If you only have 4 days in Colorado, you’ll see quite a bit with this locally-curated Colorado road trip itinerary.
Believe me, there are so many different stops to make on a Colorado road trip, that it’s hard to boil it down to just 4 days. Like me, you could spend a lifetime here and still not see everything.
This 4 day Colorado road trip itinerary delivers you a taste of the different areas of Colorado without feeling too rushed. You’ll be in a new place each day so you can really get a flavor for the epic beauty the Centennial State has to offer.
There is a lot of ground to cover with just 4 days in Colorado so be prepared to drive and spot amazing scenery along the way.
I’ve lived in Colorado for over 12 years and I road trip in this state constantly – in the summer, I’m on the road every 4 days. Once a weekend warrior, I turned my passion for road-tripping Colorado into a full-time gig as a writer for the outdoor industry.
As a seasoned pro and local, it’s my mission to empower you to make the most of your 4 days in Colorado like a local, not a tourist.
I know all of the best Colorado road trip spots and you won’t find better advice about traveling in Colorado anywhere else on the web.
So here’s how to see the most of Colorado in just 4 days.
How to Use this Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Guide
This 4-day Colorado road trip itinerary brings you a taste of the highlights. Are there other amazingly beautiful place in Colorado to explore?
Sure, but this 4-day itinerary is designed to give you a taste of the unique landscapes of Colorado and maximize your time exploring this amazing state. This itinerary includes:
- How to make the most of 4 days in Colorado
- 2 of the best national parks in Colorado
- Incredibly Instagrammable views
- Delicious eats
- Colorado hot springs
- 2 of the most scenic drives in Colorado
- Quick tips to make the most of your Colorado road trip
- Ideas for additional amazing Colorado road trip stops if you have more time
When is the Best Time to Go on a Colorado Road Trip?
The Rocky Mountains of Colorado typically have snow from October through June. Although it’s a pretty time to visit, it’s also a dangerous time to hike due to avalanche hazards and many of the scenic drives close down for the season. Therefore, the best time to go on a Colorado road trip is from July through early September.
Colorado Road Trip Map
Although this route has ample driving, you’ll see plenty of amazing scenery along the way. This diverse itinerary spans many exceptional landscapes on your 4-day itinerary in Colorado.
Day One: Denver to Estes Park
Since you’ve only got 4 days to explore Colorado, pick up your vehicle and drive straight to Estes Park – one of the most beautiful Colorado mountain towns. Make sure to drink plenty of water and take things slow to get properly acclimated to the altitude.
Keep in mind the Denver International Airport (DIA) is pretty far from…well…anything. If you’re arriving late, consider spending the night in Denver, and prepare for an early morning to make the most of Estes Park, Colorado.
Things to do: Catch a sunset at Sprauge Lake or the Many Parks Curve Overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park, spot wildlife in Estes Park, take a short hike at Lumpy Ridge, relax and grab a drink at the Stanley Hotel (the inspiration for The Shining – some say this place is haunted if you’re looking for spooky vibes).
Drive time: 1 hr 40 mins
Where to Stay: Camp at a campground near Estes Park, find dispersed camping along Highway 34, stay in Estes Park (generally quite pricey during the high season), or stay in nearby Lyons, Colorado (cheaper, great AirBnBs).
Where to eat: Smokin’ Daves BBQ and Brew (mid-range brewhouse), Scratch Deli and Bakery (breakfast, lunch, coffee), Burgers and Gyros on Moraine (cheap lunch or dinner), Notchtop Bakery and Cafe (excellent breakfast or brunch).
Day Two: One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rise and shine before the sun to make the most of your time on this 4 day Colorado itinerary.
As one of the most beautiful national parks in the US, Rocky Mountain National Park gets crowded year-round, but if you’re willing to get up before dawn, you can savor a few moments of solitude in the park.
Today you’ll go for a hike at one of the many amazing hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, then continue onwards along Trail Ridge Road – one of the most scenic drives near Denver – to the west end of the park.
