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The Perfect Colorado Itinerary: 22 Road Trip Stops You Need to See

The state of Colorado is a little bit magical. At least, that’s how I feel every time I get to visit the great state. With more trips to Colorado under my belt than I can count, I’m finally writing the ultimate Colorado itinerary.

Including all the best places to vacation in Colorado, this guide is perfect if you’re looking for a Colorado road trip. You can customize your vacation based on the length of your vacation. Pick and choose from the activities and road trip stops below.

To see it all you’d need a minimum of 3 weeks, which would be an amazing Colorado road trip! This Colorado itinerary starts and ends in cities, but let’s be honest – a visit to Colorado is meant to be explored outdoors! With some activities for winter and others for summer, this itinerary will work in any season.

Colorado road trip map

If you choose to do all 22 stops on this Colorado itinerary, here’s the best route to take. Depending on where you’re traveling from, you can join the loop at any point. 🙂

Okay, enough chatting already. Let’s get to the best places to vacation in Colorado!

Ultimate Colorado itinerary and road trip stops

Let’s start in Boulder, Colorado

Flatirons near Boulder best places to vacation in colorado
Hike the Flatirons for views like this! Photo credit: University of Colorado Boulder

Recommended time: 1 day

If you’re flying into the state, you’ll likely fly into Denver. Hop in a car and head straight to Boulder – just 45 minutes away. We’ll wrap up this Colorado road trip in Denver!

Boulder is known as a food scene, the place to be for cold brews, and a gateway to the mountains, Boulder is a good time.

Best things to do in Boulder

  • Visit Pearl Street Mall. Watch street performers, shop cute boutique stores, grab some ice cream or people watch on one of the best downtown spots in all of Colorado.
  • Visit a brewery or microbrewery. Boulder has more breweries per capita than any other city in the US, so you’ll likely find a good one. 🙂 Here’s a list of Boulder Breweries to check out.
  • Hike or climb the Flatirons. A sight to see in real life, these giant tilted rock slabs are beyond impressive. The Mesa Trail is 13 miles and will take you past the best flatirons.
  • Visit Eldorado Canyon State Park. View really cool landscapes and a great spot for a picnic, hike, climb, kayaking or paddle boarding.
  • Food! With over 300 restaurants, there’s plenty to choose from! We decided on tacos on a rooftop bar after a day exploring the area…perfection!

Speaking of food, the best road trips have great snacks!
Check out the 101 Road Trip Food Ideas: Best Fun and Healthy Snacks You’ll Love

Next up: Estes Park

Estes Park Colorado road trip
Estes Park, Colorado near Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Recommended time: 1 day

Estes Park, Colorado is a fun mountain town best known for year-round outdoor activities. From snowshoeing to skiing, hiking and zip lining, Estes Park has something for everyone.

The best views in town can be found as you ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. Since Estes Park is neighbors to Rocky Mountain National Park, the scenery is pretty incredible.

If you’e up for a thrill, head over to the the Stanley Hotel. It’s one of America’s most haunted hotels and was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. (I honestly wasn’t brave enough for this adventure during my time in Estes Park!)

Colorado itinerary favorite: Rocky Mountain National Park

best places to vacation in colorado rocky mountain national ark
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Recommended time: 1-3 days

It’s the kind of place that takes your breath away. Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful beyond measure, and a place that you could spend a week exploring without getting bored.

But since this is a Colorado road trip itinerary, let’s keep it to 1-3 days, okay?

From Estes Park to the next destination in Grand Lake, you’ll take Highway 34 right through the Park. And that stretch of highway has got to be one of the most beautiful drives in the state!

Top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • Hiking! There’s over 350 miles of hiking trails in the park – just pack your bear spray!
  • Visit – or swim in – a gorgeous lake. Bear Lake, Adams Falls, or Sprague Lake are really beautiful.
  • Witness the alpine tundra at the Alpine Visitor Center. We visited the park in late June and found many, many feet of snow still packed on the mountainside at the visitor center. While you’re there, make sure to hike the Alpine Ridge Trail to see the summit at 12,000 feet!

Pro tip: pack layers for Rocky Mountain National Park. Even if you’re just driving through for the day, at over 11,000 feet in elevation, getting out of your car is cold even in the hottest parts of summer.

