10 Day Summer Road Trip Guide to Colorado

Colorado is perhaps one of the greatest places to road trip… in the world. I realize that is a bold statement but guys, the way the landscape changes is truly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed. A Colorado Road Trip needs to be added to your bucket list.

After learning that I’d be back in Colorado in August, having first visited in June 2019, I knew I had to extend. What was meant to be a 4-day trip to Vail turned into a 19-day trip. I traveled across the state seeing places my eyes couldn’t believe. I drove along the highest road in the United States, my hands grazed rock formations that are 350 million years old, and hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park.

colorado road trip

Road Trip Basics

I recommend flying into Denver International Airport and renting a car there on your Colorado Road Trip. It’s centrally located and, relatively speaking, the most affordable to fly into. There are plenty of car rental companies to choose from and an efficient shuttle service to bring you to your specific rental car company. Be sure to get insurance on the car as well, you’ll find yourself driving down winding dirt roads and the last thing you need is a rock cracking your windshield.

Once you’re ready to go I recommend saving the Google map of the state of Colorado offline as service can be spotty when you’re in the middle of the mountains and navigating through national forests. Not only will you be able to find your way to your hotel but you’ll be able to find gas stations and grocery stores. Two essentials while road tripping.

Types of Accommodations

It’s no secret, the western United States have some pretty epic accommodations. But Colorado, this state has something for everyone. Literally. Choose from 5-star luxury hotels and resorts to off the grid cabins to teepees to glamping tents to log cabins to tiny houses and everything in between. I had the opportunity to stay in a variety of accommodation types and I loved each one as much as the next. I’ll break that down below.

Itinerary Breakdown

Below I breakdown each destination I visited on my Colorado road trip and offer recommendations on hotels, things to see in the area, and where to eat based on my experience during my summer road trip.

Westcliffe

Located about three hours south of Denver, and an hour and a half from Colorado Springs, is Westcliffe, Colorado. The drive here is absolutely beautiful and as you make the drive from Denver, to Colorado Springs, and further to Westcliffe the way the landscape changes is absolutely beautiful. Chances are you might be making it as the sun sets, in which case you’re in luck. The way the light hits the mountains and the tall trees is breathtaking. Have your camera ready!

On a ranch tucked in the mountains of Westcliffe is this tent oasis. Inside each luxury tent is a queen size bed, a full bathroom and, a gas fireplace with a remote control to keep guests warm and toasty all night. The tents have beautiful hardwood floors with rustic mountain furnishings, think: brown leather armchair and old whiskey barrels.

Each tent also has a private full bathroom with a shower, access to the central deck and an outdoor seating area. On the deck you’ll have views of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and even spot a 14er or two! There is also access to a grill and outdoor fireplace. Learn more about my glamping accommodation in Westcliffe here!

You might not have heard about Westcliffe before but it should definitely be on your CO road trip itinerary. While is much further south than the other places in this itinerary, it is the gateway to so many beautiful destinations in the state. Westcliffe is the perfect place to base yourself for a few days while exploring the south. Places like Great Sand Dunes National Park (and on your way take in the views of Mount Blanca one of the 58 14ers in the state), Zapata Falls, hiking in the San Isabel National Forest, hiking 3 other 14ers right in Westcliffe, make the drive to Salida or Buena Vista, or venture to Gunnison.

Tips for your Colorado road trip:

  • On your way to Westcliffe stop at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
  • Sand Dunes National Park is about a 3h drive from Westcliffe. We left at sunrise and returned by 2pm. I can’t recommend enough, plan for a full day trip here- sun up to sun down. There is so much to see and experience around the dunes like the hike to the hidden Zapata Falls.

I stayed in Westcliffe for two nights in order to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. But I’d say, depending on what you want to see, 3 nights is best.  Plus, chances are you’ll discover more than you anticipated.

Vail

The drive down I-70 is perhaps one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on. And everyone I talk to says the same. The highway is carved through the mountains and is one of the only ways in and out of the mountain towns like Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge.

Pro tip: if you’re traveling from Westcliffe to Vail save seeing Salida and Buena Vista for the drive as you’ll pass right through both on your way to Vail.

