From the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies to the surprising sandstone formations near Grand Junction, there are a lot of incredible Colorado road trip destinations. It’s almost impossible to choose a Colorado road trip itinerary that will see everything but you can get a lot out of your Colorado road trip even with just a few days.
This ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary dives deep into the most amazing spots in Colorado, from secret local favorites to the heavy hitter national parks.
You’ll get a variety of different Colorado road trip itinerary ideas so you can create the perfect signature road trip through the Centennial state to suit your needs.
This guide features the best Colorado road trip attractions, and we’ll dive into everything you need to know hitting the pavement on a Colorado road trip. These Colorado road trip ideas give you a local look at the best places to visit in Colorado.
As a Colorado local of nearly 12 years, I know the best stops for any road trip to Colorado. From the most scenic spots in Colorado to that unknown local gem, these stops are the perfect for any Colorado road trip itinerary.
So if you want to uncover the secret to an amazing Colorado road trip you’re in the right place. Travel like a local, not a tourist, with this exclusive guide to the open road in Colorado.
About this Guide to the Ultimate Colorado Road Trip
In this guide to the best Colorado road trip destinations, we’ll cover everything you need to know about planning the perfect route. Here’s what’s included:
- Quick tips for planning a Colorado road trip
- Information about the length of your road trip
- How to plan your route
- Colorado road trip ideas for every time frame
- The ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary
- Optional add-on stops for your road trip
- Information on Colorado road trip attractions and top things to do at each location
- The ideal duration for each stop
- Quick tips for visiting Colorado
- Additional Colorado road trip planning resources
Planning a Colorado Road Trip
Step one is to plan your ultimate Colorado road trip. First, you want to make sure you have enough time at each location. Of course, if you had months you could see it all, but if you’ve only got a few days, then you’ll want to prioritize.
Consider the following when planning your Colorado road trip:
- Your budget. This will drive where you stay and how far you go.
- Your vehicle. Although you don’t need a 4WD vehicle to embark on a Colorado road trip, it opens up much more terrain.
- What you’d like to see. Do you want a sample or would you prefer to thoroughly explore an area?
- Advanced permits. Not many places require a permit in Colorado. However, this summer you’ll want to plan in advance. I’ve made notes of any activities that will require advanced permits.
How Many Days Does it Take to Go on a Colorado Road Trip?
Ideally, 2 weeks would allow you to experience all corners of the state. However, that’s not a realistic time frame for many people.
With a week, you’ll get to see most of the highlights, including some of the further-to-reach spots from Denver. Ideally, if you can get a 10-day window for your Colorado road trip, you’ll be able to enjoy the most beautiful landscapes without feeling too rushed.
If you had only 4 days for a Colorado road trip, you can hit many of the highlights, but you’ll spend a lot of time in the car (don’t worry, the drives are pretty too).
Live in Colorado? Then all of the Colorado road trip ideas listed on this post are doable in a weekend – with the exception of a few long drives. (yippee!). You may even find yourself repeating trips to see even more of a particular area.
If you’re coming into town for a weekend getaway in Colorado, you’ll want to stick to locations that are closer to the Front Range. Alternatively, you can simply pick one of the further driving distances and just go to one locale.
A Map of a Stunning 2 Week Colorado Road Trip
This itinerary really travels throughout the state. Here’s a look at what a 2-week road trip in Colorado looks like.
The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip
Over the years I’ve scoured the state in order to compile this stunning Colorado road trip. Encompassing the best things to do in Colorado, this two-week itinerary brings you to some of the best mountain towns in Colorado.
You’ll get a true sense of just how diverse and beautiful the Centennial State can be.
Day 1. Denver’s Entertainment, Beer, and Food Scene
Almost all Colorado road trip itineraries will start in Denver, Colorado – the capital of the state. From a bustling food scene to awesome live entertainment, the Mile High City is a great start or end to your trip. With plenty of things to do in Denver, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
This city is all about being outside. With plenty of parks, rooftop eateries, and festive happenings throughout the year, it’s a place that worships sunshine and good vibes.
If you time your Colorado road trip right, you can catch a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, famous for its gorgeous rock formation and world-class concerts.
