The Ideal Colorado Road Trip Itinerary (Ideas, Costs & Map)

A country road leading towards towering blue mountains in the distance
The Ideal Colorado Road Trip (Itineraries, Ideas, Costs & Map)

If I had to sit down and draw up my dream US road trip itinerary, I’d have a hell of a hard time ever leaving my home state of Colorado. I’m a hopeless skiing, hiking, camping, and outdoor addict, and I can’t imagine a better setting to fire up my camper van and start exploring.

Sure, I’ve spent most of my 30-something years here, and I’m a bit biased, but that doesn’t change the cold hard facts: Colorado is packed with rich history, easy-to-find adventure, and exceptional natural beauty. It’s an incredible place to set off on the open road.

Are you thinking about a Colorado road trip of your own? You’re in luck. I’ve put together my ideal 10-day itinerary to help you maximize your journey cruising around the Centennial State. I’ve also included must-see destinations, vehicle and lodging recommendations, tips, maps, costs, and more.

Also, check out my list of road trip essentials to help you prepare for your upcoming adventure.

Keep reading, and get excited. It’s time to start planning the right way.

A Local’s Ultimate 10-Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Colorado Road Trip Map

Now, for the fun part.

Here’s the exact itinerary I would use if I had ten days to spend road-tripping around my home state. My route is quite ambitious — over 100 miles and about two hours of driving per day — so don’t be afraid to bend and tweak it to fit your style.

Buckle up and have fun out there.

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 26 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

A view from a helicopter of Denver, Colorado
Denver

I don’t consider myself much of a city boy, but if you witnessed me in my element in Denver, you might beg to differ. I never once grew bored of the place during my six years living in the Mile High City. The scores of restaurants, microbreweries, cafes, music venues, sports arenas, museums, and parks always seemed to keep me thoroughly entertained (for better or worse).

The impressive views of the Rocky Mountains beckoning on Denver’s horizon serve as a reminder that pristine wilderness is an easy escape.

You can’t road trip Colorado without spending some quality time in Denver; I won’t allow it.

Activities & Ideas Near Denver

  • Ogle over incredible marine life at the Downtown Denver Aquarium
  • Get tipsy on a brewery tour and sample some of Denver’s best beer
  • Relax and watch a baseball game at Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies
  • Stroll down Larimer Square to enjoy the best of Denver’s food and drink scene
  • Dance to incredible live music at Dazzle, Denver’s oldest Jazz bar

Check out my detailed one-day budget guide for Denver for a more in-depth look at my favorite activities within The Mile High City.

Book Your Lodging in Denver

Day Two: Boulder

Distance from Denver: 30 miles
Driving Time: 30 minutes

Views of the flatirons at sunset of Boulder, Colorado
Boulder

Some of my best childhood memories were when my parents drove my brother and me to Boulder to march up hiking trails and wander the Pearl Street Mall. These fond experiences eventually led me back to Boulder, where I spent six years socializing, exploring, and occasionally studying at the University of Colorado. Boulder and I go way back.

What I love most about Boulder is its proximity to nature. Mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, camping, fishing – it’s all within your backyard when Boulder’s your base camp. And much like Denver, Boulder has plenty of excellent food, nightlife, and cultural happenings to keep you busy as you pass through.

Activities & Ideas Near Boulder

  • Bask in the sun and enjoy an afternoon by the Boulder Creek at the lively Eben G Fine Park
  • Hike Nederland’s jaw-dropping 4th of July Trail, just a 45-minute drive from downtown
  • Shop, watch street performers, and enjoy Boulder’s best restaurants on the Pearl Street Mall
  • Catch some live tunes at Boulder’s most iconic music venue, The Boulder Theater
  • Soak in Colorado culture at the Boulder County Farmers Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays)

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Boulder during your Road trip? Visit Boulder’s official website.

Book Your Lodging in Boulder

Day Three: Estes Park

Distance from Boulder: 40 miles
Driving Time: One hour

Views of a glassy lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Just 45 minutes from my hometown of Longmont, Estes Park has been a go-to mountain town of mine for many years. I know it quite well.

