Epic 8 Day Colorado Road Trip: A Nature Fueled Itinerary

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Satisfy Your Nature Craving by Following this Epic 8 Day Colorado Road Trip

Many who travel to Colorado are looking to indulge in the state’s incredible natural beauty. The lush region is loaded with national parks, national monuments, wide forests, and towering mountains. Even some impressive red rock landscapes.

So how do you best see all these awesome locations in just 1 trip? Well, you technically can’t see all of Colorado’s epic scenery in one go, but you can surely see a huge chunk of it with the proper planning. If you’re big nature lovers like us, you probably wish for a trip full of beautiful wildlife along one easy route.

Which is exactly what we managed to do during our last Colorado road trip!

What to Know Before You Embark

We want to share with you our Colorado road trip itinerary that takes you to some of the state’s most stunning locations all in one easy loop over the course of 8 days.

With careful consideration we planned this trip around central Colorado. This makes the most sense if you plan to fly into the state; Denver being the most affordable airport to land in. Not to mention the seemingly infinite amount of forest and parks starting just outside of Denver.

In total, this loop will take you about 8 days to complete. We’ll break it down day by day in our detailed itinerary below. Ideally, we want you to travel with ease by following our own personal itinerary so that way you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.

For those with cheap travel in mind, brush up on our top 35 ways to save money for a cheap road trip. We practice these tips every time we travel to keep our wallet fuller so we can travel longer!

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IMPORTANT TO KNOW – Parts of this road trip include driving times of 3+ hours in one section. This is only done in order to make as much distance as you can within your time frame of 8 days. Of course, it’s not always the easiest but with good music and company, it’s not nearly so bad!

Also, we completed this road trip in the middle of winter so all our destinations were either snow covered or frozen over. Pictures below showcasing certain spots will be different if you visit during the warmer months. Nonetheless, it will still be the same epic road trip! We promise.

Lastly, we chose to stay overnight in cities closest to our next destination. This approach has you get most of the driving done at the end of the day, rather than the morning. This way you wake up the next morning right next to your desired location. We personally prefer getting an earlier start rather than wasting daylight driving in the morning. 

For Those Road Tripping in Winter:

crampons hiking

See below map for reference of exact loop route for your Colorado Road Trip.

Click the map to see the full size image as well as save the map to your computer.

colorado-road-trip-map

Day #1 – Fly Into Denver & Head to Colorado Springs

At A Glance: Fly into Denver International Airport early and start heading to Colorado Springs. Unpack at your hotel/Airbnb, See Red Rock Canyon Open Space, and even fit in time for a brewery.

Total Driving Time: 1.5 – 2 hours | Distance: 85 miles from Denver to Colorado Springs

Where to Stay Overnight: Colorado Springs (5 minutes from next day destination – Garden of the Gods)

On your first day of you Colorado road trip, we highly recommend getting an early flight in if you can. This way you don’t lose too much time on your first day.

We booked an early flight for 6am so we would arrive in the Denver International Airport around 8am. Ultimately giving us a full day to adventure. Flying in earlier than later is one of our leading principles when traveling with a full time job.

After landing in Denver, start making your way south to Colorado Springs. You could grab lunch or relax a bit around Denver should you prefer. We chose to immediately head to Colorado Springs so we could check into our Airbnb and settle in, plus have enough time to see Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

Colorado Springs is still a fairly large city, meaning you have tons of options for both hotels/Airbnb’s in the area. After checking in, we recommend stocking up on some groceries, snacks, and other road trip essentials should you need any for the 8 days ahead of you.

airbnb road trip

If you plan on booking any Airbnb’s during this trip, you can save $55 off your rental rate by using our Airbnb invite link! (valid for new users only)

Once that’s done, time to make your way to Red Rock Canyon Open Space!

RED ROCK CANYON OPEN SPACE

Well, you guessed it. This park is full of incredible red rock! The park is free to visit and is easily accessible since it’s just 10 minutes from downtown on the western side of town.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space has a lot of trails scattered throughout the park. Our favorite features include the small lake near the entrance and the unique red & black carved rock towards the back of the park.

red rock canyon open preserve colorado road trip

This strange carved rock mountain literally had chunks of red rock carved out for the construction of historic buildings in Denver & Colorado Springs.

This was prior to 1893 when red rock was in larger demand for building construction Since then, business has stopped and you’re left now with this odd cube-ish looking mound.

