Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in America and it is a perfect place for a road trip.
In fact, Colorado offers a wide array of landscapes with mountains, deserts, and green valleys, that would take you weeks and even months to explore it all.
With the Rocky Mountains dominating its scenic landscape, Colorado is home to the most fourteeners in the United States (mountains with an elevation of above 14,000 feet), which attract scores of mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts no matter what the season.
Whether you are coming to Colorado for hiking, camping, skiing, or road-tripping, make sure you add the following road trip stops to your itinerary!
Best Time To Visit Colorado
There’s no wrong time to visit Colorado!
Winter is one of the best seasons in the state thanks to a plethora of sports and snow-covered mountains that offer some of the best snow skiing and snowboarding in the United States.
Summer is the busiest season when travelers from all over the world come to Colorado to hike, bike, and camp; and fall is one of the most beautiful times to visit Colorado when the Aspen trees across the state turn to gold.
Colorado’s main transportation hub Denver is a perfect starting point for your trip.
Located 3,000 feet above sea level, Denver has a nickname of “mile-high city” and boasts tons of cool museums, cultural landmarks, and breweries where you can try locally brewed beer. And don’t forget to check out Denver’s restaurants.
This city boasts a great restaurant scene where you can find everything from hip vegan cafes to high-end restaurants, whatever your favorite cuisine Denver most likely has it!
I particularly recommend heading to Denver’s River North District, a former industrial district, where you can find many cafes, bars, and restaurants along with colorful graffiti walls.
Denver is also a great stop on your Colorado road trip itinerary because it will help you adapt to Colorado’s high altitudes.
This is especially helpful if you are not used to being at high elevation, and you should always carry plenty of water to help your body adapt even better.
Breckenridge or “Breck” as the locals call it, is a close neighbor of Aspen.
Breckenridge is a former mining town with Victorian-era charm located right off Interstate-70.
The town has moved a long way from its rugged past, it has transformed itself into one of the most popular destinations for all things outdoors thanks to its close proximity to Denver.
While Breckenridge is a quintessential Colorado ski town, along with nearby Silverthorne and Frisco, it makes for a perfect weekend getaway from the state’s capital.
The only downside is that it can be very crowded at the end of the week, so plan your trip accordingly.
Summer in Breckenridge means tons of hiking, camping, and mountain bike riding, while winter is time for cross-country, skiing, snowmobiling, and snowboarding, among other things.
One of the most popular hikes near Breckenridge is Mohawk Lakes, however, it is a strenuous trail that requires proper hiking gear.
3. Independence Pass
From Denver, head west on Interstate-70 and take the exit towards Independence Pass, which is the highest paved road in the United States at 12,095 feet, it passes over the Continental Divide and boasts stunning alpine landscapes.
You don’t have to pay to drive on this 20-mile road, but be sure to leave enough time for your adventure as you will want to take photos and stretch your legs on one of the hikes amid the jaw-dropping scenery.
Independence Pass is closed during winter and most of the spring because of the weather conditions. It typically opens in May, however, make sure to check information on the pass conditions online ahead of your trip.
Independence Pass connects Leadville and Aspen. While Aspen is by far more famous, Leadville is the highest town in the United States by elevation that sits at the altitude of 10,152 feet!
After driving along Independence Pass, you will arrive in Aspen, one of the most popular (and upscale) destinations in Colorado.
During the fall, many visitors come to Aspen to catch a glimpse of the Maroon Bells, two towering peaks framed by the golden aspens. The iconic sight is just a short drive from Aspen, and you can get there by bus that runs daily.
If you want to see this majestic view in full glory, I recommend visiting Aspen between mid-September and early October.
Stay in Aspen for a couple of days to explore, there are wonderful hikes such as Sunnyside Trail and Rio Grande Trail that can be accessed from downtown Aspen.
If you are looking for a hard hike, the gorgeous Cathedral Lake trail will leave you huffing and puffing but it will treat you to the view of an incredible lake at the end.
Check out the city’s quaint downtown with its red brick buildings from the mining era and hop on the silver Queen Gondola to get a panoramic view of Aspen and the surrounding mountains.
5. Crested Butte
If you travel to Colorado during fall, I recommend sparing a day visiting Crested Butte – a small hamlet in the Colorado mountains that is one of the most popular destinations in the state for fall foliage.
Separated from Aspen by the rugged mountains, Crested Butte is about 200 miles away from Aspen despite the fact that these two towns are located within the same mountain range called the Elk Mountains.
However, what’s cool about Crested Butte is that unlike Aspen with its glitzy five-star resorts and a major airport that sees tourists from all over the country, Crested Butte offers a uniquely “local experience” with its small restaurants and hotels.
