So you’re planning a Colorado-Utah road trip? Epic choice! A Utah and Colorado itinerary offers the perfect blend of desert and mountain landscapes, charming towns, and, of course, Denver’s sprawling city scene. This route includes big-ticket destinations like Moab (with its popular national and state parks) and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as lesser-known places like Little Wild Horse Canyon and Pagosa Springs.

All the essentials are covered, from maps and distances to activities, tours, lodging, and everything in between. Grab a coffee and buckle up – you’re in for a wild ride!

Colorado to Utah Road Trip Itinerary

Red rock formations and lush greenery in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, with the sun setting behind the mountains in the background. A great stop on a Colorado Utah road trip.
Garden of the Gods, CO

Table of Contents

Colorado and Utah Road Trip Map

Custom Google map showing the route for a road trip from Colorado to Utah, highlighting stops in destinations such as Denver, Moab, Capitol Reef National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Pagosa Springs.
Access our interactive Colorado and Utah Road Trip Map HERE.
Copy as a new map in Google and add your own points of interest to customize it and make it your own!

Other road trip itineraries you might like:

Colorado Utah Itinerary Options

10-Day, 2-Week and 3-Week Colorado to Utah Road Trip Itinerary Options

A hiker taking a break sitting on a red rock on a trail with a view of the Colorado River winding through a canyon near Moab, Utah, under a blue sky.
Moab, UT

Colorado Utah 2-Week Itinerary

  • Denver, CO 1-2 nights, road trip starting point
  • Moab, UT3-4 nights total, 5.5-hour drive from Denver to Moab
    • Arches National Park1 day, 10-minute drive from Moab
    • Canyonlands National Park – 1 day, 30-minute drive from Moab
    • Dead Horse Point State Park1 day, 30-minute drive from Moab
  • Goblin Valley State Park, UT 1 night, 1.5-hour drive from Moab to Goblin Valley
  • Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT Day trip en route to Canyonlands National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park, UT 2 nights; 1-hour drive from Goblin Valley to Capitol Reef
  • Mesa Verde National Park, CO 2 nights, 4.5-hour drive from Capitol Reef to Mesa Verde
  • Pagosa Springs, CO2-3 nights, 1.5-hour drive from Mesa Verde to Pagosa Springs
  • Great Sand Dunes, CO Day trip en route from Pagosa Springs to Denver
  • Back to Denver4.5-hour drive from Pagosa Springs to Denver

Colorado Utah 3-Week Itinerary

  • Denver, CO 1-2 nights, road trip starting point
  • Boulder, CO 1-2 nights, 30-minute drive from Denver to Boulder
  • Rocky Mountain National Park 2-nights, 1-hour drive from Boulder
  • Moab, UT3-4 nights total, 6.5-hour drive from Estes Park to Moab
    • Arches National Park1 day, 10-minute drive from Moab
    • Canyonlands National Park – 1 day, 30-minute drive from Moab
    • Dead Horse Point State Park1 day, 30-minute drive from Moab
  • Goblin Valley State Park, UT 1 night, 1.5-hour drive from Moab to Goblin Valley
  • Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT Day trip en route to Canyonlands National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park, UT 2 nights; 1-hour drive from Goblin Valley to Capitol Reef
  • Mesa Verde National Park, CO 2 nights, 4.5-hour drive from Capitol Reef to Mesa Verde
  • Pagosa Springs, CO2-3 nights, 1.5-hour drive from Mesa Verde to Pagosa Springs
  • Great Sand Dunes, CO Day trip en route from Pagosa Springs to Denver
  • Colorado Springs, CO 2.5-hour drive from Great Sand Dunes to Colorado Springs
  • Back to Denver1-hour drive from Colorado Springs to Denver

Colorado Utah 10-Day Itinerary

  • Denver, CO 1 night, road trip starting point
  • Moab, UT3 nights total, 5.5-hour drive from Denver to Moab
    • Arches National Park1 day, 10-minute drive from Moab
    • Canyonlands National Park – half-day, 30-minute drive from Moab
    • Dead Horse Point State Parkhalf-day, 30-minute drive from Moab
  • Capitol Reef National Park, UT 2 nights; 2-hour drive from Moab to Capitol Reef
  • Mesa Verde National Park, CO 2 nights, 4.5-hour drive from Capitol Reef to Mesa Verde
  • Pagosa Springs, CO2 nights, 1.5-hour drive from Mesa Verde to Pagosa Springs
  • Great Sand Dunes, CO Day trip en route from Pagosa Springs to Denver
  • Back to Denver4.5-hour drive from Pagosa Springs to Denver

How To Use This Road Trip Guide

Mesa Verde National Park, featuring ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings built into a large rock alcove, surrounded by green vegetation and under a blue sky.
Mesa Verde, CO

This Colorado and Utah road trip itinerary was created as a guide that can be modified to fit your budget, preferences, and timeframe. To complete the road trip in full (without any optional add-ons), we recommend two weeks. However, we’ve also included a longer three-week option that includes several destinations in Colorado and a shorter ten-day option that cuts out some of the state parks.

