Whether a native, local or transplant, we all have one thing in common: We absolutely love this state. And while we all have our favorite spots and things to do, we also have our own version of a Colorado bucket list — the list of places yet to be explored and activities yet to do. That’s why we’ve decided to create another Mapped Guide to the Ultimate Colorado Road Trip (see our first one here). We want to help cross off some of those places on your list.

It should be noted that while we have created this second guided map, it’s not set in stone and you can stray from the route. In fact, it’s encouraged. We’ve also included “side trips” — places and locations that are detours from the route but definitely worth the extra time and mileage. So begin packing, prepare the car, gather the friends and start adventuring.

*Total Time: 24 hours 12 minutes
Total Distance: 1,098 miles

*Time and distance may vary depending on traffic, change in routes, stops along the way, etc.

The Map

Start: Denver to Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs

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While I-25 south is usually always under construction — and this trip may have you running into some of it — it’s worth the traffic. The beginning of the trip promises no shortage of things to do and places to see. While Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs are two entirely different cities, the relatively short 15 minutes drive between the two makes it convenient for exploring. Add Pikes Peak to the itinerary for some addition scenery before heading into the town of Salida, commonly referred to as the “Heart of the Rockies.”

Time in Car:

1 hours 17 minutes

Where to Eat:

Manitou/Colorado Springs: Rudy’s BBQSkirted HeiferIvywild (it’s a restaurant/brewery in a converted elementary school!), Storybook BrewingPikes Peak Summit House (try their magic donuts), Mate FactorThe Sahara Cafe

Where to Sleep:

Manitou Springs: The Cliff House
Colorado Springs: The Broadmoor, Garden of the Gods Collection, Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Hotel Eleganté (for an affordable option), a range of bed and breakfasts

What to Do:

Manitou: Cave of Winds, Manitou Incline, Rainbow Falls, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Manitou Springs Penny Arcades
Colorado SpringsAir Force Academy Chapel, Tour of Castle at Glen EyrieShrine of the SunGarden of the GodsSeven Falls, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame,  Helen Hunt Falls, Gold Camp Road 
Pikes Peak: Pikes Peak Cog Railway

2017 Summer Events:

Pikes Peak Marathon August 20 – Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs Heritage Brew September 24 – Manitou Springs
Emma Crawford Coffin Race October 28 – Manitou Springs
Pikes Peak Airstrip Attack June 17 & 18 – Colorado Springs
Colorado Classic (Start) August 10 – Colorado Springs

Side Trips:

Paint Mines Interpretive Park
Royal Gorge Bridge
Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour

 

Leg 2: Colorado Springs to Salida (via Buena Vista)

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A Colorado road trip wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t include Buena Vista. Not only does the town itself offer amazing views and a list of things to do, but it’s also surrounded by areas that are meant to be explored including summit hikes, hot springs and some historical features as well.

Time in Car:

2 hours 18 minutes

Where to Eat:

Buena Vista: Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar, Deerhammer Distilling, K’s Dairy Delight, House Rock, Eddyline Brewing
Salida: Amicas Pizza & Microbrewery, The Fritz, Laughing Ladies Restaurant, Elevation Brewery

Where to Sleep:

Buena Vista: Surf Chateau, Buffalo Peaks Lodge
SalidaMountain Goat Lodge, Amigo Motor Lodge

What to Do:

Buena Vista: Cottonwood LakeCottonwood Hot Springs, Midland Railroad Tunnels, Hike Collegiate Peaks, Comanche Drive-in Theatre
Salida: Browns Canyon National Monument, Creative Art District, St. Elmo’s Ghost Town

2017 Summer Events:


Collegiate Peak Stampede Rodeo June 10 & 11 – Buena Vista
Gold Rush Days August 12 & 13 – Buena Vista
ATV Historical Color Tour September 19 – 23 – Buena Vista
FIBArk Whitewater Festival June 15 – 18 – Salida
21st Annual Colorado Brewers Rendezvous July 8 – Salida

Side Trips:

Hancock Ghost Town
Paradise Cove Swimming Hole
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Leg 3:  Salida to the Great Sand Dunes

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The next leg of the trip will end in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The car ride is short, so whether you sleep in during your stay in Salida or you have an early start to the day, plan to spend the majority of your day — and night — in the park. The Sand Dunes show different aspects of nature; ranging from sand to creeks to tundra wildlife. The park is known for its varying dune formations like the Star Dune, in addition to the wetlands and lakes in the backcountry; home to lots of trout for those wanting to fish. There’s plenty to do (make sure to bring a sled) and plenty to see.

