Best of Colorado Road Trip Featuring 5 National Park Sites

Natural hot springs, high peaks and national park sites dominate this 1,296-mile tour through Colorado starting and ending in Denver.
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National Park Trips author Mikaela Ruland taking in the view of Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Taking in the view of Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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Few road trips take you past spectacular 14,000-foot peaks, soothing hot springs and fantastic historic towns like this Colorado loop.

Start in Denver to sample the city’s thriving art and food scene. Next stops are Lyons, Estes Park and then Rocky Mountain National Park where wildlife and incredible hikes await. From there head west to the charming town of Grand Lake, which sits at the park’s West Entrance, before heading to Hot Sulphur Springs to soak in the town’s hot springs and on to Winter Park for fun activities at the Winter Park Resort base area. Continue west to the awe-inspiring red-rock landscapes of Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction. 

From there, travel south to the majestic Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Farther south, you’ll discover ancient history in Mesa Verde National Park and authentic towns like Durango, Pagosa Springs, South Fork and Alamosa along the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. When you return to the Denver area, you’ll find affordable lodging, lively restaurants, the Wild Animal Sanctuary and a unique High Plains experience. 

Map

Start: Denver

Rent an RV with Outdoorsy
Do this road trip in an RV to stay close to nature. Or check out Destination Delivery: Have an RV delivered directly to a campground or parking site to camp in style without having to get behind the wheel. www.outdoorsy.com/rv-rental/colorado

Best RV Campgrounds in Colorado 
Visiting Colorado by RV this year? We’ve rounded up the most RV-friendly campgrounds for the summer season in all four Colorado national parks, plus two national monuments, to help you plan an epic road trip.

Hidden Colorado Gems in Central City

Opera House in Central City, Colorado

Opera House in Central City, Colorado

Strike gold in Central City, a historic Gold Rush town south of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Great Getaway at Lyons

A-Lodge Lyons boutique lodging

A-Lodge Lyons boutique lodging

Looking for a small historic town near Rocky Mountain National Park but far from crowds? Head to Lyons, a charming 2,000-resident artsy town with great cuisine. Here's 7 reasons to stop.

Estes Park Gateway

Estes Park Tram

Estes Park Aerial Tramway

6 Things to Do in Estes Park
Perched at 7,200 feet, Estes Park is a fantastic basecamp for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park’s eastern side. Take a stroll down its lively downtown lined with coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques or sit on a bench along the Riverwalk. Here are 6 local tips to have a vacation with fewer hassles and less impact on the environment.

YMCA of the Rockies is a Camp for All Ages
Choose between the Estes Park Center on the park's east side or Snow Mountain Ranch on the west side for great activities and lodging options welcoming to families and pets.

Hiking a dog-friendly trail outside of Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking a dog-friendly trail adjacent to the national park

After a Busy Day in the Park, Retreat to the Family-Owned Quality Inn
Stay at the closest lodging to Rocky Mountain National Park's East Entrance, that’s just one mile from downtown Estes Park. You’ll be close enough to pop into town for dinner and shopping, but far enough away that parking won’t cause a headache. Learn more.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Home to herds of elk, majestic moose and Longs Peak that summits at 14,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker's and wildlife-watcher's paradise. In the summer, you'll travel across the park on its highest road, Trail Ridge Road that connects the park's two gateway towns, Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west. The road is closed in winter due to snow, at which time visitors travel south to reach the opposite side of Rocky.

GyPSy Guide Tour App
Download the Rocky Mountain National Park tour app that’s like listening to a tour guide in your car. GyPSy Guide automatically plays interesting and entertaining commentary as you go.

River Run's Rocky Mountain Resort

Cabins overlooking the lake at River Run RV Resort near Granby, Colorado

Cabins overlooking the lake at River Run RV Resort

Just 20 minutes from the park’s West Entrance, which sits in Grand Lake, Colo., lies River Run RV Resort, a new 200-acre resort with unparalleled amenities for the area. There’s actually so much to do on property that it may be hard to leave it.

Exit for Dillon & Silverthorne

Dillon Reservoir in autumn

Dillon Reservoir in autumn

Take exit 205 on Interstate 70 to experience two of the Rocky Mountains’ favorite small towns, Dillon and Silverthorne. Located along the shores of Dillon Reservoir, here are eight stops you can’t miss.

8 Favorite Colorado State Parks

Rifle Falls State Park in Colorado

Rifle Falls

See a Triple Waterfall
Playing in the rainbows of mist from its 70-foot triple waterfall offers a respite from the summer heat as do shady campsites along the river at Rifle Falls State Park. Even for a day trip, make sure to bring a flashlight to explore the caves along the Coyote Trail, one of which has a 90-foot room. Read more about this park included in our list of 8 favorite Colorado state parks.