We did not include bucket-list places like Rocky Mountain National Park in our two-week itinerary because we assume many Coloradans completing the trip have already visited these destinations.

If you have under ten days for your trip, either do a Colorado road trip or a Utah road trip – not both. If you have more than three weeks available, adopt a slower pace and stay longer in certain places, or combine this route with a Grand Canyon road trip or a more extensive Utah road trip.

Best Time For A Colorado Utah Road Trip

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, showing large sand dunes in the foreground with mountains in the background under a blue sky.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

The 10-day and 2-week Colorado Utah itinerary options can easily be completed year-round. Utah is beautiful in the winter—you may even see snow on the ground (something special in the high desert). Winter is also the most uncrowded time to visit most places mentioned in this guide.

Our personal favorite times for a Colorado and Utah road trip are the shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall. Temperatures are moderate and crowds are manageable. In the Fall, the leaves are changing in parts of Colorado, making for incredible scenery. The true sweet spot is September and October.

Summer is the most popular time to visit Colorado and Utah. Expect crowds, lines, and reservations for some of the more popular parks. Also plan for warm weather, particularly in Utah. Beat the crowds (and the heat) by starting days early and spending afternoons lounging by the pool. A major perk of summer is that Rocky Mountain National Park is mostly free of snow and Trail Ridge Road is open.

Colorado to Utah Road Trip Stops

Denver, CO

1-2 nights; Road Trip Starting Point

View of 16th Street Mall in Denver, showcasing an urban scene with mixed modern and traditional architecture. The pedestrian street is lined with flowering plants, street lamps, and blue umbrellas. Visible in the distance is the distinctive the Daniels & Fisher Clock Tower.

Contributed by Denver local, Amber of Amber Everywhere

Home to a host of craft breweries, stunning mountain views, and outdoorsy locals, there’s so much to love about Denver. 

Things to Do in Denver

The heart of Downtown Denver is LoDo, the neighborhood right around Union Station. There, and along the pedestrian-friendly 16th Street Mall, you can shop, try local restaurants, or stop for a drink on an outdoor patio. 

Caffeinate at one of Denver’s best coffee shops before you leave town. For the most local-feeling options, visit the River North Arts District (RiNo), which is decorated with street art murals.

If time permits, try to squeeze in a concert at the famous outdoor Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver. This venue is one of the most beautiful places to catch a show in the country, and it tends to attract big names like Jackson Browne, Maggie Rogers, and James Taylor.    

Denver Insider Tip

Crema Coffee House and Port Side are great spots for breakfast and delicious coffee. Try the breakfast sandwiches with homemade hot sauce at Port Side and the cinnamon rolls at Crema. 

Interior of The Ramble Hotel in Denver featuring a blend of modern and vintage decor. The space includes high ceilings with exposed brick walls, large windows, a long dining table, and multiple seating areas with elegant lighting fixtures.
The Ramble Hotel

Where to Stay in Denver

Budget-conscious travelers may want to stay near Denver in the suburbs. Prices are often lower in Aurora, Lakewood, Arvada, and Littleton than downtown.

However, if you’d prefer to be in the city, consider a budget-friendly stay at the Slate Hotel Denver Downtown, set right near 16th Street Mall or 11th Avenue Hostel, where you can often snag a bed for under $50 per night! Those with a little more room in their budget won’t be disappointed by The Ramble Hotel in RiNo or The Crawford Hotel in Union Station.

Alternatively, families wanting to self-cater will love this central 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo with views of Commons Park.

Arches National Park, UT

1 Day; 5.5-hour drive from Denver to Moab

Double Arch at Arches National Park, showcasing two large, connected natural sandstone arches set against a rocky landscape. Small green shrubs and a sandy path are visible in the foreground.

Experienced by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

Arches National Park is known for having over two thousand natural sandstone arches, eroded over time, against the stunning red mesas and canyons of Moab, Utah. This popular national park has something for everyone, from scenic drives to challenging hikes.

