The colorful Colorado road trip itinerary

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Take a breathtaking tour of a US state where there’s always something new to explore. Tall white mountain peaks, dense green forests, vast red rock deserts and deep dark canyons — this Colorado itinerary is colorful both literally and figuratively speaking.

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  • Total distance: 1,319 mi / 2,123 km
  • Total driving time: 27 h

1. Denver, CO

Denver is for its elevation of between 5,130 and 5,690 feet (1,560 to 1,730 m) known as the Mile-High City. The most populous city and capital of Colorado is both a convenient and fun starting point for a road trip.

Red Rocks Amphitheater, in the Denver area, is on most lists with the best things to do in Colorado. It boasts to be the only acoustically perfect naturally occurring amphitheater of its kind in the entire world — a live concert here is awe inspiring.

A free thing to check out before departing is the Denver Capitol Building. It’s a beautiful edifice with an extra ingredient. At the 13th step on its east side, you’re exactly one mile above sea level. Fun fact: In the past, both the 15th and 18th steps have been regarded as the exact one mile level, but since 2003 the 13th step is identified as the benchmark step.

Denver Capitol Building with its golden crown
The beautiful Denver Capitol, CO.

Additional stop: The shortest route from Denver to Estes Park goes through Boulder. That’s a great opportunity to make an early addition to the itinerary. Boulder is one of the most loved Colorado towns with both outdoor adventures and a lively downtown area. Fondly said to be nestled between mountains and reality Boulder is often ranked as one of the happiest cities in the US.

2. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

  • Driving distance: 69 mi / 111 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

The first of four national parks on the itinerary is the most visited. Rocky Mountain National Park, northwest of Denver, is not only the most visited national park in Colorado but also one of the most visited in the US. Millions of visitors come to be amazed by the high park each year.

Colorado is the state in the US with most mountain peaks above 14,000 feet (4,267 m). In Rocky Mountain National Park, you can really feel that. When you visit the park, you feel on top of the world.

A highlight that captures the heights of the Rocky Mountains is the famous Trail Ridge Road. It’s known as the highest continuously paved highway in North America and takes you to overlooks at over 12,000 feet (3,658 m). Trail Ridge Road goes through the heart of the majestic park and is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado.

But Trail Ridge Road is certainly not the only scenic drive to enjoy in the park. Bear Lake Road is another iconic road. It twists and turns to Bear Lake that offers beautiful hikes.

Tree tops and mountains in Rocky Mountain Naitonal Park
Rocky Mountain National Park.

Where to stay

The eastern gateway town Estes Park is the most popular base with places to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park has all the comfort you need and gives you great access to both Trail Ridge Road and the Bear Lake area.

Sign welcoming you to Rocky Mountain National Park
Welcome to the Rockies.

3. Glenwood Springs, CO

  • Driving distance: 199 mi / 320 km
  • Driving time: 4 h

After exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, you get to the perfect destination to just relax and unwind. The Glenwood Springs area is picturesque with rivers, geothermal springs and of course a beautiful backdrop. Located at the confluence of the Colorado River and the Roaring Fork River it’s always easy to get to a source of water in Glenwood Springs.

Soaking in the hot springs is a proud tradition in Glenwood Springs. At Glenwood Hot Springs Resort you even find what is considered the largest mineral hot springs pool in the entire world. Its mineral-rich water is soothing and keeps you warm even a cold day of winter in Colorado.

Within walking distance from the hot springs you also find the historic Downtown Glenwood Springs. The historic area offers an eclectic mix of places to dine, drink and shop. Life in Glenwood Springs is certainly comfortable, and the town is as appreciated on a romantic road trip as on family road trips.

Green surroundings in Glenwood Springs on Colorado road tirp
Glenwood Springs greenery.

4. Aspen, CO

  • Driving distance: 41 mi / 66 km
  • Driving time: 1 h

The shortest drive on the itinerary is the one from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. It’s only 41 miles (66 km) between the two cities. Aspen is a city you don’t want to miss — even if you’re not a skier.