Visit the quaint town of Grand Lake, during your Colorado road trip

colorado itinerary grand lake
Kayaking on Grand Lake, Colorado

Recommended time: 1-2 days

This picturesque town in Colorado is often overlooked by tourists – which is part of the appeal in my opinion! Grand Lake offers gorgeous lake and mountain views (it’s neighbors to Rocky Mountain National Park, after all!) and is a quiet little village.

Walk the main street for little shops and restaurants. Or buy a souvenir to remember this amazing Colorado road trip adventure you’re on! Oh, and the ice cream shop in town is to die for so make sure you grab a cone while you’re there.

My favorite thing to do on Grand Lake is spend time on the water! We spent a day kayaking the lakes and canals, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

Pro tip: rent kayaks, paddle boards, pedal boats or even motor boats in advance as they sell out quickly in such a small town.

Hit the slopes in Keystone, CO

snowboarding at Keystone colorado road trip
Snowboarding the Rockies during a Colorado road trip

Recommended time: 1-2 days

Get your skis or board ready to experience some of the best skiing in the country! If you love being on the snow, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado is the place to do it.

For the purposes of this article I chose Keystone, but there’s a ton of spots to ski right off I-70. Breckenridge, Aspen and Vail are popular ski resorts, too. Just make sure to rent equipment and make reservations well in advance during peak ski season.

My first (and only) snowboarding experience was in the Rocky Mountains, and I’d highly recommend it!

Looking for more road trip adventures? Check these out:
16 Best Midwest Road Trips – Scenic Routes You Can’t Miss
Florida Keys Road Trip: 22 Awesome Road Trip Stops

Beautiful Colorado road trip spot: Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Lake Colorado Road Trip
Gorgeous Dillon Reservoir in Dillon, CO

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

If you like water activities, Dillon Reservoir is the place to be. A huge lake with the perfect mountain backdrop, Dillon Lake is gorgeous.

Kayaking or boating, hiking or bike riding, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. I highly recommend renting bikes and riding the trails around the lake for a unique Colorado experience!

One of the coolest things to do in Dillon in the winter is visit the ice castles. Built by artists, it’s truly a unique way to connect with nature in the middle of winter. Best time to go is dusk so you get the evening sun, then experience the glow of night!

Year-round adventure in Frisco, Colorado

sunset in Colorado
Overlooking Lake Dillon at Frisco at sunset

Recommended time: 1 day

Head to Frisco for all things adventure in Colorado! Of course there’s skiing, but there’s also tubing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, a dirt bike track, disc golfing, kayaking and hiking.

So basically, if you like being outdoors you’ll love Frisco! With plenty of options for accommodations and dining, this is a perfect one-day stop on an epic Colorado road trip.

Make sure to also check out the views of Lake Dillon while you’re in town, too!

Experience Vail, Colorado

colorado road trip stop in vail
Vail Village, a popular ski and resort town

Recommended time: 1-2 days

Vail, Colorado is the largest ski mountain in Colorado and it’s one of the bigger tourist spots on this list. Aside from mountain adventures, this town hosts lots of annual events and festivals, so there’s always something to do in Vail.

Vail is an excellent spot to enjoy a more luxurious side of Colorado. Find your zen at a yoga class or spa. Stay at one of the nicest resorts in all of Colorado, overlooking the gorgeous Rockies.

Head on over to Vail Village to experience for dining and shopping. Grab an ice cream cone at Sundae and walk the village.

Oh, and hit the slopes in over 5200 acres of terrain. If you’re into snowboarding or skiing, Vail is a great spot for it!

Sylvan Lake State Park (another favorite place to vacation in Colorado)

colorado itinerary mountain view
The Gorgeous Lake Sylvan

Recommended time: 1 day

Okay, okay. This might be one of the most beautiful places in Colorado! I got the pleasure of spending a week exploring Sylvan Lake State Park a few years ago and honestly, I loved every minute of it.

If you’re looking for a more rustic vacation, try one of the cabins, yurts or campsites. Then rent kayaks or paddle boards on the lake and soak in the views!

Try the Sylvan Lake Trail or Sneve Gulch Trail for the best views of Sylvan Lake! Hiking through trails of Aspen trees is super fun, too. Just remember to pack your bear spray, hiking shoes and plenty of water.

Pro tip: if you’re planning to do any hiking in Colorado, be prepared with the right gear. These hiking shoes are my favorite and super grippy with ankle support. And trekking poles will definitely help you with those steep inclines, plus they’re compact too.