Adventure seekers should head towards Idaho Springs, just 30 minutes from Denver, to the 6-Zipline Adventure Tour. Boasted as the longest and fastest zipline, you’ll speed 60 miles an hour through the canyon. It’s a great kid-friendly option.
High flying adventure not your thing? Then make a splash from may through July by white water rafting Clear Creek Canyon. The class III rapids will get your adrenaline pumping while you wind your way down this iconic Denver attraction.
For sunset, be sure to drive to the top of Lookout Mountain, one of Denver’s most scenic drives. Afterward, hit up a local Denver brewery or plan a Denver food tour to indulge in this (surprising) foodie city.
Points of interest: LoHi food scene, the RiNo district, Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of the many hikes near Denver.
Number of Days: 1
Perfect For: a weekend in Colorado
Day 2. Hike and Climb in Boulder
Today you’ll make your way to Boulder. This scenic town features new age vibes and plenty of artesian restaurants. Boulder is known as a super-outdoor-athlete hot spot – so don’t be surprised if you see someone running up a mountain while you’re huffing and puffing at altitude (don’t worry, it happens to us locals too!).
As Denver’s neighboring city, Boulder, Colorado is a college town that’s nestled right against the mountains. With the beautiful Flatirons rock formations as a backdrop, Boulder has some awesome hikes – like hiking to the top of Flagstaff Mountain or the Flatirons Vista Trail, relaxing by Boulder Creek, and world-class rock climbing in Eldorado State Park.
After your morning hike, head to the Pearl Street Mall and catch some intriguing street performers while you shop. Spend the day exploring the town of Boulder before moving on to higher peaks.
Points of interest: Chautauqua Park, Eldorado Canyon State Park (rock climbing and hiking), Pearl Street Mall, Boulder Canyon (climbing).
Where to stay: Hotel Boulderado, Niwot Spa Inn and Spa, Blue Sky Mountain Ranch
Number of Days: 1
Drive Time: 40 minutes, 29 miles
Day 3. Inspiring Views in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rise and shine, it’s time for a mountain sunrise in one of the prettiest national parks in the US. Located just outside of Estes Park (base yourself here if you want multiple days in the park) and only 1 hour and 10 minutes from boulder, you’ll find the incredible scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Gorgeous mountain vistas, ample wildlife, and unbeatable hiking trails are just a few reasons why this is the fourth most-visited national park in the country. Rocky is a must-see spot on your Colorado road trip.
There’s plenty to do in Rocky Mountain, from world-class hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park to wildlife viewing, ranger programs, stunning photography, rock climbing, scenic driving, backpacking, and more.
Local Tip: Hike up to Emerald Lake for sunrise for spectacular mountain views. For a more challenging hike, check out the famous Sky Pond. Colorado lake hikes are a tradition here in Colorado and these two trails are mega icons.
Take your time driving from the east to the west side of the park via Trail Ridge Road. This super-convenient route lets you move on to other mountain destinations while enjoying some of the most accessible mountain views in the state.
Opt to camp in the park or stay in nearby Grand Lake – one of Colorado’s best lakes.
Local Tip: In 2021 you’ll need a reservation to access Rocky Mountain National Park before 5 am.
Points of interest: Trail Ridge Road, Lumpy Ridge, Glacier Gorge, Estes Park, Long’s Peak, the Peak-to-Peak Highway, Bear Lake, Emerald Lake.
Where to Stay: Camp at the Morraine Park Campground (reservations required), Della Terra Mountain Chateau, Grand Escape Cottages
Number of Days: 1 (if you have extra days, you can easily spend an additional day here)
Drive Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, 84 miles
Local Tip: For the 2021 season, you need to reserve a timed permit to enter the park. Reservations can be made in advance at recreation.gov.
Morning/Evening of Day 4. Hike to Hanging Lake
Arguably the most iconic hike in Colorado, no ultimate Colorado road trip is complete without a trip to Hanging Lake. This 3-plus-mile round trip hike requires an advanced permit ($12). However the views are breathtaking, and Hanging Lake definitely has at the top of the list of best hikes in Colorado.