Though Estes Park has a bit of a touristy downtown — packed full of kitschy restaurants and souvenir shops — I’ve always found it to be quite endearing. But I don’t visit Estes Park for its downtown. I travel there for a completely different reason: the incredible natural beauty in every direction.

Estes Park is a gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park – 250,000 acres full of incredible hiking trails, crystal clear mountain lakes, roaming wildlife, and staggering alpine terrain. You won’t need to leave your car to soak it all in either, as the road leading up to the park entrance is among the most beautiful I’ve ever driven on.

Note: Every car entering Rocky Mountain National Park must pay a $30 entrance fee, which covers you for three days.

Activities & Ideas Near Estes Park

  • Drive along the breathtaking Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34), which tops out at over 12,000 feet
  • Explore over 350 miles of hiking trails in the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Take a tour of the Stanley Hotel, made famous by the classic film, The Shining
  • Check out how Colorado settlers lived 150 years ago at the MacGregor Ranch Museum
  • Stroll the streets of Downtown Estes Park for shopping, restaurants, and more

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Estes Park during your Road trip? Visit Estes Park’s official website.

Book Your Lodging Near Estes Park

Camping: Moraine Park
RV Parking: Manor RV Park
Budget Hotel: Discovery Lodge
Mid-Range Hotel: StoneBrook Resort
Luxury Hotel: The Ridgeline Hotel

SEARCH ESTES PARK LODGING

Day Four: Steamboat Springs

Distance from Estes Park: 115 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 30 minutes

An abandoned barn near Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat Springs

As I write this, I’ve only visited Steamboat Springs once, on a 2019 road trip with my mom. I’ve been ready to return ever since.

My mom and I set up base camp during our trip at the scenic Steamboat Lake State Park. We nearly inflated my two-person raft and set out on the glassy lake on a couple of different occasions, but ultimately we were far too relaxed to be bothered. We made a few visits to downtown Steamboat, filled with delicious food stops, thrift store browsing, and lazy window shopping.

The wide-open landscape surrounding Steamboat Springs is rugged and raw, and driving its sprawling country roads is like stepping back in time. Rustic ranches dot the countryside, and imposing mountains stand firmly on the horizon. Steamboat Springs is my kind of place.

Activities & Ideas Near Steamboat Springs

  • Go fishing, kayaking, camping, or swimming in the pristine Steamboat Lake State Park
  • Soak in the natural 100-degree geothermal pools at Strawberry Hot Springs Park
  • Ride the gondola to the top of Steamboat Ski Resort for impressive views of the Yampa Valley
  • Sit in on a live concert from the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra
  • Enjoy a breathtaking day hike along the Fish Creek Falls Trail in Mount Zirkel Wilderness

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Steamboat Springs during your Road trip? Visit Steamboat Springs’ official website.

Book Your Lodging in Steamboat Springs

Day Five: Glenwood Springs

Distance from Steamboat Springs: 114 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes

Thin waterfalls feeding into a crystal clear lake
Hanging Lake

Glenwood Springs is surrounded by impressive nature, but many of my best experiences there have occurred within the town. Whether I’m poking around outdoor gear shops, cozying up on a barstool, or soaking in its hot springs, Glenwood Springs always seems to show me a good time.

Originally named ‘Defiance’ in 1880, Glenwood Springs is steeped in Wild West heritage. So, be sure to stop by the Frontier Museum, which paints a colorful picture of Glenwood Springs’ rowdy and tumultuous spirit near the turn of the 19th century.

On top of its rich history, Glenwood Springs has plenty to offer to the outdoor enthusiasts who are passing through. Mountain biking, rafting, skydiving, hiking, rock climbing, you name it – it’s all there waiting for you.

Activities & Ideas Near Glenwood Springs

  • Hike along the Colorado River and through Glenwood Canyon to the picturesque Hanging Lake
  • Throw back a few cold Colorado microbrews at Glenwood Canyon Brewpub
  • Honor the Wild West and visit Doc Holiday’s gravesite in Linwood Cemetary
  • Play a round of golf surrounded by mountains at the Ironbridge Golf Club
  • Relax and soak in 16 different thermal pools at Iron Mountain Hot Springs

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Glenwood Springs during your Road trip? Visit Glenwood Springs’ official website.