Colorado National Monument

Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument

Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument

On the central edge of Colorado sits Colorado National Monument, a spectacular, crumbling stretch of land filled with decaying red rock and deep canyons. Best known for its vistas from the 23-mile scenic drive (or road bike ride) on Rim Rock Drive, the park also is a great place to hike, watch wildlife (such as desert bighorn sheep, coyotes and golden eagles) and stargaze.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Painted Wall at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Painted Wall at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Carved through solid granite over countless millennia, the canyon walls of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park plunge an awe-inspiring 2,700 feet to the river below in western Colorado. Intrepid hikers and rock climbers can venture into the depths on several very steep, unmaintained trails. Other visitors prefer to peer into the chasm from a network of trails lining the north and south rims. Anglers love this place for its gold-medal water for trout fishing.

Top 10 Things to Do
Pick and choose for our list of popular activities in the park and surrounding area from viewing the night skies to sipping local wines.

Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace Tour at Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace Tour at Mesa Verde National Park

48 Hours in Mesa Verde
Only have 48 hours to explore Mesa Verde National Park? Stick to our detailed itinerary to hit all the most important stops. There's more to do beyond the main attraction of touring ancient cliff ruins. Take a hike, gaze from a fire tower or have dinner with a view.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Twelve miles from Mesa Verde, this national monument often falls off travelers' radar screens, making it a fantastic place to discover solitude and ancient history.

Choose Your Durango Adventure

One of the waterfalls on Cascade Creek Trail in Durango, Colorado

One of the waterfalls on Cascade Creek Trail

Wild or Mild in Durango
Your adventure can be as crazy or mild as you want it to be. Choose water, land, train or foodie escapades. In this adrenaline-fueled town, there’s something for everyone.

Eat Your Way Through Durango
Durango has attracted bright and creative chefs from all over the country and each dish has a story. Read more about our favorite Durango flavors.

Charming Creede

Fall car show in Creede, Colorado

Fall car show in Creede

One of Colorado’s best-kept secrets, Creede offers incredible theater, downtown charm and fun outdoor activities. Take a stroll through this colorful historic downtown nestled in one of the most striking mountain settings you’ll ever see and you may just want to move here.

Keeping Up With South Fork

Riding an off-highway vehicle (OHV) on the Bachelor Loop in the Rio Grande National Forest near South Park, Colorado

Riding a UTV on the Bachelor Loop in the Rio Grande National Forest

Bring a car, ATV, jeep or bike. The area offers hundreds of miles of trails designated for motorized traffic and scenic drives. These trails and roads will take you to mountain peaks and amazing vistas of the San Luis Valley, to creek bottoms and dense forest growth.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Alamosa

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Springtime

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Springtime

48 Hours in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Make your time in the park count with our detailed itinerary! This other-worldly park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America.

A Local Taste of Alamosa and San Luis Valley
Base in Alamosa to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and dine in a farm-to-table restaurant.

4 Places to Shoot in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
It’s hard to understand this park's scale. But don’t be daunted—we asked professional photographer Andre Costantini where to approach the dunes for the best photos.

Stones that Hold Secrets
Discovered in the sands of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, oddly shaped stones play rock music.

Mile High Fun in Denver

Union Station in Denver, Colo.

Union Station in Denver

Explore Denver
From fine art to trendy restaurants, use your feet to explore Denver. The top six things to do include enjoying a Rockies game, visiting the Denver Art Musuem, and seeing the zoo.

Pat Craig's Wild Idea of an Animal Sanctuary

Nala, a rescued tiger at the Wild Animal Sanctuary

Nala, a rescued tiger at the Wild Animal Sanctuary

See nearly 300 lions, tigers, grizzly bears, wolves, and other rescued large carnivores as they roam freely on the rolling plains of Colorado.

Wildlife Oasis
When Netflix launched Tiger King, a docuseries about convicted felon and Oklahoma zookeeper and tiger breeder Joe Exotic, it captivated audiences who suddenly found themselves quarantined at home during the initial spread of COVID-19. Here's what happened to the animals left behind.

High Plains Scenery in Fort Morgan

Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan in Morgan County

Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan

Stop by Fort Morgan, Brush and Pawnee National Grassland to stretch your legs and experience a different side of Colorado.

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Chasm Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park and sunset at Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Go from guided hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park to sandboarding the drifts in Great Sand Dunes National Park, with stops for hot springs, lakes and river rafting.

Sightseeing from the road in Park County, Colorado

Drive Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret Road in Park County

Point your wheels towards evergreen forests, pristine rivers and abundant wildlife opening up to a beautiful high alpine valley, guarded by breathtaking peaks.

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Sunrise reflection at Grand Lake, Colo.

Grand Lake at the West Entrance Town to Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake, Colo. is located just one mile from the West Entrance of the park and is home to the largest and deepest natural alpine lake in the state.