Accessed right off of the I-70, you’ll pass this trailhead on your way to the next stop, Glenwood Springs. Try to get a morning or evening permit. Keep in mind you’ll have to backtrack one exit to reach the Hanging Lake Trailhead.
This 3.1-mile trail is moderate in difficulty. It’s a little steep, but there are plenty of benches for you to stop and take a rest along the way. And don’t worry, the view of the lake is so stunning, you’ll forget about those tired legs!
If you’re visiting in the spring, be sure to check out Spouting Rock Falls, one of the top waterfalls in Colorado.
Points of interest/activities: Hanging Lake hike, Spouting Rock Falls, Fishing on the Colorado River (not allowed at the lake itself)
Number of Days: 3 hours to a half day.
Day 4. Soar & Soak in Glenwood Canyon
Glenwood Springs is a great stop on a western Colorado road trip and a fun destination all on its own. After your hike, take the gondola up to the top of the canyon for some killer views. Then rest your achy body with a relaxing soak in the Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
With so many things to do in Glenwood Springs, you’ll be sad to leave, but you’ll feel rested for the adventure ahead!
Points of interest/activities: Glenwood Hot Springs, Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Glenwood Canyons Adventure Park, Rafting the River (spring), Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves
Number of Days: 1/2 day to one day.
Drive Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, 123 miles
Day 5 and 6. Visit the Red Rock Formations of the Colorado National Monument Outside of Grand Junction
A couple of hours drive past Glenwood Springs and the landscape completely transforms. Rugged mountains and steep canyons give way to red rock mesas, arches, and towers. You’ll feel like you’re in the heart of Southern Utah at the Colorado National Monument.
You’ll want to spend a couple of days in the Grand Junction area. In the east, you can go wine tasting in Palisade. 15 minutes to the west, you can get in on the single track action of Fruita, Colorado (see below)
There’s a lot of excellent hiking in Grand Junction (both inside and just outside the park). Not to mention you can drive the rim of the park for unbeatable views. Seriously one of my favorite sunset spots in all of Colorado.
Local Tip: Temps soar here in the summer, so consider hiking early or going during the spring or fall. Note that dogs are not allowed in the monument.
Points of interest/activities: Rattlesnake Arches Trail, Devil’s Kitchen Trail, Monument Canyon Trail, Rim Rock Drive, Unaweep Canyon (scenic drive nearby, ideal to head to Moab and worth the extra time).
Number of Days: 2
Drive Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, 85 miles
Local Tip: Palisade, Grand Junction, and Fruita are separated by about a 30-minute drive.
Day 5 and 6. Desert Single Track in Fruita
If you’d rather spend your time zipping down single-track, Fruita is the stop for you. Located just 15 minutes from Grand Junction is the mountain biker’s mecca. There’s a lot of awesome MTB events in Fruita throughout the year, although most events are during the cooler spring and fall months.
Beginners can rent bikes at Backcountry Biker and try the Highline Lake trail area or opt for a guided tour to a hut (2 nights minimum). Advanced riders will want to scope out the Zipidy Loop or Edge Loop trails. Oh, and don’t forget to stop at the Hot Tomato, one of the best places for a slice on your Colorado road trip.
Points of interest/activities: Pumps, Bumps, and Rollers Trail, Chutes and Ladders Trail, Kessel Run Trail, Mojo Trail, Joes Bridge Trail.
Number of Days: 1
Day 7 of Your Colorado Road Trip: Dramatic Views of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
One of the first trips I took when I moved to Colorado was to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We hiked to the bottom of the canyon and my dog chased a bear into a tree! It was an exciting weekend, to say the least, and I’ll always enjoy this breathtaking gem.
The walls plummet 2,700 feet to the canyon floor. The drama here rivals that of the Grand Canyon and it’s well worth the short detour to watch a sunset from the rim. There are a few rim hiking trails. Avid hikers who are looking for a challenge can opt to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in a day. It’s steep and rugged, but truly jaw-dropping.
Located between Grand Junction and Ouray, this must-see landmark is droopingly beautiful. It’s well worth your time to camp near the rim of the canyon.
Activities: Hiking, visitor’s center, rim walking, road biking, river cruise, excellent camping.
