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Epic 5 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary For Summer or Fall

Hey! I’m so glad you found this 5 day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary! If you love adventure, epic hikes, and a touch of adrenaline, you’re going to love doing this 5 day itinerary for summer or fall when the trails are mostly free of snow.

I felt so inspired after doing this 5 day Colorado road trip with my kids that I decided to write it in story format. If you just want the beta and aren’t interested in the thoughts and feelings I had during this epic adventure, then scroll/jump to the bottom for a quick summary of the 5 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary.

Colorado Road Trip Day 1

We loaded up Gabi’s truck, Lolo, with climbing gear and our 4 Patriots solar generator and hitched up to Nomad, our new travel trailer, and left the campground in Palisades, Colorado.

We are nomads and therefore, leaving is not new to us. Much to my husbands chagrin, we don’t stay anywhere very long. But now that we travel in 2 RV’s, he was able to stay in Palisades for a few days and didn’t have to be dragged along on this 5 day Colorado road trip. While he loves RV living, adventure travel involving freezing cold nights off grid, sunrise wake up calls to summit 14ers, and hikes along edges with 1,000 foot drop offs is not his idea of a good time.

Danny, who also prefers slow travel, also stayed back to enjoy the running trails and beautiful scenery of this Colorado State Park campground.

What was unique in this case though, was that I was sitting in the backseat as we pulled out. 

As an enneagram 8, ENTJ, letting someone else literally take the wheel is something I’m gradually learning to accept. And while the control freak inside me felt like a fish out of water sitting in the backseat doing nothing, the mom in me felt an overwhelming sense of pride and love seeing how capable and confident I’ve raised Gabi to be.

So, I sat back, relaxed, and enjoy reading as we hopped on the I-70 and headed west towards Leadville.

After a quick stop at Costco to fuel up and stock up on hiking snacks, and another quick detour to grab a beer and burritos at Vail Brewing Company, we turned onto the well maintained dirt Halfmoon Road with an hour of daylight left.

A few miles up, we found a huge clearing with stone campfire pits inviting us to gather, laugh, and tell stories.

free camping near Mt Elbert Colorado

“Why don’t we stay in sites like this more often!” says Tati as she jumps out of the truck and runs into the forest with Jiraiya to start gathering wood for the fire. 

I make an enormous pot of chili, while Jiraiya tends the fire and Isabelle takes out her throwing knives to practice on an innocent tree nearby.

Gabi has her camera & phone in hand, capturing every angle of Mount Elbert and every shade of pink in the sky.

This one night is enough to justify the trials and tribulations of parenting but it is not new to us and in this one short 5 day Colorado road trip, it’s just the warm up party.

I was worried about sleeping out here at the base of Mt Massive and Mt Elbert because our new trailer doesn’t have a propane heater set up and we couldn’t run a generator all night long. Instead, we layered up and hoped for the best.

Colorado Road Trip Day 2

My alarm goes off at 6:30 am, I glance at the iced up windows and I think, “How the hell am I going to get out of my down sleeping bag!”

But my inner temper tantrum never last long and by 6:45, coffee was made, bags were packed, and I was hurrying everyone to get in the truck.

It was a short drive to the Mt Elbert trailhead and we were on the trail by 7:20. An hour and a half later, we emerged from tree line, filled our water bottles with our favorite hiking supplement, and turned on our game faces. 

This was Tati and Jiraiya’s first 14er.

Mt Elbert is considered one of the easiest 14ers and I felt confident in their cardio and their grit. I knew that even if it was hard, they’d push through.

The snow on the trail made it a little challenging but overall, they made incredible time and we were standing on the summit at 14,400’ (the highest point in all of Colorado) two hours later. 

While we would’ve loved to alternate between staring at the white snow capped peaks to the west and the yellow aspens to the south for hours, the wind was cold and so after filling our bellies with dried mangoes and potato chips, we began the grueling trudge back down.

I was worried that Tati was going to complain but within minutes I hear her laughing as she is glissading down the snow to make the descent more fun and playful. Oh if we could all maintain that childhood spirit into adulthood, what a better world it would be!

We made it back to the truck by 2 pm, drove back to our campsite and ate the leftover chili, then packed and hitched up and headed off for another adventure.

We found another free camping site just north of Salina. As we unhitched our trailer, I looked at Gabi and said, “It’s only 3:30 pm. We could go rescue Aang and be back by nightfall.”

