Scenic view while on a road trip in Colorado

10 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary (Planned by a Local)

If you’re planning to take a Colorado road trip, you’ll quickly discover that the Rocky Mountain state offers so much to do. From hikes to hot springs, ski resorts, mountain towns, and more, piecing together a Colorado road trip itinerary can be overwhelming. 

I’ve lived and traveled throughout Colorado for several years. As a local, I’m happy to be your Colorado road trip planner! 

What makes this particular guide special is that it stops at all of the state’s National Parks, as well as other major destinations. I also share recommendations on where to eat, drink, and stay in Colorado.

Table of Contents

👉 Pro tip – Road trips are the best way to explore Colorado, and a reliable vehicle is a necessity. Especially when driving in the mountains, you want to be both safe and comfortable. Our preferred partner, Discover Cars, will help get you the best vehicle and rate for your trip. 

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!

10 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

To make things even easier for you, we put this entire Colorado road trip itinerary onto a handy Google Map. It includes every single stop on this guide, detailing what places to visit, things to do, and where to stay in Colorado. Plus, the map links back to this article so you have all the information you need at a touch of a button! 

👉 To save this route to your Google Maps, tap the ⭐ star icon next to the map title. 

Day 1 – Denver 

Cars parked along the Larimer Square in Denver
Larimer Square, a popular destination in Denver, Colorado

📍 Google Maps | 👉 59 Fun Things To Do in Denver

Start your morning strolling past vibrant street art in River North, one of my favorite Denver neighborhoods. For breakfast, visit Denver Central Market, where you can order coffee at Crema Bodega, eggs on brioche at Izzio, and a fresh smoothie at Green Seed. 

Next, you can explore downtown Denver through several transportation methods. Bike or scooter to Coors Field, Union Station, and Larimer Square. Then, take the free bus down 16th Street Mall. Stop at the Denver Art Museum for a couple of hours and view incredible works of art in the Mile High City.

In the late afternoon, make the 1.5-hour drive up to Estes Park. Check into The Stanley Hotel, an iconic destination that inspired The Shining. Dine at the Cascades Restaurant located on-site. Here, you’ll enjoy classic American fare and Colorado’s largest selection of fine whiskeys. 

Day 2 – Rocky Mountain National Park 

View of the Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, accessible from the Bear Lake lot

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Book A Sunrise Tour of Rocky Mountain National Park

Wake up early and get ready for an epic adventure! Today’s Colorado road trip itinerary is all about Rocky Mountain National Park, so pack your bag and pull on your hiking boots. But first, run by Kind Coffee in Estes Park for a quick morning brew and breakfast burrito. 

Then, heading west, you’ll depart Estes Park and with your National Parks Pass, enter Rocky Mountain National Park. From here, you can either meet your sunrise tour guide or explore independently. If you choose the latter, go to park at the Bear Lake Trailhead. From here, hike to Dream Lake, one of the best hikes in Colorado

After this moderate, 3-mile trek, jump back in the car and begin driving Trail Ridge Road. This Scenic Byway is one of our favorite Colorado road trips! The famous 2-hour route through Rocky Mountain National Park will take you over the Continental Divide

Stop at Many Parks Curve Overlook for breathtaking views, then continue to the Alpine Visitor Center. Get your Rocky Mountain National Park souvenirs, then descend to Grand Lake where you’ll find dinner and lodging

Day 3 – Hot Sulphur Springs and Steamboat Springs 

View of a train passing along the Hot Sulphur Resort & Spa
Hot Sulphur Resort & Spa, a restful stop on your Colorado road trip

📍 Google Maps | 👉 21 Best Things to Do in Steamboat Springs

Be sure to read our Colorado Packing List guide, because today, you’ll be thankful you didn’t forget your swimsuit and bathrobe. Day 3 on our Colorado road trip itinerary involves lots of time in the water, including stops at two of Colorado’s best hot springs

Before departing Grand Lake, visit The Wake Coffee Shop for a hot breakfast with waterfront views. There at the cafe, rent a paddleboard or kayak for an hour and enjoy the morning’s serene stillness. Then, drive 30 minutes to Hot Sulphur Springs where you can relax at the natural hot springs resort

In the afternoon, start the 1.5-hour drive to Steamboat, stopping for lunch in Kremmling. Upon arrival, check into one of Steamboat’s hotels and explore downtown via the Yampa River Core Trail. Along the paved path, enjoy the free Yampa River Botanic Park and dine on Aurum Food and Wine’s lovely outdoor patio. End the day with a soak at Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

Day 4 – Glenwood Springs 

View of the turquoise blue water in Hanging Lake
Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs, one of the most iconic hiking trails in Colorado

📍 Google Maps 

Wake up early and visit Smell That Bread Bakery, a personal favorite in Steamboat. Order a sweet pastry and savory avocado toast, then find a seat on their creekside patio. Take a quick drive over to Fish Creek Falls and from the viewing dock, admire this incredible 280-foot waterfall.

