Come explore one of the most captivating and beautiful parts of the United States on this “Discover Colorado & Utah” road trip. Experience lesser-known icons, each with endless adventure and smaller crowds. This holiday will create unforgettable memories and a desire to return time and again.
Please be prepared to practice responsible travel in Colorado and Utah. Small but mighty actions make all the difference as we work together to protect our natural wonders and vibrant cultures for generations to come. Do your part to visit respectfully and Leave No Trace, and come prepared to visit these outdoor locations safely:
Try to avoid crowded areas when possible and think of ways you can impact local communities so these areas can thrive and welcome visitors for years to come.
Start your larger-than-life adventure in Denver, Colorado – Gateway to the Rockies and American West. Experience one of America’s most vibrant and walkable cities, with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, outdoor cafés, farm-to-table cuisine, local breweries serving craft beer, and plenty of shopping!
Grab your rental car right at Denver International Airport and head to Denver Union Station in the heart of downtown to experience the city’s 300 days of sunshine, vibrant arts and culture, rich Western history and outdoor adventures. Explore Denver’s creative side at the Denver Art Museum with its famous collection of Indigenous Art of North America. Enjoy interactive exhibits at the History Colorado Center, tour the historic Colorado State Capitol building or shop at the iconic Rockmount Ranch Wear store.
Some quirky must-see-and-do activities in the “Mile High City”:
Home to award-winning chefs and restaurateurs, Denver has emerged as one of the top dining locations in the country. Denver’s local culinary scene is thriving, offering everything from farm-to-table bistros to classic steakhouses to historic Denver restaurants.
Get a good night’s rest and prepare to hit the road in the morning for a quick one-hour drive to Colorado Springs.
Overnight: Denver, Colorado
Drive time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (70 miles/113 km)
Greet that beautiful Colorado sunshine and start your day with a drive to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Garden of the Gods is one of Colorado’s most popular – and free! – attractions. Its gravity-defying whimsical rock formations inspire imaginations of all ages.
Fifteen miles of trails wind through the park and range from easy loops to moderate 1.5-km treks. The park hosts free 30-minute naturalist-led tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day year-round.
KICK IT UP A NOTCH:
You won’t be far from Pikes Peak, so consider scheduling time to catch the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which slowly winds its way up the mountain to the impressive 4,270-meter summit. Or, if you’re feeling brave, drive to the top yourself!
Enjoy an overnight in Colorado Springs and get ready for more mountain fun tomorrow as you head to Cañon City and the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park.
Overnight: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (64 miles/103 km)
To Salida: 1 hour, 10 minutes (54 miles/87 km)
Thrill-seekers, get ready – today you head to Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Cañon City, Colorado! The 16-kilometer-long Royal Gorge boasts the USA’s highest suspension bridge, dangling more than 300 meters above the crashing Arkansas River. With access to epic rock climbing, mountain biking, ziplining, fishing and river rafting, adventurers are drawn to this area.
Looking for some family-friendly adventure? Hop on the world’s longest single-span aerial gondola at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park (don’t forget the zipline and via ferrata rock climbing experiences, too). The Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience brings history to life with interactive displays and hands-on exhibits with real dinosaur fossils. Or take the classic Royal Gorge Route Railroad for beautiful views of the canyon and Arkansas River (pro tip – the best views, food and drinks can be experienced in the Vista Dome rail cars!).
There’s more to explore beyond the gorge! The charming town of Salida has some of the most significant and beautiful historic buildings in Colorado. Salida’s whitewater park is a great place to cool off; the beach vibe is festive and fun. Or visit the local hot springs if you’re looking to warm up and relax!
FROM BOOM TOWNS TO GHOST TOWNS: The mountains of Colorado exploded with mining towns at the height of the gold rush, but after the initial hustle-and-bustle played out, many boom-towns went bust. Explore St. Elmo, one of the best preserved ‘ghost towns’ in Colorado. Take a step back in time as you explore some of the original buildings; It’s also an ideal area for hiking, mountain biking and winter sport activities.
Today’s adventures will leave you needing a good night’s rest. The area offers great hotel, camping and glamping options to leave you well-rested for more Colorado fun. Consider an early start tomorrow to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures as you explore Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.
Overnight: Salida, Colorado
To Great Sand Dunes National Park – Drive time: 1 hour, 25 minutes (86 miles/138 km)
To Zapata Falls – Drive time: 22 minutes (9 miles/15 km)
You’d never guess Colorado has landscapes like this! Welcome to the San Luis Valley and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, North America’s tallest sand dunes nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Because the dunes and surrounding mountains are designated wilderness, this is a great place to enjoy unspoiled natural beauty in a variety of ways: play on Colorado’s most unique “beach” at Medano Creek; build a sandcastle; rent a sandboard and slide down the dunes; go birdwatching in the wetlands; or ascend a 4,000-meter peak.