You can even climb up the rock engraved stairs to explore more around the mountain. A random but fun attribute of the park!

red rock canyon open preserve

The trails are randomly routed and take you through all sections of the park, so continue to wander around at your own pace. You can see most of it in a couple hours.

COLORADO MOUNTAIN BREWERY

If you’re like us and enjoy having a beer after a nature outing, check out Colorado Mountain Brewery just 2 miles down the street.

They have large selection of craft beer, along with excellent happy hour prices for both drinks and appetizers. Sweet!

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN COLORADO SPRINGS:

Should you have the time and energy, there is still lots to see around the area:

  • Wander Old Colorado City – historic downtown with shops, galleries, restaurants, etc
  • Explore downtown Manitou Springs – a quaint historic village just 5 minutes from Colorado Springs with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, etc
  • Visit Bear Creek Regional Park
  • Brewery Hop – we counted 7 breweries just in Colorado Springs alone should you still be thirsty

brewery road trip colorado

Day #2 – Garden of the Gods / Drive to Gunnison

At A Glance: Start your day early by hiking Garden of the Gods, then make the drive out to Gunnison where you’ll stay overnight.

Total Driving Time: 3 – 3.5 hrs | Distance: 170 miles from Colorado Springs to Gunnison

Where to Stay Overnight: Gunnison (1.25 hrs from next day destination – Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP)

GARDEN OF THE GODS

Since you stayed overnight in Colorado Springs, you’re conveniently located right next to Garden of the Gods! This park is extremely popular (both good and bad) and is one of Colorado’s top red rock parks of the state.

How could we not include it in our Colorado road trip?

garden of the gods colorado

Garden of the Gods is composed of numerous hiking trails that take you through the main attributes of the park.

We recommend seeing/doing the following things:

  • Check out the visitor center & museum
  • Hike (walk, it’s paved with concrete) the Central Garden Trail with the Palmer Trail – short loop that takes you through the most iconic red rock structures of the park
  • See Balanced Rock – a geological oddity right off the main road
  • Hike Ridge Trail – 0.5 miles – scenic loop trail that shows you the red rock spires from a different perspective
  • Visit the Trading Post

For a detailed breakdown of the park, check out our full blog post on Garden of the Gods.

garden of the gods colorado

Once you’ve spent your day wandering this amazing park, it’s time to start the drive out to Gunnison. We specifically chose this city as our end destination since it’s closest to our next park the following day.

DRIVING TO GUNNISON, CO

The drive to Gunnison take about 3 – 3.5 hours. Depending on how early you left Garden of the Gods, you could add these stops for some extra activities along your drive.

  • Royal Gorge Bridge & Park – 360 acre amusement park atop a large gorge on one of the highest suspension bridges in the world
  • Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center – sanctuary for wolves and wild canines
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument – you may not have enough time for this, but maybe if you left early enough from GOTG.

Gunnison is a much smaller city than Denver or Colorado Springs. The most convenient place for groceries would be Walmart of City Market in the main hub of town. There’s a good amount of restaurants to choose from along with High Alpine Brewery.

Another brewery if you’re wanting another evening craft beer!

brewery colorado

Day #3 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park / Drive to Grand Junction

At A Glance: Start early and drive 1.25 hours to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from Gunnison. Hike Rim Rock Trail to see the top viewpoints known as Tomichi Viewpoint & Gunnison Point. Explore other viewpoints/trails of the park if time permits. Make the drive to stay in the city of Grand Junction afterwords.

Total Driving Time: 2.5 – 3 hrs | Distance: 135 miles from Gunnison -> Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP -> Grand Junction

Where to Stay Overnight: Grand Junction (15 minutes from next day destination – Colorado National Monument)

Since you still have about 1.5 hours to drive from Gunnison to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we recommend getting up earlier than normal. Day #3 and you’re already heading to your 3rd top destination on your Colorado road trip!

BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is a mind blowing park. Many call it “The Grand Canyon of Colorado”.

The main feature of this park are the dramatic steep cliffs with a nearly black canyon. The tall, steep walls keep sunlight out most of the day, giving the Black Canyon an even more menacing appearance.

black canyon of the gunnison national park colorado road trip

Obviously for a national park, there are lots of hiking trails and viewpoints scattered across the grounds. Below are our recommendations of what to see during your time here.

