Julie United States 2 Comments

With four national parks, numerous national forests and state parks, plus historic towns scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains, Colorado makes an awesome road trip destination. On this Colorado itinerary, you will visit all four national parks (Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Rocky Mountain National Parks), linking them together with gorgeous scenic drives.

About this Colorado Itinerary

This Colorado road trip is written as a 10-day itinerary. There is a lot to see and do in Colorado, and if you want to visit all four national parks, ideally you need at least 10 days. Even with 10 days, you will be moving very quickly.

However, if you have less time (or more time…lucky you!), I will give you suggestions on how to modify this itinerary at the end of this post.

On this Colorado itinerary, you will start and end in Denver or Colorado Springs (depending on which airport you choose), making one big loop through the state. You will drive 1,050 miles and this estimate does not include any additional mileage for detours or driving within the national parks.

On this road trip, all of the roads you will drive are either paved roads or gravel roads that are suitable for standard cars, so a standard 2WD car will do just fine.

You can also do this road trip in an RV. For some of the scenic drives, such as Pikes Peak and Mount Evans Scenic Byway, I recommend checking vehicle length restrictions before you go.

On this Colorado itinerary, you will visit:

This Colorado itinerary focuses on the four national parks in Colorado with several other notable destinations.

  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Aspen & Snowmass
  • Pikes Peak
  • Numerous scenic drives

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (national parks, towns and cities, and scenic drives and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
 
Note: This map currently does not show the route from Aspen to Granite over the Independence Pass, since the road was closed due to winter conditions at the time I made this map. It will be updated once the road  reopens.

 

Day 1

Arrive in Colorado, Drive to Colorado Springs

On the Road: 85 miles, 1 hour 15 minutes from Denver International Airport; minimal time on the road from Colorado Springs Airport

You can fly into Denver International Airport or Colorado Springs Airport. Flying into Colorado Springs will save you some driving time today but it is a smaller airport with less options than Denver International Airport.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: On the final day of this Colorado itinerary, you will drive from Rocky Mountain National Park to the airport and fly home. When you do this, Denver International Airport will be the closer of the two airports.
 
To minimize the amount of driving that you do, you can fly into Colorado Springs Airport and fly out of Denver International Airport. However, you might find that it is cheaper to fly round trip out of one airport, rather than flying in and out of two different airports, which is something to consider when booking your flights.

At the airport, pick up your rental car and drive to your hotel in Colorado Springs. Get settled into your hotel and have dinner.

For dinner, I recommend going to Old Colorado City, which sits just to the west of Colorado Springs. Highly rated restaurants include TAPAteria (a Mediterranean wine bar), Pizzeria Rustica, Front Range Barbecue, Paravicini’s (Italian cuisine), and Jake and Telly’s Greek Cuisine.

Where to Stay in Colorado Springs

We stayed at the Staybridge Suites Colorado Springs North Hotel and recommend it. The Best Western Plus Executive Residency Fillmore Inn, the Holden House 1902 Bed and Breakfast Inn, and Mel Haven Motel all get great reviews. If you like the idea of staying at a resort that has a pool, take a look at Garden of the Gods Club and Resort.

You will stay in Colorado Springs for two nights.


Day 2

Garden of the Gods & Pikes Peak

On the Road: 65 miles, 3 hours

Today, you will visit the Garden of the Gods in the morning and drive up Pikes Peak midday. In the afternoon, hike the Manitou Incline or visit Seven Falls at Broadmoor.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods is a wonderful state park that is located next to Colorado Springs. This park is quick and easy to visit. A maze of paved trails weaves between red and pink sandstone rocks. For those who want to explore further, there are 15 miles of hiking trails in the park. Rock climbing is a big thing to do here, and you can bring your own gear and climb or join a tour. 

With a few hours in Garden of the Gods, this is what I recommend visiting:

  • Walk the Central Garden Trail, an easy, paved 1.6 mile walk through the heart of Garden of the Gods; park in the Main Parking Lot
  • Drive the Juniper Way Loop, which circles around the heart of the park
  • Drive Garden Drive to see Balanced Rock
  • Visit High Point Overlook

Garden of the Gods is free to visit. The park is open from 5 am to 9 pm. For updated hours of operation and park conditions, visit the official website. 