Things to Do in Arches National Park

If you’re looking for a low-impact activity in the park, cruise along the park’s Scenic Drive, a 25-mile out-and-back drive that passes some of the most stunning formations in the park, all from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle.

If you’re up for more of a challenge, try out some of the best hikes in Arches National Park. For example, the Devil’s Garden Trail is kind of a choose-your-own-adventure hike, ranging from two to eight miles long and passing up to seven arches and a towering sandstone column. Another not-to-be-missed hike is the Delicate Arch Trail, which climbs up to the foot of the most famous arch in Utah (it’s on the license plate!), towering at almost 50 feet tall.

Regardless of your fitness level, consider staying after nightfall. Arches is a certified International Dark Sky Park and offers excellent opportunities to stargaze and even see the Milky Way!

Arches Insider Tip

If you visit Arches during the busy season (April to October), you’ll need to get a timed entry reservation to enter between 7 AM and 4 PM, in addition to paying a $30 per vehicle entrance fee.

Pool area at Field Station Moab featuring a row of lounge chairs with colorful patterned towels under large white umbrellas. The backdrop includes a rugged red rock landscape and a dark metal wall.
Field Station Moab

Where to Stay Near Arches

Field Station Moab is undoubtedly the coolest lodging option in the area. It offers fun amenities like outdoor equipment rentals, professional guiding services, and an on-site coffee shop. Alternatively, Moab Valley Inn is a comfortable hotel for those traveling on a budget in pricy Moab. It offers solid perks, like continental breakfast and a hot tub.

if you’d prefer a vacation rental, we have a guide covering the Best Airbnbs and Vrbos in Moab!

Canyonlands National Park, UT

1 Day; 30-minute drive from Moab to Canyonlands

Towering rock formations and mesas at Canyonlands National Park with a hazy, layered landscape in the background. The scene features prominent rock spires and cliffs in varying shades of purple and blue during sunset or sunrise. A stop on a Colorado Utah Road Trip.

Experienced by Aaren Prody of What Do You Sea

Canyonlands National Park is known for its mazes of canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Beyond that, hikers flock to see sandstone pillars, world-famous views like Mesa Arch, and desolate landscapes.

Things to Do in Canyonlands

The best way to experience Canyonlands National Park is by visiting the viewpoints and endless miles of hiking trails across the park.

Although the most popular thing to do, you can’t miss a sunrise at Mesa Arch. The flat loop trail is only 0.7 miles round trip and takes you to the most famous view in the park. Aim to arrive well before sunrise to get a good spot because many photographers set up in the best spots WELL in advance.

White Rim Overlook is another scenic location where little work reaps high rewards. The main trail to the overlook is 1.7 miles and relatively flat, but if you want more of a challenge, the Gooseberry Trail takes you down the canyon for more remote views. It’s only around 4.2 miles roundtrip, but the elevation gain on the way back up makes this a difficult route unsuitable for beginners.

If you have more than one day in Canyonlands or are a more experienced hiker, consider spending some time in the Needles District (this 4X4 Tour comes highly rated) for more solitude and rewarding landscapes along the Chelser Park Loop and Druid Arch Trails.

At the end of your day, don’t miss the chance to catch the sunset from Green River Overlook. No hiking is required, and you’ll see golden rays illuminate a massive plateau carved by the Green River.

Canyonlands Insider Tip

Canyonlands has plenty of eye candy of its own. Still, before leaving the area, don’t miss stopping by Dead Horse Point State Park (covered in more detail below) for more incredible views. The entire area has no service, facilities, or restaurants, so come prepared with plenty of food, clean drinking water, and multiple forms of navigation for hiking and driving.

Pool area at Expedition Lodge in Moab featuring a sign with a yellow jeep on top and the lodge's logo. The area includes lounge chairs, tables with umbrellas, and is surrounded by a white fence with a backdrop of red rock formations.
Expedition Lodge Moab

Where to Stay Near Canyonlands

Camping is the only way to stay inside Canyonlands National Park (Island In The Sky and Needles Campgrounds are open year-round). Due to its close proximity, most opt to stay in nearby Moab. In addition to Field Station Moab and Moab Valley Inn mentioned previously, the retro-style Expedition Lodge is a fun mid-range option on the north end of town.

Dead Horse Point State Park, UT

1 Day, 30-minute drive from Moab to Dead Horse Point State Park

Panoramic view of Dead Horse Point State Park featuring a winding river surrounded by dramatic red rock canyons and mesas. The layered rock formations and expansive landscape stretch out under a cloudy sky.