FYI – During our visit, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP was actually closed due to a government shutdown. We also visited in winter, meaning many of the roads within the park were not snow plowed. Making many areas inaccessible for us to drive to.

Still, we managed to fit in 1 hike and see 2 popular viewpoints despite the limitations. Our recommendation is based on our experience, but we still highly suggest checking out the other trails of the park. We will just have to come back to hike them another time!

A quick and easy trail with some of the top viewpoints would be Rim Rock Trail. This was the only trail accessible to us during the shutdown but it surely did not disappoint.

Also, if you are visiting in winter like we did, we highly recommend hiking with a pair of crampons!

Rim Rock Trail Details:

  • 1.5 miles round trip – Takes you down to the edge of the canyon and along 2 spectacular viewpoints
  • Tomichi Point – first dramatic views of the massive black canyon
  • Gunnison Point – 2nd view next to visitor center and at end of trail
    • Expect near 360° views as you stand on a peninsula suspended above the canyon (MY FAVE)
  • Check out the Visitor Center
  • Both these viewpoints are also accessible by driving if you aren’t looking to hike

black canyon of the gunnison national park colorado

Other top rated hikes of the park we did not get to see:

  • Warner Point Nature Trail – 1.5 miles round trip
  • Oak Flat Loop Trail – 1.3 miles round trip
  • Gunnison Route Trail (Hard) – 1.7 miles round trip with high elevation gain of 1,781 ft from hiking top to bottom of canyon

For a detailed breakdown of the Rim Rock Trail and the 2 viewpoints, check out our full blog post on Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

PIT-STOP – MONTROSE, CO

The city of Montrose is the closest place for amenities should you need any after your day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP. We were pretty starved after hiking all day so we made a quick stop in Montrose to refuel on food and gas. It’s about 20 minutes from the park and on the way to Grand Junction, making it a perfect place to stop.

Once you’re refueled, time to get back on the road to go to Grand Junction. Grand Junction is about 1 hour away from Montrose or 1.5 hrs from the national park.

GRAND JUNCTION

The lovely town of Grand Junction makes for a good night cap after a nature filled day. If you can, choose a hotel/Airbnb around historic  downtown.

We stayed at a random motel in walking distance from downtown, which made it super easy to cruise the town and skip on parking.

Things to Do in Downtown Grand Junction:

  • The Rockslide Brewery & Restaurant – yes, Colorado is full of breweries!
  • Choose from tons of restaurants – Mexican, Italian, American, Japanese, French food are just some of the options available
  • Museum of the West – small museum spanning Colorado’s rich history
  • Shop along the many stores off Main Street
  • Simply roam and enjoy all the street art and unique sculptures along the main road
downtown grand junction colorado

Nathan having too much fun with the artwork

Day #4 – Colorado National Monument / Driving to Rifle

At A Glance: Explore many different trails and viewpoints at Colorado National Monument. Then drive 1.5 hours to Rifle to stay overnight

Total Driving Time: 1.5 -2 hrs | Distance: 80 miles from Colorado National Monument to Rifle

Where to Stay Overnight: Rifle (30 minutes from next day destination – Rifle Mountain Park)

The good news about staying overnight in Grand Junction is that you are already right outside Colorado National Monument. Being only 15- 20 minutes away means you now have more time to grab coffee and enjoy breakfast! (Something we don’t usually have enough time to do during a tightly scheduled road trip)

COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT

Day #4 of your Colorado road trip will be mainly dedicated to seeing Colorado National Monument. This park has an insane amount of trails and view points.

Since you only have one day in the park, we recommend focusing on numerous shorter trails so you have time to see more of the park and viewpoints.

colorado national monument colorado road trip

Honestly, Colorado National Monument is my favorite nature destination along this Colorado road trip itinerary.

One, I love, love, love natural red rock. Two, there are epic views from literally all sides of the park. And three, the history of John Otto and his inspiration to make this a national park was just icing on the cake.

You can read more about the history and top things to do on our full blog post of Colorado National Monument.

Colorado National Monument has 2 entrances to access the park – the west and east entrance. We suggest entering from the east entrance and getting the longest hike first out of the way which is Devil’s Kitchen Trail. Then work your way through the park till you reach the west entrance.

colorado national monument devils kitchen trail

Since you will most likely be out in the sun all day, make sure you bring sun protection like sun screen or a hiking hat to keep from getting burnt! Nathan loves these 5 awesome hiking hats and will bring at least one of them on all our adventures.