Garden of the Gods

High Point Overlook

 

Balanced Rock Garden Gods

Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods

Pikes Peak

From Garden of the Gods, it is a short drive to get to the base of Pikes Peak (10 miles, 17 minutes).

Driving to the summit of Pikes Peak is one of the most popular scenic drives in Colorado. At 14,115 feet, this is one of the most prominent fourteeners in Colorado.

At the base of the mountain, you will pay a fee at the entrance gate ($10 for adults, $5 for children). Then you will drive up to the summit of Pikes Peak, which can take almost a full hour. Once you get above the tree line, the views really open up.

On the summit, there are restaurants, restrooms, and a gift shop. For those who want to learn more, join one of the ranger-guided programs where you can learn more about the history, geology, and wildlife of Pikes Peak. And don’t miss the hot, fresh donuts at the Summit House…they are delicious!

Pikes Peak Road

Pikes Peak Road

View from Pikes Peak

A visit to Pikes Peak lasts 3 to 4 hours, including the drive back down the mountain.

For updated hours, pricing, and road conditions/closures, click here. 

The Manitou Incline

The Manitou Incline is a brutal stair climb to a viewpoint over Colorado Springs. You must reserve your time slot in advance. Learn more here. 

If you are planning your visit in the summer months, and this sounds like something you would like to do, consider doing this first thing of the day, when the temperatures are cool. Visit Garden of the Gods in the late afternoon, when it begins to cool off.

The Broadmoor Seven Falls

This cascade of seven waterfalls is called “The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado.” It takes 2 to 3 hours to visit the waterfall. Learn more here.

If you like the idea of ending the day with a nice meal, make a reservation for Restaurant 1858, a fine-dining restaurant at the Broadmoor. You can also have dinner in Old Colorado City or Colorado Springs.

Sleep in Colorado Springs.


Day 3

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

On the Road: 170 to 200 miles, 3 to 4 hours

The reason I am giving you two days in Great Sand Dunes National Park is so you have enough time to pick up your sandboards or sand sleds. Sandboarding is one of the best things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park, especially if you are doing this Colorado road trip with kids.

Morning: Drive to Alamosa/Great Sand Dunes National Park

There are 2 routes I recommend choosing from, to go from Colorado Springs to Alamosa.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the driving route). You can click the check marks to hide the different driving routes. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

#1: The Direct Route. You can drive directly to Alamosa, which takes two hours and forty-five minutes if you take I-25 (170 miles).

#2: The Scenic Route through Cañon City. There is a more scenic route, where you can add on the very short but thrilling Skyline Drive in Cañon City. This scenic drive is only 2.6 miles long, but it is very unique, as this narrow, one-way road bounces up and down along a razorback ridgeline.

Skyline Drive Canon City

Skyline Drive in Cañon City

If you choose the scenic route through Cañon City, the drive will take four hours with 200 miles of driving.

How to Drive Skyline Drive:  Skyline Drive is a narrow, one way road. From US-50 in Cañon City, turn right onto Skyline Drive. This one-way road heads south for 2.6 miles before ending back in town. There are no guardrails and the drop-offs on either side are 450 feet high. There are wider areas to allow other vehicles to pass.

Once finished the drive, take US-50 west to Highway 285 south to Colorado 17, until you get to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Alamosa.

Afternoon: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

This afternoon you will spend some time in Great Sand Dunes National Park, but first, you have to decide where to stay. This has a big impact on how much time you have and where to pick up your sandboards or sand sleds.

Where to Stay to Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park

There are two locations to base yourself when visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park: just outside of the park and in the town of Alamosa.

If you stay just outside of the park, it’s slim pickings from the very small number of hotels and restaurants, not to mention the limited availability to rent sand sleds and sandboards. Your second option is to stay in Alamosa, but it is a 35-minute drive, one-way to get to Great Sand Dunes National Park. So, you have to decide if you want more amenities with a longer driving time, or a close proximity to the national park.