Experienced by Zack Litchfield of Florida Man On The Run

Dead Horse Point State Park is one of those state parks that could easily be a national park on its own. However, since it’s near popular national parks like Arches and Canyonlands, it often gets overlooked. It’s a shame because Dead Horse Point has one of the best sunrises in Utah.

Things to Do in Dead Horse Point State Park

Try to make it out for sunrise at Dead Horse. Thanks to having fewer visitors than Mesa Arch in Canyonlands or Landscape Arch in Arches, you’ll be able to enjoy a quieter morning. The main overlook is a great option, though hiking to any other overlook also provides breathtaking views.

The extensive mountain bike trail system is one of the park’s more unique features. Completed in 2014, the trails offer challenges for mountain bikers of all levels, including beginners (this 1/2 day mountain bike tour is highly rated)! You don’t even need to bring your own bike. The park has a concessionaire that rents bikes on-site, making it a fantastic choice for exploring in a way that’s different from neighboring parks.

Dead Horse Point is also an international dark sky park. This means it features some of the best night skies not just in America but in the entire world! Park rangers offer a number of nighttime events, including full-moon guided hikes. Fill your day with adventure from first light to late at night.

Dead Horse Point Insider Tip

One of the best tips for visiting Dead Horse Point State Park is to get there early. The park can be a great alternative to the larger parks. Still, as Arches and Canyonlands reach capacity, people will spill into Dead Horse, and you will want to beat them there!

Two Wingate Yurts at Dead Horse Point State Park with wooden decks and railings, set against a backdrop of a clear sky with soft, pink clouds at sunset. Photo Credit: CRSA
Credit: CRSA

Where to Stay Near Dead Horse Point

Snag a campsite or yurt to stay inside Dead Horse Point State Park. The campgrounds are smaller than their national park counterparts. However, they offer incredible night skies and a centralized location that allows you to visit many of the natural wonders in the area quickly.

Alternatively, do as most do and base yourself in nearby Moab.

Goblin Valley State Park, UT

1 Night, 1.5-hour drive from Moab to Goblin Valley State Park

Unique rock formations known as hoodoos at Goblin Valley State Park, creating a landscape of rounded, mushroom-shaped rocks against a backdrop of cliffs and a blue sky with scattered clouds. The perfect stop between Arches and Capitol Reef on a Colorado Utah Road Trip.

Experienced by Lisa Manderino of Planning Away

Goblin Valley is a Utah state park located between Arches National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. It’s a perfect stop on a Colorado and Utah road trip. Goblin Valley is known for its hoodoos, a unique type of rock formation.

Things to Do in Goblin Valley

There are thousands of hoodoos at Goblin Valley. One of the best things to do at Goblin Valley is to let your imagination run wild. The Valley of the Goblins is three square miles of open-ended fun.

Kids will love running from one rock formation to the next, pretending to be kings and queens, or even finding a “pet dragon” amongst the rocks. It’s not your traditional national park experience. Still, it may be the best place to visit with kids along the entire road trip route.

There are many slot canyons throughout the Goblin Valley area. If you’re into canyoneering, you’re in the right place. For those without their own gear, this canyoneering tour is super popular.

Goblin Valley Insider Tip

Goblin Valley is in the middle of nowhere! Make sure to bring your own food and water.

Yurt nestled among rock formations at Goblin Valley State Park, featuring a wooden deck and surrounded by unique, eroded sandstone hoodoos. The landscape is rugged and rocky.
Yurt at Goblin Valley State Park Campground

Where to Stay Near Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley is an international dark sky area, so if you decide to stay the night in one of the on-site yurts, make sure to look up before bed for an unbelievable view. Green River is the closest town and also has several decent lodging options.

Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT

Day trip en route from Goblin Valley State Park to Capitol Reef National Park

A hiker with a backpack navigates a narrow slot canyon at Little Wild Horse Canyon, with steep, smooth sandstone walls on either side. The canyon walls are reddish-brown, and the path is tight and winding.

Experienced by Kate Cooper of Kate Outdoors

If you’re new to exploring Southern Utah and looking for a family-friendly slot canyon, plan to stop at Little Wild Horse Canyon outside of Hanksville. Located near Goblin Valley State Park, Little Wild Horse Canyon is a non-technical slot canyon, which makes it the perfect adventure for travelers with dogs or young children.

