Road trips are a great way to see all of the beauty that Colorado has to offer. The tricky is part is to determine the best route to see the most of the Rockies without spending too much time in your vehicle. We have outlined the ultimate Colorado road trip, and the best part about this route, is that there are so many incredible day trips to take from each of these locations as well as places you can drive through. You can see so many different parts of Colorado without even taking too much time.
One of the best parts of this route, is that it is a loop, so start from anywhere and cut out those stops you aren’t interested in, or if you have more time, make that loop bigger. Visit places like Alamosa, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Telluride, Montrose, Dinasour, Fort Collins and more!
We are going to start this road trip in Denver, but if you are coming from the west, or somewhere in the middle you can start this road trip from pretty much anywhere in Colorado.
Capital City: Population – 620,000
Things to know about Denver:
- Denver is not in the mountains. Yes you can see the mountains from the city of Denver, but you will need to drive west to reach said mountains.
- Denver is called the mile high city because its elevation is exactly 1 mile high. This means if you are coming from sea level that you may feel the affects of the higher altitude such as dehydration, dizziness and even more.
- Denver has 200 parks within the city and is one of the most walk-able cities in the United States. Beautiful parks, great restaurants, tons of museums, multiple college campuses, and even more to keep you entertained.
Top Activities: brewery tours, visit the city parks, museums, restaurants and more!
Places to stay:
Canon City, Colorado
The next place on our list is Canon City, but to get here you will pass through Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain. These are incredible places to stop on your way from Denver to Canon City if you have time. Canon City should not be mistaken for a city but more of a town, but a town full of adventure!
Population – 16,000
Things to know about Canon City:
- Canon City is home to the only Super Max Prison in the United States. Don’t let that deter from visiting because this may be one of the safest places to visit with all of the security.
- Canon City is home to the Royal Gorge with the highest suspension bridge that you can walk across. You can also raft through the royal gorge and take in the extreme canyon walls.
- Canon City has a cute little downtown area who resturants and shops. This is a great place to break out the camping gear and sleep under the stars but there is lodging available.
Top Activities: rock climbing, rafting, ziplining, hiking, museums, and biking.
Places to stay:
Buena Vista / Salida, Colorado
From Canon City you will drive just one hour to hit Salida and Buena Vista is just up the road from there. These incredible Colorado mountain towns have so much to offer from 14 thousand foot peaks, to hot sptrings, horseback riding, camping, climbing, rafting and more! We are exhausted just thinking about how much you have to get while visiting. One last thing… Buena Vista has INCREDIBLE food, so save room for that.
Things to know about Buena Vista
- It is the rafting capital of the United State and some might say the world. The beautiful Arkansas River runs through Buena Vista all the way to Salida and it is the most commercially rafted river in North America.
- Like a lot of western towns in Colorado, settlers came here looking for profitable mining after the first gold was found near Denver in 1860. It might not be a mining town anymore but people flock into this area during the summer because of everything it has to offer.
- Great live music comes through here to visit the Lariet. On top of that, you can get some of the best beer at Eddyline Brewery.
Top Activities: rafting, via ferrata, rock climbing, ziplining, hot springs, exploring downtown, and camping.
Places to stay:
- Tons of camping
- Amazing AirBnB options
- Hotel Options: Our favorite – The Surf
- Last, but definitely not the least – Hot Springs Resorts
** The next option we give from here is Aspen, but we want everyone to be sure to know that you can drive directly north 1 hour and hit Breckenridge. You can cut off part of the loop here, but we don’t necessarily recommend it unless you are pressed for time. There is another opportunity to visit Breckenridge when you come from the other direction, just past Frisco.
- Aspen is names after its high population of Aspen trees. That is why this is a stop on your fall loop because you will not see Colorado like this anywhere else.
- Aspen was a silver town and in the 1920’s it was devastated by the demonetization of silver, but these old mines and ruins definitely add to its unique charm.
- One of the top visited places in Colorado let alone Aspen is Maroon Bells.
Top Activities: hiking, biking, leaf peeping, exploring downtown, restaurants, and more!
Places to stay:
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
We recommend a day trip here from Aspen. Keep in mind this is less than 1 hour up the road, so you can plan it into your itinerary as a day trip or a quick stop over. Again, this is a beautiful hot spring destination in Colorado, but it offers much more than just hot springs.
Things to know about Glenwood Springs:
- It is home to the very popular hike, Hanging Lake, which thousands of people typically visit every day between May and October. Recently, they have decided to manage this natural resource differently, and only allow 600 people to visit thi geological wonder daily, with a shuttle and ticketing system. To learn more visit their web page here.
- Glenwood is perfect for the summer and winter, but we highly recommend visiting in the fall. You will find less crowds here, and can still enjoy most things this town has to offer (unless you are coming just to ski).