With only a one night stay, staying close to the park will save you a lot of valuable time. On this Colorado itinerary, you will visit Great Sand Dunes twice (this afternoon and tomorrow morning), and that adds up to over 2 hours of driving if you stay in Alamosa.

Accommodations in and around Great Sand Dunes National Park

If you want to stay in the park, you can camp at the Piñon Flats Campground or get a backcountry permit to park on the dunes.

Great Sand Dunes Lodge is nothing fancy but it gets good reviews and it does have a pool. Great Sand Dunes Oasis has motel rooms, a campground and 20 RV sites. They also offer sandboard rentals. 

Accommodations in Alamosa

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. It was clean and quiet and the Wi-Fi worked well. Other hotels that get good reviews include the Fairfield Inn and Suites, the Hampton Inn, and the Best Western.

Great Sand Dunes NP

How to Spend Your Time in Great Sand Dunes National Park

In the afternoon, have lunch, get checked into your hotel or campground, and then pick up your sandboards or sand sleds.

If you want to go sandboarding and sand sledding, you need to have a sandboard or sand sled that is made specifically for use on the sand. Snow sleds, skis, and snowboards will not work. Plastic saucers and cardboard will also not slide very well on the sand.

We rented sandboards at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa. I recommend making your reservation about 5 days in advance because they can sell out. Here is the list of more companies that rent sandboards, including one company with a location just outside of the national park. 

Tyler Rivenbark

Dunes in the Evening

Great Sand Dunes in the late afternoon

The late afternoon and evening are wonderful times to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. In the summer months in the middle of the day, the sand can reach a scorching 150°F! During the summer, it’s best to limit your visit to the morning and late afternoon, and skip the midday, when temps are at their highest.

This afternoon, spend a few hours walking on the dunes and sandboarding or sand sledding. If this is your first time, it takes some practice to sandboard down the dunes, and there’s a good chance that you will end the day with sand in your hair, clothing…it gets into everything.

My advice is to pick a very small, shallow dune and work your way up from here. You don’t have to walk far into the dunefield to find the perfect dune.

And stick around for sunset…the sunsets here are beautiful.

For the full list of things to do, read our article 8 Amazing Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Consider packing a picnic dinner so you can spend more time on the dunes. We would pick up sandwiches at Subway in Alamosa and have dinner on the dunes.


Day 4

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Today you will spend the morning at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Midday you will drive to Cortez.

Morning: Great Sand Dunes National Park

The to-do list in Great Sand Dunes National Park is relatively short. Here are a few ideas on what to do this morning:

  • Hike to the top of High Dune, one of the highest dunes in the park
  • Continue to perfect your sandboarding skills
  • Drive the Medano Pass Primitive Road (4×4 is necessary)
  • Hike to Zapata Falls

Hike in Great Sand Dunes

Hiking to High Dune

 

High Dune

The view from High Dune

Afternoon: Drive to Cortez

On the Road: 210 miles, 4 hours

Once you are finished at the park, return your sandboards or sand sleds. Have lunch in Alamosa and then start the drive to Cortez.

To get to Cortez, it’s a straight shot on US-160 for the entire drive. It is a pretty drive, as you weave in and out of canyons, through national forests and rural farmland, and through several small towns and cities. Pagosa Springs and Durango make nice places to stop, if you need a break from driving and want to stretch out your legs.

Once in Cortez, get settled into your hotel and have dinner. You will stay here for one night on this Colorado itinerary.

Where to Stay

The only lodging inside of the national park is Far View Lodge. The Morefield Campground is located just outside of the national park. There are campsites and 15 RV hookups.

Cortez is the largest town near Mesa Verde National Park. It takes just 15 minutes to drive to park entrance.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express but the Retro Inn at Mesa Verde and Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch get very good reviews.