Little Wild Horse Canyon Tips

You can hike through Little Wild Horse Canyon as an out-and-back hike (about six miles if you hike it in full, though you can turn around at any time) or loop it with Bell Canyon if you’re up for a longer adventure. Be aware that some light scrambling is required to complete the full eight-mile loop. The most scenic portions of the slot canyon are located near the beginning, so if scrambling seems a bit too extreme, the area is still worth a visit.

It’s extremely important to check the weather before hiking in Little Wild Horse Canyon due to the risk of flash floods. If there’s any rain in the forecast, or you see storm clouds brewing in the distance, do not begin your hike. Flash floods can be triggered by rain storms that are miles away and can prove deadly. If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution.

Close-up view of the winding, layered sandstone walls of Little Wild Horse Canyon, showcasing the narrow passage and the natural striations in the rock.

Lodging Near Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wildhorse Canyon can easily be completed as a day trip en route from Goblin Valley to Capitol Reef National Park. The area is fairly remote, and lodging options are limited unless you plan to camp (there’s ample BLM land in the region). The closest town is Hanksville, which is about an hour away.

Capitol Reef National Park, UT

2 nights; 1-hour drive from Little Wild Horse Canyon to Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park featuring a natural stone arch with rugged red rock formations and desert vegetation. An essential stop on a Colorado Utah Road Trip.

Experienced by Taryn McKee of Chasing Trail

One of the most underrated national parks in the United States, Capitol Reef brilliantly showcases many things the American Southwest is renowned for. In this remote yet accessible Utah national park, you’ll find countless natural red rock arches and bridges, vast canyons, dark skies, ancient petroglyphs, epic off-roading opportunities, and the famed Waterpocket Fold.

Things to Do in Capitol Reef National Park

While hiking and exploring are major draws in Capitol Reef, one of the first things every visitor should do is stop by the park’s historic Fruita Orchards. One of the most unique things to do in any national park, pick fruit, including apples, peaches, and cherries (depending on the season).

Hickman Bridge and Cassidy Arch are two of the park’s most accessible and popular hikes. Both end with stunning views of enormous natural rock formations and require relatively minimal effort.

Cathedral Valley is the ideal destination if you want to get off the beaten path AND you have a high-clearance, off-road vehicle. This remote, rugged, and aptly named area is home to the iconic Temples of the Sun and Moon, an otherworldly landscape full of towering sandstone monoliths. The scenic drive to get there is not for the faint of heart, as it takes a minimum of five to six hours, and you won’t have any cell service. Get a paper map and pack plenty of extra supplies before embarking on this bucket list-worthy adventure.

Another scenic drive (ever so slightly less remote) is affectionately called ‘Looping the Fold.’ This road is in the park’s southern section and loops around part of the Waterpocket Fold. There is a complete loop if you have a full day to spare, but you can also do a shorter point-to-point drive along Notom-Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road. This is more suited to road trippers, as it’s an easy detour. Plus, it’s the most scenic part of the drive!

Capitol Reef Insider Tip

Adding Capitol Reef onto a Bryce Canyon visit is common, but don’t overlook Grand Staircase-Escalante, just over an hour away. This massive national monument is full of geological wonders, including slot canyons and waterfalls. If you only have time for a short detour, hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, a relatively easy trek to a gorgeous, totally unexpected waterfall.

Broken Spur Inn in Torrey, Utah near Capitol Reef National Park featuring covered wagon accommodation, with outdoor chairs around a fire pit and a sunset in the background.
Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse

Where to Stay at Capitol Reef

The best base camp for visiting Capitol Reef is the small town of Torrey, less than 15 minutes from the park’s visitor center. Torrey Trading Post has a variety of rustic but comfortable individual cabins. It’s right on Main Street, across from a wonderful little bakery and deli. There’s also the Broken Spur Inn & Steakhouse, which has traditional hotel rooms and beautiful Conestoga wagons.

Families looking for the ease of having their own kitchen will love this stunning 3-bedroom A-frame and this modern 2-bedroom home. Couples and solo travelers looking for a vacation rental should check out this adorable tiny home or this 1-bedroom with sweeping views.

Being in a remote section of Utah, there’s a ton of camping nearby. You can find resort-style campgrounds with all the bells and whistles or boondock in free dispersed campsites on BLM land. The only campground inside the park is Fruita Campground.

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

2 nights, 4.5-hour drive from Capitol Reef National Park to Mesa Verde or Durango

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park featuring ancient, multi-story stone structures built into a rocky alcove. The ruins are surrounded by vegetation and a steep rock face, showcasing the historical architecture of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Experienced by Caitlin Dismore of Twin Family Travels

Not far from the town of Durango, Mesa Verde is renowned for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, which offer a unique window into the lives of Native Americans who lived there centuries ago.

