Over the years, I’ve been to various Colorado destinations and loved every one of them, but I’ve never done a true roadtrip through Rocky Mountains, till recently. And now I wonder why I waited so long to see these stunning places all together. I actually spent two weeks on this Colorado roadtrip, but I narrowed it down to 10 days of the most beautiful places. The focus is on beautiful nature and scenery, cute mountain towns with amazing atmosphere and gorgeous mountain passes.There is so much more that you can see in Colorado, this trip just scratches the surface, but it’s a start.
Day 1 – Colorado Springs
Total driving time: 4 hours
This roadtrip starts and ends in Denver. From there, you will drive an hour south to Colorado Springs. The city itself is just like any other large city, but there are a couple of beautiful areas right outside the city – Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.
Garden of the Gods
Your first stop is the Garden of the Gods Park, a registered National Natural Landmark. It’s a unique land where with towering sandstone rock formations and a multitude of hiking trails. In the morning you will get some beautiful shots of the rocks as the sun is behind you. This is a great place to walk around and explore. I loved the contrast of tall red rocks standing out of the green grassy areas.
From the Garden of the Gods continue your Colorado roadtrip for about an hour to Pikes Peak, which stands at 14,115-foot elevation. To get there, you will take Pikes Peak Highway, a road that winds its way up the mountain. You can drive the first 16 miles and then you will take a shuttle the last 3 miles to the peak. The drive has spectacular views of Colorado Springs, scenic lakes, hills and mountaintops. There are several hikes you can do at Pikes Peak, the most popular is Barr Trail. Keep watching the steep mountain side for bighorn sheep. This adventure will probably take you half a day or so.
From Pikes Peak continue your Colorado roadtrip for about 2 hours to Cañon City. Cañon City is located along the Arkansas River and home of the world-famous Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. In town, check out shopping, historic downtown area, wine tasting and beautiful mountain views.
Spend your first night in Cañon City.
Day 2 – Royal Gorge and Great Sand Dunes Park
Total Driving Time: 3.5 hours
Start your second day at the Royal Gorge, which offers 360 degree adrenaline rides and breathtaking views of the gorge and surrounding areas. The park is home of America’s highest suspension bridge, Royal Rush Skycoaster, aerial gondola & zip line. You will want to take a walk across the bridge and stand 956 feet above the Arkansas River. And then, if you like adrenaline rush definitely try out some of the activities.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
From Royal Gorge you will continue your Colorado Roadtrip and drive 3 hours to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The park is exactly what it sounds like – home to the tallest sand dunes in North America! Basically a bunch of sand piled up very high, but that makes it pretty interesting. If you come in the spring, Medano Creek should be flowing in front of the dunes, so your photos will be much more interesting than mine. In July, the only thing left in the creek bed was sand. You can hike around on the dunes, surf on the sand (that was really cool) and watch for wildlife (we saw a bunch of deer). There is no shade on the dunes and it’s hot in the summertime, so come prepared with sun protection.
The closest place to stay the night is Alamosa, about 30 minutes outside the park. There is not much to see there, but it’s a decent size town with lots of hotels and places to eat.
Day 3 – Durango
Total driving time: 3 hours
From Alamosa drive to Durango. This is a very pretty drive through rolling hills, green fields and mountain views. I really enjoyed this stretch of the road.
If you don’t mind adding an hour to your drive, take a detour and visit the town of Creede. This historic mining town has a population of under 300 people and is home to world’s largest fork – yes, 40-foot sculpture of a fork.
Chimney Rock National Monument
The Chimney Rock National Monument is an area of 4,726 acres that preserves 200 of prehistoric sites and ceremonial buildings around the Chimney Rock and Companion Rock. You can hike to the top in just half mile and be rewarded with 360-degree views of surrounding rolling hills.
The City of Durango is a the largest town located in the southwestern park of the Rocky Mountains. There are lots of amenities in town. Here are some things to do around here:
- Durango downtown – walk around the historic downtown, check out the shops and restaurants.
- Lake Nighthorse (sunset, hiking) – drive 10 minutes to the lake area and do some hiking, swimming or paddle boarding.
- Animas River Trail – take the trail along the Animas River and admire the beautiful scenery.
- Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad & Museum – check out the historic narrow gauge railroad that connects Durango with Silverton.
- Fort Lewis College – drive up to Fort Lewis College and watch a spectacular sunset over Durango and say hi to some deer that come out in the evenings.