Top Spots to See in Order From East Entrance to West Entrance:

Trails are bolded below / Viewpoints are not

  • Devil’s Kitchen Trail (1.2 miles round trip) – Hike through a red rock canyon to a unique geological room of massive red rock boulders
  • Cold Shiver’s Point
  • Coke Ovens Overlook
  • Independence Monument View
  • Otto’s Trail (0.7 miles round trip) – Hike out onto a towering rock peninsula for an even closer view of Monument Canyon (my favorite trail!)
  • Book Cliffs View – best viewpoint if you trek out a bit past the awning
  • Window Rock Trail – (0.5 miles round trip) – Hike to the top of Window Rock and enjoy incredible views of the canyon below
  • Distant View
  • Historic Trails View
  • Balanced Rock

Surprisingly, this seems like a lot! Fortunately it’s possible to see all this in just one day. Assuming you get an earlier start by getting to the park by 8am or 9am.

If you choose to visit in winter, expect a near empty park! Just one of the perks of visiting national parks in winter.

colorado national monument

Once you’re ready, drive 1.5 hrs to the city of Rifle where you will be staying overnight.

RIFLE, CO

The city of Rifle is the smallest city you’ll stay in on this Colorado road trip. Which is not a huge deal (no pun intended) especially after such a long day exploring Colorado National Monument. Find a cheap room, have a couple beers, and grab some dinner.

There is a small downtown if you do wish to walk around the city for a little bit. 3rd Street is where you will find most of the restaurants and shops. Fast food establishments and a Walmart Supercenter is located on the southern side of town off Airport Rd.

We recommend using this as a night to go to bed early since there’s not too much to see in town and you have another big day ahead of you.

Day #5 – Ice Caves at Rifle Mountain Park / Rifle Falls State Park / Hanging Lake / Driving to Aspen

At A Glance: Drive 30 min north from Rifle to both Rifle Falls State Park and Rifle Mountain Park. See a triple waterfall, go spelunking through dark limestone caves, and explore ICE CAVES along an easy 3/4 mile trail. Drive an hour to Hanging Lake Trail for an epic lake hike. Then drive around 2 hours to Aspen.

Total Driving Time: 3 – 3.5 hrs | Distance: 90 miles from Rifle -> Rifle Mountain Park -> Rifle Falls State Park -> Hanging Lake -> Aspen

Where to Stay Overnight: Aspen or Carbondale (Carbondale is less driving and MUCH cheaper than Aspen for nightly accommodation)

We’ll be honest, this day is kind of a doozy. Day #5 of your Colorado road trip consists of 3 incredible nature spots, one tough (but short) hike, and a fair amount of driving.

Wake up early, grab a quick breakfast (like a deli sandwich), and make your way to Rifle Mountain Park. The route today does involve some backtracking in between locations, so use your time wisely.

But if you’re determined to see as much as you can like us, you can most definitely do it!

hanging lake trail colorado road trip

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: The ice caves at Rifle Mountain Park are only present during the winter months when there is snow. The best months to see the ice caves would be December or January.

If you’re road tripping outside of winter, you can still explore the trails of Rifle Mountain Park in place of the ice caves or you can skip it all together. If you do skip, you’ll have extra time to relax more throughout your day and can go at a slower pace.

Our itinerary below will include the ice caves, jump ahead to Rifle Falls State Park if you plan on skipping this park.

RIFLE MOUNTAIN PARK – ICE CAVES (winter time only)

Drive about 35 minutes north to reach the entrance of Rifle Mountain Park. The drive to the park is beautiful as it takes you through the countryside of Colorado and through cow pastures. Price of entry to the park is $5/vehicle, Cash Only. (price subject to change)

Conveniently, the trail to the ice caves is just past the main entrance. Specifically known as Koper’s Trail. Expect to immediately be taken behind the dense ice caves made from beautiful blue pillars of a frozen water created from a frozen waterfall.

rifle mountain park ice caves colorado road trip

You’ll then walk across frozen water to reach the other side of the cave and continue along the trail. Crampons are extremely helpful along this hike! Don’t forget to bring them.

