A mountain view during a road trip in Colorado

9 Best Colorado Road Trips in 2023 (By a Local)

From peaks to wildflower meadows, canyons to desert landscapes, Colorado is an incredibly scenic state. The best way to explore these wild and hidden areas is on Colorado road trips. 

I’m a Colorado local who’s driven many of the Rocky Mountains’ passes and backcountry roads. In this guide, I’ll share the 9 best Colorado road trips, each with amazing views and unique activities.

You can also check out my Colorado road trip itinerary planner if you want a pre-planned itinerary taking in the best road trips in the state.

Let’s dive in! 

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9 Best Road Trips in Colorado

Trail Ridge Road

A scenic byway through Rocky Mountain National Park, connecting Estes Park to Grand Lake

Overlooking view of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 47 miles (2 hours driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Estes Park, Continental Divide, Grand Lake

Trail Ridge Road offers views that you cannot experience anywhere else in the United States. On the eastern side of the designated All-American Road lies Estes Park, one of Colorado’s best small towns. It travels west through Rocky Mountain National Park, ending at the beautiful Grand Lake.

Past the Beaver Meadows Visitor’s Center, drivers will experience some of the most breathtaking beauty in the Rocky Mountains. You’ll pass over the Continental Divide, spot wildlife, take in wildflower meadows, and see incredible 12,000-foot peaks. 

Note that this road trip is only accessible from May through October, and a National Parks Pass is required. 

👉 Pro Tip: To extend your trip through Rocky Mountain National Park, consider renting an RV or camper van through Travel Lemming’s affiliate partner, Outdoorsy. You’ll blend right in with the locals!

Trail of the Ancients

Experience the fascinating history of the Puebloan tribe on this southwest Colorado road trip 

Ancients carved in Mesa Verde National Park
Ancestral Puebloan dwellings carved into cliffs at Mesa Verde Nat’l Park

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 97 miles (2 hours driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Canyons of the Ancients Nat’l Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners Nat’l Monument

Trail of the Ancients is a National Scenic Byway full of archaeological sites. It offers easy access year-round and highlights one of the best national parks in the Centennial State.  

On the northern part of the route lies Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments. These areas offer insight into the ancient history of the Puebloan tribe that once inhabited the region. 

Head to Mesa Verde National Park next. On a guided tour, you can explore Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. To the south lies the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, where more cliff dwellings and petroglyphs can be found. Be sure to end your road trip with an iconic photo at Four Corners National Monument!  

Gold Belt Tour 

See fossils in Florissant, mining tunnels at a former boomtown, and more historic sites

The author with her husband in Royal Gorge Bridge
My husband and I at the Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City, Colorado

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 138 miles (4 hours 45 minutes driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Florissant Fossil Beds Nat’l Monument, Cripple Creek, Royal Gorge Bridge  

While this Scenic Byway was named after 19th-century gold prospectors, others inhabited this region long before. The Gold Belt Tour begins at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Here, fossils and petrified redwoods date as far back as 34 million years. 

Further south lies Cripple Creek, where gold was first discovered in the Pikes Peak region. The mining town was once regarded as “the world’s greatest gold camp,” celebrated for its incredible productivity. 

Cañon City is the next popular attraction. It’s famed for the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, one of the best places to visit in Colorado. Take a ride and enjoy views of the Arkansas River flowing through the impressive canyon. 

📚 Related Reading: Curious about other nearby destinations like Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods? Check out Laura’s guide on day trips from Colorado Springs!

West Elk Loop

A Colorado road trip through must-see mountain towns and photo-worthy attractions

Black Canyon of the Gunnison covered with snow during winter season
Dramatic, snow-covered cliffs at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

🛣️ End-to-End Length: 205 miles (6 hours driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Crystal Mill, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Crested Butte

West Elk Loop passes through some of the best mountain towns in Colorado. It begins in the quaint town of Carbondale, home to lovely shops and art galleries. You’ll then drive south, and take a quick detour to Marble to see the famed Crystal Mill. 

Next, cut west to Paonia, “the coolest town in Colorado.” In the summer and fall, be sure to stop here for locally-grown peaches and cherries! Continuing, you’ll reach Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Crested Butte. Both are great stops for outdoor recreation. 

The loop continues back to Carbondale, which is technically the end of the Scenic Byway. However, I recommend ending your Colorado vacation in Glenwood Springs, just 13 miles north. It’s a great area for whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and hot springs. And don’t miss Hanging Lake, one of the best hikes in Colorado!

