Colorado has got to be one of the most picturesque states in the US. We fell in love with it on our recent road trip across the US and ended up lingering around for much longer than originally anticipated.
We quickly learned that to properly enjoy all that Colorado has to offer, you really need to spend 2 or more weeks exploring the state. Rent a car, or even better, find yourself an awesome RV and get ready for one of the best road trips of your life.
If you want to be able to explore all of Colorado, plan your visit for after Memorial Day weekend. We traveled around in April and were disappointed to find out that some of the roads and a lot of campsites and activities remain closed from October until the end of May. That’s not to say that visiting in the winter is not amazing. Being among the snow-capped mountains, soaking in hot springs, and enjoying the crispy fresh air in the Spring had its own appeal, but summer does allow you to see more, spend more time outside and appreciate Colorado just that little bit more.
Regardless of when you choose to visit, here is where we suggest you go and our advice for the best route to navigate your way around the state. (Click here for the Google Maps version of the route below)
Denver – 2-3 days
Start your adventure in Denver. The capital of Colorado, also known as the “Mile High City” will welcome you with open arms. Whether you are all about outdoor experiences or someone that wants to explore Denver’s vibrant arts scene and unique experiences in its diverse neighbourhoods, plan to spend at least 2-3 days here at the start of your trip.
Don’t miss: Scenic Drive to the Lookout Mountain, offering spectacular views of Denver from above and a visit to Denver’s amazing Red Rock Amphitheatre
Boulder – 1-2 days
From Denver, take a day trip to Boulder and spend a day exploring Pearl Street Mall and its surroundings. It’s a great spot for unique shopping, with some good restaurants, and entertainment options. But there is lots more to do in Boulder outside of the Pearl Street Mall, including exploring 45,000 acres of designated trails perfect for hiking or riding a bike.
Hanging Lake – Lunch Stop
From Boulder, make your way along the I-70 towards Glenwood Springs. Take your time making your way to the Western Slope and make sure you don’t miss a few really cool stops along the way. Our favourite was the Hanging Lake Trailhead, a short but challenging 2-mile hike that leads to a beautiful turquoise lake, suspended on the edge of Glenwood Canyon’s cliffs. It’s a great place for a lunch break!
Glenwood Springs – 2-3 days
Continue along the I-70 towards Glenwood Springs. Get your camera out, you are about to pass through the Glenwood Canyon, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado. Once in Glenwood Springs, spend a few days taking in the laid back vibe of the town. Relax in the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, check out the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, or spend a day white water rafting along the Colorado River.
Grand Junction – 1-2 days
A short 1.5 hr drive from Glenwood Springs gives you plenty of time for stops along the way. Don’t miss a stop in Rifle Falls State Park, just outside of Glenwood Springs. With lots of hiking/nature trails and beautiful Rifle Falls setting, it’s a perfect picnic spot en route to Grand Junction.
Another cool spot to check out en route to Grand Junction or as a day trip from Grand Junction is Palisade, known for its peach orchards and wine vineyards. There are over 100 wine producers in the region with lots of cellar doors opened to the public all year around.
Grand Junction itself isn’t anything amazing, but if there is one spot in the area that you can’t miss it’s the Colorado National Monument. We didn’t get a chance to explore it due to my limited mobility during our trip, but it’s renowned for its spectacular canyons, red rocks, and sandstone towers.
Ouray – 1-2 days
From Grand Junction head south along US-50 E. It’s about a 2-hour drive to get to Ouray but with lots of stops along the way. Check out the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the Dallas Divide, or spend an afternoon at the Orvis Hot Springs.
Ouray itself is all about hikes and beautiful waterfalls. The main street in this charming little town is full of cute boutiques and coffee shops. We loved hanging out here, chatting up the locals and enjoying being completely disconnected from the outside world (no cell service here, folks, so come prepared to be offline).
Don’t Miss: A beautiful drive from Ouray to Silverton along the famous Million Dollar Highway, stretching through the San Juan National Forest.
Mesa Verde National Park – 1 day
About 2.5 hrs from Ouray, just west of the town of Durango lies Mesa Verde National Park, a World Heritage Site with fascinating history and dwelling remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It’s an easy park to explore (most of the lookouts are located just off the main park road), so you won’t need more than a day to check out all of its attractions.
Buena Vista – 2-3 days
Buena Vista is the only town on this itinerary that we didn’t get a chance to check out ourselves. Partially, because the roads to Buena Vista, the Rio Grande National Forest pass and the Pikes Peak Highway towards Colorado Springs, are often closed due to unfavourable weather conditions, but partially because we didn’t actually have the time to complete the loop as it’s described in this post.
Despite having never visited the town ourselves, we would definitely recommend it if you are doing a Denver to Denver loop around Colorado. It sounds like Buena Vista offers a ton of great activities ranging from hiking and biking to rafting and of course summiting any of the 20 fourteeners located within 5 minutes or a day’s drive from Buena Vista.
Colorado Springs – 2-3 days
From Buena Vista, it’s a short and pretty spectacular drive through the Pike National Forest (keep in mind that this is another road that is closed until Memorial day weekend).
Once in Colorado Springs, stay for a few days, there is lots to do. Explore Pike’s Peak, be it by driving up, hiking up, or taking a Cog Train to view the beautiful vistas from above. Visit Garden of the Gods, home to crazy red sandstone rock formations that are as much as 300 million years old, or spend the day at the North Cheyenne Canon Park, known for its diverse plant and animal life.
Don’t Miss: A scenic ride along the Old Cabin Road to Helen Hunt Falls!
Back to Denver
Make your way back to Denver to complete the ultimate Colorado Road Trip!
BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget travel insurance!
We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance, especially in a country like the US. Whether you just plan to make a few stops on your road trip, explore a few cities, or go off the grid in some of the country’s beautiful National Parks, being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind.
What other stops and detours would you add to this itinerary?
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