Hike Details/What to Expect:

  • Total length – 3/4 mile round trip on an out and back trail
  • The Ice Palace – the lower cave and first cave you will see
  • The Final Curtain – the upper cave and second cave
  • Hike alongside the scenic East River creek

Once you’re done gawking at these magnificent frozen waterfalls, head back down the road 13 minutes to get to Rifle Falls State Park.

rifle mountain park ice caves colorado

RIFLE FALLS STATE PARK

Just south of Rifle Mountain Park is where you will find Rifle Falls State Park. This small park boasts a stunning 80-ft triple waterfall AND limestone caves all within less than a mile of walking.

Price of entry to the park is $7/vehicle, Cash Only. (price subject to change)

Yes, we know….2 parks, 2 separate fees. Initially annoying, but then we remember that these nominal fees go to the maintenance and preservation of these beautiful parks. 100% worth it!

Immediately from the parking lot, you’ll find the waterfall just a few feet from where you parked. In winter, the waterfall was half frozen, creating a beautiful combination of icicles and flowing water.

If you wish, you can walk the short trail loop that takes you to the top of the waterfall for a different perspective. (Most likely worth it if you skipped the ice caves and have more time in your day!)

rifle falls state park colorado

After the falls, walk a bit to the back of the park to find the limestone caves. These caves are made of solid rock and actually go fairly deep. Deep enough that you will need a flashlight or head lamp to safely make your way around the cave!

The cave on the right is the longest cave which gives you a close feeling to that of real spelunking!

Aside from the creepiness of such a dark environment, these caves are totally worth exploring.

rifle falls state park colorado

For more info on these 2 spots, check out our full blog post on Rifle Mountain Park and Rifle Falls State Park.

HANGING LAKE TRAIL

Once you’ve wrapped up both parks, drive around 1 hour to reach Hanging Lake Trail.

FYI – Parking is allowed in the Hanging Lake Trailhead Parking Lot during off season only (Nov 1 – Apr 30). Visitors must take shuttle bus from Hanging Lake Welcome Center during peak season (May 1 to Oct 31). Account for extra time to see Hanging Lake should you be visiting during peak season.

Prices are $10/person during off season and $12/person during peak season. (prices subject to change, always assume CASH)

Hanging Lake trails takes you up to the top of Glenwood Canyon to an extremely scenic lake nestled below two waterfalls.

In winter, expect to see frozen cascading icicles extending from the top to the bottom of the falls. In summer, you’ll see the lake water transform to a brilliant blue turquoise color and see the falls come alive with flowing water and lush vegetation.

hanging lake trail colorado

Hike Details/Things to Know:

  • Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1,100ft
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult
  • Time to Complete: 2-3 hours

Because of the high elevation change, this trail ends up being a pretty solid workout and takes longer than hikes with smaller changes in elevation. So be mindful of time and bring enough water to stay hydrated.

Once you reach the top, expect epic views of Glenwood Canyon down below. Even more incredible when paired with layers of white powder.

At Hanging Lake, there is a wooden boardwalk that takes you around different sections of the lake. A short, but strenuous trail, you should definitely not miss.

hanging lake trail colorado

For a full review of this trail, read our blog post on Hanging Lake Trail.

DRIVING TO ASPEN (or CARBONDALE to save $$)

At the end of your long day exploring 3 amazing nature spots, it’s time to check into a room and wind down. Since you’re in the area, we think Aspen is a great spot to spend your night. Especially since it’s known as one of the top historic towns of Colorado!

There’s tons to do in Aspen, making it really easy to fill your night with even more activities. That is, if you have the energy for it!

WORD OF ADVICE: Aspen is pretty expensive if you’re looking for cheaper lodging. Even for us, it was a little out of our price range. Instead, opt to find lodging in Carbondale which is roughly 40 minutes from Aspen. You will most likely save half of what you’d spend in Aspen, if not more, during the popular winter season.

We checked into our hotel in Carbondale, then drove to Aspen to explore the nightlife, then just headed back to Carbondale afterwords. 

Things to do in Aspen:

  • Wander historic downtown and check out the many shops, art galleries, and museums
  • Enjoy the variety of restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries
  • Visit a marijuana shop (legal all over CO)
  • Watch skiers and snowboarders next to the slopes at Aspen Mountain Ski resort
  • Dance at a few of the nightclubs or pint-sized music venues with select artists
aspen colorado

Photo credit: Jeremy Swanson/The Little Nell

We were absolutely beat by this time but we still wanted to experience the city of Aspen. As a result, we simply grabbed coffee ($7?! Aspen…tsk tsk) and wandered around the streets.