Aspen is, of course ,most of all known as a ski destination with great slopes both for amateurs and experienced skiers. The city has four top ski areas in Aspen Mountain (Ajax), Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. It’s a skier’s paradise with a slope for every mood and experience level.

But Aspen is a great city for a wide range of outdoor recreation activities in the off season too. So you certainly don’t need to be a skier to enjoy the famous mountain city.

A prime example of that you don’t need to ski to enjoy the Aspen area is the Maroon Bells. The two mountain peaks in the Elk Mountains are located 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Aspen. They are both in the fourteeners club of peaks at 14,000 feet (4,267 m) or higher and truly impressive.

Another great attraction to include on a summer or early fall drive is Independence Pass. The high mountain pass between Aspen and Twin Lakes reaches an elevation of 12,095 feet (3,687 m) on the Continental Divide. It’s a scenic passage that offers stunning overlooks, beautiful hiking and even exploration of the historic Independence Ghost Town.

The Maroon Bells in Colorado
The breathtaking Maroon Bells.

5. Dinosaur National Monument, CO

  • Driving distance: 206 mi / 332 km
  • Driving time: 4 h

From Aspen, the road trip continues northwest until Colorado meets Utah. In what today is northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah, dinosaurs used to roam in a distant time. Welcome to Dinosaur National Monument.

The Quarry Exhibit Hall is the most popular part of the monument. That’s where you can get up close to the fascinating and surprisingly well-preserved dinosaur bones. There are more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils on view in the quarry. The huge amount of bones makes the monument one of the world’s richest dinosaur deposits. 

But Dinosaur National Monument is a gem that’s not only about the dinosaur quarry. It’s, in fact, a vast park spread out over more than 210,000 acres with mountains and river canyons.

A convenient excursion to add to a quarry visit is the short drive up to Josie Morris Cabin. On the way to the cabin you pass by a petroglyph site and the cabin itself is a piece of pioneer history. It’s completely surrounded by natural beauty and teaches a great history lesson about determination. Josie’s cabin is also a nice picnic spot, and the area has easy but lovely canyon trails.

Further from the quarry but also a highlight is Harpers Corner Road. It takes you deeper into Dinosaur National Monument and shows some extremely impressive canyons from above. The scenic drive is a must on the itinerary if you want to see the more central parts of Dinosaur National Monument.

Where to stay

The best places to stay near Dinosaur National Monument are on the Utah side of the border. From the well serviced Utah town Vernal you get to the famous dinosaur quarry in less than 30 minutes.

Red canyon floor, green trees and cliffs in Dinosaur National Monument.
Dinosaur National Monument, CO/UT.

6. Colorado National Monument, CO/UT

  • Driving distance: 125 mi / 201 km
  • Driving time: 2.5 h

Also near the Utah border but a few hours south, you find another gem. Colorado National Monument is a spectacular destination made up by a maze of red rock canyons. With eagles soaring above its red rock landscape you really feel like you’re in the American West.

But Colorado National Monument is not only a beautiful park. It’s also surprisingly easy to explore the monument even if you’re short on time. The 23 miles (37 km) long historic Rim Rock Drive effortlessly lets you survey the unique area.

Rim Rock Drive goes from the east to the west park entrance. It’s the main road in Colorado National Monument, and it takes you to many of the breathtaking overlooks in the park. Rim Rock Drive is both convenient and spectacular.

The drive through the park on Rim Rock Drive takes about an hour without stops. But make sure that you add time to explore the viewpoints along the way. Rim Rock Drive is one of the most scenic drives in Colorado.

There are also great hiking trails accessible from Rim Rock Drive if you aim to get more than just a drive-through experience. Devil’s Kitchen at the park’s eastern entrance is one of the more famous trails to include on the itinerary. The return hike is under 2 miles (3.2 km) but showcases impressive geological features.

Red rock landscape in Colorado National Monument
Red rock landscape in Colorado National Monument.

7. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO

  • Driving distance: 82 mi / 132 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is both one of the smallest and least visited national parks in the US. Still it offers something very unique to the itinerary.

