Colorado road trip itinerary

Road tripping through Colorado is full of adventure.  The mountains, valleys, rivers, and lakes lend themselves to so many options from hiking and kayaking to rock climbing and biking, both on the road and in the mountains.  No Colorado adventure would be complete without spending some time camping in nature, which is why I’ve added some of my favorite campgrounds to this list of adventurous destinations in Colorado.

You could spend a very long time here assuming the weather cooperates.  You know the saying in Colorado “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.”  The first time I hiked in Colorado it started off sunny, then hailed really hard for five minutes, then there were thunderstorms for thirty minutes, and by the end of an hour, it was sunny again.  It felt like there was always lightning somewhere in the distance (and sometimes closer than comfort) but with all that weather comes incredible nature.  

Best Fall Hikes To Do In Summit county Colorado
Gorgeous fall colors surround the valley floor on the way to Bross Mine

Between the Rockies and the Colorado River, there is always beauty around you.  Hiking is a no brainer since there is a hiking trail in every direction you look.  Biking is easy with long road biking trails that go on for miles and plenty of mountain biking options.  Kayaking, SUP, and white water rafting options abound.  But what draws me back to Colorado is the sport climbing.  

When we were in Colorado we were just learning how to lead climb so when we found places with low-level climbs and great views we were in heaven.  

Related: Best Sport Rock Climbing Destinations To Take Your Kids

Use Skyscanner to get Cheap Flights + Car Rentals in Denver

It’s really easy to fly in and out of Denver for this road trip. We always get amazing deals on airfare and car rentals by searching Skyscanner.

Driving Tips

I don’t like backtracking when I’m on a road trip so I made this itinerary a full loop even though there is a lot less to do from Ouray back to Colorado Springs. 

Sometimes I find it nice to hit a lot of great places close together and then just suck it up and drive six hours to get back.

If you don’t like having to drive so far, you can definitely take the option of backtracking or drive back on Highway 50.  There are a lot of campgrounds along the way and great white water rafting adventures near Salida.

This itinerary is not outlined with length of time to spend in each place because to be honest, you could spend weeks in every single one of these destinations especially Rocky Mountain National Park, Breckenridge, and Ouray. Use you own schedule to decide how long to stay in each place.

Last, doing a road trip in a van or RV can save you tons of money by staying in campgrounds or free camping, plus you can cook your own food. Check out these great RV rentals in Denver.

Road Trip Resources

Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

  • Colorado Springs
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Breckenridge
  • Glenwood Springs
  • Colorado National Monument
  • Ouray
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison or Aspen

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #1: Colorado Springs

Miles of driving: 0

Where to Stay:

  • Best Campground: Garden of the Gods Campground
  • Best Accommodation: N/A

Activities:

  • Hike the Manitou Incline
  • Ride the Cog Train (or hike) up Pikes Peak
  • Hike Cheyenne Mountain State Park
  • Hike Mount Herman
  • Hike or climb at Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs has so many outdoor options it would be impossible to list them all.  In my opinion, though, there is one you must do and that is The Manitou Incline.  Yes, it does climb vertically for one mile, but the views and bragging rights are so worth it.  While you are there you can explore the town of Manitou Springs or the mining town of Cripple Creek.

If you want more of a challenge, you can hike 13 miles to the top of famous Colorado 14er, Pikes Peak, taking a rest at Barr Camp halfway up to eat or sleep. Or if you need a day of rest, just pay to take the cog train to the top of Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Beautiful views from the summit of the Pikes Peak Cog Train

For easier hikes, try Cheyenne Mountain State Park.  One of my favorite hikes was Mount Herman which is just north of Colorado Springs.

Make sure you check out Garden of the Gods too (which has hiking and Sandstone climbing).  Colorado Springs has all your shopping needs so set aside time to stock up before you hit the mountains.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
The sandstone spires of Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
Photo copyright: Colorado.com

There aren’t a lot of camping options between Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park.  If you plan on camping in RMNP then I would recommend finding a campground with full hook ups either in Colorado Springs or on the way up to RMNP since the campgrounds in the park will be dry camping. Garden of the Gods RV Park is a full amenities campground. You could also stay at Cheyenne Mountain State Park which is less luxurious, but cheaper and more scenic.

If you are looking for a hotel, there are dozens of options. Click here to explore accommodation.

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #2: Rocky Mountain National Park

Miles of driving: 180

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: Glacier Basin Campground
  • Best Accommodation: The Discovery Lodge, Estes Park

Activities:

  • Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Hike (or climb) the Flat Irons, Boulder

If you have time on your way to RMNP, stop in Boulder and hike the Flat Irons (also a good time to stock up on food).  We happened to be there on a Saturday and I think the entire town of Boulder hikes these on the weekend and rightfully so.  They are unique.   The hike up is strenuous, but the views are worth it.  The actual flat irons look fun to climb. They are trad routes so bring the right gear or hire a guide.

