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.
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.
Distance from Denver International Airport: 26 miles
Driving Time: 45 minutes
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.
Distance from Denver: 30 miles
Driving Time: 30 minutes
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.
Distance from Boulder: 40 miles
Driving Time: One hour
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.
Distance from Estes Park: 115 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 30 minutes
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.
Distance from Steamboat Springs: 114 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes
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.
Distance from Glenwood Springs: 95 miles
Driving Time: Two hours
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.
Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 78 miles
Driving Time: One hour and 45 minutes
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.
Distance from Telluride: 111 miles
Driving Time: Two hours and 15 minutes
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.
Distance from Durango: 168 miles
Driving Time: Three hours and 15 minutes
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Road Trip Essentials [Handy Packing List + Must-Haves]
- Van Life Essentials: Accessories, Gadgets & Must-Haves
- Van Life: The Good, Bad & Strange Realities of Living in a Van
- Travel Organizer Gear (To Keep Your Luggage & Bags Tidy)
- How to Start a Travel Blog: Travel, Create (& Get Paid)
Last Updated on July 18, 2023