When in Vail, spoil yourself by staying at the Four Seasons Hotel & Resort, Vail. This was my FIRST time staying at a Four Seasons and I think Vail was meant to be the place to change all of that. It is right off I-70 but it really doesn’t feel like that and its centrally located to the village- it feels more like a mountain oasis more than anything. They’re undergoing renovations now and once they’re finished the look and feel will move away from the traditional Four Seasons décor and into more of a mountain modern look and feel. A few musts while you’re on the property. Treat yourself to a spa service. Enjoy the buffet breakfast- oh don’t forget to ask for coconut milk with your coffee! Go for an early morning swim in that alpine air. Take a yoga class in their on-site studio. And grab a mule at the lobby bar before heading out for the evening.

When you manage to pull yourself away from FS there are plenty, and I mean plenty, of things to do in Vail. And beyond.

Take the gondola 10,000 feet above sea level to the top of Vail Mountain, watch the sunset on top of Vail Mountain, go for a hike on one of the many mountain trails, walk through Vail village, hike Lionshead Rock in Minturn, visit Knapp Ranch, and day trip to Glenwood Springs and hike Hanging Lakes.

Some of my favorite eats in Vail are Terra Bistro, Green Elephant Juicery, and breakfast at Four Seasons on the patio by the fire. Also, they have the best coffee in my opinion.

There are a few different ways to get to Vail, aside from the obvious- renting a car, especially if you’re coming in straight from Denver and not necessarily from Westcliffe. Most mountain towns, I’ve found, have relatively inexpensive shuttles to and from major hubs and to and from other mountain towns. Epic Mountain Rides provides several shuttles daily and the pick-up point at Denver International is super easy to find with the directions provided by the Epic Mountain team. While the shuttle doesn’t have a restroom, you will make one stop between Vail and Denver. There is a gas station, sporting goods shop, Taco Bell and Starbucks.

Tips for your Colorado road trip:

  • Acclimate to the elevation change for about 1-2 nights before heading to Vail. You can do so from Westcliffe as it sits at 7,867 feet above sea level.
  • Stay in Vail for at least 3 nights is my recommendation. Although chances are you won’t want to leave.
  • Hanging Lakes is a great day trip from Vail but it does require a permit and reservation.

Boulder

I first fell in love with this lil mountain town in June 2019 when I went for a hike. Little did I know I would be back two short months later to spend some quality time here. I stayed at Basecamp Boulder. The cutest, quirkiest boutique hotel with something for every budget and every adventurer. WeeCasa, located in Lyons is another fun option close to Boulder!

colorado road trip

And while you’re in Boulder during your Colorado road trip, the adventures are endless. Head to NCAR trail head or Chautauqua Park to hike, drive up Flagstaff Road, pay a visit to Boulder Falls, SUP on Boulder Reservoir, day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, drive to Lyons, see a show at Boulder Theatre, and walk down Pearl Street.

colorado road trip

Tips for your Colorado road trip:

  • For hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, if you’re pressed for time, I recommend Dream Lake Trail! RMNP is one spot I wish I had more time- one day was not enough.

Some of my favorite places to eat in Boulder are Wonder, Shine, and Bartaco!

Denver

The place that made me fall in love in the first place. All the feels for Denver. As it grows increasingly popular I can only hope some of the neighborhoods stay just as they are. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in Denver so I can’t recommend anything on that front but I can recommend a few spots to eat and a few things to do on your Colorado road trip.

Day trip to Mt. Evans and have lunch in Idaho Springs at Tommyknocker, see a show at Red Rocks, spend the day at Chatfield Reservoir, day trip to mountain towns like Golden, and hike St. Mary’s Glacier.

The Corner Beet for brunch, Molecule Effect for coffee by day and Moscow mules by night Avanti for sunset drinks and food truck style food while overlooking Denver, and Chuey Fu’s for Latin/Asian eats.

Tips for your Colorado road trip:

  • There is a fee to make the drive up Mt. Evans and it is open seasonally.

SAVE FOR LATER

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