Where to Stay: Camp on at the South Rim Campground or stay in nearby Montrose (River Bend RV Park and Cabins, Country Lodge)
Number of Days: 1
Drive Time: 1 hour 24 minutes, 72 miles
Day 9 and 10. The Swiss Alps of America in Ouray and Silverton
Both Ouray and neighboring Silverton are excellent stops for any road trip in Colorado. The road stretching between the two is called the Million Dollar Highway and is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado.
Ouray has plenty of amenities for travelers while Silverton offers a much more small-town feel. Both towns have cute small coffee shops and plenty of boutique goods.
Notable activities include the Ouray Ice Park (winter only), Orvis Hot Springs (in Ridgway), and the Dallas Divide. There are so many fantastic Silverton and Ouray activities, you can easily spend more time here if you don’t like something else on the itinerary.
The San Juans are striking mountains, with rust-stained soils and beautiful opportunities for hiking and 4-wheeling. Rent a side by side at Loop SxS Adventures and drive the famous Alpine Loop a 90-mile dirt track that winds its way through incredible mountain scenery.
Keep in mind a lot of roads in the area require a high-clearance vehicle, but you can still explore plenty of incredible hikes and views right from the pavement.
Points of interest/activities: Ice Lake Trail (closed for 2021), Blue Lakes Trail, Orvis Hot Springs (Ridgeway), Box Canyon, Million Dollar Highway scenic drive, Wildflower photography, The Colorado Trail (the best segments are out this way), camping at Molas Lake (advanced recommendations preferred), visit Telluride, via ferattas (guided tours available).
Where to Stay: Amphitheater campground, dispersed camping (free along the Million Dollar Highway, pack in all supplies and pack it out), Ouray Riverside Resort, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, Hotel Ouray.
Number of Days: 2
Drive time: 1 hour, 48 miles
Drive the Million Dollar Highway
An absolute bucket list activity for any Colorado road trip is a scenic drive down the Million Dollar Highway. This incredibly scenic drive will absolutely blow your mind – it’s one of the most beautiful drives in North America after all! There are plenty of pullouts to admire the red-stained mountains as you make your way from Ouray to Silverton.
You’ll climb three distinct mountain passes (Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass) as you make your way toward Durango. Just be aware that there are no guardrails on the outside turns (which are quite tight) so take turns driving to get a chance to truly enjoy the view.
Local Tip: Drive the Million Dollar Highway at 7 am for the incredible morning light, less traffic, and better photo opportunities.
Drive Time: 1.5 hours without stopping, so budget at least 2.5 hours, 45 miles out-and-back
Day 11. Learn Native Histories at Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients
Both Mesa Verde National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument seek to preserve the stunning ruins of past Native American cultures. Both of these stops are a must-see on any Colorado road trip to truly understand the original inhabitants of this land.
There was once a great civilization of the Anasazi people here which dates back centuries. You can visit the ruins (the Balcony House, Long House, or Cliff Palace) via guided ranger tours. Be sure to check out the viewpoints to get a sense of scale for these priceless pieces of American history.
Drive the Mesa Top Loop Road and hike to the Step House on a self-guided tour to experience the architectural wonder of this historic site.
Points of interest/activities: Cultural tours of the monument and parks (required to visit), 4 Corners where 4 states come together.
Where to Stay: Dolores River Campground and Cabins, Far View Lodge, Starry Nights Ranch Bed & Breakfast
Number of Days: 1. If you have more time, you may want to spend an extra day or so exploring different ruin areas or visiting the 4-corners.
Drive Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, 106 miles
Day 12 and 13. Local Mountain Vibes in Buena Vista and Salida
The Sawatch Range is home to some of Colorado’s best 14ers, or peaks that tower over 14,000 feet tall. In fact, you’ll find the tallest mountain, Mount Elbert (14,439′) nearby. The best place to explore this wonderful wilderness is to make a stop in Buena Vista (pronounced “Bewwna Vista”) and Salida.
Separated by about an hour or so of driving, these two amazing mountain towns are a must-see. South Park is actually inspired by both the town of South Park (nearby) and Buena Vista.
There are plenty of incredible things to do near Buena Vista. One bucket list item is to raft down Browns Canyon which has different trips for all abilities. Alternatively, you can take a fly fishing lesson and learn how to catch trout along the river’s edge.
