The Perfect Colorado Road Trip Itinerary (2024 Guide)

Looking for the best Colorado road trip itinerary? We’ve got everything you need to know to plan the perfect road trip through Colorado!

Colorado is definitely one of the most beautiful states in the USA. Full of unique national parks, hot springs, forests, ski resorts, vibrant cities, and more, any Colorado itinerary is guaranteed to be full of beauty.

This article will outline an ideal Colorado road trip itinerary. With a scenic drive around the state, you can combine all the highlights of the state into one unforgettable adventure.

Go horseback riding through the majestic Colorado National Parks. Strap on your hiking boots and hit the trails at Colorado National Monument.

Go sand sledding in Great Sand Dunes National Park, or admire the ancient cliff palace in Mesa Verde. Tour Union Station in Denver, check out a former mining town turned ski resort in Breckenridge, or take a scenic drive along the famous Trail Ridge Road.

This Colorado road trip is packed with excitement. There are also suggestions for ways to modify your Colorado itinerary to suit your schedule.

Whether you have one week or one month, here is a Colorado road trip itinerary that will suit any type of traveler!

If you need more inspiration, check out our list of the best things to do in Colorado!

How long is this Colorado road trip?

This Colorado road trip itinerary covers about 1,000 miles of central and western Colorado.

You’ll drive along a loop that begins in Denver. From there, head south to Colorado Springs, home to the famous Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.

From Colorado Springs, you’ll continue southwest, hitting the top national parks before traveling north up to Grand Junction.

After Grand Junction, start heading east again towards Glenwood Springs, Breckenridge, and finally up to Estes Park in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. Then head back towards Denver with a stop in Boulder on the way.

In total, the entire loop is about 18-20 hours of driving. You can break the Colorado itinerary up however you like. We’ve included a recommendation for how long to spend in each location, though of course this can be altered to fit your schedule.

We recommend downloading Google Maps to help you with your road trip. You can use the map live or download a road trip map offline if you need. You can save all your destinations with a pin and create a Colorado road trip map to follow on your journey.

With the time recommendations we’ve given, this Colorado road trip will probably take around 3 weeks. There are also some ideas for those who have less time or more time at the end of the road trip itinerary!

No matter how long you have, this Colorado road trip itinerary encompasses the absolute highlights of this incredible state. You’re sure to see some gorgeous sights and have epic adventures regardless of your time frame.

Denver Colorado
This Colorado road trip itinerary starts and ends in Denver.

The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

If you’re coming from another state or country, begin your Colorado itinerary by flying into Denver International Airport.

You can rent a car right at Denver International Airport. Denver is a pretty car-friendly city, so you may want your rental car with you while exploring Denver before your road trip.

However, you also have the option of exploring downtown using public transport and then picking up a rental car in the city when you’re ready to leave for your Colorado road trip. Either way, Denver is the best place to rent a car and begin any Colorado road trips.

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

Denver

  • Recommended time here: 3 days

Start your epic Colorado road trip in Denver, the capital city of Colorado. Spending at least 3 days here if you have time is recommended, as there is so much to do!

Boasting a mile-high elevation, Denver offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains and a climate that attracts outdoor enthusiasts year-round. Also known as the Mile High City, Denver is the perfect gateway to the adventure and beauty of western Colorado.

Denver’s neighborhoods each have a distinct character, from the historic charm of Larimer Square to the trendy vibe of the RiNo Arts District, providing residents and visitors with a rich tapestry of experiences to explore.

The cultural scene in Denver is as diverse as its landscape, with a thriving arts community, numerous museums, and a bustling music and entertainment scene.

The city is home to the Denver Art Museum, showcasing a wide range of international and contemporary art, and the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, an iconic outdoor venue renowned for its acoustics and stunning natural setting.

Other highlights of the city include the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Downtown Aquarium, Union Station, the History Colorado Center, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. There is a museum or a gallery that will entertain anyone, and the nightlife is thriving as well.

Denver is really a must-visit on any Colorado itinerary, as it is the heart and soul of the state. No matter how long you choose to stay in Denver, consider getting a City Pass to save money on select attractions. Whenever you’ve finished enjoying the Mile High City, grab your rental car and hit the road!