Local Tip: Trail Ridge Road is not maintained in the winter. Always be sure to check that the road is open before heading out. You can still hike, but you’ll have to drive around the west end of the park to get to Glenwood Springs if the road is closed.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park: Sunrise at either Bear Lake (no walking) or continue onwards to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake (3.2 miles RT). Hikers looking for a challenge should check out Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge – a classic Colorado lake hike, or the Loch Lake Trail.
Drive time: Approximately 3 hr 30 min to Glenwood Springs with stops.
Where to eat: Pack snacks and grab a late lunch at Grand Lake. Check out Cy’s Deli or Sagebrush BBQ and Grill.
Local Tip: Got extra time? You’ll find plenty to do with 3 days in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.
Glenwood Springs Overnight with Hot Springs
After a day in Rocky Mountain National Park, head to Glenwood Springs and relax with a soak in the Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
Things to do: Hike to Hanging Lake (near Glenwood Springs, advanced permit and paid parking or bus ride required), soak in the Glenwood Springs hot springs or ride the scenic Gondola to the top of the Canyon.
Where to eat: Sweet Coloradough (delicious donuts), Native Son Restaurant and Bar (tapas and great drinks), Slope & Hatch (delicious street tacos).
Where to Stay: The Hotel Glenwood Springs (pricey but convenient), two rest areas just east of town (free camping, budget option. Bathrooms are clean and it is very safe), Hanging Lake Inn (budget hotel).
Day 3: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
In the morning, make the 2.5-hour drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Touted as the “Grand Canyon of the Rockies” this beautiful canyon plunges 2,722-feet down and is only 40 feet across at its narrowest section. It’s a must-see stop on any Colorado road trip.
Drive Time: 2.5 hours to the more developed south rim, or 2 hours to the more remote north rim.
Things to do: Snap photos along the 12 scenic overlooks on the Rim Drive (Chasm and Sunset view are spectacular), hike to the bottom of the canyon (difficult, 5 hours, obtain a permit on arrival), go fishing, go to a ranger program and learn about the area (the night program is amazing), go for a scenic boat ride or white water raft, rock climb in the canyon (intermediate level), check out the historic town of Cimarron and see what life was like in 1882.
Where to eat: Crash Burger (casual, tasty burger joint), Colorado Boy Pizzeria, Guru’s Nepalese Restaurant (tasty Nepali food), Mimo’s (breakfast burritos, a Colorado breakfast staple).
Where to Stay: Reserve a camp spot at the East Portal Campground or stay in nearby Montrose. Stay at the Canyon Creek Bed and Breakfast (highly rated, but pricier), The Country Lodge (mid-range), or one of the many standard hotel chains.
Local Tip: With extra time on your Colorado road trip you can explore nearby Crested Butte (a charming mountain town famous for mountian biking) or the jaw-dropping San Juan Mountains.
Day 4: Explore Breweries in Denver
It’s time to head back to Denver today. If you’re short on time, make your way directly to DIA (keep in mind traffic is poor in the city around rush hour, and it’s an average of 45 minutes to the airport from Denver) or stop by one of Denver’s most amazing local breweries for a delicious beer and some food.
Drive Time: 4 hrs and 45 minutes to downtown Denver. 5 hours and 20 minutes to Denver International Airport
Things to do: There’s a wide array of things to do in Denver, but if you’re short on time check out Red Rocks Amphitheater in nearby Morrison (you’ll pass it on the way to the city), grab a drink at a local brewery, visit the Denver Botanical Gardens, or wander around the RiNo District or Union Station area.
Where to eat: Lowdown Brewery (tasty pizza and beer), The Great Divide Brewery (a Colorado classic), The Post Brewing Co (the best fried chicken and soul food).
Local Tip: If you’re coming home on a Sunday and you’re traveling along I-70 the traffic is extremely bad from 11 am until 5 pm every weekend. Be sure to plan accordingly!