We left Isabelle with the kids while Gabi and I drove to Canon City to get my beloved Ford F-350 that I left there back in April. It had broke down several times while we were there this past spring and so, we had to buy a new Dodge Ram 3500 and leave the Ford at the mechanic hoping it would sell after it was repaired. But it didn’t and my heart is attached to this truck for some reason and everyone knew I wanted it back. 

I was very worried that I’d get there and it wouldn’t run but, sure enough, it fired right up and I drove it back to Salina with a huge grin on my face. 

Colorado Road Trip Day 3

We had left Lander Sept 19th, about 2 weeks earlier than this 5 day Colorado road trip we were on, with the intention to spend a month in the San Juans (the area near Ouray and Telluride) but the weather had been constant rain and so we had been stalling in Steamboat Springs, Rifle, & Grand Junction.

Well, when I woke up that next day, day 2 of this 5 day Colorado road trip, I saw 4 days of sun in the Ouray forecast and said, “Let’s go for it!

It was a long four hour drive but when we pulled into Ouray and saw the beautiful jagged snow capped peaks and fiery yellow hillsides blazing with aspens, we were all so stoked.

We decided to make it a recovery day and went to soak in the Ouray Hot Springs in hopes of helping our legs recover for tomorrows adventure, one we’ve been dreaming of doing for many years.

Once fully pruned, we drove south out of town to look for free dispersed camping. I’m driving Aang and Gabi is driving Lolo while towing Nomad. “Are you sure you feel comfortable doing this?”

“Yes,” she says with confidence. 

It was only a few miles out of town but this section of road is extremely narrow, very windy, goes through two tunnels, and has a sheer cliff with no shoulder.

It’s the sketchiest part of the Million Dollar Highway and honestly, I haven’t towed my huge fifth wheel over it because it’s so dangerous.

Fortunately, it was almost dusk which helped because the road wasn’t too busy so she could go slow and hug the double yellow line a bit.

We arrived near Ironton Park, and headed down a dirt road scouting out the best campsite. I stop to get out of the truck to ask if the clearing in front of us is okay when Isabelle says, “Look on the hillside!”

I look up and there’s a mama black bear with 2 cubs staring down at us. We watch each other for a good 5 minutes before the bears eventually loose interest and walk away.

We set up camp in the clearing under even more aspens and prepare a delicious meal of fajitas.

The weather report had changed and was now calling for possible rain in the forecast up on the mountains. The weather reports seem to flip flop often and so I say, “Let’s stick to our original plan of getting up early to hike and if we have to turn back we will.”

I snuggle next to Tati, hoping to get some sleep and stay warm enough, but it’s very, very cold this high in the mountains. 

Colorado Road Trip Day 4

Another 6:30 wake up call. I pop out of bed, open the RV door and see nothing but yellow aspens gleaming under a clear sky. 

“Let’s go troops.”

We are on the road again by 7am but this time it’s about an hour drive to the trailhead. 

Driving the first few miles on Camp Bird Road is easy and well maintained, but the final few miles on Yankee Boy Basin Road require high clearance 4wd and rolling through a few rough dips, rocks, and tight turns.

We park, go to the bathroom, and are hiking up the rest of the dirt road that requires a short wheel base 4wd high clearance vehicle by 8am. An hour later we are at the actual trailhead. From here, it’s only 1.2 miles to the summit however, you gain 2,000’ most of which happens in just the last .7 mile.

This steep section goes up the color of which the first half is scree, loose rock, and the second half is larger boulders.

In summer, the first section would be a little slippery but with the snow, it made it easier and more like walking up stairs. The only real problem on this section was how incredibly steep it was, causing Tati to start freaking out a bit. 

I wondered if maybe we should just turn around since we still had a good deal to go but she said she could go a little bit farther. I kept a hand on her back as she bear crawled to the saddle. 

The views from the saddle were epic and even if we had to turn around then, I was grateful for the vantage point I did get to.

The final gully of boulders took us another 40 minutes and, due to snow blocking the usual path around a boulder, required free soloing up and over a 10 foot crack that would’ve been much easier if our shoes weren’t wet and hands frozen from the snow.

Another 100 feet and we were there, standing on a peak we’ve been wanting to bag for a long time, Mount Sneffels.

I stared out at the density of mountains in awe. How are there so many peaks extending to what feels like infinity? I took in the beautiful Blue Lakes below me, Telluride ski resort to the west, and all the spatterings of yellow aspens to the north.