For late night food – check out the small late night counter service known as New York Pizza. Super good pizza and at an “affordable” price! 2 slices should fill you up!

Still curious of what to see in Aspen? Check out this useful Aspen Travel Guide from travel blogger TheStoriBook.com.

Day #6 – Saint Mary’s Glacier / Driving to Estes Park / Visit Boulder, CO

At A Glance: Mainly a driving day, drive 3 hours to Saint Mary’s Glacier from Aspen. Enjoy a quick hike to the top of the mountain for a scenic lake and semi-permanent snowfield. Drive 2 more hours to reach Estes Park where you will stay overnight.

Total Driving Time: 5 – 5.5 hrs | Distance: 226 miles from Aspen -> Saint Mary’s Glacier -> Estes Park

Where to Stay Overnight: Estes Park (10 minutes from next day destination – Rocky Mountain National Park)

Day #6 on your Colorado road trip will be a little more driving focused as you have lots of miles to cover. To be honest, it was nice knowing we would be spending more time today relaxing and sightseeing via car. After the past 2 hiking/nature heavy days, my legs were sore and ready for some time off. But not too much time off as there’s still time to squeeze a little hike into the day!

Total drive from Aspen to the trailhead for Saint Mary’s Glacier is around 3.5 hours. Grab some breakfast in Aspen or Glenwood Springs and hit the road! Keep in mind how much time you think you’ll spend on the trail. You don’t want to arrive to the trailhead too late and miss it completely!

The drive to the hike primarily takes you through a forested region. You will pass a few ski resorts and ski slopes along the way, but other than that it’s mainly a scenic drive through the woodlands. Two main towns you pass are Silverthorne and Georgetown. Georgetown has a small historic downtown that is worth the stop if you have time.

SAINT MARY’S GLACIER

Saint Mary’s Glacier is a perfect hike to add into your day of driving. It’s a shorter hike with more than manageable elevation gain. The trail itself is a beautiful woodland hike, leading you about a mile to a lake.

Not technically a “glacier,” the trail is dubbed after the semi-permanent snowfield. What’s the difference? Well mainly because there is no ice in motion, which is what defines a real glacier. Even though this frozen snow pack isn’t actually a glacier, it still is a wondrous sight to see paired with the pristine Saint Mary’s Lake.

saint marys glacier colorado

Saint Mary’s Glacier Hike Details:

  • 1.9 miles roundtrip
  • 800 ft elevation
  • Easy – Moderate
  • 1 -2 hours to complete
  • $5 parking fee – pay at fee station

While the hike is only a mile to the top, majority of the trail is spent on a moderately steep incline. Take breaks when you need and you’ll be at the lake and “glacier” in no time.

During our visit in the winter time, Saint Mary’s Lake was completely frozen over. We had the chance to (safely) walk along the thick ice.

saint marys glacier trail colorado

Of course visit in the warmer months for a completely different experience! Just one of the perks of seasonal mountain trails.

DRIVING TO ESTES PARK / VISITING BOULDER

In total it takes about 2 hours to drive from Saint Mary’s Glacier to Estes Park. This is the perfect time to stop for food and gather any supplies should you need any. Unlike the drive earlier in the day, the drive north passes much larger cities such as Boulder and Denver.

If you have the time, we recommend stopping in Boulder and checking out the town. You can always see Denver on the last couple days of your Colorado road trip which is why we recommend seeing Boulder first.

colorado-road-trip- boulder

Things to do in Boulder:

  • Walk Pearl Street – the main hub/downtown area full of shops, restaurants, etc
  • Check out a brewery – these are common place in Colorado and we’re grateful for it
  • Take a walk around Central Park – see fishing ponds along Boulder Creek Path
  • See The Flatirons – massive slanted sandstone slabs located just outside the city

One of the main activities of Boulder outside of Pearl Street is seeing and/or hiking The Flatirons. These tall unique slabs are surrounded by beautiful forests and are one of the most popular hiking spots in the area.

flatirons trail boulder colorado

Keep in Mind: If you prefer seeing The Flatirons more over Saint Mary’s Glacier, you could always skip the glacier hike and choose to hike The Flatirons. Similar in length around 2 miles with higher elevation gain of 1,400 ft, this loop trail is a bit more strenuous but well worth the visit.