Book Your Lodging in Glenwood Springs

Day Six: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Distance from Glenwood Springs: 95 miles
Driving Time: Two hours

A woman on a hike descending into a canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is among the most staggeringly beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

On my first visit, I sat for hours atop the canyon, staring down at the jaw-dropping 2,000-foot walls as I sipped beer in silence. Years later, I embarked on a shin-busting (and mildly terrifying) 1.1-mile descent into the bottom of the canyon to set up camp along the Gunnison River. I spent the entire evening craning my neck up towards the same canyon walls I’d ogled a few years prior.

Though it’s not as gigantic or well-known as the Grand Canyon, I found the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to be just as impressive. It’s one of Colorado’s most magnificent feats of nature and is about as can’t-miss as they come.

Pro Tip: When stocking up on supplies, be sure to do so in Montrose – a relaxed, authentic, and outdoorsy town just a 20-minute drive from the Black Canyon.

Activities & Ideas Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

  • Camp out atop the canyon and revel in the stunning views at the North Rim Campground
  • Enjoy a pleasant stroll full of gorgeous overlooks along the Warner Point Trail
  • Hike the Gunnison Route Trail, a remarkably steep descent into the bottom of the canyon
  • Learn the region’s fascinating history at the Museum of the Mountain West in nearby Montrose
  • Kayak, stand-up paddle, or play disc golf along the river at the Montrose Water Sports Park

Want to explore more entertaining things to do near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison during your Road trip? Visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s official website.

Book Your Lodging Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Camping: North Rim Campground (First come, first served)
RV Parking: South Rim Campground (First come, first served)
Budget Hotel: Briarwood Inns
Mid-Range Hotel: Hampton Inn Montrose
Luxury Hotel: Double G Guestranch

SEARCH MONTROSE LODGING

Day Seven: Telluride

Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 78 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Open road winding towards the mountains on a four-day Colorado car trip
Telluride

Of all the picturesque ski towns in Colorado, Telluride might be the most captivating. Surrounded by towering peaks in nearly every direction, the small town of 2,500 attracts visitors from all over the world. The endless opportunities for outdoor bliss around Telluride — hiking, mountain biking, skiing, fishing, camping — are a bit excessive. You’ll see.

Lodging in Telluride isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination (the “budget” hotel I’ve listed below is $176 a night!). However, budget travelers can still visit by setting up shop at Telluride Town Park Campground. Show up early, though, as sites are first-come, first-served.

Telluride’s something different, and you need to see it for yourself.

Activities & Ideas Near Telluride

  • Drive Owl Creek Pass through the Cimmaron Mountains and soak in captivating views
  • Set up camp in the heart of town at the Telluride Town Park Campground
  • Enjoy a jaw-dropping day hike along the scenic Hope Lake Trail in Lizard Head Wilderness
  • Try your hand at some of Colorado’s best fly fishing along the San Miguel River
  • Sing, dance, and eat your heart out at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Telluride during your Road trip? Visit Telluride’s official website.

Book Your Lodging in Telluride

Day Eight: Durango

Distance from Telluride: 111 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes

A coal and steam powered train that says '480' on the front
Durango

If I could choose one place to live on this ten-day road trip itinerary, I’d pick Durango. Durango offers some of the best skiing, hiking, and camping in the state, and the town is full of great food, rich history, live music venues, and entertaining nightlife.

I consider Durango Colorado’s cultural center west of the Rocky Mountains, and it’s not even close.

Though the route from Telluride to Durango I’m about to recommend may seem a bit indirect, take it anyway. It’ll be among the most beautiful stretches of the entire trip. Here it is:

  • From Telluride, drive west on Highway 145 for 16 miles
  • Turn right on Highway 62 and continue for 24 miles
  • Turn right on Highway 550 (the Million Dollar Highway) and continue for 81 miles until you reach Durango

Follow this route even though Google Maps will recommend something entirely different. (Trust me.)