Colorado Road Trip Quick Tips
Visiting Colorado in just 4 days is a tall order. There’s a lot to see and do. For the best trip, travel like a Colorado local. When you’re planning a Colorado road trip, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind to make your experience better. Here are a few handy local tips:
Mountian traffic is a real problem year-round. Build in extra time when you’re traveling on Interstate 70 (coming back from the Gunnison).
Colorado locals drive quickly and pass on the left. Please don’t drive in the left lane unless you’re looking to pass.
Fire bans are common in Colorado. If you plan on camping in Colorado, check the latest fire ban regulations for where you’re traveling.
Colorado is a naturally beautiful place, be sure to do your part and practice Leave No Trace. Pack out your trash (this includes fruit peels, wrappers, used toilet paper while hiking, and dog poop).
The airport is rather far from Denver (40 minutes at least), book in some extra time for travel.
The weather is often unpredictable and wild in Colorado, especially in the summer be prepared with a proper Colorado road trip packing list.
Weed is legal and can be found virtually everywhere in Colorado, but it still illegal to smoke in public and smoke and drive. Respect weed laws.
Spend One Week in Colorado
If you can swing it, it’s worth it to spend a few more days visiting Colorado. The ideal amount of time for a road trip in Colorado would be one week.
This way, you can get into the mountains even further. Explore a few of the most unbelievable places in the Rockies that just isn’t feasible with only 4 days.
Although this itinerary covers some amazing places, if you’ve got extra time, check out these awesome Colorado getaway destinations.
Additional Stops for 4 Days in Colorado
Create your own amazing 4 day Colorado road trip itinerary by swapping or adding these fantastic spots.
Ouray in the San Juan Mountains
Known as the “Alps of America.” This place is an excellent addition to your Colorado road trip. Head here to explore some beautiful alpine lake hikes such as the famous Ice Lake. Or enjoy incredible camping, go ATVing and check out the town of Telluride. There are plenty of things to do in Ouray and around, especially if you’re into challenging hikes and off-road driving.
The Million Dollar Highway Scenic Byway in the San Juan Mountains. Easily one of Colorado’s most scenic drives. Extend your trip or swap the San Juans for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. (Note that drives times will increase drastically).
Famous for its world-class skiing, charming mountain town, and mountain biking spending the day here after Gunnison would be a great way to add a day to your trip.
Carbondale and Aspen
Peep the famous Maroon Bells or embark on the Four Passes Loop – one of the most beautiful backpacking routes in Colorado. Accessible from Glenwood Springs and can be swapped for the Black Canyon on a 4 day Colorado road trip.
Buena Vista, Leadville, and Salida
Other activities include rafting, mountain biking, fishing, and camping. Great place to stop after coming back from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Grand Junction, Fruita, and Colorado National Monument
Stop here during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall, summers are sweltering) for epic desert scenery. You might just think your in Moab! 1 hour and 30 minutes from Glenwood Springs.
Breckenridge, Frisco, and Dillon
There are plenty of things to do in Breckenridge from stand up paddle boarding to amazingly scenic hikes in Breckenridge. Another great stopover coming back to Denver via I-70 if you have an extra day.
Made famous by the stunning Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, and the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs is another awesome stop. Done either for a night or as a day trip from Denver, there’s lots to see.
If you’re looking to splurge, consider staying at the famous Broadmoor Resort. Ideally add Coloraod Springs to your itinerary on the return from Leadville to skip I-70 traffic.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Experience the largest sand dunes in the Americas at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seeing the monumental dunes with the Sangre de Cristo peaks towering in the background is quite a site. As the only dog-friendly national park in Colorado, it’s fun for fido too!
Add this leg to the trip after the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Other Colorado Trip Ideas
Planning a big trip to colorado? Here are some local resources to help you plan:
- Best Free Camping Near Denver
- 29 of the Best Day Hikes Near Denver
- The Most Amazing Fall Hikes in Colorado
Enjoy your Colorado road trip with this iconic 4-day itinerary. Travel like a local with this insider’s itinerary.