Unfortunately, finding time to hike both Saint Mary’s Glacier with The Flatirons is not very likely in one day since there is a required driving time of 5-6 hours.

You could always drive up and see The Flatirons from afar if you wish to see both. 

Read more info here on The Flatirons Loop Trail from travel bloggers BeyondBoulder.com.

Lastly, if you like Indian Food, we HIGHLY recommend checking out Jaipur Indian Restaurant just outside of downtown Boulder. Some of the best Indian food we’ve had to date! We were stuffed silly and could barely walk afterwords. Careful, because it will trigger gluttony.

ESTES PARK, CO

Unlike Boulder, Estes Park is a smaller and more quaint town situated higher in the mountains. Literally just a 10 minute drive from Rocky Mountain National Park (tomorrow’s destination!).

Due to the mountainous terrain, there are TONS of cute cabins to rent up here. Many of them that even have in-room hot tubs! If you can, book a cabin online before heading up here, either through Booking.com or through Airbnb.

We stayed at an adorable cabin at Riverview Pines. The cabin came with a full kitchen, indoor fireplace, and in-room hot tub. It was a wonderful way to relax after 6 days of hiking. Also, the property is located in a gorgeous setting with a real creek running right through it. I guess the name is relevant!

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Frozen creek through cabins during winter

Make sure you buy groceries from the nearest grocery store in town so you can make a nice meal for the night or breakfast for the morning. Cooking when we have a kitchen available is one of our top ways to save money on food while traveling.

Day #7 – Rocky Mountain National Park / Driving to Denver

At A Glance: Hike to 3 incredible lakes at Rocky Mountain National Park – Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. Head to Denver afterwords and enjoy your last night out on the town.

Total Driving Time: 1.5 -2 hrs | Distance: 75 miles from Estes Park -> Rocky Mountain National Park -> Denver

Where to Stay Overnight: Denver

Your last full day of your Colorado road trip has come. (Try not to cry!) Good thing we’re going out with a bang and ending with Rocky Mountain National Park!

Since you’re only 10 minutes from the park, you have time to either make breakfast or go out for food. It’s nice to be able to take your time versus rushing the moment you wake up.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

PSA – As we mentioned earlier, we took this Colorado road trip during the government shutdown of Christmas 2018. This was the longest shutdown in American history lasting a total of 35 days. Sadly, it took place during the entire duration of our trip!

Technically, national parks remained open during the shutdown but a snowstorm hit hard on the day we were supposed to go to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The snowstorm laid down a thick layer of snow which meant our car could not physically make it to the trailhead since roads were not being plowed at the time. With hope, we still tried to drive towards the trailhead but gates into the park were closed due to the snow. Major bummer.

Even though we didn’t get to hike we still feel this trail is worth including on your 8 day Colorado road trip. Which is why we are still listing it here and including details for it below!

Emerald Lake Trail Details:

  • 3.1 miles roundtrip
  • 700 ft elevation
  • Out and Back Trail
  • Park at the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead
  • Emerald Lake Trail starts from the Bear Lake trailhead

Along this one trail, you’ll pass by Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. You could also add Bear Lake if you don’t mind adding some extra steps.

While Rocky Mountain National Park is full of epic trails, we originally chose this one due to the fact you can see 3-4 lakes in just 3 miles! Also known as some of the top must-see lakes in Colorado.

rocky mountain national park colorado

Photo credit: Jordan Ullom via AllTrails

To learn more about this trail, check out this blog post on Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lake Trail by travel blogger BackcountryCow.com.

Hopefully when you visit, you don’t run into any snow/government shutdown problems as we did. This hike is still at the top of our list next time we visit Colorado.

Once you’re done exploring The Rockies, drive 1.5 hours south to reach heart of Denver, Colorado.

DENVER, CO

This is it. Your last night in town! What better place to spend it than in the most lively city of Colorado? Similar to other large cities of the country, there is literally anything and everything to do in Denver. Choose from a huge selection of Airbnbs and hotels and enjoy one last night in the mountainous state.

Below is a list featuring Denver Night Life. Obviously you don’t have the full day to explore, so we left out larger full day attractions.