DID YOU KNOW: The high elevation and low humidity of Colorado provides some of the best stargazing in the world! Play the moon to your advantage: Plan your trip around a moonless night to see limitless stars at this International Dark Sky Park or explore the dunes at night with the help of a full moon.
A few miles from the Great Sand Dunes are Zapata Falls – a perfect place to cool off from the heat of the day. Cut from the rock face by glaciers and scoured by millennia of rushing water, cold water crashes through a 9-meter cleft in the rock walls. Pack a lunch and enjoy over 6 km of hiking and biking trails that can be easily accessed from the parking lot. And for an otherworldly look at the falls, check them out in winter when they freeze into a giant sculpture of ice.
To make the day even more memorable, think about squeezing in these quirky stops:
If you’re not up for camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park, consider a stay at Zapata Ranch, where you can enjoy massages, home-cooked meals, and horse rides through the sand dunes.
Overnight: Alamosa, Colorado
Drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (125 miles/201 km)
Beautiful Chimney Rock National Monument is a sacred place with spiritual significance to two dozen modern-day Native American tribes. Once home to Colorado’s Ancestral Puebloans, the monument’s archeological finds (including 200 homes and other structures) have been discovered near ancient farming areas. Four sites – Great Kiva, Pit House, Ridge House and Great House Pueblo – have been excavated and stabilized to provide visitors a glimpse into the past.
Chimney Rock’s vertical pillars rise from the top of a hill surrounded by primitive pathways that haven’t changed for 1,000 years. The hike to the top is less than 1 km and rewards visitors with dramatic 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains – making Chimney Rock a southwest Colorado must-see!
HOW COOL IS THIS? Chimney Rock has religious significance as well – every 18.6 years, the moon rises perfectly between the rocks during the winter solstice.
After you hike Chimney Rock, travel to Pagosa Springs for some rest and relaxation! Located on the Continental Divide at the base of the San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs is home to the world’s deepest hot spring mineral waters. The healing waters can be accessed at three resorts, each offering a unique and luxurious experience:
The San Juan River floats through the heart of downtown and allows for rafting, kayaking, or just a lazy float through town. Have fun on a horse-drawn carriage tour and pop into a great restaurant before indulging in some award-winning craft beer at one of several local breweries.
Overnight: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (82 miles/132 km)
Wake up, greet the sun and hit the road! Stop for breakfast in Durango along its Main Avenue Historic District, where you can enjoy historical homes, saloons, hotels and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. With a mining and railroad history, the “Wild West” is written all over this little city!
Today you’ll continue to learn more about the fascinating Ancestral Puebloan people with a journey to Mesa Verde National Park. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built in this area between A.D. 450 and 1300, and you can enjoy fascinating ranger-led tours of these structures. Several excellent hikes are available, allowing you to safely experience more than 4,000 archaeological wonders – including 600 cliff dwellings – found throughout the park and take a peek into an ancient way of life.
PLAN FOR A LATE NIGHT: Consider staying late as the park is an official International Dark Sky Park that offers astronomy programs to help you explore the night sky and learn about the Native American’s cultural and spiritual connection to the stars. You can even stay in the park and indulge in rustic luxury with a kiva deluxe view room at Far View Lodge for excellent dining and stunning vistas of the rugged landscape.
Unwind for the evening in Durango. Durango boasts an unbelievable culinary scene, making it an excellent destination for foodie-fueled getaways. There are plenty of lodging options too, from historic venues like the Strater Hotel, cozy up in a cabin or pitch a tent under the stars at a scenic campground.
Overnight: Durango, Colorado
Drive time: 50 minutes (47 miles/76 km)
Today is your final day exploring the beauty of Colorado! Start the day off right with a visit to the Cortez Cultural Center to learn about the history, diversity and natural environment of Southwest Colorado. Programs include Native American music and flute playing, dancing, art, and other opportunities for an in-depth appreciation of Southwestern cultures.
Next up: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, just a quick drive from Cortez. This rugged and breathtaking terrain covers 176,000 acres and is covered by trails that you can hike, mountain bike or explore on horseback. Archaeological wonders cover the landscape, including cliff dwellings, pictographs and kivas – circular spaces used for religious or political purposes. History is literally at your fingertips all across this impressive destination!
HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE: The Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum is a must-see-and-do stop on your visit! You can weave on a loom, grind corn meal on a metate, or feel the ancient finger indentations on corrugated pottery. You can’t remove any artifacts in the park, so don’t forget to buy your souvenir here!
Pop back over to Cortez for the night. If time allows, consider a drive to the Four Corners Monument south of Cortez. This is the only place in the country where you can stand in four states at one time (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah). More than just a photo-op location, there are Navajo and Ute vendors selling tribal arts and crafts. Oh, and don’t forget to eat a Navajo taco while you’re there – the local specialty!
