As we start to plan ahead for spring break and the summer months it is time to think about the much anticipated road trips that ensue. They are definitely not for everyone, however they can be a cheaper way to have an amazing and beautiful vacation. This trip was so much fun and it’s a great way to see Colorado (and even some of Utah) from all sides in a fairly short amount of time. On this particular adventure I was highlighting my favorite parts of Colorado for someone who had not been before!
It is also a trip that definitely could be extended if you have several more days. Here is the overview: Day 1: Drive from the Boulder/Denver area to Angel of Shavano Campground. This is such a beautiful drive through the mountains! Leadville is a great spot to stop for food, antique shopping and enjoying the view. It’s a small town with lots of character and it is one of the highest towns in the country, sitting at over 10,0oo ft above sea level. We ate lunch at Tennessee Pass Cafe (I also recommend High Mountain Pies and City on a Hill Coffee & Espresso). After setting up camp we drove back to Princeton Hot Springs for a nice evening dip. If you aren’t into camping Mount Princeton Hot Springs is a great place to stay the night! This area is also an incredible place to hike with multiple 14,000 ft mountains all in close proximity. The town of Buena Vista is also incredibly pretty and attracts many kayakers and rafters.
Day 2: Drive from Angel of Shavano Campground to Great Sand Dunes National Park (then on to Cortez). We left the campground super early and drove to the dunes where we spent much of the morning. I highly recommend camping here however getting a reservation can be really tough so book well in advance. The dunes are especially hot during the heat of the day but dune jumping is incredibly fun and it is pretty amazing to see a feature that seems so out of place nestled in a great Colorado valley! There is also a river that runs through right before the dunes, so bring a bathing suit (river levels definitely depend on the season and yearly precipitation so be sure to check!). Instead of camping we pushed on all the way to Mesa Verde so we could spend more time at the National Park. We stopped and ate great Mexican food for lunch in Del Norte and stopped for frozen yogurt in Pagosa Springs. Pagosa is another town I highly recommend spending more time in, there are natural hot springs along the river as well as a great resort, many hiking trails and fun little shops. This was a pretty long day but in the end we made it to Mesa Verde before the park’s closing time in order to get tour tickets for the next day. It is definitely a must to get tour tickets the day before because they tend to sell out in the summer and getting a tour when the sites are still shared is a much smarter idea. For the next two nights we got a hotel in Cortez, which is only a 15 minute drive from the national park.
Day 3: Going on tours of the anasazi ruins is undoubtably the way to visit Mesa Verde. This is because most of this sites cannot be explored up close if you are not on a tour (tours are fairly cheep and you definitely learn a lot!). It is best to get an early start to beat the heat! This whole day was spent going on two tours of different ruins and exploring other parts of the park. It is really a beautiful place with some amazing history. Cortez has some decent restaurants as well!
Day 4: Drive from Cortez to Moab (and on to Dinosaur National Monument). This is, once again, a place that I would definitely break up a little more. We had a limited time but, Moab is such a great town and would be a great place to stay a night and get some more hiking in. The national park also has a campground. Arches has so many amazing features and great hikes! We did two shorter hikes in order to see some different features. We tried to spend as much time here as possible so we did not get to the Dinosaur campground until 7:30ish (also, make sure you go to the right entrance of Dinosaur National Monument). This is one of the darkest places in the country, at night, so on previous visits I have seen amazing stars!
Day 5: Dinosaur National Monument to Hayden/Steamboat Springs. We spent 5-6 hours in Dinosaur just visiting the homestead, looking at the many fossil features and swimming in the river. This park has great programs for kids and has a good variety of things to do. It does get extremely hot here so hiking in the middle of the day was not smart on our part! We drove on to Hayden, CO from here (close to Steamboat Springs) where we stayed the night at a family member’s property. I have been to Steamboat Springs many times and highly recommend it! The town is very beautiful and there is always something going on (Rodeos, festivals, kayak races etc…). When we drove through the next day the annual Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup was in full swing. It is also a great place for horseback riding, biking and hiking. Check out Strawberry Hot Springs for a great place to stay!
Day 6: Steamboat Springs to Estes Park. We did some hiking and swimming in lakes in the morning before driving to Rocky Mountain National Park. Driving up Trail Ridge Road can definitely be quite terrifying however it gives way to some of the most spectacular views. There is also lots of wildlife including elk, moose, bighorn sheep and many birds. We stopped several times for some prime photos but drove to Estes Park to meet my family, walk the town and eat delicious food. Estes is very busy during the summer but it is definitely worth it. This night was spent at some beautiful cabins just outside of Estes.
Day 7: Estes Park back to Boulder! Most of our last day was spent hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are so many hikes of all levels and ability making it a great place for everyone. The drive back to Boulder is fairly short but definitely check out more of the restaurants before heading back!
Thanks for reading and happy road tripping!