In the park the most dramatic 14 miles (23 km) of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is protected. The canyon is so deep, steep and narrow that it’s kept dark at most hours of the day. Hence the name the Black Canyon.

To put some numbers on it, at Warner Point the canyon is 2,722 feet (829 m) deep. And at the Narrows at the river bed the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is only 40 feet (12 m) wide. That’s incredibly tight and remarkable for such a deep and steep canyon drop.

It’s the combination of depth, steepness and narrowness that makes the Black Canyon so unique.

The park is explored from its separate South Rim and North Rim areas. Both rims have beautiful overlooks that are reached by short and easy hikes.

South Rim that is the most visited rim is open around the year. North Rim is closed in winter but offers some of the most impressive overlooks in the park. So if you don’t take the road trip during the colder months of the year, the North Rim is a welcome addition to a park visit.

Where to stay

Montrose is the conventional option for where to stay near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s just 20 minutes from Montrose to the dramatic Black Canyon of the Gunnison South Rim.

Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The Painted Wall in the Black Canyon.

8. Telluride, CO

  • Driving distance: 73 mi / 117 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

After a dark canyon, the itinerary takes you to a glistening mountain town. Telluride beautifully sits in a box canyon surrounded by forest covered cliffs. Like Aspen it’s a popular ski destination that remains fun when the snow has melted.

At Main Street you find the old mining town charm that symbolises Telluride. In the friendly small town the colorful buildings are beautifully contrasted by the mountain backdrop. Telluride’s Main Street is the perfect place to have a meal, enjoy a beverage or look for that souvenir to bring back home from your tour of Colorado.

A great way to see Telluride from above and to get around is to take the free gondola trip that the town offers. The Telluride gondola is a unique public transportation system that at no cost takes visitors from Telluride to the higher elevated Mountain Village. It’s a scenic trip to include on the itinerary that takes less than 15 minutes.

Gondola ride in the mountains in Telluride on the CO road trip
CO road trip fun in Telluride.

Additional stop: Ouray is also a nice and historic Colorado mining town that is conveniently located between the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde. When you visit, it’s easy to see why the town surrounded by mountains is called the Switzerland of America. Apart from its natural beauty, the town’s hot springs is another big draw.

9. Mesa Verde National Park, CO

  • Driving distance: 83 mi / 134 km
  • Driving time: 2 h

In southwestern Colorado, near the Four Corners, an American national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is located. Mesa Verde National Park preserves some of the most important archeological sites in the US.

Under the cliffs of Mesa Verde the Ancestral Pueblo people during the late 1190s constructed a booming community. Now, more than 800 years later you can explore the notable cliff dwellings.

Some dwellings are more simple one-room units, while others are complex multi-room structures. The around 600 cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde are fascinating and the park’s main attraction.

But Mesa Verde, Green Table in Spanish, also offers much more to the Colorado itinerary than just the iconic cliff dwellings. In the stunning high desert landscape the park in total preserves more than 5,000 archeological sites.

Where to stay

To be as close the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings as possible, you can stay within the park at the basic Far View Lodge. But there are many more places to stay near Mesa Verde National Park in the nearby towns Cortez and Mancos.

Cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.

10. Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

  • Driving distance: 203 mi / 327 km
  • Driving time: 4 h

Great Sand Dunes National Park is the fourth and final national park on the itinerary. The park is most of all known to be home to the tallest sand dunes in North America.

The very tallest dune in Great Sand Dunes is the celebrated Star Dune. From its base the majestic dune rises up 750 feet (229 m) towards the sky.

Another spectacular dune to explore is the park’s High Dune. The High Dune in fact reaches even higher above the sea level than the Star Dune. But as the High Dune also begins higher up the title as North America’s tallest dune still goes to Star Dune.

Hiking the tall dunes is a popular thing to do in the park. Another more unique activity in Great Sands is to try sand sledding. Sand sledding is a fun way to enjoy the park for both adults and kids.