Activities & Ideas Near Durango

  • Drive along the famed Million Dollar Highway (US 550) for, you guessed it, million-dollar views
  • Walk along the Animas River Trail, a scenic nature path that cuts through the heart of town
  • Hop aboard the Silverlight Express, a coal-powered train running along the San Juan Skyway
  • Lace up your boots, throw on your daypack, and hike a segment of the Colorado Trail
  • Enjoy prohibition-era live music and ambiance at the Diamond Belle Saloon

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Durango during your Road trip? Visit Durango’s official website.

Book Your Lodging in Durango

Day Nine: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Distance from Durango: 168 miles
Driving Time: Three hours and 15 minutes

A hiker on rolling sand dunes with snowy mountains in the background
Great Sand Dunes National Park

At first glance, Great Sand Dunes National Park doesn’t seem real.

Wavy sheets of rolling sand that stretch for miles, backed by mammoth snow-capped mountains on the nearby horizon – How did this unreal spectacle end up out here in the middle of nowhere, anyway?

Believable or not, Great Sand Dunes National Park exists and is a must-visit on any itinerary. So, pencil in a stop and get ready to explore one of Colorado’s most mystifying places.

There’ll be no shortage of tourists, so strap on your day pack, put on your favorite hiking playlist, and trudge your way deep into the sprawling hills of sand for some well-earned solitude.

Activities & Ideas Near Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • Set up at Piñon Flats Campground, your base for the Sand Dunes and the San Juan Mountains
  • Four-wheel along Medano Pass Road for a bumpy and exhilarating off-road adventure
  • Fly fish for Colorado mountain trout along Medano Creek or the Rio Grande River
  • Strap on a sandboard and explore the dunes in the most entertaining way imaginable
  • Revel in the brisk runoff from the San Juan Mountains along a day hike to Zapata Falls

Want to explore more entertaining things to do near the Great Sand Dunes National Park during your Road trip? Visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park’s official website.

Book Your Lodging Near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Camping: Piñon Flats Campground
RV Parking: Piñon Flats Campground
Budget Hotel: The Sunset Inn (Alamosa, CO)
Mid-Range Hotel: Mountain View Motor Inn (Fort Garland, CO)
Luxury Hotel: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott (Alamosa, CO)

SEARCH ALAMOSA LODGING

Day Ten: Buena Vista

Distance from Great Sand Dunes National Park: 109 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes
Distance back to Denver: 123 miles
Driving Time back to Denver: Two hours and 15 minutes

A 4Runner driving down a mountain trail near Buena Vista, Colorado
Buena Vista

Whenever I find myself near Buena Vista, I usually punish my legs on an ass-kicking ascent up one of the nearby Collegiate Peaks. This impressive collection of mountains — a 34-mile section of the Sawatch Range — includes 19 imposing summits over 13,000 feet in elevation.

Simply put, the hiking trails around Buena Vista are steep, breathtaking, and world-class.

And, if hiking isn’t your thing, Buena Vista has plenty else to offer – ATV tours, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, elk hunting, and camping (to name a few).

When all the adventure has caught up to you, head straight to the nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs for a long, contemplative soak.

Activities & Ideas Near Buena Vista

  • Set up shop near some of Colorado’s tallest mountains at the Collegiate Peaks Campground
  • Conquer a 14,000-foot mountain and soak in the views on a grueling day hike of Huron Peak
  • Rent an ATV and power through the backcountry trails at Chinaman Gulch
  • Sample some of Colorado’s best whiskey during a quick tour of the Deerhammer Distillery
  • Replenish energy and restore your balance with a soak in Mt. Princeton Hot Springs

Want to explore more entertaining things to do in Buena Vista during your Road trip? Visit Buena Vista’s official website.

Book Your Lodging in Buena Vista

Additional Colorado Destinations

A moon hanging in the blue sky above a mountain and a field of wildflowers on the Four Pass Loop
Hiking along the Four Pass Loop outside of Aspen

Let’s face it. It’ll be impossible to see all Colorado has to offer on the 10-day itinerary I’ve given you. Colorado has many more beautiful places that I was forced to leave out. Check out the list below for more awe-inspiring destinations that barely missed the cut.

