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10 day Colorado road trip

Ultimate 10 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Through the Rockies

Colorado, a state known for its breathtaking landscapes, rugged mountains, and eclectic cities, offers the perfect backdrop for an epic road trip adventure. Look no further if you’re planning a 10-day Colorado road trip through the heart of the Rockies.

This detailed guide covers everything from the bustling streets of Denver to the serene beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park and the historic charm of Crested Butte and Telluride.

We’ll provide you with a day-by-day itinerary, essential tips, and insider info to make your Colorado road trip unforgettable. There’s even an FAQ to cover all your questions and planning concerns.





Table of Contents

10 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Overview

Let’s get started with an overview of our 10-day Colorado road trip itinerary:

  • Day 1-2: Denver & Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Day 3-4: Aspen & Crested Butte
  • Day 5-6: Telluride
  • Day 7: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Day 8: Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Day 9-10: Colorado Springs & Denver

Now, we’ll share a complete day-by-day itinerary with tips on sights to see, places to stay, camping and hiking recommendations, and much more.





10-Day Colorado Road Trip

This map shows the major way points and the driving route for this road trip across Colorado. It includes three national parks, five mountain towns, and amazing places to camp, hike, and explore the rich history and culture of the Centennial State.

Day 1: Denver

Welcome to Denver, the vibrant heart of Colorado! Your adventure begins in the Mile High City, a place brimming with cultural hotspots, lush parks, and a thriving food scene. Start your morning with a visit to the Denver Art Museum, showcasing a vast collection from Native American art to contemporary pieces. For lunch, meander through the historic Larimer Square, where culinary delights await in every corner.

Spend your afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a serene oasis amidst the city buzz. Here, you’ll find diverse plant collections and art installations spread across various gardens and conservatories. As evening sets in, catch a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, an iconic venue known for its natural acoustics and stunning views.

Stay: Choose from a variety of accommodations ranging from boutique hotels in the city center to cozy Airbnb options in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Drive: Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park (1 hour; 30 minutes)

Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park

Rise early and head to Rocky Mountain National Park, a marvel of natural beauty. Start at Bear Lake, embarking on a hike to witness the majestic Hallett Peak reflecting on the still waters at sunrise. For a challenging hike, tackle the Flattop Mountain Trail, offering panoramic views of the park.

In the afternoon, drive the Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, offering breathtaking vistas and opportunities to spot wildlife such as elk and bighorn sheep. End your day with a peaceful stroll around Sprague Lake at sunset, a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts.

Stay: Camp under the stars at one of the park’s campsites or opt for a comfortable stay in nearby Estes Park, where charming lodges and inns abound.

Drive: RMNP to Aspen (3 hours; 15 minutes)





Day 3: Aspen

Aspen, famous for its world-class skiing, also boasts incredible summer and fall landscapes. Start with a morning hike up to Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed mountains in North America. The scenic loop around Maroon Lake offers stunning reflections and colorful wildflowers.

Explore Aspen’s vibrant town in the afternoon, visiting the Aspen Art Museum and strolling through the quaint streets filled with boutiques and galleries. For dinner, indulge in the culinary scene that ranges from cozy cafes to gourmet restaurants.

Stay: Choose from luxury resorts with spa facilities to quaint bed and breakfasts in the heart of town.

Drive: Aspen to Crested Butte via Kebler Pass (2 hours; 30 minutes)

Day 4: Crested Butte

14ers near Crested Butte

Arrive in Crested Butte, a hidden gem with a flair for adventure and a penchant for wildflowers. Known as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado,” hiking or mountain biking on Snodgrass Mountain provides an up-close view of nature’s bounty. The historic downtown, with its colorful buildings and friendly locals, offers a glimpse into the town’s mining past.

In the evening, experience Crested Butte’s vibrant culinary scene, which perfectly blends rustic charm with sophisticated tastes.

Stay: Opt for a historic inn downtown or a secluded cabin in the surrounding wilderness for a more intimate experience.

Drive Crested Butte to Telluride (3 hours; 10 minutes)





Day 5-6: Telluride

Colorado Mountain Towns

elluride, nestled in a box canyon and surrounded by towering peaks, is breathtaking. Spend two days here to fully embrace its beauty and charm. Take the free gondola ride between Telluride and Mountain Village for stunning views. Hike to Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall, and explore the historic downtown, rich with Victorian-era architecture.