Things to do in Denver:

  • The obvious restaurants, bars, and shopping
  • Wander historic downtown
  • See a live artist or band at select music venues
  • Dark Side of Denver Ghost Tours – historical tour through Denver’s most haunted buildings
  • Voodoo Comedy Show – top rated comedy venue in Denver
  • Visit Red Rock Canyon Amphitheater – if you’re lucky, find an artist you love playing that night

denver colorado

Day #8 – Roxborough State Park / Fly Home

At A Glance: Spend your last day in Colorado at Roxborough State Park before your flight home.

Total Driving Time: Around 1 – 1.5 hrs | Distance: 75 miles from Central Denver -> Roxborough State Park -> Denver International Airport

Ideally, the best way to end your Colorado road trip is to literally squeeze as much nature as you can out of it. To do this, try to book the latest flight possible heading home on your last day. This way you have enough time to fit in one more hike or nature excursion before heading home. At least that’s how us nature lovers like to do it!

The beginning of the Colorado road trip started with 2 trips to red rock parks. So why not wrap the end of this long trip with one more red rock destination? Keep in mind your flight time and allow yourself enough time to make the short trip to Roxborough State Park.

ROXBOROUGH STATE PARK

Unlike the other larger parks on this list, Roxborough State Park does not fall short in spectacular scenery. The park is south of Denver about 45 minutes away from downtown. Making this an ideal place to visit for your 8th day when you only have half the day.

The most iconic feature of Roxborough State Park is the dramatic red rock Fountain Formations. These slabs of tilted sandstone began over 300 million years ago with the continual uplift and erosion of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains.

Visitors today can hike among these 60 degree angle formations along a multitude of short trails.

roxborough state park coloardo road trip

Come in the winter like we did and see the red rocks beautifully powdered with white snow, creating a lovely contrast of color. For a quick hike with the most viewpoints, check out Fountain Valley Trail.

Fountain Valley Trail Hike Details:

  • $8 entry fee for vehicles (subject to change, Cash Only)
  • 2.3 miles loop trail
  • 320 ft elevation
  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Showcases Lyons Overlook and Fountain Valley Overlook

Fountain Valley Trail has almost no elevation gain and starts you off immediately among the red rocks.

roxborough state park coloardo

If you head in a counter-clockwise direction, you will see Lyons Overlook first and Fountain Valley Overlook more towards the end of the trail. Both are stunning views of the red rock slabs up from a higher perspective.

Bonus: halfway around the loop you’ll discover Persse Place. Named after Henry E. Persse, an immigrant from Ireland, who had plans to develop a resort in this area.  Although the mayor at the time decided the place was too scenic to be owned privately, so the land was given to the Denver’s Park System.

Persse did construct a stone house here back in 1903 but it was never fully lived in. Today, you can see the stone house sitting midway through Fountain Valley Trail as an extra historic perk.

roxborough state park colorado

After you finish the loop trail and have seen enough of the red rocks, it’s probably time to head to the airport and get ready for your return flight home.

8 Day Colorado Road Trip Through The State’s Top Nature Spots

If you’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Colorado to see what all the nature’s about, then take this as a sign. You’re spot on – Colorado is one of the most dense nature destinations in all of the country and it should most certainly be on any nature lovers list.

However, if you only have a short time to see the state, make sure you see all the best spots by following our 8 day Colorado Road Trip itinerary.

Our road trip is fueled mainly around nature, hiking, and exploring all kinds of wondrous natural locations. We made it a point to include at least 1 hike (both short and long) on every single day of this trip. Even making the best use out of our travel days flying in and out of Colorado.

Packed with incredible outdoor adventure, this Colorado road trip still encompasses culture, comfort, and gorgeous scenic drives.

While outdoor activity is our main goal, we still love exploring all the other facets a new state has to offer and combining it into one solid trip.

colorado-road-trip (32)

Despite how much you see in these 8 days on the road, there is still so much left to see of this wonderful state. We’re already looking forward to the next time we return to continue our adventure.

What did we leave out? A worthy mention that we did not list is Great Sand Dunes National Park. Gigantic sand dunes, sand boarding, and a scenic surrounding forest makes this one of the state’s more unique landscapes.

Are you traveling to Colorado anytime soon? We hope you use our road trip itinerary to help satisfy your passion for nature and to have the most effective and fun trip as possible!

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About the Author

Shelby Kirk is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. With a strong love for nature and adventure travel, she hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore our natural playground that we call home.

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