Where to stay

You find places to stay near Great Sand Dunes National Park at the park’s south border. Further away but still convenient the gateway town Alamosa offers more lodging and things to do.

Endless dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Glorious dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Additional stop: Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is a fun detour when you drive from Great Sand Dunes to the next destination Colorado Springs. The majestic bridge, also called America’s Bridge, only adds about 1 hour to the drive. Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the United States and a truly unique experience to include on the itinerary.

CO road trip stop at Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado
Royal Gorge Bridge, CO.

11. Colorado Springs, CO

  • Driving distance: 169 mi / 272 km
  • Driving time: 3 h

The final destination before the Colorado loop is completed is the state’s second most populous city. Colorado Springs is last out on the itinerary but certainly not least.

One of the most appreciated stops is Garden of the Gods. This park and national natural landmark has towering sandstone rocks that are easily explored by foot or car. Visiting is an awe-inspiring experience.

From Garden of the Gods and across the Colorado Springs region, Pikes Peak is visible. Pikes Peak is one of the most accessible fourteeners not only in Colorado but even in the United States. The summit of Pikes Peak is just 30 miles (48 km) west of Colorado Springs. You can drive the winding roads up, or you can hike the Barr Trail to get to its breathtaking summit.

Garden of the Gods and its red rock formations is one of the most appreciated Colorado road trip stops
Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

12. Denver, CO

  • Driving distance: 69 mi / 111 km
  • Driving time: 1.5 h

After a colorful Colorado road trip. it’s time to round off the journey. The last 69 miles (111 km) on the road completes the loop and takes you back to where the CO road trip started, Denver.

Colorado itineraries with days

For the ultimate Colorado road trip, we recommend allowing 3 weeks or more. If you have less time, you can either do a pacier road trip or break up the itinerary to focus on your favorite parts.

Ultimate itinerary (3 weeks)

  • Day 1-2: Denver
  • Day 2-5: Rocky Mountain NP
  • Day 5-6: Glenwood Springs
  • Day 6-8: Aspen
  • Day 8-10: Dinosaur NM
  • Day 10-11: Colorado NM
  • Day 11-13: Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
  • Day 13-15: Telluride
  • Day 15-17: Mesa Verde NP
  • Day 17-18: Great Sand Dunes NP
  • Day 18-21: Colorado Springs

Itinerary without Dinosaur NM (2 weeks)

  • Day 1-2: Denver
  • Day 2-5: Rocky Mountain NP
  • Day 5: Glenwood Springs
  • Day 5-7: Aspen
  • Day 7-8: Colorado NM
  • Day 8: Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
  • Day 8-9: Telluride
  • Day 9-11: Mesa Verde NP
  • Day 11-12: Great Sand Dunes NP
  • Day 12-14: Colorado Springs
Mountains covered by green forests on the colorful road trip in Colorado
The colorful road trip in Colorado.

Use the booking tool below to find the perfect places to stay for your Colorado road trip. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to start with hotels in Denver.

Road trip in Colorado FAQ

How long does it take to drive the ultimate Colorado road trip?

This ultimate Colorado road trip is 1,319 miles (2,123 km) long, taking 27 hours not including any stops along the way.

How many days does it take to road trip in Colorado?

For the ultimate itinerary, we recommend setting aside 3 weeks or more. But if you have less time, you can do a pacier Colorado road trip or break it up to focus on certain parts.

Where should I go in Colorado on a road trip?

The main stops included on the ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary are Denver, Rocky Mountain NP, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Dinosaur NM, Colorado NM, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Telluride, Mesa Verde NP, Great Sand Dunes NP and Colorado Springs.

What is there to do on a Colorado road trip?

Most of all, a Colorado road trip offers breathtaking nature. With the state’s incredible diversity, from high mountains to deep canyons, Colorado is colorful both literally and figuratively speaking.

When is the best time to do the Colorado road trip?

Colorado is a four-season state and the best time for a road trip depends on what you’re after. Pay attention to that some roads, including Trail Ridge Road and Independence Pass, are closed during the snowy months of the year.

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