Utah and Colorado National Parks Road Trip

Explore some of the country's most amazing red-rock landscapes and soaring granite peaks including 5 national park sites.

Photo: Grant Ordelheide

Trace the mighty Colorado River from eastern Utah to its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park on this Utah to Colorado road trip.

Snowcapped peaks and evergreen trees might comprise your mental image of Colorado, but gorgeous rivers and mesmerizing sandstone canyons also wind their way through the state. “Colorado” is a Spanish adjective meaning “ruddy.” It’s the color of the walls that guard the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument and the sandstone spires that rise from Colorado National Monument. It’s also often the color of the storied Colorado River as it flows through the southwestern U.S., eventually forming the Grand Canyon.

On this road trip, you’ll trace the river and its tributaries across Utah and Colorado, seeing all the ways in which water has shaped the land. Start in Salt Lake City before heading to Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area where the Green River has been dammed to form a reservoir that’s ideal for paddleboarding. Further west, raft the Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument and discover wild horses near Craig.

The headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park is a favorite haunt of moose.
The headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park is a favorite haunt of moose. (Photo: Stephanie Markmann)

Visit Colorado’s incredible state parks, like Steamboat Lake, as you make your way to Rocky Mountain National Park’s western side where the Colorado River’s headwaters are found. Learn to capture the state’s most popular national park away from the crowds with our photography guide. Then, trace the river across the Rockies as it picks up tributaries and steam, flowing past beautiful Colorado National Monument before it crosses into Utah. Swing south to Moab, where two incredible national parks await.

Along the way you’ll find every shade of red, from deep tones that are almost purple to bright oranges. When you scroll through your camera roll, you’ll quickly realize that while mountain blues and spruce greens also make up the state’s color palette, there’s a reason it was named for its reds.

Road Trip Map

Start: Salt Lake City

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Paddling in the calm wake-free
Paddling in the calm wake-free “trail” at the Flaming Gorge Courtesy Flaming Gorge Country

Desert Oasis
Straddling the Utah and Wyoming border, Flaming Gorge truly is an oasis amid red-rock cliffs, towering ponderosa pine forests and groves of aspen trees. Just below the dam on the Green River is “The Aquariumn” named so because the green waters are so clear you can see rainbow trout swimming past you to depths as great as 15 or so feet.

Dinosaur National Monument

Echo Park's Steamboat Rock in Dinosaur National Monument
Echo Park’s Steamboat Rock in Dinosaur National MonumentiStock

Wall of Dinosaur Bones on the Colorado-Utah Border
A massive piece of protected land at the northern state border of Colorado and Utah, sits one of the world’s richest dinosaur deposits.

Jurassic Journey in Moffat County
Rugged and wild, Moffat County is Colorado’s Last Frontier where wide open spaces hold treasures too rare to be missed. Raft the Yampa past Steamboat Rock or watch wild horses in Deerlodge Park.

Raft the Desert West’s Best River Stretches with OARS
Read these tips to incredible rafting trips for families, thrill seekers and those just looking for relaxation amid some of the country’s best scenery in Utah and Colorado.

Steamboat Lake State Park

This alpine park 29 miles north of Steamboat Springs has so much to offer year round, but winter might just be the best time to visit. Read more about Steamboat Lake and other Colorado State Parks worth a stop on your road trip.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Moose in Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Moose in Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Gloria Wadzinski

Grand Adventures
Leaning up against Rocky Mountain National Park’s west side, Grand County, home to Winter Park Mountain Resort and Grand Lake, offers unparalleled outdoor opportunities. See our list of thrilling, nature and water adventures.

A Camp for All Ages at YMCA of the Rockies
The YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park has great activities and lodging options. Some lodging, activities and trails are pet-friendly.

Enter the Park at Grand Lake, the West Entrance

48 Hours in Rocky Mountain National Park
Only have 48 hours? Make the most of your time by following our itinerary covering both sides of the park.

Dawn Patrol
Photograph Rocky Mountain National Park without the crowds by shooting the sunset, night skies and sunrise.

GuideAlong Audio Driving Tour
Download the Rocky Mountain National Park tour app that’s like having a tour guide in your car. GuideAlong automatically plays interesting and entertaining commentary as you go.

Colorado National Monument

Panorama of Colorado National Monument in western Colorado

On the central edge of Colorado sits Colorado National Monument, a spectacular, crumbling stretch of land filled with decaying red rock and deep canyons.

Singletrack, World-Famous Pizza and a Headless Chicken in Fruita
The charming city of Fruita is the place to headquarter your trip to Colorado National Monument. An outdoor adventurer’s paradise, it’s still held on to its small-town feel. And, best yet, its vibrant downtown is located just minutes from the monument’s entrance.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

Devils Garden in Arches National Park
Devils Garden in Arches National Park Adobe Stock

5 Stops on Arches National Park’s Scenic Drive
Don’t miss the best roadside stops inside this national park filled with natural stone arches. Here are five awe-inspiring formations that can be seen from the road or after a short stroll.

Top 4 Campgrounds in Moab
These campgrounds by Sun RV Resorts offer extraordinary amenities, including pools, dog parks, cabins and more near two of Utah’s national parks, Arches and Canyonlands. Learn more on our Utah Parks website.

2 Days in Canyonlands
See stone arches, hike amongst rock spires and go on a four-wheel-drive adventure in Canyonlands National Park. Read more on our Utah Parks website.

End: Salt Lake City