Falt Irons, Boulder, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
It’s not hard to see why they’re called the Flat Irons
Photo copyright and credit to TakeMyTrip.com

The national park system doesn’t disappoint.  You will be amazed at the wildlife, crystal clear waters, and snow-capped mountains here in RMNP. 

We enjoyed the easy hike to Alberta Falls as well as the amazing day hikes like Odessa Lake, Emerald Lake, Sky Pond, and more.

Odessa Lake, Best Day Hikes from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park + Camping Tips
Odessa Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

There are two different campgrounds in Rocky Mountain: Glacier Basin and Moraine Park. Both are beautiful but since the two campgrounds lie on opposite ends of the park, you should plan to stay at whichever campground is closer to the trailhead you want to hike. Read this blog for our complete guide to camping and hiking in RMNP.

We happened to be here the week before it got crowded and lucked out with getting a campsite in the park last minute (we visited at the very end of May).  The views from the campground are incredible and staying in the national park makes you feel so in touch with nature and makes it faster to get around the park with the shuttle buses.

Lake of Glass, Best Day Hikes from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park + Camping Tips
Lake of Glass is a long day hike but totally worth every step

If you are trying to stay at a lodge or hotel you will not be able to stay inside the National Park. You will have to stay in the nearby town Estes Park, the gateway to RMNP. Here there are many great options accommodation like the Discovery Lodge (only a 10 minute rive from RMNP), Hotel Estes, and Murphy’s River Lodge. If you stay in Estes Park, you can opt to ride the free shuttle (pick up location is the Estes Park Visitor Center) into the park and to the trailheads instead of driving.

When you leave RMNP you will be going west across the Trail Ridge Road.  This pass has gorgeous views of the valley and is often covered in snow (even in the summer).  On the descent down Highway 34 towards Granby, keep on the lookout for moose on the side of the road. 

Related: Guide to Camping and Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #3: Breckenridge via St Mary’s Glacier

Miles of driving: 140

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: Peak One Campground
  • Best Hotel/Accommodation: The Bivvi Hostel, Hotel Frisco, Beaver Run Resort
  • Best Free Camping: Boondocking on Vail Pass

Activities:

  • St Mary’s Glacier
  • Georgetown
  • Guanella Pass (Drive up Mt Evans or hike up Bierstadt)
  • Crepes a la Carte
  • Hike Rainbow Lake
  • Hike Eccles Pass
  • Hike Quandary Peak

On the way to Breckenridge, make sure you stop at St. Mary’s Glacier. It’s a very short hike to a beautiful alpine lake and glacier

St Mary's Glacier, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
The beautiful St Mary’s Glacier and the icy lake below

You can also stop in Georgetown to see the railroad, or add a day and explore in Guanella Pass (check road conditions first). Guanella Pass is home to one of Colorado’s most famous 14ers, Mt Bierstadt. You can also drive North America’s highest paved road to the top of 14er Mt Evans without hiking.

Mount Evans. Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Reaping all the reward without the challenge of hiking the strenuous mountain
Photo credit and copyright VisitDenver.com

After that, continue on the I-70 west to famous ski town, Breckenridge. Our wallet didn’t support staying here long, but if you have some cushion in your budget there are great shops and restaurants here.  My suggestion would be to save some money by cooking your own food in RMNP so you can splurge a little here. One of our favorite treats to get while traveling are crepes and Crepes A La Carte was delicious. We also loved getting coffee and sandwiches at The Crown.

The Crown, Things to do in Summit County in Winter
Good food and chill vibes at The Crown

Even if you don’t have money to spend, Breck will blow you away with it beauty and adventures. There are so many amazing day hikes be discovered. If you only have a few days, my top hiking recommendations are:

Hiking 14er Grays Peak, South Ridge: The Less Crowded Ascent
The stunning views of Ruby mountain and the unnamed lake below

If you don’t have time for a day hike, try the short easy trail to Rainbow Lake in Frisco.

Related: Best Fall Hikes in Breckenridge

Breck is also an iconic summer destination because of its huge network of mountain biking trails. Click here for guide to the best mountain biking in Breck.

Peak 1 Campground, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Sunrise view from Peak 1 Campground

Camping is in large supply around here. Peak 1 is definitely the best campground for its proximity to downtown (10 minute bike ride) and the free bus system. Peak 1 fills up fast so try to make reservations ahead of time. Other awesome scenic campgrounds include Heaton Bay, Pine Cove, Prospector, Windy Point, and Lowry. None of those have any RV hookups. If you need electricity and sewer hookups head to Tiger Run RV Resort.