Things to Do at Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park is an unforgettable adventure (especially Mesa Verde with kids!). Don’t miss out on the Cliff Dwelling Tours, where expert guides bring the history of the ancient Pueblo people to life and showcase some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America.

For those who love exploring independently, the park’s numerous hiking trails offer amazing views of the dwellings and the chance to experience the area’s natural beauty.

Take a drive along the Mesa Top Loop Road for a scenic overview of the park’s landscapes and archaeological sites. Each stop provides information, creating a deeper understanding of the area.

Mesa Verde Insider Tip

An insider tip for visiting Mesa Verde is to aim for an early start. Not only will the lighting be magical for photos, but you’ll also avoid the peak tourist crowds that tend to gather by midday.

View from Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park, showing a wooden balcony overlooking a landscape of rolling hills, vegetation, and distant mountains under a clear blue sky. The lodge buildings are visible in the background.
Far View Lodge

Where to Stay in Mesa Verde

Far View Lodge is open seasonally from April to October. It’s right in the heart of the park, so you can wake up to an amazing sunrise before beating the crowds to the cliff dwellings and hiking trails.

Alternatively, most opt to stay nearby in Durango, an old mining settlement turned charming college town that’s more than worth a visit in its own right (don’t miss riding the train to Silverton).

For those who prefer to self-cater, we love this downtown riverfront townhome sleeping up to six and this historic downtown loft for two.

Pagosa Springs, CO

2-3 nights, 1-hour drive from Durango to Pagosa Springs

Aerial view of Pagosa Springs, CO, featuring a river running through the town, surrounded by buildings, roads, and green spaces. The landscape includes hills and forests in the background, with a mix of commercial and residential areas along the riverbanks.

Experienced by Meg Attebery of Fox In The Forest

Pagosa Springs is a laid-back town along the Western Slope of Colorado. Visitors come for the hot springs and stay for the scenery.

Things to Do in Pagosa Springs

Pagosa Springs is surrounded by mountains, national forest land, and wilderness. The town is home to world-class hot springs (at three different resorts) worth a dip. You can even stay at The Springs Resort in the heart of downtown.

You can’t plan a road trip to Pagosa without driving Wolf Creek Pass. This scenic byway features incredible fall color displays from late September through mid-October (weather-depending).

Nearby Chimney Rock National Monument is another must-see. Guided tours of this historic spot take you to an Ancestral Puebloan observatory and calendar used over 1,000 years ago. You can also visit a few cliff dwellings and get a taste of the region’s unique history.

Hot air ballooning is another noteworthy activity here. Soar into the skies and catch a bird’s-eye view of the stunning mountain scenery. This activity is best in spring through early fall, when the weather is most cooperative.

Pagosa Springs Insider Tip

If visiting an established hot spring is not within your budget, the park in town offers dips for free. People build pools that are free to use right near the river walk. Just know that these pools can be exceptionally hot! The closer the pool is to the San Juan River, the cooler it gets.

Interior of Eagle Peak Cabin near Pagosa Springs, showing a living area with large windows overlooking a forest. The room features a sectional sofa with yellow cushions, a small table, and a deck visible through a glass door
Eagle Peak

Where to Stay in Pagosa Springs

The Springs Resort is an absolute classic for accommodation. Rooms are spacious and clean, and they overlook the town. There are a variety of packages to choose from, with some even including spa services. For a more affordable option, check out RiverWalk Inn or Club Wyndham Pagosa.

If you’d prefer a vacation rental, we’re obsessed with Eagle Peak and San Juan cabins just outside town. We also love Casa Hermosa in downtown.

Great Sand Dunes, CO

Day trip or 1 night, 2-hour drive from Pagosa Springs to Great Sand Dunes

Visitors walking on the vast sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, under a bright blue sky with scattered clouds.

Experienced by Jolayne Kline of Just Wander More

You’ll find Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the Rocky Mountains of Southern Colorado. It’s one of the best places in Colorado for family travel in summer or winter! Did you know the dunes cover over 30 miles with a whopping five billion cubic meters of sand?

Things to Do at Great Sand Dunes

If you visit the sand dunes in early June, when Medano Creek is at its peak due to the melting snowpack, you’ll have fun splashing and cooling off. The creek usually maxes out at 4″ in depth.

