Best of Colorado Road Trip Featuring 6 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

Great Getaway at Lyons

WeeCasa Tiny House Resort in Lyons, Colorado

Tiny House Resort in Lyons

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.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes 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.

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

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.

A Grand Escape in Grand County

Horseback riding at C Lazy U Ranch in Grand County, Colorado

Horseback riding at C Lazy U Ranch in Grand County

Nestled next to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you'll find extraordinary things to do in towns like Grand Lake, Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs and Winter Park.

Soak in Steamboat Springs

Soak in Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Don't miss these top sights in one of Colorado's most authentic modern cowboy towns on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are four ways to relax in Steamboat Springs: Hike to a waterfall, soak in hot springs, take an iconic selfie, and explore the riverside downtown while tubers float by.

Strawberry Park in Steamboat Springs is just one of our nine favorite hot springs in Colorado. Here's the complete list to explore on this trip.

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.

Singletrack, World Famous Pizza and a Headless Chicken in Fruita
Known as a fall and spring destination at the entrance to Colorado National Monument, Fruita's temperate weather attracts those seeking relief from the Rocky Mountain snow. But any local will tell you, Fruita is incredible in the summer too – the key is getting wet

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.

Community First in Durango

Durango & Silverton Railroad train in a valley near Durango, Colorado

Durango & Silverton Railroad train

When you spend time in Durango, you’ll experience a unique culinary scene and meet passionate and inspirational locals focused on the good of the community. Durango has attracted bright and creative chefs from all over the country and each dish has a story. But Durango’s heart belongs to the historic railroad that attracts 200,000 passengers a year. Read more about our favorite Durango adventures and flavors.

Courtyard and bike at the Rochester Hotel and Leland House in Durango, Colo.

A guest cruiser bike parked at the shady courtyard at the Rochester Hotel and Leland House

History, Scenery and a Foodie's Paradise at the Rochester Hotel and Leland House
"Everyone's welcome here." It's the best reason to stop in Durango, Colo. on your way to Mesa Verde National Park.

Soak in The Springs Resort & Spa

The Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colorado

The Springs Resort & Spa along the banks of the San Juan River

At Pagosa Springs, stop and stay at The Springs Resort & Spa where a gorgeous lodge, two dozen hot spring pools and a spa await.

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.

Discover a Mountain Paradise in Salida

Enjoying the Arkansas River as it runs through Salida in Chaffee County

Enjoying the Arkansas River as it runs through the mountain town of Salida

From weekly festivals to unparalleled outdoor recreation on Colorado's 14'ers, Salida is a mountain town that offers it all. Learn more.

Spring into Fun at Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods in front of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods in front of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs

4 Adventures in Colorado Springs
From Bigfoot sightings to summiting a 14,000-foot-peak by car, Colorado Springs is a place to spend several days. The bonus? Many of our favorite attractions are free

Mile High Fun in the Greater Denver Area

Laughing girl with butterfly on her nose

The Butterfly Pavilion houses over 5,000 animals, from an octopus in the Water's Edge exhibit to Rosie the Tarantula

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.

Family Fun in Westminster
Stop to walk among butterflies, hop on a go-cart or cool off at an ice rink just 20 minutes from Denver. Learn more.

Brighton's Gems near Barr Lake State Park
You’ll find bald eagles, a nationally recognized barbeque competition and a brewery housed in a refurbished Tibetan temple. Here's why Brighton is a stop worth making.

Pat Craig's Wild Idea of an 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.

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

Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan in Morgan County

Pawnee Buttes National Grassland near Fort Morgan

Related

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

Win a Colorado Road Trip Vacation

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.

Estes Park Aerial Tramway.

6 Things to Do in Estes Park

Known for its lodging, small-town charm, and knowledgeable outfitters, Estes Park serves Rocky Mountain National Park and access to the national forest.