Related: How to use the Free Bus System in Breckenridge

If you want to save money there is a nice rest stop at Vail Pass that is only 12 miles east of Frisco on Interstate 70. RVers can easily boondocks here.

If you’re seeking accommodation our top picks are: The Bivvi Hostel, Hotel Frisco, or Beaver Run Resort.

The area near Frisco and Dillion Reserve has plenty of shopping and grocery stores so its a good spot to stock up on supplies again before hitting the road again.

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #4: Glenwood Springs

Miles of driving: 100

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: Ami’s Acres
  • Best Hotel/Accomodation: Hotel Colorado
  • Best Free Camping: Boondocking on the Puoux pullout

Top activities:

  • Hanging Lakes
  • Glenwood Hot Springs
  • Glenwood Brewery
  • Mountain Bike in Carbondale

Glenwood Springs became one of our favorite destinations because of the unique climbing area, The Puoux, we discovered here but even if you don’t climb, there is a ton of mountain biking and hiking, as well as a great bike path that runs along the Colorado River for 20+ miles. 

Glenwood Canyon climbing. Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
The best part about climbing in Glenwood Springs is the constantly beautiful views looking down the canyon
Photo credit and copyright Glenwood Climbing Guides

Our favorite climbing are was the Puoux because it had a lot of easy routes however the other areas of Glenwood Canyon are known to be much better crags. Click here fore beta.

Hanging Lakes is a popular trail, which we had opted out of doing because of the crowds and instead did Grizzly Trails, which runs along a roaring creek in a beautiful setting.  It is very long so we chose to just hike it an hour and then turn back. However, I recommend making time to hike Hanging Lakes. From the pictures, it looks amazing!

Hanging Lakes. Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Not your typical Colorado waterfall, Hanging Lakes Photo credit and copyright ColoradoAdventuresWithKids.com

The Hot Springs pool is popular to do and there is also a large Community Center with a lot of recreational options if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Regardless which activity you choose, you have to go to Glenwood Brewery and try their homemade root beer (their beer is pretty good too) and kids get a free frisbee with their meals.

If you still didn’t get enough hiking, biking, and climbing, then head south thirty minutes to Carbondale.  You can also rent bikes from Glenwood Springs and ride to Carbondale and then take the bus back.

Ami’s Acres is really the only option for camping unless you want to boondocks on the side of the road somewhere. There is Glenwood Canyon Resort but it’s not very scenic and it’s expensive.

Some popular hotels include Hotel Colorado or Hotel Glenwood Springs.

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #5: Colorado National Monument

Miles of driving: 100

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: Colorado National Monument Campground
  • Best Hotel/Accommodation: Anything in Grand Junction

Top activities:

  • Canyon Rim Trail
  • Alcove Nature Trail
  • Devil’s Kitchen Trail

We enjoyed three hikes while here:

If you are like me and don’t like crowds but love nature, this place is a must.  It’s a small park compared to RMNP, but there are great trails, a lot of wildlife to see, and a very informative visitor center.

I’m convinced the first, Canyon Rim Trail, would never fly in California.  As it’s name describes, it’s a trail around the canyon with some very sheer vertical drops.   The path is wide so you don’t have to get close to the edge and there are a few view points with guardrails where you can test your fear of heights (do it…the view is superb).

The short and easy Alcove Nature Trail is very educational.

My personal favorite was Devil’s Kitchen Trail. 

Devil's Kitchen, Colorado National Monument, Colorado, best hikes for young kids
Devil’s Kitchen made Colorado National Monument one of my favorite stops on our Colorado Road Trip

Make sure you drive the entire Rim Rock drive which means if you are coming from Glenwood Springs you would want to enter the park from the Grand Junction side (and do Devil’s Kitchen hike first). 

Try to set aside one night to camp in the park and try to get a site that overlooks the valley and Fruita.  There are very few lights up here so if you get a clear night the star gazing is spectacular.

Tip: If you want a campsite get there early since it is first-come-first-serve.  However, the campground is located on the Fruita side.

Unfortunately there aren’t any hotels within Colorado National Monument so you will have to stay in Fruita/Grand Junction. Find hotels here

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #6: Ouray

Miles of driving: 50

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: 4J + 1 + 1 Campground (that’s seriously what it’s called)
  • Best Hotel/Accomodation: Matterhorn Inn

Top activities:

  • Perimeter Trail and Box Canyon Falls
  • Scrap cookies at Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee (get directions)
  • Rent a jeep and go off roading
  • Ouray Hot Springs
  • Go rock climbing at one of the many roadside crags
  • Mountain bike in Ridgeway
  • Hike Ice Lakes near Silverton
  • Bonus: Via Ferrate in Telluride

Ouray is nicknamed the Switzerland of America for good reason.  It’s a small town tucked in the valley of high peaks that are covered in snow half the year and have thousand foot waterfalls flowing off them the other half of the year.