Colorado Springs

  • Distance from Denver: 73 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

From Denver, you’ll head about an hour south to Colorado Springs. Nestled against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado Springs is a city that seamlessly blends natural beauty with urban amenities.

Home to the iconic Pikes Peak, whose snow-capped summit graces the city’s skyline, Colorado Springs is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Tackle one of the many hiking trails, ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, go mountain biking, or just admire the view of the famous Pikes Peak mountain from down in the town center.

The Garden of the Gods, a mesmerizing red rock formation, also stands as a testament to the city’s geological wonders, offering hiking and rock climbing amidst stunning landscapes. If you only have time to see one attraction during your visit to Colorado Springs, The Garden of the Gods should be at the top of your list! It’s a must on any Colorado itinerary!

The city’s historic downtown, with its charming boutiques, galleries, and cafes, provides a welcoming atmosphere. The Olympic Training Center, another notable landmark, underscores Colorado Springs’ status as the home of the United States Olympic Committee.

Visitors can explore the rich aviation history at the National Museum of World War II Aviation or take a scenic drive along the Pikes Peak Highway for breathtaking views.

With a diverse range of cultural events, a strong sense of community, and proximity to outdoor adventures, Colorado Springs captures the essence of Colorado’s enchanting landscapes and vibrant spirit. From here, it’s time to continue the road trip by driving south to the magnificent Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Garden Of The Gods
Garden of the Gods is the best thing to see in Colorado Springs!

Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • Distance from Colorado Springs: 154 miles
  • Driving Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in southern Colorado, is a surreal and captivating landscape that stands in stark contrast to the traditional image of mountainous terrain often associated with the state. It’s one of Colorado’s most unique national parks!

Surrounded by the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, with some reaching heights of over 700 feet.

The juxtaposition of these towering dunes against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks creates a breathtaking panorama that lures visitors seeking a unique and visually striking natural experience.

Exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park offers a variety of activities, from sandboarding and sledding down the dunes to hiking through the diverse ecosystems that surround them.

The park encompasses not only the expansive dune fields but also grasslands, wetlands, and the scenic Medano Creek. Spring and early summer bring a natural phenomenon known as surge flow, where the creek surges and recedes rhythmically, creating a refreshing oasis amidst the arid landscape.

Stargazers also find the park appealing, as the absence of artificial light allows for unparalleled views of the night sky. If you’re thinking of camping at any point on your Colorado road trip itinerary, Great Sand Dunes National Park is an amazing place to do it!

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a testament to the diverse and awe-inspiring wonders that nature can sculpt, offering a truly immersive and unforgettable experience for those who venture into its sandy embrace.

Looking to try more US road trips? Check out our Utah Road Trip Guide!

Mesa Verde National Park

  • Distance from Great Sand Dunes National Park: 199 miles
  • Driving Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

From Great Sand Dunes National Park, continue driving through southern Colorado until you get to the southwest corner of the state. Here you’ll find Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its unparalleled archaeological treasures.

Mesa Verde National Park is home to an extensive collection of well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, which date back over 700 years. The most famous among these is the cliff palace, a complex of interconnected rooms and dwellings built into the sheer sandstone cliffs.

Ancient structures like the cliff palace provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloan people, showcasing their architectural prowess and adaptability to the challenging terrain.

Beyond the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park offers a wealth of archaeological sites, including pit houses, kivas, and mesa-top villages, each contributing to the rich tapestry of human history in the region.

The park’s diverse landscapes, characterized by expansive mesas, deep canyons, and high plateaus, make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can explore the network of trails that wind through the park, providing stunning panoramic views and access to archaeological sites.

Mesa Verde National Park allows travelers to admire the ancient civilizations and rich cultural heritage of the American Southwest. It’s a top destination to visit on any Colorado road trip itinerary!

Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings are a fascinating insight into the past.

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park

  • Distance from Mesa Verde National Park: 153 miles
  • Driving Time: 3 hours
  • Recommended time here: 1 day

From Mesa Verde National Park, continue the Colorado itinerary by heading north through western Colorado’s dramatic landscapes. Your next destination is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a unique natural landmark tucked away in the area’s rugged terrain.