Hikers will enjoy the wide range of hikes near Buena Vista. Try your luck at standing on the roof of Colorado by hiking Mt Elbert (9.3 miles, 4,471 feet of gain, difficult and start before sunrise to beat dangerous afternoon storms).
Soak your tired body with a trip to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs (a great place to stay too).
Local Tip: The mountain roads surrounding Buena Vista, Salida, and nearby Leadville are littered with some of the best free camping in Colorado. If you like dispersed camping, this place is for you.
Points of interest/activities: Mt Elbert (Colorado’s tallest mountain), Twin Lakes (hiking, SUPing, fishing), The Colorado Trail (a section-based 486-mile through-hike across the state), Colorado 14ers, rafting Brown’s Canyon, Eddyline Brewery (pizza and beer).
Where to stay: Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Treehouse Hot Springs, Surf hotel and Chateau, Dispersed camping along Cottonwood Pass (first-come-first-served, pack it in and pack it out), Cottonwood Lake Campground, Collegiate Peaks Campground
Number of Days: 2
Drive Time: 3 hrs 25 minutes, 183 miles
Day 14. Colorado Springs
You’ll finish up your Colorado Road Trip with a day in Colorado Springs. This seemingly sleepy Colorado town is actually packed with several fun-filled activities.
If you’ve had enough mountain adventures, check out the Air Force Academy. Go on a tour, check out the museum, and visit the famous chapel.
Want to stand on the summit of a big mountain without effort? Then drive to the top of a Colorado 14er. Pikes Peak Scenic Byway is a toll road that lets you climb to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain right at the edge of the Rockies.
Don’t forget to take some time to see the famous Garden of the Gods. The park features gravity-defying sandstone monoliths that sprout from the mountainside. Truly a beautiful place for a hike or an adventurous spot for climbers to test their skills.
Other worthwhile stops are the Manitou Incline, hot air balloon rides, and Helen Hunt Falls in North Cheyenne Canon Park.
Points of interest/activities: Garden of the Gods (nearby), Airforce Academy (nearby), Mountain Shadows Restaurant (breakfast), Painted Mines (nearby)
Where to Stay: The Broadmoor Resort, Kinship Landing, Blue Skies Inn
Number of Days: 1. If you have extra days, you can easily spend 2 days in Colorado Springs.
Drive Time: 1 hour 50 minutes, 94 miles
Evening: Drive back to Denver. 1 hour 20 minutes, 71 miles.
Additional Colorado Road Trip Stops
Got more time for your Colorado road trip? Check out these additional road trip hot spots. Consider a smaller loop that incorporates more scenery and less driving, or pick your favorite landscapes and over-indulge in mountain goodness!
Enjoying Estes Park
After you have a fun-filled day of exploring the natural beauty of both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, head to Estes Park for some good eats and shopping. This is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado – and for good reason!
This quaint mountain town is home to a bustling scene. It’s the ideal spot to stay if you’re exploring the park, but keep in mind, there’s no dispersed camping here and advanced reservations are strongly recommended.
There are plenty of amazing hikes in Estes Park to check out too!
Points of interest: Rocky Mountain National Park, Peak-to-Peak Highway, The Stanley Hotel (film location for The Shining, Rock Inn Mountain Tavern (eats), Notchtop Bakery and Cafe (breakfast).
Where to Stay: The Inn on Fall River, The Stanley Hotel, Blackhawk Cabins
Number of Days: 1 day to see the town, but a great home base for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nearby Destinations: Boulder, Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
If you’re tired of the crowds near Rocky, head out to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Home to some of the most beautiful wildflower hikes in Colorado, you’ll want to check this hotspot out!
Covering a vast area surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll find more secluded trails and plenty of stunning scenery. This local hot spot is perfect for those iconic mountain views without the crowds.
Number of Days: 1 to 2
Where to Stay: Estes Park or Grand Lake
Nearby Destinations: Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake, Boulder, Denver
Local Tip: Indian Peaks is one of the most beautiful day trips from Denver.