Time in Car:

1 hour 33 minutes

Where to Eat:

Sand Dunes: Oasis Restaurant, Mosca Pass Outpost, Oasis Store (for groceries)

Where to Sleep:

Sand Dunes: Great Sand Dune Lodge, Pinon Flats Campground, Great Sand Dunes Oasis campground

What to Do:

Sand Dunes: Rent sand boards and sleds (snow sleds do NOT work), Medano Creek,  High Dune Trail (follow these tips from fellow hikers), Baca Wildlife Refugee Mosca Pass Trail, Tijeras Peak

Side Trips:

Zapata Falls (additional camping outside Sand Dunes park)
Alamosa

Leg 4: Sand Dunes to Durango (via Pagosa Springs)

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This leg of the trip travels from the  Sand Dunes to Durango via Wolf Creek Pass through Rio Grande National Forest. This is reason enough to stop and take a day — even the night — and explore everything the forest has to offer. The route will wind through Pagosa Springs — the small town in southern Colorado popular for its hot springs. The final stop in this leg is Durango; a city known for its rich history and culture.

Time in Car:

3 hours 18 minutes

Where to Eat:

Pagosa Springs: Kip’s Grill & Catina, Alley House Grille, Riff Raff Brewing Company
DurangoSka BrewingNayarit Mexican CuisineSteamworks Brewing Co, Michel’s Corner Crepes, Eno Wine Bar

Where to Sleep:

Pagosa Springs: The Springs Resort & Spa, Fireside Cabins
Durango: Strater Hotel, The Leland House & Rochester Hotel

What to do:

Rio Grande National Forest: Wheeler Geological Area, Sangre De Cristo Wilderness, North Clear Creek
Silverton: Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour
Pagosa Springs
:
Treasure Falls, Pagosa Hot Springs, San Juan River, Piedra Road Scenic Drive
Durango: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, La Plata Canyon, Horse Gulch Trail

2017 Summer Events:

Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass June 9 – 11 – Pagosa Springs
Colorfest Weekend September 15 – Pagosa Springs
Rocky Mountain UkeFest July 7 – 9 – Durango
Music in the Mountains July 9 – 30 – Durango
San Juan Brewfest August 26 – Durango

Side Trips:

Chimney Rock National Monument
Navajo State Park
Mesa Verde National Park

 

Leg 5: Durango to Black Canyon National Park (via Ouray)

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The way to get from Durango to Ouray is via the Million Dollar Highway. Part of the San Juan Skyway, this road sets the standard for “scenic views.” Speaking of scenic views, the San Juan Mountains offer no shortage of that and it’s worth a stop for the day to explore. Wind through the mountains to reach Ouray — the “Switzerland of America .” The town offers unforgettable hikes along its canyons and mountains and a few history lessons with its high country ghost towns. After a night (or two) in Ouray, head straight to Black Canyon National Park for some hiking and adventuring. While Telluride isn’t included in this trip, it is worth a side trip to. However, the pass from Ouray to Telluride is closed majority of the year so the drive will add an extra one hour and six minutes to the overall trip.

Time in Car:

3 hours

Where to Eat:

Ouray: Maggie’s Kitchen, Mouses Chocolate and Coffee, Bon Ton Restaurant
Montrose: Colorado Boy Pizzeria & Brewhouse

Where to Sleep:

Black Canyon National Park: Camping
Ouray: Beaumont Hotel & Spa, Hotel Ouray

What to Do:

San Juan National Forest: San Juan Scenic Byway, Mount Sneffels, Blue Lakes of Colorado
Ouray: Wright Opera House, Box Canyon Falls, Yankee Boy Basin, explore the Ghost Towns
Montrose: Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area
Black Canyon National Park: Kayaking Emerald Cove, Painted Wall, any hiking, Stargazing (it’s a certified dark sky park)

2017 Events:

Jeep Jamboree September 14 – 16 – Ouray

Side Trip:

Telluride (it’s featured in our last roadtrip and it’s highly recommended. Go here for a full guide)
Handies Peak Wilderness Area

Leg 6: Black Canyon to Crested Butte (via Gunnison)

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The route from the Black Canyon to Crested Butte drives right alongside the Gunnison National Forest and the Gunnison River; a perfect way to spend the day. The short drive will have you in the town of Crested Butte before dinner — and this is a town worth staying a few days.

Time in the Car:

2 hours 5 minutes

Where to Eat:

Crested Butte: Secret Stash, Teocalli Tomale, Third Bowl
Gunnison: The W Cafe, The Bean Coffee House

Where to Sleep:

Crested Butte: Purple Mountain B&B, Elk Mountain Lodge

What to do:

Gunnison: Blue Mesa Reservoir
Crested Butte: Rustler Gulch, Schofield Pass, Dyke Trail Through Kebler Pass
Gunnison National Forest: Judd Falls, Gunnison River

Events:

Crested Butte Music Festival June 23 – August 5 – Crested Butte

Leg 7: Crested Butte to Glenwood Springs

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The drive to Glenwood Springs will explore some more forest and parks, including the historic city of Marble. The car ride may be done in one sitting, but Glenwood Springs will have you out of the car and stretching your legs in no time. Right about now would be a great time to enjoy the hot springs or have some fun at the adventure park.