The Black Canyon is a striking testament to the raw power of erosion and the geologic forces that shape our planet. The park encompasses a dramatic and narrow gorge carved by the Gunnison River over millions of years, creating one of the steepest and most awe-inspiring canyons in North America.

The dark, sheer cliffs that line the canyon walls plunge dramatically, with some sections so narrow that sunlight only briefly reaches the canyon floor during certain times of the day. The name “Black Canyon” is derived from the limited sunlight that penetrates the deep gorge, creating an atmosphere of mystery and allure.

Visitors to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park can marvel at the breathtaking vistas from several scenic overlooks along the rim, each offering a unique perspective of the canyon’s depth and intricacies.

Hiking trails wind along the rim, providing opportunities for exploration and panoramic views of the rugged landscape. For the more adventurous, the park offers challenging routes leading down into the canyon, where the serenity and magnitude of the rock walls become even more apparent.

If you have 1 day to spend here, you can simply marvel at the stunning views. But if you’re someone who loves hiking and adventure, it’s worth spending an extra day to conquer some of the incredible trails.

Black Canyon is not just a geological wonder but also a haven for wildlife, with golden eagles soaring overhead and mule deer traversing the steep hillsides, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts’s Colorado itinerary and those seeking the profound beauty of the natural world.

Read Next: Learn more about the best day trips from Colorado Springs!

Grand Junction

  • Distance from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: 71 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

The next stop on your Colorado road trip itinerary is Grand Junction, a picturesque city that serves as a gateway to the stunning landscapes of the Colorado Plateau.

Situated along the Colorado River and surrounded by red rock canyons, Grand Junction boasts a unique blend of outdoor adventure, cultural richness, and agricultural charm. The city is renowned for its vineyards and orchards, producing some of the state’s finest wines and fruits and making it a great place for wine tasting on your Colorado itinerary.

One of the top things to do in Grand Junction is visit the scenic Colorado National Monument. A red rock wonderland offering breathtaking vistas, hiking trails, and opportunities for rock climbing, the Colorado National Monument is the best place to soak in the stunning canyons and expansive vistas of the Colorado Plateau.

Grand Junction’s charming downtown area is a vibrant hub featuring tree-lined streets, historic buildings, and a lively arts scene. Main Street is dotted with boutique shops, art galleries, and local eateries, creating a welcoming atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. The city hosts various events throughout the year, including the renowned Colorado Mountain Winefest, celebrating the region’s viticulture.

With its proximity to outdoor wonders like the Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction provides a unique blend of recreational opportunities, cultural experiences, and a warm community spirit. These all help make it a top destination on any Colorado road trip.

Colorado National Monument
Even if you’re doing your road trip in winter, places like Colorado National Monument are still accessible – and they’re gorgeous in all weather conditions!

Glenwood Springs

  • Distance from Grand Junction: 87 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 3 days

Next on your Colorado road trip itinerary, you can start heading back east towards the Rocky Mountains until you get to Glenwood Springs. Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, this charming mountain town is known for its scenic beauty, outdoor adventures, and rejuvenating hot springs.

The city is situated along the Colorado River, surrounded by lush valleys and towering peaks. Glenwood Springs gained fame in the late 19th century for its therapeutic hot springs.

Today, visitors can unwind in the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, the world’s largest naturally heated mineral springs pool, which has been soothing travelers for over a century. Stay right at the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort if you want to treat yourself to some luxury on your Colorado road trip!

In addition to its relaxing thermal waters, Glenwood Springs offers a myriad of recreational opportunities. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the scenic Glenwood Canyon, embark on whitewater rafting trips down the Colorado River, or go mountain biking through the surrounding mountains.

The charming downtown area boasts Victorian-era architecture, boutique shops, and a variety of dining options. The historic Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and the iconic Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park further contribute to the town’s appeal, making Glenwood Springs a perfect destination for those seeking a harmonious blend of relaxation and adventure in a picturesque mountain setting.

You could easily spend more than 3 days here, but there are still more destinations to visit on your Colorado road trip!