Exploring Grand County and Steamboat Springs
As the name implies, Grand County is simply magical. The town of Granby is a great locale to explore nearby Lake Granby, Grand Lake, Rocky Mountain, and more. Lots of lakeside recreation options as well as a few amazing horseback outings make a trip to Grand County well-worth a visit.
You can mountain bike at nearby Steamboat Springs, where the adventure bike park lets you ride a chairlift and bike down.
Alternatively, you can head northwest to the town of Steamboat Springs. Home to Strawberry Hot Springs, Steamboat Ski Resort, ATVing, and more.
Points of interest: Lake Granby, Grand Lake, Steamboat Springs, Strawberry Park Hot Springs, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, mountain biking.
Number of Days: 2 to 3
Nearby Destinations: Glenwood Springs, Grand Lake
Kid-Friendly Adventures in Dillon, Frisco, and Keystone
Although there are lots of outdoor activities for all ages in Dillon, Frisco, and Keystone, kids will especially love the different adventure parks and fun-filled towns. The Tenmile Range offers up plenty of hiking opportunities from easy hikes to challenging 13,000-foot mountain hikes.
Be sure to check out the Frisco Bay Peninsula for great beginner mountain biking and disc golf. While the Keystone Adventure Park features a mountain coaster that’s sure to be a hit with the kids.
Points of interest: Dillon Reservoir (kayaking, SUPing, Sailing), camping, hiking, Keystone Adventure Park
Number of Days: 1 to 2
Nearby destinations: Vail, Glenwood Springs, Grand Lake, Breckenridge, Buena Vista.
Appreciate the Mountains in Breckenridge
Breckenridge is known for its skiing, but the hiking in Breckenridge is pretty stellar, too. Hoosier Pass Loop is an awesome sunrise hike, or you can challenge yourself to check off Mount Quandary, one of Colorado’s easiest 14ers.
And don’t miss a stroll down the Trollstigen Trail to meet Isak Heartstone, aka the Breckenridge Troll. With a variety of Breckenridge summer activities, you can easily spend several days here.
Points of interest: Hiking, Skiing, Ollie’s Pub, Breckenridge Troll
Number of Days: 1 to 2
Nearby Destinations: Dillion, Frisco, Keystone, Vail, Buena Vista, Denver
Incredible Hot Springs in Colorado
Okay, so I’m going to divert from specific locations for just a hot minute. You can find incredible spots to soak in one of Colorado’s best hot springs. Take a dip in both natural and man-made pools in the following locations:
- Steamboat Springs
- Buena Vista
- Idaho Springs
- Glenwood Springs
Many of the above locales are found throughout this list of Colorado road trip ideas. Simply plan to spend a few hours at one (or three) of Colorado’s famous hot springs.
Hike in the Sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Did you know that Colorado is home to the largest sand dunes in North America? At the Great Sand Dunes National Park, you can explore this oddity of towering dunes.
The sand comes up from the ground via a spring, a sacred area for the Navajo people. Although you can’t visit the spring, you can try your luck at climbing the dunes.
My favorite campground in Colorado is located inside the national park or you can try your luck at a lottery to camp out on the dunes (backpacking in).
Points of interest/activities: dune walking, playing in the stream (seasonal in spring), sandboarding, ATVing, backpacking, camping, Zapata Falls hike.
Where to stay: Pinon Flats Campground, Holiday Inn (Alamosa)
Number of Days: 2
Nearby Destinations: Buena Vista, Colorado Springs
Mountain Biking and Wildflowers in Crested Butte
Crested Butte is one of my favorite places in Colorado, hands down. With its beautifully picturesque town, wonderful hiking trails, and world-class alpine mountain biking, it’s a mountain paradise. There’s plenty of things to do in Crested Butte, but one of my favorite things is to hike.
Crested Butte is a pleasant (but pricey) town. There are tons of awesome eateries here including the famous Secret Stash Pizza and the Sherpa Cafe.
Activities: Hiking, backpacking from Crested Butte to Aspen, mountain biking, shopping.
Where to stay: Scarp Ridge Lodge, Westwall Lodge, The Chalet @ Crested Butte
Number of Days: 2 to 3
Nearby Destinations: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Backpack From a Train in the San Juan Mountains
If you love backpacking, then you’ve got to check out one of Colorado’s best backpacking routes. The Chicago Basin is famous for its many 14,000 foot peaks, but it’s also one of the most unique backpacking trips in the country.