It was perfect and again, I wish I could’ve stayed for hours, but Tati was freezing and I was worried about the descent. And for good reason. It was sketchy and scary and slow.

The worst part was that the sun was melting the snow, causing rocks on the scree section to come loose and roll down the hillside right at us.

We took turns scanning the mountain above for falling rock while glissading down the mountain. I felt a huge sigh of relief when we reached the flatter trail and all celebrated with high fives. 

The rest of the hike back was filled with laughter and talking. Our hearts felt full and life was perfect.

After cookies and a beer, we drove south to Molas Lake & Silverton to check them out. As we were driving, a storm rolled in and we felt grateful that it had been delayed long enough for us to do the hike that day. 

Colorado Road Trip Day 5

The next day Gabi and Isabelle had plans to meet some people and climb so I asked Jiraiya and Tati, “What should we do?”

“We could do the Telluride via ferrata,” Tati suggests.

“Are you sure, Tati? It’s not too scary.”

“I think I can do it.”

We drive an hour over to Telluride, stopping to purchase a new climbing helmet, a PAS, a few new slings, and locking carabiners.

Tip: The sign for the via ferrata says you should use these types of dynamic lanyards my kids are have lots of experince climbing and I knew they weren’t going to fall so we improvised. (If you are new to climbing, you’ll want to follow the instructions on the sign.)

It’s 4wd road to get to the start of the via ferrata and I don’t want to beat up my truck when I’ve only had him back for 2 days so I park in the lowest parking lot and we walk the road for almost an hour to get to the start. We gear up and get started.

Hiking on the Telluride Via Ferrata

The beginning section is the worst, in my opinion. It’s a narrow trail with a sheer drop on one side and no cables on the other yet so the kids are super nervous and kinda freaking out.

“You’ve got this. Just focus on your feet and don’t look down. Your brain is going to project out a ton of random fears but you have to ignore it and use logic. You hike stuff this narrow all the time.”

Kids on the Via Ferrata cables

I held Tati’s hand as we continued for another 45 minutes, alternating between narrow sections of trail with exposure and short sections of rock and cable that we’d traverse. Then, we arrived at The Main Event. 

The Main Event is really the only true via ferrata section where you are completely on metal rungs that act as ladders. It’s less than 50 feet long but there’s only air between you and the ground a thousand feet below so the mental game is a bit tough.

Tati stayed close to me as I helped her move her carabiner to a new cable every few feet. She is very scared of heights and I was so proud of how she managed to get across the entire section without looking down.

Jiraiya was close behind and at first was telling me “I can do this.” But there was no option other than to go forward and by the time he was halfway across he was smiling. The kid is extremely competent and loves adrenaline and I knew that he tends to l project out irrational fear and that once he was in the act, he’d be fine. 

We took our time on the rest & I loved getting to enjoy the views while creating a memory with my two babies.

I had been worried there would be a ton of other groups, which can make the process of clipping and unclipping really slow, but we only saw 4 other people the entire day.

Now that the Main Event was over, Tati was starting to feel confident in her abilities and enjoy the shorter sections of cables. 

We finished the via ferrata section by 2pm, hiked down to the car in 30 minutes, and headed to Telluride Brew Co and Counter Culture for beer and burgers. What a day and what a road trip!

Jiraiya on the Telluride Via Ferrata

As I drove back towards Ridgeway to meet Victor and Danny, who had just moved campgrounds to be with us again, I kept thinking…This was the most epic 5 day road trip ever (& I’ve done a lot of road trips!) 

Between the views on the top of the two 14ers and the via ferrata to the secluded free camping, I just felt so grateful for being immersed in such pristine nature and the amazing connection I felt with my kids. It was perfect and I sent a prayer out that maybe one day my husband would want do these things with me.

While our road trip was over, the adventure never is.

We are now camped at Ridgeway State Park for the next week or will be spending our days biking the RAT trails, rock climbing in Ouray, driving the Million Dollar Highway, hiking Ice Lakes near Silverton and Hope Lake Trail near Telluride, and downhill MTBing at Telluride Resort.

We aren’t just nomads, we are Nomads With A Purpose, and my purpose is to raise these kids to be strong, capable, & passionate about life. What better way than through adventure?!

5 Day Colorado Fall Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Drive to Leadville; Free Camp here

Day 2: Hike Mt Elbert; Free Camp here

Day 3: Drive to Ouray; Soak in Hot Springs; Free Camp here

Day 4: Hike Mt Sneffles; same free camping

Day 5: Telluride Via Ferrata

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