Where to Eat in Cortez

The Mexican food at La Casita is amazing and they have outdoor seating (this was our favorite restaurant in town and we ate here several times). Thai Cortez serves good Thai food. Destination Grill serves great cocktails and very good burgers (and it’s within walking distance of the Holiday Inn). If you are craving pizza or pasta, we recommend Lotsa Pasta & That’za Pizza (Tim and Tyler liked their meatball sandwich). The Loungin’ Lizard is a bar/restaurant that also serves great food.


Day 5

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old.

You will spend the morning in Mesa Verde National Park and in the afternoon, you will drive north to Montrose. On this itinerary, you won’t have much time in the park, so you will have to start early and plan out what you want to do.

One of the best experiences in Mesa Verde is to take a tour of one of the cliff dwellings. These are only available as a guided tour and you should make your reservation in advance.

Note: In 2021, due to COVID-19, cliff dwelling tours might not be offered. You can get updates on the national park service website. 

Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace

 Colorado Itinerary Mesa Verde

Square Tower House

I recommend spending your time on Mesa Top Ruins Road. Visit the sights along Mesa Top Loop and Cliff Palace Loop and take a tour of a cliff dwelling. Just before you exit the park, visit the Park Point Fire Lookout for 360° views of Colorado.

For more information on Mesa Verde National Park, including the cliff dwelling tours and more information on what to do inside of the park, read our article Top 10 Things to Do in Mesa Verde National Park.

Mid-Afternoon: Drive to Montrose

On the Road: 150 miles, 3.5 hours

To drive to Montrose, it is a very scenic drive. You will backtrack to Durango and then take US-550 north. This road, which is part of the San Juan Skyway, winds through the San Juan Forest and then twist and turns through the mountains before reaching the lovely town of Silverton.

The stretch of road between Silverton and Ouray is known as the “Million Dollar Highway,” since it reportedly took a million dollars per mile to build this road. Another legend has it that when the road was paved, it covered over a million dollars worth of gold and precious minerals.

Million Dollar Highway

Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Photo

Ouray

Ouray

Along this drive, both Silverton and Ouray make great places to stop for dinner.

Once in Montrose, get settled in your hotel.

Where to Stay in Montrose

The Double G Ranch & Guestlodge is the highest rated property in town. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and had a good experience. They offer suites so this is a hotel to consider if you are traveling as a family. You will stay in Montrose for one night.

As far as where to eat, we had such a great meal at Camp Robber that we ate here twice. We also highly recommend The Stone House.


Day 6

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Today, you will spend the morning and midday in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In the afternoon, you will drive north to Snowmass Village and Aspen.

Morning: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

To get to the south rim of the Black Canyon, it is a 20-minute drive from Montrose.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a highly underrated national park. In some ways, it’s a smaller, less crowded version of the Grand Canyon. You can view the canyon from the overlooks, hike the short trails along the rim, or journey below the rim for the ultimate adventure. It is possible to visit both the North and South Rims in the summer and fall. However, on this itinerary, your time is limited, so I recommend sticking to the South Rim.

All you need is four to five hours to explore the South Rim. Drive South Rim Drive, visiting the overlooks along the way. I also recommend getting out to hike one of the short trails on top of the rim. The Warner Point Trail (1.5 miles) and the Oak Flat Loop Trail (2 miles) are great options.

Gunnison Point

Black Canyon

PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you are looking to add more time to this Colorado itinerary, it is worthwhile to add an extra day to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This will give you enough time to also visit the North Rim and/or add on an inner canyon hike.

Afternoon: Drive to Snowmass Village or Aspen

On the Road: 140 miles, 3 hours

It’s another afternoon of driving, as you begin to work your way through the Rocky Mountains to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This evening, you can stay in either Snowmass Village or Aspen. Which one you choose depends on how you plan to spend your time tomorrow morning.

On our most recent trip to Colorado, we spent several nights in Snowmass Village. From our room, we could look up at the ski slopes. Tim, Tyler and Kara went mountain biking in Snowmass, riding the gondolas to the peak with their bikes and then cruising downhill to the village. There are also many great restaurants to choose from in Snowmass.