On your second day, challenge yourself with a hike on the Via Ferrata, offering exhilarating views of the San Juan Mountains. Relax in the evening at one of Telluride’s many fine dining establishments or cozy up in a local brewery.

Stay: From luxurious mountain resorts to charming boutique hotels, Telluride offers accommodations to suit every preference.

Drive: Telluride to BCGNP (1 hour; 40 minutes)

Day 7: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, where sheer black walls plunge into the Gunnison River. The South Rim Drive offers numerous overlooks to admire the canyon’s depth. For the adventurous, the Gunnison Route offers a challenging descent to the river’s edge, a journey for experienced hikers only.

Stay: Nearby Montrose offers a variety of lodging options, from hotels to campsites, providing a comfortable base to explore the park.

Drive: Black Canyon to Great Sand Dunes (3 hours)





Day 8: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Best Hikes near Great Sand Dunes National Park

Witness the surreal landscape of Great Sand Dunes National Park, home to North America’s tallest sand dunes. Spend your day exploring the dune field, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try sandboarding or sledding down the slopes. Don’t miss the Medano Creek, a seasonal stream that offers a refreshing respite.

Stay: Camp within the park for a unique experience, or find accommodations in the nearby town of Alamosa.

Drive: Great Sand Dunes to Colorado Springs (2 hours; 30 minutes)

Day 9: Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak Route Guide

Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pikes Peak, offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural attractions. Visit the Garden of the Gods, a registered National Natural Landmark, known for its stunning red rock formations. It is free to visit and has guided climbs for those looking for a sense of adventure.

For those seeking a spectacular vista, hike or drive up Pikes Peak for unparalleled views of the Rockies. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway offers a unique way to ascend to the summit along a historical train that leaves from Manitou Springs all year-round.

Stay: Choose from historic hotels, cozy inns, or modern accommodations in the heart of Colorado Springs.





Day 10: Return to Golden and Denver

Conclude your journey with a leisurely drive back to Denver, reflecting on the unforgettable experiences and scenic beauty encountered throughout your Colorado road trip.

If you have time, we recommend a final stop in Golden, Colorado. This small town has a rich history as the first capitol of the state and has great breweries and stores along its downtown and fantastic hiking on Lookout Mountain and North and South Table Mountain.

Drive: Colorado Springs to Golden/Denver (1 hours; 30 minutes)

Colorado Climate: What to Expect with Weather

Colorado’s climate is very seasonal, with major fluctuations between summer and winter and significant snow sticking around until early summer. Here’s an overview of the seasons and what to expect to help visit during the ideal time for your preferences:

Autumn in Colorado

Autumn Things To Do in Frisco Colorado

Beginning in September, the weather starts to cool rapidly at high altitudes, with snow possible throughout the fall. The aspen leaves start to change in early September across northern Colorado, with the southern San Juans lagging a few weeks behind. By November, winter conditions are common above the tree line, and roads will become slippery, with storms and closures relatively common.





Winter in Colorado

By December the Colorado winter is fully set in, with subzero temperatures and high winds common above the tree line and deep winter snowpacks developing in the montane forests. Driving is difficult during this time of year, with storms, avalanches, and ski traffic to contend to. However, it is still relatively easy with the right gear and 4WD and the mountains are beautiful with snow.

Spring in Colorado

Hiking 14ers in May

As the snow begins melting in the foothills in March and April, it actually snows more in the higher altitude areas. March and April are the two snowiest months of the year in Colorado on average. This wet snow makes outdoor recreation difficult, making spring a good time of year to explore the mountain towns that give the state a rich culture and historical legacy from the Gold Rush era.

Summer in Colorado

By early June the snow is mostly melted out from the mountains (although it can sometimes last into August during heavy snowfall years). The wildflowers start blooming and peak in July, with lush green meadows above the tree line. This is the best time of year to climb 14ers, see wildlife, hike in national parks, and spend a night camping out beneath the stars. It only lasts a few months, so take advantage!





Colorado Road Trip Tips and Advice

Make the most of your adventure with these tips and advice from a Colorado local and experienced mountain road tripper.