Cross Hanging Lake off your bucket list

hanging lake
Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs. Photo credit: Unsplash

Recommended time: 1/2 day

I’ve already covered some beautiful places, and yet there’s more! Hanging Lake is one of the most uniquely gorgeous lakes in all of Colorado, and is extremely popular. Because of the beautiful lake’s allure, it’s accessible by permit only.

Schedule your hike weeks in advance during the summer months as it fills up fast. This trail is 2.4 miles round trip and it’s got a steep incline. You’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of this geologic gem!

Make reservations for Hanging Lake here.

Go hiking in Glenwood Canyon

Glenwood Canyon and Colorado River
Glenwood Canyon and Colorado River

Recommended time: 1/2 day to 1 day

The Glenwood Canyon area is one of my favorite spots in all of Colorado. Interstate 70 west of Denver runs along the Colorado River and both cut right through the canyon. And while the drive through the canyon is beautiful, seeing it while hiking is even better.

Best Glenwood Canyon hiking trails:

  • Glenwood Canyon Overlook Trail, 3.2 miles
  • Glenwood Springs Boy Scout Trail, 6.2 miles
  • Glenwood Canyon Trail, 14.3 miles
  • Grizzly Creek Trail, 7.9 miles
  • Wulfsohn Trail, 2.9 miles
  • Jess Weaver Trail, 9 miles
  • Doc Holiday Grave Trail, .7 miles
  • Babbish Gulch, 3.2 miles
  • Lookout Mountain Trail, 11 miles

Love hiking? Here’s more great hiking destinations:
Stunning Glacier National Park Hikes: 8 Trails You Can’t Miss
10 Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park that Promise Incredible Views
Arches National Park Hikes: 12 Top-rated Trails You’ll Love
Hiking Waimea Canon Trail in Kauai: Everything You Need to Know

Colorado itinerary continues: get hot in Glenwood Springs

glenwood springs natural hot springs
Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

Recommended time: 1/2 day to 1 day

The biggest thing that brings tourists to Glenwood Springs (and it worked for me my 1st trip to the area), is the natural hot springs. Visit the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, which is the largest mineral hot springs in the world!

I’ve visited the hot springs in both winter and summer, and both seasons are fun. Make sure to get there early during summer and weekends, as the pool fills up quickly. Find out more about the Hot Springs Pool here.

While you’re in Glenwood Springs, make sure you check out the downtown historic district. It’s a great spot for street performers and to grab a bite to eat.

Speaking of which, I had the best tacos of my entire life at Slope and Hatch. They’ve received accolades from Travel & Leisure and Insider as one of the top taco places in the US. More on that here.

Colorado road trip with kids? Visit Fruita!

dinosaur journey museum in Fruita
Kids love the Dinosaur Journey Museum

Recommended time: up to 1/2 day

The town of Fruita is relatively small, but for kids it’s an adventure land! One of the main attractions is Dinosaur Journey Museum.

It’s an interactive museum showcasing over 15,000 fossils, a dig site where kids can search for bones, visit a real paleontology lab, see robotic dinosaurs and more. My favorite is the Triceratops skull, which is possibly the largest ever found on earth.

Check out the Dinosaur Journey Museum’s Facebook page for the latest discoveries and event information.

Visit an icon: Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument in Western Colorado. Photo credit: Wikimedia, Daniel Schwen

Recommended time: 1/2 day to 1 day

Near the western edge of the state, by the time you drive to Colorado National Monument, Colorado, you’re no longer in the mountains – you’re in the desert! Located near Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument is the 2nd National Park on this list.

You could probably spend days exploring Colorado National Monument, but to see the highlights, make sure to take the scenic road – Rim Rock Drive. With 19 viewpoints in just 23 miles, it offer some of the best views in Colorado!

Other things to do Colorado National Monument:

  • Catch views of Monument Canyon
  • Hike Devil’s Kitchen, 1.5 miles
  • Window Rock
  • Balanced Rock
  • Independence Monument View
  • Cold Shivers Point
  • Hike the Canyon Rim Trail, 1.8 miles

Next Colorado road trip stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Colorado road trip
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Recommended time: 1-2 days

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a huge park split up into 3 sections – South Rim, North Rim and East Portal. For the purposes of this Colorado itinerary, we’re going to focus on the South Rim section.

This national park is jaw-dropping beautiful, and to be honest, not for those afraid of heights! Many hiking trails and even the road is right beside steep drop offs, so use caution in this park.