Time in the Car:

3 hours 2 minutes

Where to Eat:

Glenwood Springs: The Pullman, Slope & HatchRiver’s RestaurantGlenwood Canyon Brewery,  Casey Blending & Brewing (must reserve a ticket)Daily Bread

Where to stay:

Glenwood Springs: Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge

What to Do:

Glenwood Springs: Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Doc Holiday Hike

2017 Events:

Strawberry Days Festival June 16 – 18 – Glenwood Springs
Wild West Fermentation Fest June 30 & July 1 – Glenwood Springs
Summer of Music June – August – Glenwood Springs

Side Trips:

Geneva Lake 
Crystal Mill 

Leg 8: Glenwood Springs to Aspen

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While this leg may be the shortest one of the trip, there are plenty of stops along the way that may make it longer. Towns such as Basalt and Snowmass, with side trips to Ashcroft and Sawatch Range, will extend the day trip to Aspen. And once in Aspen, the places to see and things to do are endless.

Time in the Car:

54 minutes

Where to Eat:

Aspen: Big Wrap, Peach’s Corner Cafe, Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop, Aspen Brewing Company, Ajax Tavern, Justice Snow’s 
Basalt: Two Rivers Cafe

Where to Stay:

Aspen: The Little Nell, Hotel Aspen, Hotel Durant

What to Do:

Aspen: Maroon Bells, Snowmass Lake, Devil’s Punchbowl, Smuggler Mountain Hiking Trail, Wheeler Opera House, Silver Queen Gondola, Magic Mushroom House, Aspen Art Musuem  

2017 Summer Events:

Aspen Outdoor Music June – Aspen
Food and Wine Classic June 16 – 18 – Aspen
Arts Festival July 22 & 23 – Aspen
Heritage Fire Snowmass June 17 – Snowmass

Side Trips:

Ashcroft Ghost Town
Sawatch Range
Ruedi Reservoir
Rifle Falls State Park
Conundrum Hot Springs

Leg 9: Aspen to Estes Park (via Rocky Mountain National Park)

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This is the final push before the home stretch — and it’s making you work for it. With the longest amount of time spent in the car, it’s not only encouraged but recommended to and enjoy the views along the way. Via Independence Pass, the towns of Leadville, Copper, Silverthorne, Frisco, Granby (to name a few) will be stops along the way. In addition, Rocky Mountain National Park is worth spending a few days exploring the famous lakes and hikes. 

Time spent in car:

5 hours 34 minutes

Where to Eat:

Silverthorne: Smiling Moose Deli, Pug Ryan’s (techinically in Dillon)
Frisco: Food Hedz World Cafe, The Moosejaw
Estes Park: Smokin Daves BBQ, Babba’s Burgers, Penelope’s World Famous Burgers and FriesScratch Deli & Bakery

Where to Sleep:

Rocky Mountain National Park: Camping
Leadville: Delaware Hotel

What to Do:

Frisco: Lake Dillon Reservoir
Leadville: Twin Lakes, National Mining Hall of Fame, Turquoise LakeAbandoned Silver Mines
Grand Lake:
Adam Falls Hike
Silverthorne: Lily Pad Lake Hiking
Rocky Mountain National Park: Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Emerald Lake, Sky Pond, Odessa Lake, Nymph Lake, Alberta Falls (among the countless others)

Side Trip:

Arapaho National Forest (hike Lost Lake Trail)
Great Stupa of Dharmakaya 

Final Stretch: Estes Park to Denver (via Eldorado Springs)

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The last and final home stretch will go straight through Estes Park to Eldorado Springs. After the previous long stretch, make sure to enjoy all that Estes Park has to offer before finally heading home. Stop by Eldorado to take full advantage of their hot springs and treat your body to some natural springs after this long journey in the car.

Time in the Car:

1 hour 47 minutes

Where to Sleep:

Estes Park: Stanley Hotel, Murphy’s River LodgeAnniversary Inn

Where to Eat:

Estes Park: Meadow Mountain Cafe, Estes Park Brewery, Twin Owls Steakhouse

What to do:

Estes Park: Elkhorn Avenue
Eldorado Springs: Eldorado Springs Swimming Pool 

Colorado is a big state with something to do at every turn, so while we did our best to fill in as much as possible, we undoubtedly left some things out. We’re going to continue to build the road trip each year so comment below and let us know what to include next time. This is truly one of the ultimate Colorado road trips and we hope you get out there and explore it this summer. Safe travels and happy exploring.

Make sure to tag us in any pictures you take along the way and comment with any new places you explored along the way!

Additional reporting by Brittany Werges

About The Author

Social Media + DFW Marketing

Katie is a Denver native through and through. A science nerd at heart, Katie loves all things food and outdoors related (especially hiking with her dog). When not helping with social media or writing for the magazine, Katie can be found at any coffee shop, yoga studio, or sipping local cider with friends. Also, she likes to try to dabble in cooking. Often she doesn't succeed.

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One Response

  1. Sue Arel

    It would be great if you included rv campgrounds in places to stay….great post thank you.

    Reply

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