There is so much to see and do within Colorado that it’s difficult to know where to start. You can fill an entire summer with various vacations and day trips and still not see everything the Centennial State has to offer. Fortunately, Colorado will always be here waiting for you to explore more during your next adventure. The only question is, where is your next trip going to take you? We’ve gathered some of the best cities and parks in the state for you to visit. If you want to fit as many of these highlights as possible into one journey, a road trip might be the perfect plan. Pack your bags, fill up on gas, and mark these destinations on your route for the ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary.
What better place is there to start your Colorado road trip than in the state capital? Denver is Colorado’s biggest city, so it’s bursting with art, museums, restaurants, breweries, and other exciting attractions to kickstart your vacation. From popular tourist spots to secret local favorites, you can easily spend several days in Denver without getting bored. Highlights include the Denver Art Museum, the 16th Street Mall, and Denver Zoo. Swing by historic Larimer Square for a taste of the city’s nightlife or see a concert in the gorgeous Red Rock Amphitheatre. If you have time, spend an afternoon just out of the city in Golden, Colorado. Here you can explore Lookout Mountain and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite. You can also visit some of the best breweries in the state, including Coors Brewing Company’s iconic tour.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Head northwest from Denver to delve into one of the biggest highlights of any Colorado trip: Rocky Mountain National Park. With over 415 square miles to explore, there’s no wrong way to experience the park. You can start in the hip, young college town of Boulder, Colorado, and take a guided tour through the park. Alternatively, head farther up Route 36 to Estes Park, one of the most popular jumping-off points for Rocky Mountain National Park. No matter how you get to the park, make sure you take the time to soak up the gorgeous backwoods, exciting hiking trails, and awe-inspiring wildlife you’re sure to come across. If you’re traveling in the summer, you can take the stunning Trail Ridge Road west through the park. Marvel at the glaciers, ponds, and some of the region’s highest mountains on your way to Grand Lake, where you can then head on to the rest of your journey.
Farther west is Glenwood Canyon and Glenwood Springs, two more must-sees on any Colorado bucket list. Be on the lookout for the breathtaking views as you pass through Glenwood Canyon, an iconic 16-mile stretch of canyon surrounding the Colorado River. Plan time to stop at Hanging Lake, which offers incredible views of the entire canyon. If you want to add a little more excitement to your trip, make some time to go whitewater rafting down the Colorado River or spend a day at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Alternatively, those seeking a more relaxed stay can sink into one of the many gorgeous natural hot springs in the area.
As you drive south from Glenwood Springs, be sure to stop at Ouray, one of Colorado’s many historic mining towns. You can drive along any number of mountain trails to see old ghost towns and the remnants of mining buildings left over from the gold rush. The town of Ouray itself is small, but it boasts plenty of mountain charm. Take an afternoon to stroll down Main Street and explore all the boutiques, coffee shops, and other local businesses. If you’re traveling in the winter, you can even try your hand at ice climbing in the world-famous Ouray Ice Park. There’s plenty to see in the surrounding area as well. Visit the wondrous Box Canyon Waterfall and Park or explore further into the San Juan Mountains—especially Uncompahgre Peak, the sixth-highest summit of the Rocky Mountains. Once it’s time to move on from Ouray, be sure to drive the breathtaking Million Dollar Highway south through the San Juan Mountains to Silverton and the rest of your journey.
Mesa Verde National Park
If Ouray takes you back to the Gold Rush, Mesa Verde National Park will send you back further in time to the era of the Ancestral Puebloans. This World Heritage Site is home to the remaining sandstone homes of the cliff-dwelling Pueblo people. Spend a day exploring the park and all its fascinating relics and views. There are nearly 5,000 remarkably well-preserved archaeological sites within the park’s protection, including 600 cliff dwellings. Among the most iconic of these sites is the Cliff Palace, which sits within the shadow of a rock arch. Tour the Cliff Palace to see some of the elaborate rooms and decorations that have withstood elements, erosion, and the test of time.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Nothing shows off the natural diversity of Colorado quite like traveling from the mountains to the desert. If you head back east through the state, you’ll eventually come across Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, this park promises excitement and an adrenaline rush for adventurers of all ages. Soar down the dunes—some of which reach 750 feet high—on sled, sandboard, or sand skis. You can also travel through the dunes on foot, horseback, or a four-wheeler. The park also offers some incredible camping locations. Stay the night if you can—the view of the starry sky above the desert is something you’ll never forget.
You can end your magnificent loop of the Centennial State by making your way up to Colorado Springs. This second-largest city in the state boasts as much culture and adventure as Denver, so make sure you leave plenty of time in your schedule to keep exploring once you’re here. Stay in the car and drive up the famous Pikes Peak Highway to the 14,000-foot summit of the mountain, where you can enjoy the magnificent views of one of the most popular mountains in Colorado. You can also take a day to stretch your legs and wander through the Garden of the Gods, a public park featuring unique and striking sandstone formations.
Remember that no matter where you go, the ultimate Colorado road trip itinerary is what you make it. Pack your bags, grab your Colorado patch and other great gear from YoColorado, and hit the road for some incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences throughout the Centennial State.