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5 Best Colorado Road Trips

5 Best Colorado Road Trips

The latest news report on gas prices might give you pause before traveling out of state via plane or car anytime soon. In other words, you may want to stick closer to home with road trips!

According to an article on KDVR Fox 31, since Friday, June 3, the average price for a gallon of regular fuel has risen 13 cents to $4.62 in Colorado. Gas prices are up 35 cents since last Monday. Airlines report paying more for jet fuel, sending airfares up 40% since the beginning of the year.

In parts of California, NPR reports a gallon of gas is over $7 per gallon.


If you’re budget-minded or worrying about how much you’ll be spending on your summer vacation, you might be better off limiting your travel to the intrastate variety. Thankfully, the Centennial State has some of the lowest gas prices in the country right out and most importantly, provides a ton of amazing opportunities for the adventurous traveler as well as those looking for some rest and relaxation. This is the perfect time to plan Colorado road trips!

Here are just a few reasons to travel locally in Colorado, whether for a weekend or an entire week:

  • Colorado is home to four national parks, 42 state parks, eight national monuments and    26 national historic landmarks. These natural wonders and historic sites provide plenty of sightseeing and opportunities to learn more about our incredible state.
  • Many of the ski areas in our state don’t shut down in the winter. In fact, activities explode on many of the mountains. You’ll find a plethora of slopeside activities including gondola rides, mountain biking, alpine coasters, zip-lining, horseback riding and much, much more.
  • Summertime in the high country is truly magical. The days are warm, nights are cool and well, there is nothing like watching a mountain sunset or sunrise.
  • Music, culture and art festivals are abundant in resort communities. Both Vail and Aspen are renowned for their classical music events scheduled throughout the summer, and resort towns like Winter Park, Keystone and Breckenridge all have a variety of festivals guaranteed to make you smile.

Hopefully, you’re now convinced to start planning your summer road trips in Colorado. Below you will find our recommendations for the five best Colorado road trips. You can base yourself in these towns and have all you can handle as far as activities, and have the opportunity to discover other attractions that are within a 90 minute drive.

Central Colorado: Salida Shines for Views, Rafting and Unique Day Trips

Located 2.5 hours southwest from Denver, this town of 7,000 people is buzzing with activity in the summer as one of the most popular rafting centers in the state. People flock to Salida (pictured above) to experience the whitewater on the Arkansas River and the opportunity to relish the dramatic Brown’s Canyon. Additionally, there are eight 14,000-foot peaks in the Collegiate Peak Wilderness, located in Salida’s backyard. This mountain range provides a dramatic backdrop for this gorgeous section of the Arkansas River Valley.

From Salida, it’s less than an hour on Hwy. 50 to Royal Gorge. Situated on the west side of Canon City, this area is a literal playground for both children and adults. Starting with the historic suspension bridge, the heart-stopping moments continue with zip-lining, sky coaster, rafting, and gondola rides.


If you’re looking for an attraction off the beaten path, check out Bishop’s Castle. It’s a 90-minute drive from Salida and you’ll have an opportunity to drive through beautiful Westcliffe and savor the vistas of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Jim Bishop began work on his castle   years ago and it is part Hogwarts, part OSHA nightmare. Crazy spiral staircases soaring to platforms at stomach-churning heights will keep you focused on your foot placement. If you’re prone to vertigo, you can still take in this quirky attraction from terra firma. It’s well worth the drive.

Finally, 75 minutes south of Salida you’ll have access to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. This remarkable area makes one feel like you’re on a different planet. Towering dunes, the highest measuring 755 feet, create a mesmerizing experience bound to bring you back for years to come.

Southern Colorado: Pagosa Springs is the Gateway to the San Juans

pagosa hot springs

Photo courtesy of Pagosa Hot Springs

Nearly five hours from Denver, Pagosa Springs is one of the most scenic places you’ll find in the state. Located on the southern end of the San Juan Mountains, this lovely area is a hiker’s paradise and features one of the best hot springs in the state. The drive over Wolf Creek Pass to get to Pagosa Springs is worth the trip alone. Home to the Wolf Creek Ski Area, this region typically gets the most amount of snow of any ski resort in the state. And the hairpin turns on the pass require patience and attention to the road. Check out Treasure Falls on your way down. It’s an easy half-mile hiking loop that takes you up to a spectacular waterfall.