One of my favorite parts of this park is the fact that it’s one of the least visited parks in Colorado. So it’s not packed with people, even during peak season! Making this park one of the best places to vacation in Colorado.

Top sights and things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:

  • Take the 7-mile South Rim Drive
  • Painted Wall Overlook
  • Hike Rim Rock Nature Trail, 1 mile
  • Devil’s Lookout
  • Pulpit Rock Overlook
  • Hike Oak Flat Loop Trail, 1.3 miles
  • Stay until dark and stargaze – it’s an international dark sky park!

Pro tip: if you’re planning to visit all the national parks on this list, be sure to get an annual pass – America the Beautiful pass – through the National Park Service. It’s $80 per year and allows you access to all National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands for 12 months. Buy it here.

Drive the Million Dollar Highway: Ouray to Silverton

denver to utah road trip
Never get tired driving through the canyons in Colorado

Recommended time: 1 hour

Man if you’re looking for a scenic drive in Colorado, this is it! Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and if you’re on the best Colorado road trip ever, this needs to be part of the journey!

You’ll experience hairpin turns, jagged cliffs, fun lookouts that will leave you breathless. And all in less than 25 miles of road!

Bonus if you take this road in the fall with the gorgeous changing leaves. It’s truly one of the best scenic drives in all of the U.S.!

This Colorado itinerary still has more: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

great sand dunes national park and preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Photo credit: NPS

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, this place is beyond impressive! And let me tell ya, if you have some adventure in you, this is a great stop for your Colorado road trip itinerary!

One of the best things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is sand sledding and sand boarding! Specifically designed to help you fly down sand hills, make sure you rent the right gear! Here’s more info for renting sand sleds and such.

More adventurous things to do in Sand Dunes National Park:

  • Go off-roading up the scenic Medano Pass Primitive Road (4-wheel drive necessary!)
  • Camp with the best view of the stars!
  • Hike to Zapata Falls, .9 miles

White water rafting down the Arkansas River

Arkansas River under Royal Gorge Bridge
Royal Gorge Bridge over the Arkansas River. Photo credit: Unsplash

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

One of my first trips I took with girlfriends was a white-water rafting adventure trip in Colorado. The Arkansas River is powerful and impressive!

There are many great options for white-water rafting in Colorado. Perhaps one of the coolest spots is taking a trip down the Arkansas River under the Royal Gorge Bridge near Canon City, Colorado.

Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the U.S. Seeing it from underneath is a whole new perspective, too! More on the bridge, here.

Back to rafting…you can take a half or whole day rafting trip. Whole day trips include lunch and typically let you experience more views of the canyon, wildlife and of course the river.

Pro tip: most rafting companies only operate May 1st – September 30th, so make sure your trip is in this window if you’re wanting to raft down a river.

Hang out with Giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

cheyenne mountain zoo giraffes
Giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo saying hello! Photo credit: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

Ranked one of the top 10 zoos in the country, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo does not disappoint! I’ve visited the zoo multiple times and the animal interactions are unique and fun. Feeding the giraffes was a favorite during my trips to the zoo.

The zoo is open year-round and has indoor and outdoor exhibits, perfect for even a winter Colorado road trip! Just a note though – there’s lots of hills so be prepared for a good walk when visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Visit the Gods – Garden of the Gods, that is

Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs
Unique views of Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Unsplash

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

No Colorado road trip is complete without a visit to Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs! You could spend a day (or more) hiking the trails and checking out the scenery, but for this Colorado itinerary let’s keep it to a day.

For a simple hike with tons of scenery, I’d recommend the Perkins Central Garden Trail. It’ relatively flat and is about 1.5 miles. The best way to see the park is though the walking trails so plan to spend some time here checking out the scenery.

I’ve been to Garden of the Gods a couple times and it’s a great experience. Oh, and one of my favorite parts is that it’s free!

Epic views at Pikes Peak (a Colorado itinerary must-see!)

Stuff to do in Colorado Pikes Peak
The view from Pikes Peak Summit. Photo credit

Recommended time: 1 day

Nicknamed America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak is a must-do on a trip to Colorado. With an elevation of over 14,000 feet, if you choose to drive you’ll have quite the climb!

Many people take a car up to the view point and visitor center. If you’re maybe not quite comfortable ascending 8,000 feet up from Colorado Springs, you can opt to take a guided tour.

Oh, and expect the viewpoints to be crowded. Nearly 6 million people visit Pikes Peak each year. Starting your route early in the morning may help to beat the crowds!