Tip 1: Plan Your Route and Stops in Advance

Colorado’s beauty lies in its diversity, from urban areas to remote wilderness. Research and plan your stops to maximize your experience and ensure you have the appropriate accommodations and provisions, especially in the more isolated areas.

Tip 2: Be Prepared for Altitude Changes

Colorado’s varying elevations can affect visitors. Stay hydrated, take it slow, and acclimatize to higher altitudes gradually to prevent altitude sickness. Do not rely on canned oxygen products; they do not work to avoid altitude sickness.





Tip 3: Respect Wildlife and Natural Habitats

Always observe wildlife from a distance, secure your food, and follow Leave No Trace principles to protect Colorado’s natural beauty for future generations. Local Coloradans do not appreciate visitors abusing natural resources; Doing so will likely earn you a scolding.

Tip 4: Check Road Conditions and Weather Forecasts

Weather in Colorado can change rapidly, especially in the mountains. Stay informed about current road conditions and weather forecasts to avoid any unexpected challenges. Visit cdot.org for the most up-to-date information for traveling.

Tip 5: Embrace Local Culture and History

From ancient Ancestral Puebloan sites to Gold Rush-era towns, Colorado is steeped in history and a rich culture. Take time to speak to some of the locals and explore local museums, historical sites, and cultural events to enrich your road trip experience.

Conclusion: Ultimate 10-Day Colorado Road Trip

Embarking on a road trip through Colorado offers an unparalleled adventure through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the United States. From the majestic peaks of the Rockies to the serene beauty of the national parks and the vibrant culture of its cities, Colorado invites travelers to explore its many wonders. 

Follow this guide to ensure your journey is filled with unforgettable experiences, breathtaking sights, and a deeper appreciation for the natural world.





FAQ

If I have not addressed your question below, leave a comment and I will get back to you with an answer and more information as soon as possible.

Q: How many days does it take to go on a road trip in Colorado?

A: The ideal length for a Colorado road trip can range from a short 3-day weekend getaway to a more extensive journey of 2 weeks or more. A 10-day trip, as outlined in our guide, offers a balanced itinerary covering major attractions without feeling rushed. However, your trip length should depend on your interests, whether that’s hiking, city exploration, or visiting national parks.

A: To truly appreciate Colorado’s national parks, a minimum of two days per park is recommended. This allows you to explore the main sights and trails without feeling hurried. Rocky Mountain National Park, for instance, could easily fill three days with its diverse landscapes and wildlife. Remember, the more time you can spend, the deeper your experience will be.

A: The best time to visit Colorado depends on the activities you’re interested in. For skiing and winter sports, December through March is ideal. If hiking, biking, and camping are more your style, June through September offers the best weather and access to trails. For those interested in seeing fall foliage, late September to early October is magical.

A: While many of Colorado’s main attractions are accessible with a standard vehicle, a 4WD or AWD vehicle can enhance your trip, especially if you plan to explore backcountry roads or visit during winter months when conditions can be snowy and icy. It offers more security in diverse terrains and weather conditions.

A: April to May and September to October are generally the most cost-effective times to visit Colorado. These shoulder seasons offer milder weather, fewer crowds, and lower prices on accommodations and car rentals compared to the peak summer and winter months.

A: The San Juan Skyway, a 233-mile loop in Southwest Colorado, is often hailed as the state’s most scenic drive. It offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains, historic mining towns like Telluride and Ouray, and the stunning Mesa Verde National Park. This route encapsulates the beauty and diversity of Colorado’s landscapes.

A: Yes, 10 days is sufficient to see many of Colorado’s highlights, including a few national parks, scenic drives, and charming mountain towns. However, given the state’s vastness and variety, consider focusing on specific regions or interests to make the most of your trip without feeling overwhelmed.

A: Driving from east to west (or vice versa) across Colorado can take approximately 7 to 10 hours, depending on the route and traffic conditions. North to south takes about 5 to 7 hours. These times can vary widely based on your stops and exact starting and ending points.

A: Colorado offers a mix of camping options, including designated campgrounds and dispersed camping areas on public lands. While you can’t camp just anywhere, national forests and BLM lands often allow dispersed camping for free, away from developed recreation facilities. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and check local regulations before setting up camp.





Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.





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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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