  • Aspen – Ritzy ski town an hour south of Glenwood Springs
  • Blackhawk – Casino-filled mountain town an hour west of Denver
  • Breckenridge – Popular resort town for skiers an hour and a half west of Denver
  • Creede – Historic mining town two hours west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Crested Butte – Adventure-packed mountain town two hours east of Montrose
  • Fort Collins – College town and microbrew mecca an hour north of Denver
  • Grand Lake – Family-friendly mountain town an hour west of Estes Park
  • Gunnison – Outdoor lovers college town an hour and 15 minutes east of Montrose
  • Idaho Springs – Tourist-friendly mountain town an hour west of Denver
  • Nederland – Funky and spiritual mountain town 45 minutes west of Boulder
  • Ouray – Hip and lively mountain town 45 minutes north of Telluride
  • Pagosa Springs – Relaxed town with hot springs an hour and 15 minutes west of Durango
  • Salida – Small and endearing mountain town half an hour south of Buena Vista
  • Silverton – Rugged and imposing mountain town an hour north of Durango
  • Twin Lakes – Scenic camping and boating reserve half an hour north of Buena Vista
  • Vail – Hip and world-renowned ski town two and a half hours west of Denver

Shorter Itineraries (4-9 Days)

A winding open road leading towards mountains in the distance
Where will the open road take you? (And for how many days?)

While I highly recommend you set aside at least ten days for your ideal road trip, I understand that not everyone can hit the road for that long. So if time is an issue, check out my shorter suggested itineraries below and start planning your dream route.

Four-Day Itinerary

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Rocky Mountain National Park

Distance from Denver: 72 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Three: Breckenridge

Distance from Rocky Mountain National Park: 130 miles
Driving Time: Three hours

Day Four: Buena Vista

Distance from Breckenridge: 60 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 15 minutes

Five-Day Itinerary

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Fort Collins

Distance from Denver: 66 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 15 minutes

Day Three: Steamboat Springs

Distance from Fort Collins: 157 miles
Driving Time: Three hours and 15 minutes

Day Four: Vail

Distance from Steamboat Springs: 93 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Five: Blackhawk

Distance from Vail: 77 miles
Driving Time: One and a half hours

Six-Day Itinerary

Day One: Boulder

Distance from Denver International Airport: 43 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Denver

Distance from Boulder: 28 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Three: Vail

Distance from Denver: 97 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Four: Glenwood Springs

Distance from Vail: 61 miles
Driving Time: One hour

Day Five: Aspen

Distance from Glenwood Springs: 41 miles
Driving Time: One hour

Day Six: Twin Lakes

Distance from Aspen: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Seven-Day Itinerary

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Vail

Distance from Denver: 97 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Three: Gunnison

Distance from Vail: 160 miles
Driving Time: Three Hours

Day Four: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Distance from Gunnison: 63 miles
Driving Time: One Hour and 15 minutes

Day Five: Salida

Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 64 miles
Driving Time: One Hour and 15 minutes

Day Six: Buena Vista

Distance from Salida: 25 miles
Driving Time: Half an hour

Day Seven: Blackhawk

Distance from Buena Vista: 115 miles
Driving Time: Two hours

Eight-Day Itinerary

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Rocky Mountain National Park

Distance from Denver: 72 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Three: Grand Lake

Distance from Rocky Mountain National Park: 21 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Four: Steamboat Springs

Distance from Grand Lake: 94 miles
Driving Time: Two hours

Day Five: Glenwood Springs

Distance from Steamboat Springs: 114 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes

Day Six: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Distance from Glenwood Springs: 95 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes

Day Seven: Salida

Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 126 miles
Driving Time: Two and a half hours

Day Eight: Idaho Springs

Distance from Salida: 127 miles
Driving Time: Two and a half hours

Nine-Day Itinerary

Day One: Denver

Distance from Denver International Airport: 23 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Two: Boulder

Distance from Denver: 28 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Three: Rocky Mountain National Park

Distance from Boulder: 49 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 15 minutes

Day Four: Vail

Distance from Rocky Mountain National Park: 137 miles
Driving Time: Three hours

Day Five: Glenwood Springs

Distance from Vail: 28 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes

Day Six: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Distance from Glenwood Springs: 95 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes

Day Seven: Ouray

Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 49 miles
Driving Time: One hour

Day Eight: Durango

Distance from Ouray: 71 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes

Day Nine: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Distance from Durango: 168 miles
Driving Time: Three hours and 15 minutes

Tips for Planning Your Colorado Road Trip

A road sign that says "WELCOME TO COLORFUL COLORADO"
It gets more Colorful than this; I promise

As a passenger and driver, I’ve been going on road trips for as long as I can remember. Here are some of my best bits of wisdom to help you plan your best trip possible.