- The famous Doc Holliday visited Glenwood Springs after his famous shootout in Arizona to soak in the hot springs. He later died at the Glenwood Hotel in 1887.
Top Activities: hiking, biking, hot springs, leaf peeping, museums, exploring downtown, and more!
Places to stay:
- We have to mention the famous Hotel Colorado where Theodore Roosevelt stayed during his presidency.
- Lots of AirBnB options!
- Hot Springs Lodges
Town population: 5,500
Vail is a small town at the base of a very popular ski resort in Colorado. You cannot miss Vail, as its beautiful hotels that are inspired by Swiss architecture are nestled right off I-70. It’s a perfect stop for a road trip, because you do not have to go out of your way at all, and you can enjoy a day of fancy living strolling through the heated streets, or take a few days to unwind at an amazing spa!
Things to know about Vail:
- The perfect mountain terrain was discovered during World War II. One of the members who discovered this area later went on to become on the the founders of Vail Resorts, which is now the largest ski resort corporation in the world.
- Similar to Aspen, Vail is known for its aspen tress and becomes a very popular fall destination for hiking, biking, fishing, and just leaf peeping in general.
- Vail is one of the more expensive towns in Colorado to visit, so it is great as a day trip, or a great spot to find perfect camping in the Eagle Valley.
Top Activities: hiking, biking, fly fishing, leaf peeping exploring downtown, rafting and more!
Places to stay:
- Plenty of fancy hotels: Try the Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa to unwind from time in the car.
- Unbelievable AirBnB options to take time feeling like royalty in someone else’s mountain home!
- Camping: The affordable option
Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the most popular places to visit in Colorado is Rocky Mountain National Park and we put it on the list because there is a reason it is popular, but if you follow our advice you will not get stuck with all of the crowds. Just 2 hours from Vail, you will pass Frisco (Breckenridge is just past that), Kremmling, Grandby, and Grand Lake. We don’t want to shove to much into your fall road trip, but these are some of my favorite places to visit – especially Kremmling, for a fishing trip on the Colorado or an off-road excursion. Learn more here.
Things to know:
- There are more than 415 square miles to explore and Rockly Mountain National Park and we hate to break it to you, but you will not be able to see every inch of this wonderful sight. To help you make the most of your time in the park, we recommend a guided tour. This is a great option to surpass the crowds and visit the unseen parts of the park, as well as have someone take care of your camping, food and planning.
- There are small glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park- let over from the giant glaciers that used to live here, but a lot of the landscape has been created by glaciers.
- Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife, so much wildlife in the park, BUT it is important you do not disrupt it. If you spot a moose, or bear in their natural habitat make sure you do not disturb them and know the protocol if they do spot you. With moose, it is best to find a dense wooded area and hid in the trees, and with bears let them be but if they decide to attack, it is best to get big and loud and try to scare them off opposed to running. Both these animals are fast.
- Lastly, layers! Rocky Mountain National Park has a wide variety of climates and in the fall you will find cool morings and night with the hot afternoon sun, so stay comfortable with layers.
Top Activities: hiking, fly fishing, horseback riding, wildlife spotting, camping and relaxing!
Places to stay:
- The only option in the park is camping – no lodging inside the park
- Estes Park hotels and AirBnBs
- Grand Lakes lodging options
Just a one hour and beautiful drive from Rocky Mountain National Park is the cool and eccentric town of Boulder Colorado. We really shouldn’t say town any more, but this City home to the University of Colorado is growing every year! Boulder is a great place to round out your road trip, and if you are flying out of Denver Airport, Boulder happens to be just as close to the airport as most places in Denver. With plenty of hiking, biking, restaurants and more this will be the perfect stopping point!
Things to know about Boulder:
- Boulder is nestled up to the “Flat Irons” which are awesome rock formations that look like they have been ironed across the front. The pioneer women in the early 1900’s names these 5 mountains.
- This college town is filled with arts and culture and plenty of museums, theaters, and a very lively downtown to visit. Pearl Street is the heart of Boulder and has lots of walking streets and definitely caters to those trying to take in the historic store fronts and awesome street performers.
- Swing by the University of Colorado Campus, which is full of red topped buildings and made out of beautiful stone. You are also surrounded by greenery while taking in the mountains from campus.
Top Activities: hiking, biking, exploring downtown, visiting museums, theaters, Chautauqua, and more!
Places to stay:
- Chautauqua Cottages: Just steps from the popular hiking trails are these incredibly restored cottages for your convenience.
- Choose from one of the top ten hotels in Boulder.
- Top Camping Spots near Boulder.
We could go on and on about all of the places you need to stop and see on your Colorado road trip. While we suggested a pretty small 12 hour loop, there are so many incredible day trips from each of these places, or you can just expand your loop to include the places we mentioned at the top.
This is sure to be a trip of a lifetime!