Rest up and get ready to travel to the beautiful state of Utah in the morning.
Overnight: Cortez, Colorado
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (66 miles/106 km)
Welcome to Utah! As we bid farewell to Colorado and make our way toward the Valley of the Gods, follow The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway along Highway 10 into Utah and stop at the Hovenweep National Monument. Drive along paved and dirt roads to explore the vast landscape and hike out among the juniper and sage to see the remains of several structures used by Ancestral Puebloans.
Put on your hiking boots for the best views of these other-worldly structures:
On to the magical Valley of the Gods, where you can escape the crowds and enjoy idyllic sandstone structures. A number of tall, red, isolated mesas, buttes and cliffs tower above the valley floor and can be seen while driving along the 27-km gravel road on which it sits. Hiking is left to your own imagination with few developed trails – be sure to pack plenty of water and just get out and explore!
SAY WHAT? The unforgettable sandstone formations in the Valley of the Gods have been given some intriguing names: Setting Hen Butte, Rooster Butte, Seven Sailors Butte, De Gaulle and His Troops, and Lady in the Bathtub, to name a few. Make your own fun and name a few yourself!
Make time to stop in the quaint town of Mexican Hat, named for a nearby rock formation that resembles a sombrero. You can climb this 90-meter-tall structure for an awesome photo-op! Prepare to hang your own hat up for the night in nearby Bluff. Boutique lodges, inns, and guesthouses offer unique accommodation options for visitors, along with several campgrounds and RV parks. Dining in Bluff is marked by distinctly local, unfussy bistros and cafes serving up comfort food in cozy settings.
Overnight: Bluff, Utah
Drive time: 30 minutes (14 miles/23 km)
Rise and shine for a fun day at Goosenecks State Park – an easy-to-get-to area with a million-dollar view. The San Juan River has wandered its way through the park over the last 300 million years, creating erosion that is responsible for the park’s famous gooseneck curves and bends. Pack a lunch and perch upon cliff edges that give you views of the river from 300 meters high.
PHOTOGRAPHER’S DREAM: The deeply cut river bends found throughout the park make for amazing photographs, no matter your skill level. Want the most Instragrammable shot? Get to the park for sunrise or hang in until sunset – the views are stunning and the light is your best friend.
If you need a break from the heat of the day, spend some time exploring the town of Bluff. The Bears Ears Education Center provides visitors with information on where to go and what to see in Bears Ears National Monument and surrounding areas. You can also learn tips on how to “Visit with Respect” to protect and preserve the important natural and cultural landscape of southeast Utah.
When you visit this area, you’ll really get a feeling for what life was like as an American pioneer. You can walk around the Bluff Fort Historic Site that has been rebuilt and restored through the efforts of the local Hole in the Rock Foundation. At the fort, you can learn about the travels and experiences of the hardy Mormon pioneers who settled this community in the 1880s. Another must-see is the Sand Island Petroglyphs – an impressive rock wall covered with ancient Anasazi scrawlings estimated to be anywhere from 800 to 2,500 years old. Handprints, horned animals, hunters, and a Kokopelli playing a flute are some of the extraordinary petroglyphs on display at Sand Island.
Enjoy a second relaxing night in Bluff and be ready for a two-hour drive tomorrow to your next amazing destination – Canyonlands National Park!
Overnight: Bluff, Utah
Drive time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (120 miles/193 km)
Today is going to be a good day… Imagine endless deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires stretching across 850 square kilometers. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers.
THE PARK IS DIVIDED INTO THREE REGIONS:
Give yourself time to explore the many faces of Canyonlands and try to fit in these once-in-a-lifetime experiences:
Camping and glamping options abound in the area, or head into Moab for a variety of hotel and lodging options.
Overnight: Moab, Utah
Drive time: 3 hours (150 miles/242 km)
Today you will continue exploring some of Utah’s lesser-known gems as you head to Nine Mile Canyon. Leaving Moab in the morning, enjoy the drive to Helper as you pass by Utah’s iconic Arches National Park. Pro Tip: If you’re planning to pop into Arches, make sure you use the new reservation system to save yourself a spot!
Helper is a small town nestled in a river valley along the Book Cliffs mountains. Settled in 1881, Helped was named after the team of “helper” coal-powdered steam engines that assisted freight trains up the neighboring canyon and over Soldier’s Summit; the city was built because of and for the coal industry. Today, Helper has evolved into a community of art, culture, history and opportunity.
STRETCH YOUR LEGS: Break up the day’s driving with a walking tour through Helper – see the museum, explore the art galleries, and fuel up for the day with a delicious espresso.
Spend the afternoon driving the (actually 46-mile-long (or 74-km)) Nine Mile Canyon. One thousand years ago, people from the Fremont culture painted and carved their messages in stone on what some call “the world’s longest art gallery.” Look for interpretive signs and pull off the road to walk and explore, but remember to leave only footprints and take only photographs.