Pro tip: pack your layers here. I visited in the middle of summer and wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. Learn from my mistake, okay?

Colorado road rip – gotta have Denver on the list!

16th street mall Denver
Walking the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver

Recommended time: 1-2 days

Alright so no Colorado road trip itinerary is complete without some time in Denver. There’s about a million things to do in Denver, so it can be hard to choose what to do!

Each time I’ve vacationed in Denver, I made a visit to the 16th Street Mall in downtown. It’s the perfect spot for dining, bar-hopping, shopping and people watching. An outdoor pedestrian mall, 16th street is a mile long that offers a free shuttle, stopping at every block. So hop on and off as you please.

Here are a few other top things to do in Denver:

  • Denver Botanical Gardens
  • Union Station
  • Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
  • U.S. Mint
  • Enjoy a brewery or microbrewery
  • Art District on Santa Fe

Colorado itinerary: where will you go on your road trip?

Never get tired of Colorado views! This was a lake I stumbled upon while hiking the Rockies.

Okay so now that you’ve seen all 22 Colorado road trip stops, which do you like best? I mean, with all the stuff to do in Colorado, you really can’t go wrong! I hope you have an amazing road trip with plenty of scenic drives too. 🙂

Comment below on which spots you think you’ll hit – I’m dying to know!

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36 Responses

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit Colorado – the nature looks so surreal! Can’t wait to visit someday 🙂

  2. Hiking in Colorado has been on my list for a while. When travel allows I can’t wait to go!

    1. There’s so many incredible trails to hike, too! Hope you can make it there soon!

  3. Wow Colorado has so much to explore,it’s definitely on my bucketlist. I loved the pictures.

  4. There are so many interesting stops to do in Colorado. I would love to visit, especially the Rocky Mountain National Park.

    1. Yes there really are! Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing park!! The scenery, hiking, wildlife – so much to see there.

  5. Used to live here, but can’t wait to move back and check off a lot of these!

    1. Oh cool! It would be nice having all of these destinations in your back yard. Love Colorado!

  6. How amazing does Colorado look! I am impressed by the landscapes, the scenic views and other canyons! I would love to see all of them!

  7. This post just makes my desire to go to Colorado stronger! I’ve almost gone multiple times, but plans just keep changing. I’m definitely most excited by the outdoor activities like Pike’s Peak and Garden of the Gods.

    1. Oh cool MacKenzie! There’s so many outdoor adventures in CO. You’ll love Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, both are awesome!

  8. This is an incredible list with beautiful photos to accompany. I’ve enjoyed a few trips to Colorado and will continue to go back due to the natural beauty. Good ideas for future times in CO.

  9. Such an amazing post, so in LOVE with your pictures. Definitely saving this for my future trips in Colorado. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Oh my goodness that photo of the giraffes is so neat! They are so adorable. Veil Village is my kind of place, would love to visit one day.

  11. Wow! Thank you for this comprehensive guide. Without you, I wouldn’t have Grand Lake on my bucket list. I’ll use this the next time I road trip Colorado (which will be soon!) Thank you.

  12. I just recently heard of Estes Park and am dying to visit! All of Colorado looks amazing though so I think it would be pretty difficult to choose just a few of these spots to visit!

    1. Right?! With so many options, you could really spend a bunch of time there!

  13. I love Colorado and I haven’t been back in a few years so this is a super helpful post for me to refer back to!

  14. I LOVE Colorado! It’s one of my absolute, favorite places to visit! Funnily enough, I haven’t been to many of these places even though we’ve toured all around the state! (we frequent more rural locations). Great post though, this state really does have SO MUCH to offer!

    1. That’s so awesome! Love that there’s so much to explore in this state!

  15. My brother just came back from Colorado. He shared some amazing pictures. We are really considering planning a trip next summer so will have to bookmark this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re so welcome! I really cannot recommend Colorado enough. 🙂 There’s so many amazing to see, you’ll have a great time!

  16. We visited so many of these places while we were on our last vacation and I blogged many of the stops. Colorado has always been one of my favorite states.

  17. I like that you said I should visit the Rocky Mountains when visiting Colorado and go snowboarding or skiing. My husband plans to visit his family there this December. I’ll take note of your advice and try to find a reputable tour service. Thanks!

    1. That sounds like a great plan, Levi! Colorado is the perfect destination for snowboarding and skiing!

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