Plan to master your sand sledding skills. Rather than bring your own snow sled or a piece of cardboard, you will have the best luck renting a sand board or sled designed for sand. This type of sled features a particular board and wax. You’ll want to plan ahead as the boards are rented at locations outside of the national park.

What might be a trail in the dunes today will have changed for tomorrow. As such, there are no designated trails in the dune field. Hiking in the dunes is one of the best workouts you can experience. Most people set their sites on hiking the high dune on the first ridge; if you can master the climb, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the park.

Know Before You Go

A couple of tips to remember when visiting Great Sand Dune National Park:

  1. There are no trees to provide shade while hiking and playing on the dunes.
  2. Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  3. There are no restroom facilities once you leave the parking lot.
  4. Wear closed-toe shoes to keep from burning your feet on the sand.
  5. Even on the dunes, the weather can change quickly. The best time to hike to avoid the changing weather and heat of the day is in the early morning hours.

Superior campsite at Ramble Campground near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, featuring a fire pit, wooden chairs, a shade structure, and a hammock.
Credit: Ramble Campground

Where to Stay Near Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes can easily be visited as a day trip en route from Pagosa Springs to Denver. However, if you wish to spend the night and get an early start exploring the dunes, Ramble Campground is just a short distance from the park within the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. The campground features camping pads for solo campers or groups, outdoor kitchen facilities, and restrooms.

If you’re in the market for a Vrbo, we love this cabin with an attached geodome (though it’s a splurge) and this modern three-bedroom home less than five minutes from the park.

Boulder, CO (Optional Add-On)

1 to 2-night optional add-on; 30-minute drive from Denver to Boulder

Aerial view of Boulder, Colorado, showing the city buildings and streets with a backdrop of the surrounding mountains and fall foliage.

Contributed by Local, Sonia of Carey On Travels

Boulder is best known for its views of the Rocky Mountains and for being one of the healthiest and happiest cities in the United States! It has plenty of hiking, biking, and climbing opportunities, such as the 3.9-mile Mount Sanitas Loop Trail and the challenging 5-mile hike to Bear Peak.

Things to Do in Boulder

There are plenty of things to do when visiting Boulder. Most visitors spend time exploring the popular Flatirons, which are perfect for all levels of hikers. Head out on the easy-moderate 1.5-mile Chautauqua and Bluebell-Baird Loop, starting at Chautauqua Park. For those seeking more of a challenge, the 3.3-mile Chautauqua Trail to Royal Arch rewards you with stunning views.

When you need a break from hiking, explore the pedestrian Pearl Street Mall, with its many shops, restaurants, and street performers. From April to November, enjoy the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays (and Wednesdays during the summer). Next to the Farmer’s Market, don’t miss Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, a gift from Boulder’s sister city in Tajikistan. If you visit during the warmer months, many enjoy biking on the Boulder Creek Trail or tubing on Boulder Creek.

If you’d like to get out on the water, rent a paddle board at nearby Boulder Reservoir, which offers stunning views of the mountains.

Boulder Tip From A Local

Boulder is known for its craft beers and farm-to-table dining. Don’t miss the Avery Brewing Company for its craft beers and Black Cat Bistro for its delicious meals sourced from its local farm.

Living room of a Vrbo rental in Boulder, Colorado, featuring a sectional sofa, a round coffee table, a TV, a wood-burning stove, and a staircase with wooden steps.
Mapleton Hill Townhome

Where to Stay in Boulder

The best place to stay in Boulder is the Hotel Boulderado, renowned for its historic charm and excellent location just off the Pearl Street Mall. If you’re on a budget or traveling as a family, your best bet is to self-cater. Try this Mapleton Hill Townhome sleeping four or this carriage house for two.

Rocky Mountain National Park (Optional Add-On)

1-2 night optional add-on, 1.5-hour drive from Denver to Estes Park

View of Rocky Mountain National Park, showing a lush green valley surrounded by rugged, snow-capped peaks under a partly cloudy sky. Part of a Colorado Utah Road Trip Itinerary.

Contributed by Gabi Robledo of Nomads With A Purpose

For many traveling from the east, Rocky Mountain National Park is the gateway to the Rockies and is full of jaw-dropping hikes for all skill levels. Though it can be crowded due to its proximity to large cities like Denver, its towering peaks, diverse wildlife, and lush alpine lakes make it incomparable and a worthwhile visit.

Highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park

First up on your Rocky Mountain adventure is the hike to Chasm Lake. This somewhat strenuous eight-mile out-and-back trek rewards with breathtaking views of the alpine lake beneath the rock amphitheater of Long’s Peak. Speaking of Long’s Peak, this iconic 14,259-foot is one of the most famous and epic hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Experienced hikers may want to take on the challenging ascent to the summit.

The trail to Emerald and Dream Lake (3.6 miles round-trip) is a perfect choice for those seeking something a bit more relaxed or family-friendly but equally stunning. This trail meanders through beautiful forest, leading to two crystal-clear alpine lakes.

There’s one thing all travelers can’t miss here: the scenic drive up Trail Ridge Road. This drive offers some of the most spectacular viewpoints of the Rockies from various overlooks. It’s impressive that you can reach such views by paved road without hiking. Just note that the road is open seasonally, usually from Memorial Day weekend through late October.

Rocky Mountain Insider Tip

From roughly May through October, you will need a Timed Entry Permit to hike inside the national park. There are a few exceptions to this (like if you have a campground reservation inside the park), but for the most part, you’ll need to plan ahead to acquire a permit. You can either get a permit in advance or apply for a last-minute permit the day before you want to go.

One of the best travel hacks for Rocky Mountain National Park is to enter outside the permit-required time range. All park areas outside the Bear Lake Corridor do not need a timed entry permit before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m.

Planning to hike in the Bear Lake Corridor? Here’s what you need to know: a Timed Entry Permit is not required before 5 a.m. or after 6 p.m. This specific time frame allows you to enjoy the beauty of the area without the need for a permit.

A green, two-story original national park cabin rental in Estes Park, CO, surrounded by pine trees, with a wooden deck and a dirt road leading up to it.
2-Bedroom Original National Park Cabin

Where to Stay in Rocky Mountain National Park

Glacier Basin Campground is undoubtedly the best place to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park. Due to popularity, this campground sells out really fast. If that’s the case, you can camp in the nearby town of Estes Park or stay at one of its many hotels and lodges. For top-tier accommodation, stay at The Estes Park Resort.

This 1-bedroom riverfront condo and this 2-bedroom original park cabin are two great options as far as vacation rentals go.

Colorado Springs, CO

1-2 night optional add-on, 1-hour drive from Denver to Colorado Springs

Rock formations in Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, with tall, jagged red and white rocks rising above green vegetation and a mountain range in the background.

Contributed by Caroline Whittle Of Wandering Whittles

Colorado Springs is known for its proximity to Pikes Peak (a 14,115-foot high mountain) and the otherworldly rock formations at Garden of the Gods. There are many outdoor activities in Colorado Springs; you can even drive all the way to the top of Pikes Peak!

Things to Do in Colorado Springs

While there are many beautiful places to visit in the Colorado Springs area, your top priorities should be Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods, and Cave of the Winds. These outdoor places are within 20 minutes of each other but vastly different!

You can explore the heights of Pikes Peak in a couple of different ways. You can drive to the summit via the scenic byway, ride the historical cog train, or hike the difficult 23-mile trail to the peak. Without a doubt, the best journey is by car. This scenic road has hairpin curves, incredible views, short hiking trails, and even big horn sheep.

After exploring Pikes Peak, head to the Garden of the Gods. These wild-looking red rock formations are certainly one of the most unique places in Colorado. Explore the park’s hiking trails (free to enter!) to see the best of them. For the most scenic views, check out the Palmer and Buckskin Loop.

Last but not least is Cave of the Winds. This magnificent cave system offers several activities, both above and below ground. You can take a regular guided tour or a haunted lantern tour in the caves for a more spooky experience. Above ground, you can climb through the canyon on an exhilarating Via Ferrata track!

Colorado Springs Insider Tip

If you love hiking and are up for a challenge, try the famous Manitou Incline. This “trail” is set on the remnants of an old cog railway, so it’s an incredibly steep journey with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in one mile. However, the views are worth the effort (and the bragging rights!).

Cute cottage rental in Manitou Springs near Colorado Springs with a brick wood-burning fireplace, white couch, area rug, and turquoise kitchen.
Cozy Cottage for Two

Where to Stay in Colorado Springs

Instead of staying in downtown Colorado Springs, check out the nearby historic district of Manitou Springs. The Buffalo Lodge Bicycle Resort is located there, and it offers free bicycle rentals and a cozy lobby bar. It’s also centrally located for all outdoor activities.

As far as self-catering options go, we love this cottage for two and this 2-bedroom retreat within walking distance of Garden of the Gods.

Back to Denver (or Elsewhere)

Denver CO skyline at sunset.

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