Know When to Go

While cruising around Colorado is doable at any time of the year, certain times are better than others. My favorite months to visit weather-wise are September and October – when the leaves on the trees change colors, and the air is cool and crisp.

July and August are typically Colorado’s hottest months and are best for hiking, backpacking, and camping at high altitudes. Snow is scarce during these months, even on Colorado’s tallest peaks.

Skiers and snowboarders should expect the best snow from January until March, although snowfall is impossible to predict from year to year. Driving long distances during the winter could get dicey, as the roads are more prone to snow, ice, and slush.

Book Your Lodging Early

During peak season, hotels, Airbnbs, campsites, and RV parks are known to book up well in advance. Study up, plan your trip, and reserve your accommodations ahead of time, or risk losing out on the lodging that best suits your needs.

Sign up for Hipcamp and get $10 off your first booking

Bring Your Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking Gear

Colorado offers some of the most incredible hiking, camping, and backpacking in the US. Pack your tent, boots, and other lightweight backpacking gear so you’ll be ready for any hiking or camping adventures the moment they present themselves. Camping along the way can also save you loads of money.

Download Offline Maps

Cell coverage can get spotty in the more rural parts, so I recommend downloading offline Google Maps for every region you’ll explore during your trip. These offline maps will allow you to use GPS navigation even if cell service is inconsistent or lacking altogether.

Keep Track of Special Events

Visit Colorado’s official events page to keep up with fun happenings that might pop up along your adventure. With constant music festivals, farmers markets, rodeos, art exhibits, and more – Colorado is a lively place with a heck of a lot to offer.

Start Your Days Early

You’ll likely be logging some serious miles, so rise early, brew up a strong pot of coffee, and hit the open road with an entire day ahead of you. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to make prolonged pit stops, wear out the shutter button on your camera, and bask in the Centennial State’s undeniable glory.

Don’t be Afraid to Ditch Your Itinerary

Last summer, I spent days planning a “perfect” five-day trip for my girlfriend, Keri, while she was visiting from China. But about 36 hours into our journey, we realized that the trip I’d planned was moving too quickly. Eventually, we took a deep breath, scrapped the rest of the itinerary, and slowed our roll. It was the right decision.

Buy Travel Insurance

Regardless of how much effort you put into drawing up your trip, the best-laid travel plans can spiral out of control at a moment’s notice. Cover yourself with a rock-solid travel insurance policy to protect against accidents, breakdowns, theft, sickness, and injury.

WorldNomads is widely used by road trippers worldwide. I highly recommend it.

Plan Your Perfect Colorado Road Trip

White camper van in front of the San Juan Mountains near Ridgway, Colorado
Cruising my camper van around Colorado

So, there you have it. I’ve given you the very best information I can offer about taking your Colorado road trip. The tips, advice, and recommendations – it’s all straight from the heart of a passionate native. I hope you find it useful.

I’ve spent decades exploring this great state and hope to spend many more in the future. Colorado is a place I’ll never grow tired of, and it’s somewhere that will always spark my explorer’s spirit.

So, fire up your engine and see Colorado for yourself. Whether you’re enjoying a stroll in City Park, white water rafting in the Rio Grande, or scrambling down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Centennial State is bound to stir up some excitement inside you that won’t quickly fade away.

More Helpful Travel Resources

Last Updated on July 18, 2023

Photo of author

Noel Krasomil

Hey, I'm Noel Krasomil, the founder of The Packable Life. I pack light and explore the globe searching for awe-inspiring hiking trails, rich cultural experiences, and ways to continue traveling indefinitely.