Read next: 21 Best Things To Do In Colorado Springs

Hanging Lake

  • Distance from Glenwood Springs: 10 miles
  • Driving Time: 13 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 1 day

From Glenwood Springs, it’s only about 13 minutes to Hanging Lake. You could visit the lake during your time in Glenwood Springs, but it’s on the way to your next destination so it could be more convenient to visit on your way out of the city.

Hanging Lake is a natural marvel renowned for its pristine turquoise waters and captivating setting. Accessible via a moderately strenuous hiking trail, the lake is cradled within a geologic amphitheater, surrounded by towering cliffs and lush vegetation.

What sets Hanging Lake apart is the delicate ecosystem that thrives in this high-altitude oasis, with waterfalls feeding the crystal-clear lake and travertine formations that cling to the cliffsides.

The journey to Hanging Lake is as rewarding as the destination, with the steep, rocky trail offering panoramic views of the Colorado River and Glenwood Canyon. The trailhead, located just off Interstate 70, has become a popular destination, and visitors are encouraged to make reservations to manage the impact on this fragile environment.

Recognizing the need for preservation, the U.S. Forest Service has implemented measures to protect the lake, ensuring that future generations can continue to marvel at the unique beauty of Hanging Lake while also appreciating the importance of responsible stewardship in maintaining this natural treasure.

After soaking in the beauty of this lovely spot, continue heading east through the Rocky Mountains! Before you take on the highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park, stop in Breckenridge to visit one of Colorado’s top ski resorts.

Hanging Lake
Soak in the serenity at Hanging Lake as you continue on your road trip.

Breckenridge

  • Distance from Hanging Lake: 95 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

Breckenridge, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, is renowned for its historic charm, world-class skiing, and vibrant cultural scene.

Originally a mining town during the Colorado Gold Rush, Breckenridge has preserved its 19th-century character, with well-preserved Victorian buildings lining Main Street.

The town’s charming downtown is a hub of activity, featuring boutique shops, art galleries, and a diverse array of restaurants and cafes. Visitors can stroll through the historic district, where the Blue River runs alongside the vibrant streets, creating a scenic backdrop for year-round festivals and events.

Breckenridge is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, drawing winter sports enthusiasts with its renowned ski resort. In the colder months, the Breckenridge Ski Resort offers world-class skiing and snowboarding across a vast expanse of slopes, while the summertime brings opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding trails and alpine meadows.

With a welcoming community, breathtaking mountain vistas, and a rich blend of history and recreation, Breckenridge has become a sought-after destination that seamlessly combines the best of the Colorado Rockies with the warmth of a mountain town.

Read More: Don’t miss this post on the best things to do in Breckenridge!

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Distance from Breckenridge: 130 miles
  • Driving Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes
  • Recommended time here: 3 days

From Breckenridge, take a small detour north to visit Estes Park. Known as the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is a charming mountain town that captures the essence of the Colorado Rockies.

Known for its stunning natural beauty and a gateway to one of the nation’s best national parks, Estes Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The town is surrounded by majestic peaks, and the Big Thompson River meanders through the valley, providing a serene backdrop to the picturesque landscape.

Visitors can explore the quaint downtown area, featuring unique shops, art galleries, and cozy cafes, creating a welcoming atmosphere that complements the town’s mountain ambiance.

Estes Park serves as a base camp for those venturing into Rocky Mountain National Park, offering access to a vast network of hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and scenic drives. This is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring the iconic park!

A must-visit is Bear Lake, a serene alpine lake surrounded by picturesque peaks. Bear Lake Trailhead offers access to several stunning hikes, including the famous Dream Lake and Emerald Lake trails.

Driving along Trail Ridge Road is another one of the top activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of the highest paved roads in the United States, Trail Ridge Road provides amazing views of the alpine tundra and a chance to spot elk, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife.

Or you can book a guided driving tour of Rocky Mountain National Park in a glass-top luxury van. This allows you to sit back and relax while your guide educates you about one of the nation’s greatest national parks.

You could easily spend a week in Estes Park and take countless day trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. But Trail Ridge Road, Dream Lake, Bear Lake, and any hiking trails should all be at the top of your list, and you can easily do all of these in just a few days.