Snowmass Mountain Biking Colorado itinerary

Aspen is a lovely town filled with restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels. If you want to take a break from hiking and outdoor adventures, and you simply want to spend the afternoon and the next morning in town, spend the night in Aspen. Aspen is very dear to us…Tim proposed to me here on the ski slopes 25 years ago. 

Hotel and Restaurant Recommendations

Snowmass Village: In Snowmass Village we stayed at Capitol Peak Lodge in a gorgeous 3-bedroom apartment with views of the mountains. We liked it so much that we would absolutely stay here on a future visit. Il Poggio is our favorite restaurant in town.

Our room Colorado itinerary

Capitol Peak Lodge

Aspen: Annabelle Inn, Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, and the Limelight Hotel Aspen all get great reviews. For dinner, I recommend Jimmy’s and getting a table on the outdoor deck if the weather is nice.

You will spend one night in Aspen/Snowmass.


Day 7

Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park

On the Road: 200 miles, 5 hours (not including Loveland Pass or Mount Evans)

Spend the morning in Snowmass or Aspen and then head north to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This is the last big driving day of the trip! And you will be driving along some of the most scenic roads in Colorado, with the option to add on several drives to mountain summits, similar to Pikes Peak.

Note: The map above does not include the route between Aspen and Twin Lakes over Independence Pass because the road was closed due to snow when I created this map. I will update this map once the road reopens.

Top of the Rockies, Independence Pass & Leadville

Top of the Rockies is a scenic drive in Colorado that has several parts to it. It includes three mountain passes and several very historic towns.

Starting in Aspen, drive Highway 82 east towards Granite. Along this drive, you will cross Independence Pass, the highest paved state highway, crossing the Continental Divide. The summit of this pass sits at 12,095 feet. Parts of this road are narrow and winding and there are very short distances where the road is only wide enough for one car to pass.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Independence Pass is generally open from Memorial Day to late October depending on snowfall. It is closed the remainder of the year. Get updates on road conditions here. 

10 Day Colorado Itinerary Photo

Top of the Rockies

Once you get to Highway 24, turn left and take Highway 24 north to continue on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway.

Leadville, at 10,152 feet, is the highest incorporated town in the United States. This historic town was a boomtown in the 1880s, with its silver mines drawing famous figures like Doc Holliday, Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Horace “Silver Dollar” Tabor.

At Leadville, this scenic byway forks. For the most direct route to Estes Park, turn right on Highway 91, and you will cross the Continental Divide at the 11,318-foot Fremont Pass before arriving at Copper Mountain and I-70.

Optional: Loveland Pass & Mount Evans

Take I-70 east towards Denver. Before you get to Central City Park, you have two optional detours. Both of these scenic drives end high up in the Rocky Mountains.

Loveland Pass

This is the first optional detour you will get to. Loveland Pass is a high mountain pass that is located south of I-70, between Vail and Idaho Springs. To drive to Loveland Pass, it is 8 miles round trip from I-70 and takes about one hour.

To get here, it is a relatively short but steep drive. It is a steady 6.7% grade to the summit with numerous hairpin turns. At 11,990 feet, Loveland Pass is the highest mountain pass in Colorado that stays open during the winter season.

Loveland Pass Colorado itinerary

Loveland Pass

Mount Evans Scenic Byway

The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America.

In just 28 miles, the road climbs over 7,000 feet, ending near the summit of Mount Evans. Once at the summit, you get to enjoy panoramic views over the Rocky Mountains, views of the Continental Divide, and it is here that you have a very good chance to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep.

This drive is 50 miles round trip and takes 2 hours.

The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, depending on weather conditions. Get updates here.

To get here from I-70, take exit 240 in Idaho Springs, follow Highway 103 south until it reaches Echo Lake, then take Highway 5 to the top of Mount Evans. 

Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to Estes Park

Take I-70 to the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. Starting in Central City, you will drive Highway 119 north to Nederland and then take Highway 72 to Estes Park. The byway runs along the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado’s Front Range.

On this drive you get to see Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. Mount Meeker, at 13,911 feet, can also be seen on this drive. Nederland is small, historic town and a nice place to stop for a bite to eat.