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and end up making a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links help support this website and keep it 100% ad-free.

20 thoughts on “The Ideal Colorado Road Trip Itinerary (Ideas, Costs & Map)”

  1. Sounds like an awesome itinerary. Thank you for sharing. I am planning on a solo road trip this October for about 10 days. As much as I would love to do some camping, I don’t feel like bringing all that gear with me as I want to pack a carry on only. Any suggestions on how to modify the itinerary for a solo female traveler?

    Reply
    • Rose,

      Sorry for the late reply. I just got back from hiking the Colorado Trail for the last month. Give me a little time to think about an adjusted itinerary without camping and I’ll get back to you soon. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with my blog! Take care.

      Reply
  2. Awesome write up. First one I clicked and I feel like I don’t need anymore! I was surprised there were no ghost towns on here but I am not sure how common they are to begin with. I am also hesitant to fly with all the extra weight of camping gear for luggage, I was wondering if It might be a good idea to buy a tent in colorado and ship it back to my home state.

    Reply
    • Glad you liked the write-up! Yeah, ghost towns are usually out in the middle of nowhere and aren’t always super easy to get to. I’ll consider adding some to the list when I have some time! Thanks for the heads up.

      When will you be in Colorado for your road trip? I could loan you an REI Half Dome 2 tent if you’d like.

      Reply
  3. Hi, I’m arriving in Denver on April 23rd, and I know that the weather is super unpredictable at that time of year. Should i skip RMNP and just head south? We will be there for 7 days, still trying to decide on itinerary and accommodations. Looking for great hiking and scenery, and am overwhelmed with too many options!

    Reply
    • Hey, Christie. Thanks for reaching out! Hmmmm… you’re right about the weather here being unpredictable during April. It could be 70 degrees and sunny or it could be 25 degrees with a foot of snow. Colorado is fun like that. If the weather is decent, which it should be, I really do recommend visiting RMNP. But if there’s a spring snowstorm in the forecast, you might want to have a plan B.

      In terms of hiking, there will probably be snow/ice/snowpack anywhere you go above 10,000 feet in elevation, so bring snowshoes or crampons if you want to get up high into the thin, crisp air!

      What are some destinations that jump out at you for your road trip? I’d be happy to answer any more questions you may have.

      Reply
  4. Hi Noel,

    This is a great list! Thanks so much for putting it together!!

    I’m planning a 6-7 day road trip in the last week of May/first week of June. We’ve already explored Denver/Boulder on a previous trip so we’d focus on parks this time. Do you think the weather would be amenable for RMNP/Black Gunnison/Great Sand Dunes? Those are the main places we’d want to hit if we can. Also, we can’t decide if we should RV or rent a car –> it would be our first time RV’ing and we have to fly in so we can’t bring much camping gear. I’m just not sure how RV friendly these places are if we haven’t yet booked campsites. This late could it be more practical to stay in airbnb’s and such instead? Thanks so much if you have the chance to answer our amateur questions!

    Reply
    • Raj,

      Thanks for reaching out! I’m glad you like the list.

      Late-May/early-June should offer up some good weather for your particular trip, but there’s no way to be certain. At higher elevations like in RMNP and Great Sand Dunes, where you can get above 10,000 feet, snow and cold temperatures aren’t completely out of the question for that time of year. As I said, you should be good, but I would pack cold-weather clothing and be ready for snow if and when it arrives.

      As far as renting an RV, I can’t give you much advice. I travel in my converted Chevy Astro Van, so I park where cars/trucks go. For this part of your question, you might be better served posting on a message board or diving deep into the National Parks Service websites.

      I’m really excited you’ve chosen to explore Colorado on your upcoming road trip! I think you’re going to have a wonderful time. Please feel free to reach out to me with any more questions you might have until then.

      Happy Travels!