From rock climbing and hiking, to renting jeeps and going off-roading, Ouray has a lot to offer.

There are dozens dirt roads from Ouray making it a very popular off roading destination. Two of the most popular routes are Imogene Pass and Yankee Boy Basin. I highly recommend enjoying Ouray’s 4×4 by renting a jeep and heading into the mountains. These trails take you into some of the most beautiful areas in all of Colorado. Click here to find Jeep rentals and tours.

Be sure to hike the 5 mile Perimeter Trail that surrounds Ouray and passes by beautiful Box Canyon Falls.

We loved the brewery and bakery here and the fact that we could walk to them from our campground in town. The scrap cookies at the bakery, Mouse’s, are addicting, you have been warned.

If you get too cold you can warm up in the Hot Springs pool. I loved that the pools had different temperatures ranging from 70-120 degrees.

Ouray is filled with every type of climbing you could imagine. This mountain town is a world famous ice climbing destination with of its groomed ice park and annual Ice Climbing Festival. In the summer Ouray still has plenty to offer from sport to trad climbing. Click here for more beta or click here to find a climbing guide.

Ice Climbing Ouray, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Ice climbing is something we’ve been dying to do in Colorado ever since we first visited Ouray
Photo copyright and credit San Juan Mountain Guides

If you love mountain biking, make sure you check out the secluded singletrack trails at Ridgway Trail System (RAT) just 30 minutes north of Ouray. Click here for a trail map.

Ouray is on of our favorite road trip destinations in Colorado because of the campground that’s only a 10 minute walk from downtown Ouray. The campground is scenic, has full amenities, and has full hookup options. Click here to make reservations.

If you’re looking for accommodation instead of camping, click here and explore accommodation or check out a top pick, The Matterhorn Inn.

Related blog: 8 Reasons To Visit Ouray

If you have time to add in driving the Million Dollar Highway or to take a side trip over to Telluride, you won’t be disappointed. The views on the drive up to Silverton are jaw dropping and the hike to Ice Lakes is one of the best hikes in all of Colorado. We absolutely loved the Via Ferrata in Telluride as well as mountain biking the resort.

Related blog: 7 Things Not To Miss in Telluride

Road Trip Itinerary Stop #6: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Crested Butte, Aspen, or Shelf Road

Miles of driving: 270

Where to stay:

  • Best Campground: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
  • Best Hotel/Accommodation: Depends where you go
  • Best Free/Cheap Camping: Shelf Road BLM

Top activities:

  • Whitewater rafting near Salida Black Canyon of the Gunnison (iconic climbing destination)
  • Hiking the 403 trail in Crested Butte
  • MTB the famous 401 trail
  • Drive Kebler Pass (May – Oct only)
  • Camping (and rock climbing) at Shelf Road BLM
  • Backpacking the Four Pass Loop in Maroon Bells, Aspen
  • Burgers and fresh produce at James Ranch Harvest Grill

There are so many options to do on the way back to Colorado Springs. 

My first recommendation is to stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The canyon is beautiful and you can drive through the lookouts in just a few hours.  I loved their campground.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
The massive canyon of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Photo credit and copyright GearJunkie.com

We loved Crested Butte in October. There were so many adventures to do and the free camping was epic.

There are numerous rafting opportunities near Salida and then you can continue on Highway 50 to Canon City and Shelf Road. 

You can also detour north and explore Aspen’s Maroon Bells or head south and explore Durango and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

If you venture towards Durango make sure you stop at the small farm on the side of the road, James Ranch Harvest Grill, right before Durango.  They have the best grass fed burgers and sell delicious specialty foods and products from their farm.

Harvest Grill, Durango, Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
The cute little farm stand of Harvest Grill served up some of the best burgers we’ve ever had Photo credit and copyright James Ranch

On your way to Colorado Springs I highly recommend stopping to climb at Shelf Road.  There are many easy routes and the remoteness of the area makes it absolutely stunning.  Even if you don’t climb, there are trails to hike and the BLM campground is very cheap.  There are no services here other than a pit toilet so be prepared.  The campground is small and can get quite busy on the weekend.

Related blog: Rock Climbing For Fun in Colorado

Final Word for a Colorado Road Trip

Colorado is one of the very best states to road trip in, it has a little bit of everything: Forest, mountains, desert, canyons. The hardest part about a road trip is having enough time to see all these great destinations. You could easily spend all year here (well, maybe leave for the mud season)! And if you decide to do it in an RV like we do, check out these great RV rentals in Denver.

Related blogs:

If you have any questions about a road trip itinerary for Colorado, let us know in the comments below!

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Colorado road trip itinerary