Come late morning, jump in the car and pull out your Colorado road trip map – we’re heading to Glenwood Springs! After the 2-hour drive, you’ll be thankful to stretch your legs on one of the state’s best hiking trails. The 3-mile trek to Hanging Lake is filled with breathtaking views of Glenwood Canyon.

After hiking to Hanging Lake, complete the drive through the scenic Glenwood Canyon to reach Glenwood Springs. Enjoy dinner along the Colorado River, then check into one of the many hotels in this small town, including Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Even if you don’t stay there, end the day soaking in the world’s largest hot springs pool.

Day 5 – Colorado National Monument 

View of a man standing in Devil's Kitchen in Colorado National Monument
Devil’s Kitchen in Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Save on Samples with this Wine Country Pass!

Start your morning early with a sugar rush at Sweet Coloradough. This Glenwood Springs bakery was voted to have the best doughnuts in Colorado by Travel + Leisure! Afterward, pack a picnic lunch and climb back into the car. The next stop on our Colorado road trip itinerary is Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction! 

Commute 1.5-hours to reach the visitor’s center, then begin your journey along Rim Rock Drive. Known to be one of the “crookedest roads in the world,” this scenic drive switchbacks through the canyon landscape. Along the way, enjoy short hiking trails leading to sites like the Coke Ovens and Devil’s Kitchen.

In the afternoon, enjoy light bites and wine tastings at Grand Junction’s vineyards. Grand Valley, located between Grand Junction and Palisade, is one of Colorado’s premier wine regions. Sample small pours at the top-rated Carlson and Whitewater Hill Vineyards, but don’t have too many! 

Because next, you’ll continue on your epic Colorado road trip to Ouray. This 1-hour 45-minute drive south will place you in the historic mining town by evening time. For Wild West charm, check into historic lodging and end the day with some all-American comfort food. 

Day 6 – Silverton and Mesa Verde National Park

Ancients carved in Mesa Verde National Park
Cliff Palace, located at one of the most unique National Parks in the country

📍 Google Maps | 👉 25 Best Things to Do in Silverton, Colorado

Wake before dawn because today’s scenic drive will be even more impressive at sunrise. As you wind along the famed Million Dollar Highway, marvel at breathtaking views of the snow-capped San Juan mountain ranges. 45-minutes later, you’ll descend into the town of Silverton.

The former mining town offers so many great things to do and places to stay. But sticking to our Colorado road trip itinerary, we’ll have to keep this visit brief. Still, take a couple of hours to wander downtown’s historic Greene and Blair Streets. Pick up a quick breakfast, and at 10 am, take the Old Hundred Gold Mine tour. This interactive experience allows you to venture ⅓-mile into a retired mining tunnel. At the surface, pan for gold and keep what you find! 

Come late morning, drive 2 hours to today’s main attraction: Mesa Verde National Park. Past the visitor center, travel along Mesa Top Ruins Road, then park at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum lot. See depictions of ancient life as you hike on the 2.4-mile Petroglyph Point Trail. You can also view Spruce Tree House here, the best-preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. 

Next, continue to Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde. The National Park Service guides this particular 1-hour tour. Afterward, circle back to Mesa Top Loop to view Square Tower House, Mesa Top Sites, and Sun Temple. Note that from Sun Temple, you can also see Cliff Palace from a different viewpoint.

After a big day of exploring Mesa Verde National Park, you’ll be thankful to rest at nearby lodging in Cortez. Close to the border, this is a great place to enjoy a margarita and dine on New Mexican cuisine!

Day 7 – Telluride and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park 

Scenic view of a Telluride's gondola and the view from it
Views of the Rocky Mountains from Telluride’s scenic gondola

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Book A Jeep Tour to Bridal Veil Falls

In the morning, pack your bags and load up the car. Today on your Colorado road trip, we’re first heading to Telluride. While most famed for Telluride Ski Resort, one of the best ski resorts in Colorado, there’s plenty to do here in the summertime, too. Drive 1.5-hours through the San Juan National Forest to reach this iconic mountain town. 

Upon arrival, stop for coffee and breakfast at High Alpine Coffee. Then, take the free, 13-minute gondola ride up to Mountain Village. Admire panoramic views of the box canyon below, then go pick up your 4×4 Jeep. We’re off-roading today! Visit Colorado 145, a highly-rated local tour company, for your rental. 