      Reply
  5. Hey Noel, First of all, GREAT SITE! Lots to digest. I am coming out in August with my 17 yr old son for a Saturday to Saturday trip. We’re city folk but like to take vacations with some outdoor life, but comforts of hotels at night. We will land in Denver and head to a Rockies game, then the following day be ready to get out into the country. We are renting a 4WD truck to get around. Any recommendations on a trip that would not lead to a new town every night? So like, maybe Denver the 1st night, then a couple nights in Boulder, then a night or two in Estes (hitting RMNP), maybe a few nights in Breckenridge. I’m not opposed to driving 2-3 hours between stops, but Telluride, as amazing as it sounds, is just too far. Along the way we want to do some cool hikes (4-6 miles and we are ok with steeper terrain), rent an ATV for a half day, do some mountain biking one day, and maybe somewhere we could hire a fishing guide. Any thoughts?

    Thanks,
    Nathan

    Reply
    • Nathan,

      Glad to hear you and your son are coming out to Colorado this August! You’re going to have a wonderful time. Definitely check out Denver/Boulder and catch a Rockies game. (Even though they’re really bad this year, Coors Field is always a good time!)

      Good call on RMNP. It’s truly a gorgeous place. It will be very busy in August (peak season), so start your days early and research lesser-traveled parts of the park to avoid crowds.

      For ATV riding and fishing, look into Buena Vista, Salida, and Leadville. Really cool mountain towns known for those activities that aren’t quite as touristy or expensive as Breckenridge. You’d likely have a more authentic Colorado experience in that neck of the woods, as well.

      I’m not a mountain biker, but I do know lots of the ski resorts (Breck, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, etc.) will haul you and your bike up to the top of their ski runs and let you ride down. If you’re looking for a more earned experience, there are plenty of great trails in Colorado that you can find through a quick Google search.

      Feel free to get in touch with me before your trip. If I’m available, I’d love to meet up with you guys and show you around Denver. (I’m living here for the summer.)

      I hope this was helpful!

      Reply
  6. Hi, loved your itineraries…. we are flying in and out of Denver (6 days). Any recommendations how we can see the most in that short of a loop?

    Reply
  7. Thank you for a great post!
    Thinking of renting a campervan for the first time, but I couldn’t understand if you must park it in RV parking lots? if not, what are the rules regarding where I could park it while on my road trip?
    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sapir! I have never parked my camper van in an official RV lot/campground in Colorado and haven’t had any issues parking it (for free) at trailheads, dispersed campgrounds, hotel parking lots, etc. I guess it all depends on how much your camper van blends in and what the regulations are around where you are planning to travel. That said, if you’re quiet, respectful, and park your van in strategic spots, you probably won’t run into any issues. Happy travels!

      Reply
  8. Thank you so much for your time and effort in creating this itinerary! I know very little about traveling and nothing about Colorado, this is a tremendous help!

    Reply
  9. This is a great guide. It highlights a lot of the main destinations. One town that doesn’t get mentioned a lot is Cripple Creek. It is a neat little town with beautiful scenery, especially in the fall. Estes and Rocky Mountain National Park are the gems of Colorado and you could easily spend a few day just exploring the park.

    Reply
  10. Hi Noel,
    I am looking to do a trip around July to add to my bucket list. I was interested in packing my days with as much as possible. Some things I wanted to see were: Marron Bell Lake, Garden of the Gods, Red Rocks, Rocky Mountains and if possible a natural hot spring. I love hiking, and would also like to do some sort of either sand sledding or a zip line of some sort to get the most of the views. If I did a thursday to Monday trip what would you suggest? I will rent a car and I think maybe a hotel in Denver for the first two nights but I also am wondering for the farther part of the trip maybe a hotel closer to Breckenbridge/ Aspen?

    Reply
    • Hey, Jenna! Thanks for reaching out. I think you could definitely squeeze everything in on a Thursday to Monday trip, but you’d definitely have to do a bunch of planning ahead of time to maximize your time. Since Maroon Bells is a bit of a drive from Denver, it might not be a bad idea to get a hotel close by (or camp!) for one night. Aspen isn’t cheap, though, so you might want to look into Carbondale or Glenwood Springs. I don’t really know your trip info, so I can’t suggest an itinerary, but you can pull this off if you plan accordingly and are okay with long drives in the rental car. Good luck! Feel free to reach out to me as the trip gets closer.

      Reply

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