The Definitive Guide to A Bucket List Colorado National Parks Road Trip

The Definitive Guide to A Bucket List Colorado National Parks Road Trip

The Definitive Guide To A Bucket List Colorado National Parks Road Trip

Colorado is home to four amazing national parks. And with one of the most popular Colorado national parks near Denver– a short few hours- seeing them all in one trip is doable even for out-of-state visitors. Here’s how to plan the ultimate Colorado national parks road trip.

Overview: The Four Colorado National Parks

It’s hard to find another place that holds so much diversity in one state. As you’ll soon see, a Colorado National Parks road trip will transport you to four truly unique ecosystems. The most famous Colorado National Park is Rocky Mountain National Park. Known for its impressive peaks and crystal clear alpine lakes, this park is the best way to experience the rocky mountain high. On the other side of the state, you’ll find Mesa Verde National Park, a desert landscape filled with the awestriking dwellings of ancient tribes. This park takes visitors back in time. Nearby, you’ll find Great Sand Dunes National Park, which features giant sand dunes that exist next to even larger mountains. This unique landscape isn’t one that you’ll find anywhere else. Finally, the last of the Colorado National Parks is the Black Canyon of The Gunnison. The bottom of this steep and treacherous canyon is rarely visited, but the view from the top is worth the drive.

The Ultimate Colorado National Parks Road Trip From Start To Finish

When planning a Colorado National Parks road trip, how you decide to arrange your visits is the most important part. As most visitors, as well as the majority of Coloradans, live near Denver, this is the most common starting point.

Where to Start: Colorado National Parks Near Denver

Whether you’re landing at DIA or starting your road trip from your front door, the first stop on a perfect trip will take you to the first of the Colorado National Parks near Denver. And that is Rocky Mountain National Park. A mere hour and a half drive from Denver will bring you to the town of Estes Park. Minutes from the park entrance, this is the place to find lodging, restaurants, and purchase souvenirs. From Estes Park, take the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain and enjoy some of the most popular sights. Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, and a view of Longs Peak are all easily visited in a day. Regardless of how long you explore the first of the Colorado National Parks, be sure to drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road across the park on your way out. This drive will take you to the west side of the park, where you can drive out through Granby. 

Next Stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Once you’ve made it through your first Colorado park and are in Granby, it’s time to tackle the next leg of your trip. From Granby, drive through the heart of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains along interstate 70. Rocky Mountain was the last of the Colorado National Parks near Denver, so your next drive will be longer. Many will want to stop in Glenwood Springs for the night before continuing to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Black Canyon is a fantastic spot to enjoy some five-star Colorado National Parks Camping. And we mean that literally. This national park is known for its stargazing, and a night under the stars will not disappoint.

Back In Time: Mesa Verde National Park

After enjoying the solitude of the least-visited Colorado National Park, enjoy a breathtaking drive to the southwest corner of Colorado. On your way to Mesa Verde National Park, you’ll drive through Telluride, a small mountain town with out-of-this-world views. During your visit to Mesa Verde, look for a guided ranger hike. This will allow you to discover the rich history of the sights you visit. The visitor center is also a great place to spend a few hours of your Colorado National Park road trip at. 

Finally: Great Sand Dunes National Park

The final stop of this Colorado National Parks road trip will take you to the Great Sand Dunes. The drive into the park winds through scenic towns like Durango and Pagosa Springs, and eventually brings you to this one-of-a-kind park. The Great Sand Dunes is located farther from a significant town than other Colorado National Parks, so come prepared with the food and other items you’ll want for your adventures. And we’d definitely recommend getting your toes in the sand. Those looking for a thrill should rent sandboards, while many other visitors will enjoy a simple hike into the dunes. However you choose to explore them, the Great Sand Dunes will surely give a sense of awe.

Colorado National Parks Camping and More: Where to Stay

Once you have the general layout of your Colorado National Parks road trip figured out, it’s time to find lodging for the trip. If you’re up for it, Colorado national parks camping offers some of the best places to pitch a tent in the world. Keep in mind that reservations are required for all Colorado national parks camping. And spots go fast- particularly in the warmer months. The best way to find updated camping information is to visit each national park’s website. There, you’ll find out which campsites are open and if there is availability for your trip dates.

Not quite ready for tent camping? There are plenty of lodging options near the Colorado National Parks. Gateway towns like Estes Park and Granby offer quick access to Rocky Mountain. For the Black Canyon, look at Montrose for a variety of hotels and vacation rentals. And in the small towns of Cortez and Dolores, consider finding an Airbnb like this one to enjoy the comforts of home during your trip to Mesa Verde. Near Great Sand Dunes, you’ll find lodging in the small town of Alamosa.

Outside the National Park: The Best Pit-Stops Between Parks

It goes without saying that a Colorado National Parks road trip will take you to some of the most beautiful places in the Centennial State. And some of them might even be found along the way. If you have extra time in-between visits to the Colorado National Parks, consider spending a day in Granby, Telluride, or Durango. These iconic towns offer excellent access to outdoor activities, charming downtown centers with art and unique shops, and quality restaurants.

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