Stay the night in Durango and enjoy the town.
Day 4 – Million Dollar Highway
Total Driving Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
You will start heading north from Durango towards Ouray and see some amazing views along the way. Don’t set your GPS for Telluride as it will take you a different route and you will miss all of the spectacular things along this way.
Boyce Lake is a water reservoir located north of Durango. You can hike around the lake, take in breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, fish or paddle board on the lake.
You will continue your drive through San Juan National Forest on Molas Pass. At 10,910 feet above sea level, the pass is one of the higher passes in Colorado. At 10,910 ft. above sea level, it offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding peaks. You can also stop at Molas Lake and admire some great views. The road to Molas Lake is a dirt road but it’s pretty well maintained.
Before you get to Silverton, there are some vistas along the highway that give you a great overlook of the town’s valley. They’re great for taking some beautiful pictures. Stop in Silverton – a valley town at 9,000 feet that began as a mining town long ago. Today, it is a recreation hub; however, the town kept its wild and independent feel. You can do a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine, visit Animas Fork – a ghost town, or do a tour of Mayflower Mill. This was a great little stop along the roadtrip.
After spending time in Silverton, continue your journey north.
Million Dollar Highway
You will continue driving on US Highway 550, often called Million Dollar Highway. The highway crosses over 11,000-foot Red Mountain Pass to the north of Silverton. It is one of the most breathtaking journeys you can take in San Juan Mountain Range. The road was originally built in 1883 as a tollroad and today is part of the incredibly scenic and historic San Juan Skyway. This was the BEST PASS on our Colorado Roadtrip — the steep mountains, roadside waterfalls, lush greenery and windy road made for stunning views.
Along the way you can stop at Crystal Lake. It’s a beautiful small lake along the highway, a great little gem.
Box Canyon Falls Park
As you continue driving US Highway 550, you will come across Ouray. Located at the south end of the Ouray, the Box Canyon Falls Park offers views of a waterfall in a canyon. You can walk into the canyon on a suspension bridge, this is an easy and short hike. The waterfall plunges 285 feet through a narrow slot canyon. This spot is a great break from driving, so you can hike a little bit and stretch your legs.
After visiting the park, drive into Ouray and spend some time here. Often called North America’s Switzerland, Ouray dates back to 1876 and is nestled against rugged peaks of the Rockies. Stroll around town, enjoy the shops and restaurants. You can enjoy sulfur-free hot springs.
Continue your drive to Telluride and stay the night there. Fun fact: did you know that you can drive from Dallas to Portland in 10 minutes? In fact, you will drive this on your roadtrip, they just both happens to be in Colorado.
Day 5 – Telluride
Total Driving Time: 0 or limited
Telluride was definitely my favorite mountain town on this trip. The town itself is just like all other mountain towns, but the surrounding area is stunning. It’s just so green, surrounded by birch trees, which happen to be my favorite trees as well. The views are so spectacular.
Telluride is located in a box canyon surrounded by 13,000 ft peaks. The first inhabitants of the valley were Ute American Indians followed by miners. Today, the town has a National Historic District (just six blocks wide and twelve blocks long) that is a window into its rich past. The town has plenty of colorful Victorian-era homes, historical storefronts, boutiques, art galleries and gourmet restaurants. It is a crowded town, but if you drive through the center towards the canyon, you will land in a beautiful birch lined alley with hiking trails, spectacular views and striking blue ponds.
There are lots of things to do around Telluride, you will spend the day hiking, biking, admiring the views from the ski resort, golfing, rock climbing, river sports, etc. Hiking is probably the most popular activity, view hiking trails in the area. Stay the night in Telluride again, trust me it’s worth it.
Day 6 – Hanging Lake
Total Driving Time: 4 hours
You will leave Telluride and drive to Hanging Lake. This will be a long day with a strenuous hike, so be ready for it.
Hanging Lake, named National Natural Landmark in 2011, is an unbelievable Colorado gem. It has wispy waterfall tendrills, crystal clear turquoise waters, majestic mountain views and lush greenery. Hanging Lake is suspended on the edge of a Glenwood Canyon’s cliffs and is a geologic wonder. Hanging Lake parking lot fills up pretty fast, so try to get here early.