Then begin the journey to Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. Traverse rocky switchbacks and enjoy the ride! As you criss-cross up Black Bear Pass, look north – you may spot climbers on the famed Kroger Via Ferrata

In the afternoon, return your rental Jeep and continue to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. You’ll arrive at the South Rim Visitor Center 2 hours later. From here, travel along South Rim Drive, stopping at its various viewpoints of Black Canyon. At the end of the road, stretch your legs on the 1.5-mile Warner Point Trail

Watch the radiant sunset as you exit the National Park. 20 minutes later, check into one of the hotels in Montrose and dine at Colorado Boy. A slice and cold beer are sure to hit the spot!

Day 8 – Salida and Great Sand Dunes National Park 

View from the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Book A Rafting Tour with Salida River Adventures 

To explore Colorado like a local means waking up early! For today’s portion of your Colorado road trip itinerary, you’ll want to be leaving Montrose by 6 am to make it to Salida in time for your next tour. We’re going whitewater rafting on the mighty Arkansas River! 

At 8:30 am, meet your guide with Salida River Adventures. Choose between Class III rapids through Browns Canyon, or their Salida Town Run tour. With mild Class I/II rapids and long float portions, the latter route is ideal for all ages. 

After your 3-hour adventure, head 1-hour, 30-minutes south to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Stop at the Oasis store outside the visitor’s center to rent a sandboard, then enjoy a picnic lunch along Medano Creek. 

Next, hike the 3-mile route to the peak of High Dune, the most popular summit in Great Sand Dunes National Park. For those with the stamina, continue to Star Dune, one of the tallest sand dunes in North America. When returning to the trailhead, try sandboarding! It’s a unique, fun experience special to Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

Come evening, drive 30-minutes to Alamosa. Check into your hotel of choice, then visit Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant. The colorful ambiance and delicious buffet will not disappoint! 

Day 9 – Cañon City 

View of a train passing through the Royal Gorge
Royal Gorge, one of the Rocky Mountains’ deepest canyons

📍 Google Maps 

As your Colorado itinerary nears its end, today’s road trip will be a bit more laid back. But still, there are plenty of sights to look forward to! Start the day with a hot coffee and baked goods from Blessed Brews Coffee Shop. By 9:30 am, wave goodbye to the Great Sand Dunes, then head to the next destination on your Colorado road trip: Canon City.

After a 2-hour, 30-minute drive, you’ll arrive at the Royal Gorge Route Railroad station. Attend the 12:30 pm tour, enjoying lunch and a glass of wine as you admire incredible views. After the 2-hour scenic ride, explore the canyon from above at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Here, you can walk along the United State’s highest suspension bridge!

In the late afternoon, drive 1 hour to Colorado Springs, which offers a wide variety of accommodations. You can find budget and mid-tier stays, but nearly being the last night on your Colorado road trip, I recommend lodging at The Broadmoor. Dine and rest at this luxurious 5-star resort, and be sure to visit Golden Bee for evening cocktails.   

Day 10 – Colorado Springs

Big sandstones in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
Towering sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

📍 Google Maps | 👉 22 Fun Day Trips from Colorado Springs

Start the day early and enjoy a lovely breakfast buffet at The Broadmoor’s Lake Terrace Dining Room. Then, pack your bags and get ready for an epic last day on your Colorado road trip! On today’s Colorado itinerary, you’ll be exploring several sights in Colorado Springs. 

Come late morning, drive a quick 15 minutes over to Garden of the Gods. Walk along the easy 1-mile Perkins Central Garden Trail and marvel at the park’s geological wonders. To see the impressive sandstone formations from a higher vantage point, hike a section of Palmer Trail.

After exploring Garden of the Gods for a couple of hours, head just 10 minutes west to Manitou Springs. Enjoy lunch in one of the best small towns in Colorado, then wander the nearby eclectic shops. Pick up your last Colorado souvenirs and stop at the various drinking fountains throughout town. Fed by underground mineral springs, they’re the perfect feature before our next Colorado road trip destination: Pikes Peak!

The Pikes Peak Highway travels to the top of “America’s Mountain,” standing at 14,115-feet elevation. This 19-mile scenic drive offers several pull-off opportunities. Stop along the way to admire breathtaking, panoramic views. Be sure to pack a windbreaker, as Pikes Peak mountain is often blustery and cold, even in the summer!

After the 3-hour road trip up Pikes Peak, you’ll arrive back in Colorado Springs around 5 pm. From Colorado Springs, drive 1-hour, 15-minutes back to Denver. Dine and drink at Avanti in LoHi, one of Denver’s trendiest neighborhoods. Enjoy a frosty scoop at Little Man Ice Cream, then call it a night at one of Denver’s best hotels

How to Get Around in Colorado

The author inside their rental RV
I love traveling with Outdoorsy rental RVs!

