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A Guide to the Perfect Colorado Road Trip: The Best Places to Visit, Activities to Enjoy, and More

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For an unforgettable road trip, head to Colorado. It offers unbeatable roads through the Rockies and plenty of spots that make the state so special. Here is a route you won’t want to miss!

One Crazy Colorado Itinerary

What if you had a month and wanted to hit all of Colorado’s best places? Well, you’re in luck! 

Below is an itinerary that crisscrosses the state in a way that hits a ton of pretty destinations and tries to avoid bottlenecks like I-70 and some Front Range areas. It won’t cover everything, but it will give you a better understanding of how many cool places exist in Colorado.

It’s a perfect itinerary for an adventure van and remote workers or those that have built up some wild PTO. In either case, you’ll get so much Colorado you won’t know what to do with it. Let’s take a look!

Please keep in mind that this itinerary assumes minimal snow on the ground, so it’s best appreciated from July-mid September.

First, start in the Front Range, ideally in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, or Colorado Springs. 

Colorful Sunset at Sloan’s Lake in Denver, Colorado

Day 1: Make your way to Brainard Lake Recreation Area, where a plethora of hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness await with paved access. If you can’t score a reservation permit, alter the plan to hit up Hessie, 4th of July Trailheads, or the East Portal, which are free to access but are super popular. Don’t show up on a weekend and expect to park even close to the trailhead. There is a shuttle that runs from Eldora highschool to Hessie. End the day in Estes Park.

Day 2: Get those RMNP passes early and head to the Bear Lake Trailhead, where the iconic Emerald Lake, Dream Lake, and Odessa Lake await. Then, take a leisurely drive up Trail Ridge Road, which crosses the park and offers stellar mountain views, along with plenty of pull-offs to get out and stretch your legs at. End the day in Grand Lake.

Day 3-4: Visit the iconic Grand Lake Lodge, and grab a pontoon boat on either Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, or Lake Granby. A ton of great camping exist close by, so this is a perfect place to camp out for a day or two. 

When you’ve had your fill, drive south on US 40 to a three-way intersection outside of Granby. Follow signs for 40 West (take a right) and head to Kremmling, eventually crossing over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. Make your way to Steamboat Springs and enjoy the town, along with a dip in Strawberry Hot Springs. Be aware that the hot springs are clothing optional after dark.

Rabbit Ears Pass near Highway 40, Colorado.

Day 5: Spend a day exploring the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness north of Steamboat and head to the beautiful Gilpin Lake. If you want a shorter but just as dramatic excursion, try Hahns Peak. Return to Steamboat and relax.

Day 6-7: Head north and west to the remote and beautiful Dinosaur National Monument, where you could spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Day 7-8: Pick up the Flattops Trail scenic highway and cross this lightly populated but gorgeous part of the state. Trappers Lake is particularly impressive. End the adventure in Grand Junction.

Day 9: Explore this laid-back area by checking out some nearby wineries and the biking mecca of Fruita, or perhaps take a scenic drive up the Grand Mesa to the Land’s End Observatory. Spend another night in the Grand Junction area.

Day 10: From here, drive toward the West Elks, passing a few wineries en route, and drive over McClure Pass. On the other side, grab a beer in the funky mountain town of Carbondale before heading through Aspen. You can stay in the area, but places like the Maroon Bells are exceptionally popular, so make sure to plan ahead, whether it’s camping or an Airbnb. 

Majestic Maroon Bells peaks and Maroon Lake near Aspen, Colorado.

Alternatively, you can blow through Aspen and head up Independence Pass. There are secret swimming holes and scenes galore as you head into the Sawatch mountains. Get out and stretch your legs on top of the pass before descending down to Twin Lakes. There are numerous camping spots here to enjoy. If you want to spend a night indoors, head to Leadville.

Day 11: Spend the morning checking out Leadville and its storied wild-west history, all in the shadow of Mount Massive. You can hike Mt. Elbert, the tallest in Colorado, from a base camp near Leadville. Turquoise Lake has many campsites.

Day 12: This day is all about the Arkansas River. You’ll drive alongside it as you cruise down to Buena Vista. Get a rafting tour down Browns Canyon, or stop into Eddyline Brewing for a fresh beer. If you have the time, check out Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. Spend the night in Salida.

Day 13: Enjoy the morning in Salida before heading up to Monarch Pass, where more views await. One of the best mountain biking routes in the state, the Monarch Crest Trail, is here, which could convince you to hang around the area a bit longer. In either case, you’re next destination is Gunnison.

Day 14-15: You can stay in Gunnison or Crested Butte, but you should head up to the ‘butte’ and check out the stunning scenery. Stay and recreate in the Gunnison or Crested Butte area.

