kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming and much more.
Stop for a cup of coffee and breakfast at The Hub, followed by a stroll along the lake. Head to Point Park for the best view of Mount Craig, also known as Mount Baldy, a distinctive 12,007-foot peak. Learn more about Grand Lake in our list of Incredible Lakes to Visit in Northern Colorado!
Pass By Hot Sulphur Springs
You’ll also pass by Hot Sulphur Springs, if you want to pause for a dip in the hot springs! But don’t worry if you’re pressed on time — there will be plenty of hot springs where you’re going.
Stay in Glenwood Springs
Once you reach Glenwood Springs, check into Glenwood Hot Springs Resort for the ultimate luxurious experience. One of Colorado’s most popular hot springs pools, Glenwood Hot Springs offers two large outdoor mineral pools. The cooler of the two has two water slides and swimming lanes, while the warmer has massage chairs for optimal relaxation. Alongside family entertainment, you can enjoy a spa treatment or just bask in the relaxing water nestled in the mountain surroundings. For more information (and a few other accommodation options in Glenwood Springs!), check out our guide to Colorado hot springs.
Photo Courtesy of Visit Palisade
Approximate Drive Time: 1 Hour, 20 Minutes
After a relaxing stay amongst the hot springs, make your way to Grand Junction, which is only about an hour and 20 minutes away. You’re in for another day of relaxation and sightseeing!
Visit the Colorado National Monument
Start your visit to Grand Junction by exploring Colorado National Monument, which preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Here, you’ll find sheer-walled, red rock canyons and rock formations composed of granite, gneiss and schist. See it all by taking a drive along the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive, which winds up switchbacks onto mesa tops and along the canyon walls, then descends into the valley below.
Sip Wine in Colorado Wine Country
Backtrack a bit (it’s only a few miles!) to Palisade, which is packed with over a dozen wineries. Known as Colorado Wine Country, this area is known for its premier wineries; in fact, Palisade houses two-thirds of Colorado’s vineyard acreage and more than one-quarter of the state’s wineries. Take a look at all the wineries in the area and plan your very own tasting adventure.
Stay in Palisade
Top off your winery experience by staying amongst the vineyards! Book your stay at Wine Country Inn in Palisade, a luxurious yet relatively affordable place to stay in Colorado Wine Country.
Approximate Drive Time: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes
Pass Through Montrose to See Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A little more than halfway through your drive, you’ll pass through Montrose, which is home to Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. Here, you’ll encounter some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires in North America. Over the course of 2 million years, the Gunnison River below has sculpted the rock to create an awe-inspiring display for visitors. This is the perfect place to stretch your legs and snap a picture!
Next, you’ll drive about 45 minutes south along US-50 East to reach Ouray, a tiny Gold Rush town known as the Switzerland of America and the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado. Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Ouray has breathtaking scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, including Jeep tours (Oh! It’s also known as the Jeeping Capital of the World!). And because it’s Colorado, there are plenty of natural hot springs in the area, including Ouray Hot Springs, Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings or Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs.
Stop by Telluride
If time allows, go off the beaten path a bit to reach Telluride, which is about an hour away — but much closer as the crow flies. Take a stroll through Telluride’s adorable Main Street, take a ride on the free Telluride Mountain Village Gondola for incredible views, and do one of the many outdoor adventures available in the area.
Stay in Ouray or Telluride
Whether you spend the whole day in Ouray or make your way to Telluride, there are plenty of places to stay in these adorable mountain ski towns. Ouray is overall less expensive as far as accommodations go, so you might consider the Beaumont Hotel in Ouray, a lovely restored hotel originally built in 1886 — or any of the hot springs resorts mentioned above.
Approximate Drive Time: 1 Hour, 45 Minutes
Pass Through Silverton
Travel just under 2 hours to reach Durango. Along the way, you’ll pass through Silverton and the San Juan National Forest, providing the perfect mix of food options and gorgeous scenery. You can even hop on board the Cascade Canyon Express!
Spend a few hours exploring Durango, but preserve some time and energy at the end of your day for one of the largest stretches of driving on this road trip. As both a college town and small mountain village, Durango has plenty of live music, theater, arts, food and drink options to unwind after a day on the slopes during the winter — or a day in the car during the summer. Explore the town then make your way to Mesa Verde National Park, one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the country. Here, you can take a ranger-guided tour of cliff dwellings or embark on your own hike to take in your surroundings at your own pace.
Stay in Durango
Book your stay at Strater Hotel, a historic hotel situated in the heart of downtown Durango. Built in 1887, the hotel has 88 unique guest rooms, plus its very own theatre, restaurant, saloon, and spa.
Approximate Drive Time: 3 Hours, 15 Minutes
This is a big driving day, so we recommend getting an early start! Plus, the sooner you get to Great Sand Dunes National Park, the less crowded — and hot — it will be.
Explore Great Sand Dunes National Park
Bring plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen for this unique adventure. Great Sand Dunes National Park spans more than 30 miles and contains more than 5 billion cubic meters of sand, making it the largest “sandbox” in North America. Here, visitors come year-round to hike up and then ski, sled or snowboard down these massive dunes. If you’d like to join in on the fun, be sure to bring your own equipment!
Approximate Drive Time: 2 Hours, 30 Minutes
Pass Through Pueblo
On your way from the dunes to the Springs, you’ll pass through Pueblo. If time allows for a quick pitstop to stretch your legs, you can take a stroll through the Union Avenue Historic District, visit the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, or see art at the outdoor Neon Alley.
Stay in Colorado Springs
Rest your head in Colorado Springs after a busy day. For a truly luxurious end to your road trip, book your stay at Glen Eyrie Castle, an English Tudor-style castle with 17 guest rooms built in 1871.
Explore Colorado Springs
You’re in for another outdoorsy day! Walk through Garden of the Gods, which was voted the #1 City Park in the USA. Here, you can climb, hike, hop on a Jeep tour, and gaze at the awe-inspiring, towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Next, reach the top of Pikes Peak by car (or by train, when the Pikes Peak Cog Railway reopens in 2021!). Go off the beaten path a bit to Manitou Springs — specifically, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a group of relocated Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and museums that have been here since the early 1900s.
Approximate Drive Time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes
Pass Through Denver
If you have enough energy (and time!) make a stop in Denver for the perfect finale to your road trip. If you want to continue the outdoor recreation theme, stretch your legs at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Or pick up a cone of ice cream from Little Man Ice Cream or a growler to-go at any of the city’s breweries (Denver Beer Co. and Prost Brewing are both near Little Man Ice Cream!). But don’t worry if you don’t have time to stop for beer — there’s plenty more of that where you’re going!
Arrive at Home
You made it! You traversed nearly 1,000 miles across our beautiful state, clocking in almost 18 hours of total drive time. You deserve a good night’s sleep after such an incredible adventure!
What stops would you add along the way? Let us know about your favorite restaurant, museum, brewery, trail or other must-do activity along this path.