There are many ways to get around Denver, including several modes of public transportation. Select buses and private shuttles will get you to some mountain towns throughout the state. However, renting a vehicle is by far the best way to explore the destinations outlined in our Colorado road trip guide.  

If you’re planning to rent, be sure to check out our preferred partner, Discover Cars. Their online platform makes comparing agency reviews and vehicle rates fast and easy. Confidently book in minutes!

Alternatively, you can explore the Rocky Mountains with a new rental service called Outdoorsy. From retro Airstreams to luxury camper vans, you can experience glamping in one of the best states for outdoor adventure. 

Remember to download our Google Map to make navigating this epic road trip even easier! 

Colorado Itinerary Planning Tips

Tip #1 – Make Our Road Trip Itinerary Your Own

The author's husband with their dogs in Grand Sand Dunes National Park
My husband and pups hiking at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Not every traveler will have the time or interest in visiting all of the Colorado destinations listed. And that’s okay! Make this itinerary your own, moving at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Omit the stops that don’t suit you, and feel welcome to replace them with other activities. Travel Lemming has a whole suite of free Colorado guides to help you plan, including:

Tip #2 – Choose Your Ideal Airport

View of the plane's wing while on an airplane

Most travelers fly into Denver International Airport (DIA) when visiting Colorado. But if your time is limited and you’d rather visit other areas of the state, consider another one of Colorado’s 13 commercial airports. 

Fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport (HDN) to easily access Steamboat. Reach the western border of the state by landing at Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT). Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO) is ideal for exploring the southwest region. 

But note that most of these small airports have limited access to non-stop flights. Some service direct flights from major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. Availability often shifts depending on the season, too. But even if direct routes aren’t available from your home, more than likely, you can take a connecting flight from DIA.

Tip #3 – Pack Like A Pro

View of people going on a hike in Colorado

This Colorado road trip itinerary involves destinations all over the state. Colder weather should be expected at higher altitudes, and throughout the day, temperatures can fluctuate up to 30 degrees. Here’s a local’s tip: always dress in layers.

But aside from proper clothing, you’ll also want to be prepared for a variety of activities. You’ll want to pack a swimsuit for rafting and paddleboarding. For hot springs, a bathrobe, too! Bring boots and hiking essentials to keep you safe and comfortable on trails. Of course, you’ll need a camera for all your sightseeing! 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be. We’ve put together the ultimate Colorado packing list guide to make this step of the process easy for you!  

Tip #4 – Take This Road Trip When It’s Warm

Scenic view from a highway while on a roundtrip in Colorado

It’s recommended that you take this particular road trip from May through October. In my opinion, a winter Colorado road trip should follow a very different route and itinerary.

This road trip plan takes you high into the Rocky Mountains and through all Colorado National Parks. In general, driving in these areas is safer without snow on the ground. Some mountain passes, such as Trail Ridge Road, are closed in winter. Plus, activities like hiking, rafting, and mountain biking are more enjoyable during warm weather months. 

If you’re curious about winter destinations in Colorado, take a look at these guides:

Tip #5 – Purchase Travel Insurance

View of a man sitting with the canyon view in Colorado

As we all know, traveling during a global health crisis is tricky. Even with thorough planning, circumstances outside of your control can occur. If you experience unexpected cancellations, an accident, or even theft, World Nomads has you covered. With clear policies and comprehensive coverage, its insurance is made simple. 

FAQs About Creating a Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

How much time do I need for a Colorado road trip?

You need 10 days for a comprehensive Colorado road trip. However, you can edit our itinerary to be longer or shorter depending on your availability and preferences. Some Colorado road trips can be completed in just one day!

How do I plan a 3 day trip to Colorado?

To plan a 3 day trip to Colorado, follow much of our Day 1 itinerary, but stay in Denver overnight. Explore Rocky Mountain National Park on your second day, then on your third, Colorado Springs (Day 10 on our itinerary).

How do I plan a 5 day trip to Colorado?

To plan a 5 day trip to Colorado, split our Colorado road trip itinerary in two. Follow our plan from Days 1-5, or explore our map counterclockwise, starting in Colorado Springs. Alternatively, simply pick your favorite destinations and skip the rest! 

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Experience the best of Colorado with our 10-day road trip itinerary! From natural wonders to historic sites, luxury suites, and backcountry roads, you’re sure to have a memorable trip.

Pack your bags for Colorado and enjoy your travels!

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