👉 Pro Tip: Note that the northern portion of the loop is closed during the winter season. Even in the warm months, this mountain road can be rough. Consider booking a 4×4 vehicle through our preferred partner, Discover Cars

Los Caminos Antiguos 

Explore the San Luis Valley and its historic sites on this scenic drive

The author's husband with their dog in Great Sand Dunes National Park
My husband and pup at Great Sand Dunes National Park

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 150 miles (2 hours 45 minutes driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Great Sand Dunes National Park, San Luis, Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Los Caminos Antiguos takes drivers through a scenic journey of the San Luis Valley. Start in Alamosa, then head to Great Sand Dunes National Park. The tallest dune in North America can be found here, rising 8,617 feet above sea level. Medano Creek flows through the park seasonally, fed by the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains’ snowmelt. 

Other attractions on this drive include San Luis, Colorado’s first town, and the state’s oldest church. If visiting from May through October, don’t miss riding the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, one of the best railroad tours in Colorado. 

📚 Related Reading: Major retailers are far and few between in this section of the state. Don’t forget your camera, hiking boots, or other essentials by following our Colorado Packing List guide!

Million Dollar Highway

History, hot springs, and breathtaking views lie on the Million Dollar Highway, one of the best road trips in Colorado

Overlooking view of the Million Dollar Highway during fall season

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 23 miles (45 minutes driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Orvis Hot Springs, Ice Lakes Basin, Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Million Dollar Highway is an iconic section of the San Juan Skyway, another designated All-American Road. The drive starts in Ouray, a historic mining town now famed for winter sports, namely ice climbing. It’s also home to some of the best hot springs in Colorado

Heading south, the road takes several tight switchbacks through the high country. Enjoy views of the San Juan Mountains, then descend into Silverton. There are so many great places to stay and things to do in Silverton, such as adventure tours, mountain biking, and skiing. It’s also a National Historic District, largely known for the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad

Independence Pass

A record-breaking mountain pass that connects two of Colorado’s most charming towns

The Independence Mountain covered with snow in Colorado

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 44 miles (1 hour driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Twin Lakes, Mount Elbert, Aspen 

One of the best road trips in Colorado, Independence Pass is set at a higher elevation than any other paved pass in North America. The designated Scenic and Historic Byway offers panoramic views of the Continental Divide.

Start at Twin Lakes and spend a summer morning paddleboarding, kayaking, or fishing on the water. Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest mountain, and the White River National Forest make for an incredible backdrop. Heading west, the scenery only gets better as you ascend nearly 2,500 feet to the top of the pass. Then, descend into the luxurious and beautiful town of Aspen

Cache la Poudre – North Park

The best Colorado road trip for wildlife viewing, set along a powerful and scenic river

The Cache la Poudre river and highway in Colorado

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 99 miles (2 hours 15 minutes driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Fort Collins, Poudre Canyon, Rawah Wilderness Area 

The Cache la Poudre follows along one of the country’s only designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. It flows through Poudre Canyon within the Roosevelt National Forest, an area known for wildlife diversity.

The journey begins in the college town of Fort Collins. Heading west, you’ll pass granite canyon walls and unique rock formations. Driving along the river, you may see kayakers navigating the foamy rapids. In the Rawah Wilderness Area, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and other native creatures. 

📚 Related Reading: Walden is technically the end of the byway, but there are many nearby areas to further explore. For example, just an hour west lies plenty of things to do in Steamboat Springs!

Dinosaur Diamond

Artifacts from prehistoric and Native American history lie on this northwest Colorado drive

View from the Dinosaur National Monument

📍 Google Maps Route | 🛣️ End-to-End Length: 149 miles (3 hours 15 minutes driving) | 🗺️ Highlights: Grand Junction, Colorado Nat’l Monument, Dinosaur Nat’l Monument 

The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway highlights various points throughout Colorado history. The route begins in Grand Junction, where visitors can explore the vast Colorado National Monument. This region is also known for agriculture and makes for a perfect wine tasting stop if you want to stay in Grand Junction for a night or two.

Driving west into Fruita, you can learn about Colorado’s prehistoric past at the Dinosaur Journey Museum. Continuing north into Canyon Pintado, you’ll see petroglyphs left by the Fremont people more than a millennium ago. The road trip ends with Dinosaur National Monument. Here, excavation sites, locally-found fossils, and other geological wonders are put on full display.


No matter which Colorado road trip you choose, you’re sure to discover plenty to see and do in the Rocky Mountain state. To help you further plan, check out more of our free Colorado guides:

Safe travels and have a great Colorado road trip!

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