When I looked intoHanging Lake, it said it’s one mile each way moderate level hike, I thought – easy, I got this. So, let me tell you what this actually is. If you’re one of those hikers that climbs mountains all the time and owns a water backpack – you don’t need to read this paragraph. But, if you’re like me and you hike for enjoyment not torture, read carefully. I live in Dallas, as flat as you can get, so I can hike with no incline all day long and I’m fine, but add any elevation and my body goes: I so don’t got this!
This is not an easy hike, it’s a 1,200-foot elevation change in one mile and it’s pretty much all large stone and rock trail. I could survive that by itself, but add almost 90 degree heat and I wanted to push the water backpack people passing me by into the nearby creek. Make sure that you bring water and sun protection for the hike. The full event will take you about 3 hours. Even though it’s a tough hike, it’s totally worth it. I loved the final views, but be prepared.
Stay the night in Glenwood, about 11 miles away from Hanging Lake.
Day 7 – Breckenridge
Total Driving Time: 1 hour and 48 minutes
Let’s drive back into the mountains and head to Vail. Famous as one of the largest world-class mountain resort towns, Vail is also a great destination to visit in the summertime. It’s a cute Bavarian-style village that was created specifically for tourism. Vail Valley summers are stunning, you can enjoy mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, shopping, and sight-seeing.
Day 8 – Boreas Pass
Total Driving Time: 3 hours
Boreas Pass Scenic Drive
From Breckenridge head to Boreas Pass, a stunning 22-mile drive that goes up over an 11,481-foot summit through Colorado’s central Rockies. The wildflowers, mountain views and wildlife will make your drive amazing. I saw a male moose while driving through this pass, which are pretty tough to see normally as they shy away from roads.
The entire Boreas Pass is a dirt road, it’s pretty well maintained, but does have a few rocky and rough spots along the way. You may want to make sure to have a high clearance vehicle for this Colorado Roadtrip.
If you’d like to drive an extra couple of hours you can visit Aspen. It’s another ski town in the wintertime and a great destination for outdoor recreation. The town is also known for gourmet restaurants and boutiques. Aspen was founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom and was named after aspen trees that grow in abundance in the area. You will find lots of great views and hiking trails here as well, including the most famous one – Maroon Bells Lake Trail.
Twin Lakes are located along the road that you’ll be driving. It’s an area that’s popular for fishing, boating, hiking, and photography of the Colorado scenery.
Sapphire Point Overlook
In the evening, you will drive ten minutes from Breckenridge to Sapphire Point that overlooks the town and the water reservoir. It’s an amazing sunset spot and you can hike along the lake. I shot several sunsets on this Colorado Roadtrip, but this was my favorite spot. You get color reflections in the water, long sunrays over the mountains, and amazing sky colors.
You will stay the night in Breckenridge.
Day 9 – Rocky Mountain National Park
Total Driving Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes
Rocky Mountain National Park
No Colorado Roadtrip would be complete without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. You will first drive through the park admiring the views from vistas. Start your drive early, because the park gets busy later in the day. Set your GPS to the West Entrance and then drive through the park to the city of Estes Park. Only 10% of all park visitors enter from the West, so you will have less people on this side. Also, moose like to hang out on the West side of the park as well.
The park encompasses 415 square miles of spectacular mountain views and valleys. There is one main road that runs through – Trail Ridge Road, which crests at over 12,000 feet. You will stay the night in Estes Park.
If you have the energy either stay on the east side of the park for sunset, or drive back in around sunset time. There is a great spot by the bighorn sheep watching area where you can watch the sun set in the valley between mountains. While everyone else was watching the hills for tiny specks of sheep, I got to watch an amazing sunset there.
Day 10 – Rocky Mountain National Park
Total Driving Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
You will have a hiking and exploring day today. There are over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers and abundant wildlife. Here are some of the best hikes:
- Bear Lake Loop – it’s a .6-mile loop around Bear Lake in the heart of the park. It gets crowded and the parking fills up, so come early in the morning. You may have to park at the visitor center and take the shuttle.
- The Pool + Cub Lake Loop – an easy 6.4-mile loop around Cub Lake and Fern Lake. It offers beautiful views of the lakes and surrounding areas.
- Ute Trail to Timberline Pass – a 4-mile hike that offers great views of the alpine tundra.
At the end of the day, drive back to Denver. Your Colorado Roadtrip has come to an end! Hope you enjoyed it.
Colorado Roadtrip Summary
Here is a map of the key locations and the route.
If you’d like to take a Colorado Roadtrip, here are some images to pin.