Located in a remote corner of Southwest Colorado, this little town has only one ski resort and just one road out of town, which means mass tourism won’t arrive here any time soon.
6. Glenwood Springs
Located to the north of Aspen, Glenwood Springs is a town on the West Slope of Colorado that boasts renowned hot springs where you can soak in waters filled with minerals.
One of the top attractions near Glenwood Springs is Hanging Lake, a truly gorgeous sight located in the heart of the mountains. To visit Hanging Lake, visitors are required to obtain a permit online ahead of their visit.
This is one of the most popular sights perhaps in the whole of Colorado, so I recommend planning your visit for a weekday when you don’t have to share the trail with hundreds of other visitors.
7. Great Sand Dunes National Park
While mountains dominate the Colorado landscape, it’s not all that the state has to offer.
If you want a change of scenery after cruising through high-alpine terrain, take a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado, home to the highest mountains of sand in the whole of North America!
These incredible sand dunes span for over 30 miles and the backdrop of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains makes them truly incredible!
Most visitors enjoy sledding and sandboarding at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and you can rent a sand sled at one of the rental stores in the area.
If you just want to relax, take a stroll to the top of one of the sand dunes where you can have a picnic with a scenic view.
What’s also cool about the Great Sand Dunes National Park is that thanks to its remote location it boasts incredible dark skies that are perfect for stargazing!
The nearest town to the Great Sand Dunes National Park is Alamosa, where you find hotels, restaurants, and stores catering to tourists.
If you stop in Alamosa, make sure you visit the UFO Watchtower, one of the most famous roadside attractions in Colorado. As the story goes, numerous people have spotted UFOs from here, in part thanks to the clear Colorado sky.
Two other National Parks in Colorado that should be on your radar are Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the busiest national parks in the United States.
8. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway And The Million Dollar Highway
One of the most scenic drives in Colorado, One Million Dollar Highway is a high road in southwest Colorado that connects Silverton and Ouray.
Often described as one of the scariest roads in the United States, One Million Dollar Highway has its fair share of hairpin turns and sharp turns without any guardrails.
The reward for this challenge is the incredible scenery that surrounds you on every corner along this drive. There will be many times when you will want to pull off and take photos, so bear this in mind and drive in the summertime!
Things To Know Before Going To Colorado
Before you begin packing your bags, there are a couple of things that you need to know about Colorado. These are especially important if you are going to visit this state for the first time and are not yet used to its alpine environment.
On top of it, Colorado has its own culture and if you want to learn more about it read some of my tips below!
1. Altitude Sickness Is Real
Altitude sickness is physical distress that happens when your body has a tough time adjusting to a higher altitude. While not everyone gets sick from Colorado’s altitudes, there’s still a chance it can happen to you.
To avoid it, drink plenty of water and try to take at least a day to acclimate to the state’s higher elevation. Some of the most common symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, swollen hands, dizziness, and fatigue.
2. Weather Changes Quickly
It’s not uncommon to experience all three seasons in Colorado in one day. The weather pattern in Colorado is really bipolar which means that you could have a freezing morning and balmy afternoon followed by rain in the evening.
Yes, you might want to pack for several seasons and put some layers in your suitcase when getting ready for your trip, especially if you plan to stay in the mountains where the weather is unpredictable!
3. Outdoors Is The Way Of Life
People in Colorado love their state for its abundant outdoor opportunities. This means most people look forward to getting outside and spending time in nature whether it’s camping, hiking, or mountain biking in summer, or skiing and snowboarding in winter.
Make sure to respect the rules when you are spending time outdoors, like not starting fires during the dry season (July and August) and always ALWAYS packing away your trash when camping.
4. Some Roads Close For Winter
If you are visiting Colorado during shoulder season, always check road conditions. Some alpine roads that cut through the mountains close down for winter due to safety concerns.
In addition to this, hazardous winter conditions coupled with sharp turns also cause road closures around the state. If you travel in winter, it’s a good idea to have winter essentials in your vehicle.
5. Coloradoans Take It Easy
People in Colorado are very laid back, and if you are coming from another state to Colorado for the first time, you will quickly notice their friendly attitude.
Take your time to enjoy things around you and be friendly back when you talk to locals. Oh and keep in mind, that Colorado also has a casual dress code, unless you want to look like a typical tourist!
No matter what brings you to Colorado, you will fall in love with this scenic state.
From snowboarding in winter to camping and hiking in summer or marveling at the incredible foliage during the winter months, this state is a true adventurer’s paradise and once you come here, you will want to visit the Centennial State over and over again!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to take a Colorado road trip. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Colorado
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