Start by taking the train (yes you read that correctly) into the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Backpackers start at the Needleton Trailhead and make the 6.5-mile trip into the Chicago Basin. Stay and hike some peaks, or just enjoy the views.
Local tip: You are required to carry out your human waste so bring Wag bags.
Points of interest/activities: Elous Peak, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak
Number of Days: 3 to 4
Nearby destinations: Ouray, Silverton
Alternative Colorado Road Trip Route Ideas
Here’s a look at a few Colorado road trip itinerary ideas to help you get organized for your big adventure. These local Colorado road trip itineraries hit the highlights.
You’ll get a quick guide to where to stop, for how long, drive times, and mileage. With more time, you can add additional stops or swap stops for endless combinations.
For a complete itinerary, check out the Ultimate Colorado road trip section below.
Weekend in Colorado Itinerary Ideas
If you’ve only got a weekend in Colorado, I’d suggest picking just one destination. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself endlessly driving instead of enjoying the stunning beauty of the state.
A few must-see Colorado road trip stops if you’re coming from the east are:
- Denver. Highlights: food, small business, hopping bar scene, Red Rock Amphitheater
- Boulder. Highlights: Pearl Street Mall, Boulder Canyon, hiking the Flatirons, Eldorado Canyon State Park
- Buena Vista. Highlights: Charming mountain town with mountain views, epic free camping, campgrounds rafting the Browns River, 4WD roads.
- Breckenridge. Highlights: scenic mountain driving, backpacking, camping, road biking, hiking for all abilities.
- Rocky Mountain National Park. Highlights: epic hiking trails, Emerald Lake, wildlife viewing, scenic trail Ridge Road
If you’re visiting from the west then your perfect Colorado road trip in a weekend is:
- Grand Junction/Fruita. Highlights: Colorado National Monument, wine tasting in Palisade, mountain biking in Fruita.
- Ouray. highlights: San Juan Mountains (the Swiss Alps of America), ATVing, Million Dollar Highway Scenic Drive
- Mesa Verde National Park. Highlights: Ancestral Puebloan ruins, guided cultural tours, desert scenery.
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Highlights: incredible granite-walled canyon with 2,700-foot vertical walls, camping, hiking, nearby hot springs.
Four Days in Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Idea
Four days in Colorado will enable you to check out several spectacular landscapes to get a flavor for what Colorado is all about. This 4-day Colorado road trip itinerary is all about maximizing flavor. If you prefer a slower approach, simply choose the area that sounds best to you and dig a little deeper into nearby attractions.
Start in Denver.
Day One: Sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park. Spend the day in the park, taking Trail Ridge Road through the west end of the park. Spend the night in Glenwood Springs. (Drive time: 5.5 hours without stopping, 248 miles).
Day Two: Early morning hike to Hanging Lake, soak in the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. Drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the afternoon. Catch a sunset at the canyon rim. (Drive time: 2 hrs 20 minutes, 104 miles)
Day Three: Enjoy an early morning hike along the Black Canyon Rim then drive to Colorado Springs for an overnight. (drive time: 4 hours 45 mins, 243 miles)
Day Four: Early morning hike through Garden of the Gods (gets crowded by 8 am). Then drive back to Denver and head to a brewery to celebrate. (Drive time: 1 hour 15 minutes, 70 miles)
One Week Colorado Road Trip
If you’ve only got one week to explore, then this one-week Colorado road trip itinerary is your ticket to mountain glory. See the above sections for things to do and places to go at each stop.
Day One: Denver
Day Two: Rocky Mountain National Park. (Drive time: 5.5 hours without stopping, 248 miles)
Day Three: Frisco (1 hour 40 mins, 82 miles) or Glenwood Springs (2 hours 30 minutes, 123 miles)
Day Four: Grand Junction with a stop at Hanging Lake (1 hour 20 minutes, 87 miles)
Day Five and Six: Ouray (1 hour 50 minutes, 97 miles)
Day 7: Drive Back to Denver (5 hours, 30 minutes, 333 miles)
Finding the Best Scenic Colorado Road Trips
The key to planning a successful Colorado road trip is to spend as little time in the car as possible and the maximum amount of time enjoying the stunning scenery the state has to offer.