Once you’ve finished exploring Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, head over to Boulder to start wrapping up your Colorado road trip!

Bear Lake Trailhead
Make sure you visit Bear Lake Trailhead for some epic views!

Boulder

  • Distance from Rocky Mountain National Park: 40 miles
  • Driving Time: 1 hour
  • Recommended time here: 2 days

Located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a vibrant and progressive city known for its stunning natural surroundings, active lifestyle, and thriving cultural scene.

Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, a series of striking rock formations, serve as a backdrop to the city and offer an array of recreational opportunities, including hiking, rock climbing, and photography.

The city’s commitment to sustainability is evident in its extensive network of bike paths, green spaces, and an eco-friendly ethos embraced by the community.

Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, the city exudes a youthful energy and intellectual vibrancy. Pearl Street Mall, a charming pedestrian street in the heart of downtown, is a focal point for shopping, dining, and street performances.

Boulder also boasts a diverse culinary scene, with a focus on locally sourced and organic ingredients. The city’s commitment to innovation is reflected in its numerous tech startups, research institutions, and a reputation as a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, yogis, and wellness seekers.

With a backdrop of mountain scenery, a lively cultural calendar, and a commitment to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, Boulder is a great stop on any Colorado road trip itinerary. And it’s only 30 minutes away from Denver, so it easily fits into a Colorado itinerary.

Check our list of the 30 best things to do in Boulder for more ideas.

Return To Denver

  • Distance from Boulder: 27 miles
  • Driving Time: 30 minutes

From Boulder, head back to Denver and return your rental car. Your Colorado road trip is over!

There were so many amazing places included in this Colorado itinerary, from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park to the charm of cities like Colorado Springs and Boulder.

There is always more to see when you visit Colorado. If you didn’t get to see all the Colorado national parks and ski towns that you wanted on this Colorado road trip, you’ll just have to come back!

For more fun things to do in the area, try these day trips from Denver.

If you have less time…

Hopefully this Colorado road trip guide has been helpful!

For those who are short on time, here are some modifications that may come in handy while planning your Colorado road trip.

First of all, you can cut down the amount of days you spend in each location. We recommended around 2-3 days in each place, but you could get away with 1 or 2 in most places.

The driving times in between destinations are only around 1-3 hours, so you won’t be sacrificing too much time on the road.

The longest drive is from Great Sand Dunes National Park over to Mesa Verde National Park, which is just under 4 hours. Mesa Verde is pretty far out of the way in southwestern Colorado.

To save time on your Colorado itinerary, you could skip this national park and just go straight from Great Sand Dunes National Park to Grand Junction in 4.5 hours.

Or you could skip Boulder on your way back to Denver if you’re not a big fan of exploring cities. If you’re not big into skiing or snowboarding, you could also cut out Breckenridge since the ski resort is the main attraction here.

So even if you only have a week or two for a Colorado road trip, there are ways to make it work!

 Great Sand Dunes National Park
Even if you’re short on time, it’s worth visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park – the scenery is unreal!

Read next: 21 Best Places To Visit In Colorado

If you have more time…

If you have more time to explore Colorado, there are so many amazing road trip options for you. First of all, you could easily just spend longer in each destination listed on this Colorado road trip!

Or you can add other cool destinations to your Colorado itinerary.

For example, you could stop in San Juan National Forest on your way to Mesa Verde. Visitors to the San Juan National Forest can explore a network of trails that wind through dense forests, traverse alpine meadows, and reveal stunning vistas of the rugged San Juan Mountains.

Or if you want more skiing and snowboarding in your Colorado itinerary, add more mountain towns to your road trip.

You can stop at Telluride Ski Resort on the way to Grand Junction, taking the Million Dollar Highway to get there. The Million Dollar Highway, a legendary stretch of U.S. Route 550 in Colorado, is renowned for breathtaking and sometimes hair-raising mountain views on the scenic drive.

Or stop in Aspen on the way from Glenwood Springs to Rocky Mountain National Park. Or spend more time exploring the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, seeing destinations like Grand Lake and Adams Falls.

There are many different Colorado road trip routes you could take. The more time you have, the better! Have a great road trip.

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Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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