Crested Butte, Colorado town cityscape high angle view from Snodgrass hiking trail in summer with alpine meadows and aspent trees forest grove

Day 15: From Crested Butte or Gunnison, head to Ridgway. From there, head west for stunning views of the Dallas Divide and the imposing Mt. Sneffels. Continue on to the picturesque town of Telluride. Telluride is in a box canyon and boasts some of the best town views in the state.

Day 16: Today’s a mountain-to-desert day. Head south and west to Mesa Verde National Park, where Native American ruins and cliff dwellings await. Camp near or in the National Park. Other local towns like Mancas have decent camping nearby.

Day 17-18: Continue to Durango and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere along the Animas River. Breweries, restaurants, and trails abound. There are also a few great horseback riding options on some of the ranches around town. When you’re satisfied, continue east to Pagosa Springs and find camping or a hotel to stay in. The Springs has, unsurprisingly, hot springs! Take a soak and let stress slide away.

Day 18-19: Backtrack briefly to Durango before heading north on US 550. This stretch goes right through the heart of the San Juans and is probably the pretties stretch of road in the state. You’ll cross Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass, all of which have hiking options. My pick, however, would be to take a hike to Ice Lakes or Columbine Lake. Spend the night in or near the iconic town of Ouray.  

Mt. Sneffels and the Dallas Divide in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Day 20: From Ouray, you can access Yankee Boy Basin and take a shot at scrambling up Mt. Sneffels. If that doesn’t sound fun, head north to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Not only is the canyon deep and dramatic, but the whole area is also a dark sky park and, like Dinosaur National Monument, will have amazing star gazing opportunities.

Day 21: Back south! From the canyon, take the road to Lake City (US 50 east and then south on CO 149). While “city” is a stretch, this town is perfectly situated to grant access to gorgeous mountain terrain. If you want to climb a big mountain with less effort, try Handies or Redcloud. If you want a taste of scrambling, string together a combination of Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn. Spend the night camping in the area.

Day 22: Head south over Slumgullion Pass and enter one of the more remote stretches of the state. There are lakes and hikes a plenty. For hardier folks, I’d recommend Rio Grande Pyramid because it’s on its own with plenty of prominence and killer long-range views. However, it is an 18-mile hike, so come prepared. If you don’t want a hike, continue to Del Norte, or, if you’re dedicated, cut across the San Luis Valley and book it to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Day 23: Camp and spend at least a day here. Splash around in Medano Creek, climb the highest dunes, or give sandboarding a try! This is also a reservation area for camping, make sure to jump on campsite options fast, or settle for lodging at nearby trailheads or the town of Alamosa. The elusive clothing-optional Valley View hot springs are north of the park, along with the always interesting hippy town of Crestone.

Day 24: Head south and east over La Veta Pass to enter Spanish Peaks Country. Be aware, a fire has impacted the immediate area around the pass. This is a great and often ignored area of the state. The Spanish Peaks, like Pikes Peak, were used as markers for wagon trains heading west in the 1800s. They are large, lumpy peaks with a large amount of prominence. Highway of the Legends, a Colorado Scenic Byway, is the best way to circle around and enjoy the area. Don’t forget to check out the magma dikes that ring the area and provide wonderful backdrops.

Spend the night near Westcliffe.

The Great Dikes rock formations in the Spanish Peaks of Colorado.

Day 25: Continue driving north until you hit US 50, then take it east to Cañon City. Check out the touristy but still very impressive Royal Gorge Bridge, which spans a dramatic canyon that the Arkansas River cuts through. There are also many trails along the canyon walls. From here, head briefly west on US 50 and then north on US 9 into the high plateaus of South Park. 

You have some options here. The quick and dirty version is to bust up through Fairplay, Alma, and over Hoosier Pass to get into Breckenridge where you can spend a couple of nights. Or, head to the Lost Creek Wilderness and camp. If you opt for the latter, check out Bison Peak, this 9-mile hike leads to a prominent summit dotted with enormous boulders. It’s unlike any summit in the state.

Head to Breckenridge via 285 and 9 afterward.

Lower Mohawk Lake Breckenridge, Colorado.

Day 26-28: Summit County is a mountain playground, and you’ll have no trouble finding activities here. Breck is a funky town with hostels, hotels, and Airbnbs. Classic area hikes include Mohawk Lakes, Quandary Peak, the ten-mile range around Frisco, and Willow Lakes in the Gore Range. Lake Dillon is also here, offering another chance to get out onto the water on a pontoon. 

Whenever you’ve had your fill (or you run out of money), take I-70 from summit county east over the Continental Divide. The road will dip east toward Denver. If you have any time left over, stop in Idaho Springs for great pizza at Beaujeaus, or pop into Golden, whose revived downtown and Coors factory always draw interest. 

Once you’re back in Denver, make your way home or back to the airport.

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