Queue up your Colorado road trip itinerary with as many scenic drives as possible. Look for scenic byway signs along different routes to enjoy the most of the time in the car. Get your cameras ready, because with plenty of scenic pullouts, you’ll be awe-struck by the natural beauty.
Tips for finding scenic drives include:
- Take mountain passes
- Connect stops via local roads and highways
- Look for the blue scenic byway signs
Key Considerations For Planning Colorado Road Trips
Definitely keep the weather in mind when planning your Colorado road trip! It’s important to pick the right season for your Colorado road trip.
While you can road trip in Colorado year-round, if you want to explore outside in the best conditions, July through September is probably the best time of year to visit Colorado.
Because of the elevation, snow can stick around well into early summer in many areas. Also, lots of roads close down during the winter because they aren’t maintained.
If you avoid driving on snowy and icy roads, driving in Colorado shouldn’t be too overwhelming. Some mountain roads might have tight curves and drop-offs, so just follow the speed limit and drive safely.
Many roads in backcountry areas will require 4WD or high-clearance vehicles, so be sure to double-check that before hitting the road.
Always keep an eye on your gas gauge as well, since you don’t want to end up running on empty in the middle of nowhere. In terms of budgeting for a Colorado road trip, gas here isn’t ridiculously expensive.
Of course, if you fill up in a fancy town like Vail, you might end up paying more.
And you can keep your Colorado road trip super cheap by camping, especially at free dispersed sites, or splurge on an Airbnb or a fancy lodge. Really, it’s up to you and your budget how much you want to spend on the road.
How Much Does a Colorado Road Trip Cost?
Road trips in Colorado largely depend on a few factors. The most important factor in determining the cost of your Colorado road trip is if you’ll be camping or staying in hotels. On average, hotels will be around $180 a night, while camping can be anywhere from $50 a night to free.
Pro Tip: Learn how to find free camping to save money on your Colorado Road trip.
The second biggest factor is gasoline. Thankfully, Colorado has some of the cheapest gas prices in the country. Before you hit the road, do a rough estimate using the current gas prices to get a sense for how much gas will cost for your specific itinerary.
In general, an average daily budget of around $280 per day if you’re staying in a hotel, or around $100 – $120 per day if you are opting to go on a camping road trip is a good estimate. This will give you plenty of wiggle room if you decide you want to splurge or you have a guided activity planned.
Is Driving in Colorado Dangerous?
From a local perspective, no, driving in Colorado is not dangerous. However, if you don’t have experience driving in the mountains, some of the high passes can feel quite daunting.
Stop-and-go mountain traffic is also quite common, so pay attention at the wheel. Use the left lane only for passing and you should be alright.
Colorado is known for its wild weather, so be prepared for variable driving conditions. Road closures in the mountains are common in winter, so keep up to date with the latest conditions on your Colorado road trip.
Lastly, thoroughly research all trailheads. Most of the trails listed in this Colorado road trip itinerary are accessible by passenger car, but a lot of trailheads require a high-clearance vehicle, such as a 4Runner or off-road vehicle. Check before you go so you don’t end up stuck in a rough situation.
Dirt mountain passes and 4×4 roads can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. When in doubt, hire a guide for those off-road adventures.
Tips for Visiting Colorado
If you’re coming from out of state, or you’ve just moved to Colorado, there are several important things to know before you visit. Here are a few handy Colorado road trip tips to keep in mind:
Slower traffic keeps right. Locals get really upset about this on highways.
Denver International Airport is 40 minutes east of Denver. You’ll feel like you’ve arrived in Kansas, you haven’t, don’t worry!
It’s illegal to drive and smoke pot.
Mountain traffic, especially on the weekends, is real. Plan at least an extra 40 minutes if you’re driving out to the mountains on a Friday or Saturday or coming home on a Sunday.
Roads close for avalanche mitigation, including interstates.
Acclimatize to the altitude. The struggle is real, but if you take your time, you’ll find you’ll get used to the thin air.