Wander back down the canyon and dip into Price. The impressive San Rafael Swell rises south of Price, an immense area offering plenty of natural wonders, sinuous slot canyons, skyscraping cliffs and a network of rough roads left by 1940s uranium miners. It’s an inviting spot for canyoneers, climbers, campers, four-wheelers and mountain bikers.
Overnight: Price, Utah
Drive time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (84 miles/135 km)
Inspiration awaits you today as you visit the Sundance Mountain Resort. You may be familiar with the popular Sundance Film Festival – one of the largest independent film festivals in the world – and it makes sense that such an iconic event is held in such a stimulating location. Whether you’re skiing, hiking, taking a class at the art studio or just visiting to get away for a moment, this is a place for anyone who wants to disconnect and reset.
A LITTLE HOLLYWOOD CONNECTION: In 1969, actor, director and activist Robert Redford purchased the land now known as Sundance Mountain Resort. The Ute tribes that initially lived in the area inspired him to create a haven for environmental conservation and artistic expression. Sundance is now globally synonymous with art, film, nature and a sense of community.
Your path to Sundance will take you into the Utah Valley region, where mountains meet metros! Travel along Highway 6 into Provo. Downtown Provo is full of locally owned boutiques and eateries; spend an afternoon popping in and out of shops for a glimpse into the city’s rich heritage and growing culture.
Looking for a few quirky experiences to add to your memories? These experiences in Provo fit the bill:
Your amazing holiday isn’t over just yet – rest up for one more adventure-filled day in Utah!
Overnight: Sundance Mountain Resort, Utah
Via Wasatch Back, Highway 92 – Drive time: 40 minutes (14 miles/23 km)
To Olympic Park – Drive time: 1 hour (53 miles/85 km)
The beauty of Mount Timpanogos can’t be undersold – the area boasts some of Northern Utah’s top natural treasures, including caverns, waterfalls, lakes and panoramic views. Take the scenic route from Sundance along Highway 92 and the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway (also one of Utah’s most-loved rides for road cyclists!) – it absolutely takes your breath away in the fall with brilliant autumnal colors.
Scaling the peak of Mount Timpanogos is doable though challenging, but the panoramic views, wildlife sightings and numerous waterfalls will make it a memorable journey. Looking to hike but seeking a more manageable challenge? Stewart & Timpanogos Falls are some of the most scenic waterfalls in Utah Valley, and you can reach either one in 2.5 km or less. Or let a guide take you on an underground exploration of the extensive and spectacularly decorated caverns of Timpanogos Cave.
THAT GLACIAL EFFECT: The last known glacier in all of Utah sits near the summit of Mount Timpanogos. The unique rock glacier is ice buried under a hard crust of dirt and rock. The icy-cold glacial runoff flows into Emerald Lake, a small lake of gorgeous deep green and blue colors that is accessible by hiking the Aspen Grove summit trail.
Now it’s time to fulfill your Olympic dreams with a visit to Olympic Park in Park City! Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, an aura of adventure, passion and good-natured competition lingers on these grounds.
BRAVE ENOUGH TO BOBSLED? Follow the path of Olympians and experience the thrill of hurtling down the Olympic bobsled track under 5Gs of force! Experience the same thrill in winter or summer when you take a trip down the bobsledding track with a professional rider.
Spend the night in Park City, the “perfect mountain town.” You’re sure to work up an appetite for the diversity of fine restaurants that line Park City’s Historic Main Street and beyond, and you’ll want to wind down with local craft cocktails.
Overnight: Park City, Utah
To SLC airport – Drive time: 35 minutes (32 miles/52 km)
Your amazing adventure has reached its final day! Before departing from the Salt Lake City International Airport, squeeze in some last-minute fun in Utah’s largest city – Salt Lake City.
Utah was settled in 1847 by the Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormons). Church leader Brigham Young led more than 20,000 pioneer families on a harrowing trek to the Salt Lake Valley seeking a place where they could practice their religion in peace. It’s a true and uniquely American story that combines a struggle for freedom of conscience with an epic frontier journey, and its legacy can be seen everywhere in Salt Lake City.
PLAY THE HITS
Explore Salt Lake City’s most iconic sights:
Downtown Salt Lake is home to historic architecture and sites surrounded by a bustling shopping, restaurant and nightlife scene. Find art galleries, shops, festivals and live music, chocolate tastings, professional sporting events and some amazing local shops in Salt Lake City’s 9th and 9th neighborhood. Stop by Salt and Honey for a local market experience to pick up a truly “uniquely Utah” souvenir.
Now enjoy safe travels home, and thank you for discovering Colorado & Utah!
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Colorado & Utah “Larger Than Life” Roadtrip