Once you arrive in Pagosa Springs, make sure you visit the cute shops and restaurants in the downtown area. The Alley House Grille serves up fabulous entrees for dinner and don’t miss the Pagosa Baking Company for scrumptious breakfast fare.  The Pagosa Hot Springs Resort is a must-stop. Soak your cares away in any of the 25 mineral pools of varying degrees. See if you can stand immersion in the Lobster Pot!

Two favorite hikes are the Piedra River Trail (easy-moderate) and the picturesque Four Mile Creek and Anderson Trail Loop (intermediate/difficult), both located north of town. Be prepared for over 3,200 feet of elevation gain and drop  on the Four Mile Creek/Anderson Trail Loop but the scenery is stunning.

Less than 30 minutes from town is Chimney Rock. The prehistoric site features ancient ruins from the ancestors of the modern day Pueblo Indians. This is a breathtaking setting to enjoy watching the sunset or stargazing.

When you’re heading back to Denver, consider driving through Creede and over Slumgullion Pass into Lake City. This tiny hamlet is lovely in the summer. And make sure to take time to visit Lake San Cristobal. The views are jaw-dropping!

Southwest Colorado: Durango Captures the Spirit of the Old West and More

durango co

Despite its relatively small size (20,000 population), this city is a mecca for all types of entertainment, art, culture and outdoor recreation during the summer months. Live music abounds with the Chamber Music Series and a variety of performances are on tap  at the Fort Lewis Community Concert Hall.

Durango, like Pagosa Springs, boasts hot springs that will rejuvenate your soul and ease your aches and pains. The Durango Hot Springs Resort and Spa provides an idyllic setting for relaxation and meditation.

Zip-lining, rafting, mountain biking, hiking, off-roading, you name it, you’re likely to find it in Durango. The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is popular for all ages. The train takes you through scenic wilderness and you’ll have a chance to explore either the old mining town of Silverton or Cascade Canyon.

Mesa Verde is just over 30 minutes away from Durango. Another terrific site is the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. You’ll find the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of Native American cultures.

On your way back to the Front Range, be sure to drive over Red Mountain Pass and visit both Silverton and Ouray. These picturesque towns have an array of activities, everything from live music to farmers’ markets, and the scenery is beyond reproach.

Western Colorado: Grand Junction Defines the American West

book cliffs

Welcome to the high desert lands of Colorado! Grand Junction sits at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, and is known for its fruit growing including the famous Palisade peaches and vintner grapes. Hot days and cool nights provide perfect growing conditions for many fruit varieties, and grape production has proliferated for over four decades. As a result, this area is now known as Colorado’s Wine Country and there are wine bike tours, tasting rooms and scheduled wine dinners that make for a perfect getaway.

Also home to the Colorado National Monument, this park is an amazing playground for hiking and biking enthusiasts. Its signature Rim Rock Drive is 23 miles long and offers breathtaking views of the plateaus, monoliths and canyons of this classic American West landscape.

Finally, don’t miss the Grand Mesa. This region is the largest flattop mountain in the world, encompassing more than 500 square miles and standing over 10,000 feet above sea level. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway meanders 63 miles through the national forest, providing beautiful vistas of the National Forest’s lakes, wildlife and geological features.

Northern Colorado: Grand Lake is a Favorite Escape

grand lake co

Just two hours from Denver, the small enclave of Grand Lake is a popular base for people wanting to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, Winter Park and Hot Sulphur Springs. This community is home to three lakes: Lake Granby, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking and lounging are popular pursuits on the three bodies of water and the lakes, combined with the surrounding mountains, provide an exquisite panorama.

Shopping along the boardwalk in Grand Lake Shopping is a pleasure with its adorable boutiques and specialty shops. A stop at Ceaira’s Sweet Shop for an ice cream cone is a must!

Rocky Mountain National Park is easily accessed via Hwy. 34 (Trail Ridge Road) and a large number of trails leading into the park originate in the Grand Lake area. The grandeur of this national park is non pareil. Remember, timed entry reservations are necessary between the hours of 9 a.m.-3 p.m. If you enter the park outside those hours, a reservation isn’t necessary.

Just 30 minutes from Grand Lake is the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa. Take a dip in this historic facility that features 21 untreated mineral pools as well as spa treatments. And just 45 minutes away is Winter Park. Chock-full of activities, you’ll have trouble deciding. Alpine slide, gondola rides, hiking trails, biking and movie nights … the list goes on and on.

Regardless of your destination, it’s impossible not to have a great time discovering our wonderful home state of Colorado! Let us know your best Colorado road trip.

Jason Tanabe

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