Once in Estes Park, check into your hotel and then have dinner.

Where to Stay & Eat in Estes Park

For recommendations on where to stay and eat in Estes Park, read our Guide to Estes Park. You will stay in Estes Park for 3 nights.


Days 8 & 9

Rocky Mountain National Park

On this Colorado itinerary, you have two full days to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the USA. There are sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet and many of these top out over 13,000 feet. The Continental Divide runs north south through the park. You can cross the Continental Divide by foot or by driving Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through road in the national park system.

With two days in Rocky Mountain National Park, you have enough time to hike one or two trails, drive Trail Ridge Road, and spend some time in Estes Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Here is a sample 2 day itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park:

Day One: In the morning, hike Nymph, Dream, Emerald, and Bear Lakes from the Bear Lake Trailhead. In the afternoon, drive Trail Ridge Road, visit the overlooks, and walk the short but strenuous Alpine Ridge Trail.

Day Two: Take your pick from one of many hiking trails in the park. Since you just spent a week in Colorado, with the past few days in the Rocky Mountains, you should be acclimated to the higher elevation. If you love hiking, consider hiking to Chasm Lake, Mount Ida, or our favorite hike in the park, Sky Pond.

TIMED ENTRY PERMIT SYSTEM: To visit Rocky Mountain National Park from May 28 to October 11, 2021, you will need to reserve a permit in advance. This has been implemented to limit crowds at the busiest sections of the park during the peak visitation season (the summer months). If you do not have a reservation, you will not be allowed to enter the park. Reservations are made online on the recreation.gov website. Each daily reservation costs $2 per vehicle, which is in addition to the $25 daily entrance fee per vehicle. Learn more on the official national park service website. Or visit recreation.gov to make your reservation.

Rocky Mountain National Park Hike

Trail to Chasm Lake

 

Sky Pond

Sky Pond


Day 10

Return to Denver or Colorado Springs & Fly Home

On the Road: 76 miles, 1.5 hours to Denver International Airport; 145 miles, 3 hours to Colorado Springs Airport

In the morning, drive to Denver International Airport or Colorado Springs Airport. In the afternoon, fly home.


How to Modify this Colorado Itinerary

With Less Time

If you want to do this Colorado road trip but don’t have 10 days, what should you eliminate?

To make this a 9-day itinerary, remove one day from Rocky Mountain National Park. This gives you one full day in the park, which is just enough time to visit the highlights.

To make this an 8-day itinerary, eliminate a day from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. In the afternoon of day 2, after you visit Pikes Peak, drive to Alamosa and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Spend the morning of day 3 in Great Sand Dunes and in the afternoon, drive to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. Most likely, you will have to give up sandboarding on the dunes, since you might not be able to get to the rental facility before closing time on day 2.

To make this a 7-day itinerary, eliminate the day in Colorado Springs (Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak).

 

7-Day Colorado Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colorado, drive to Alamosa/Great Sand Dunes National Park
Day 2: Great Sand Dunes NP, drive to Cortez
Day 3: Mesa Verde NP, drive to Montrose
Day 4: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, drive to Snowmass/Aspen
Day 5: Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 6: Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 7: Fly home

Great Sand Dunes Colorado itinerary

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

With More Time

If you have more than 10 days for this Colorado itinerary, here is where I recommend putting your extra time.

If you like hiking, put more time into Rocky Mountain National Park. For each day that you add, you can do another great hike.

Add an extra day in Snowmass or Aspen. Since this is in the middle of the itinerary, this is a nice spot to slow down and relax. Or, if you don’t want to relax, hike Maroon Bells or spend the day mountain biking.

Add more time for Mesa Verde National Park. Rather than having half of a day at Mesa Verde, as it is written above, spend one full day in the park. On the next day, take your time on the San Juan Parkway and spend more time in Silverton and Ouray.

Add another day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. One more day gives you enough time to hike an inner canyon route and/or explore the North Rim.

 

14-Day Colorado Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Colorado, Drive to Colorado Springs
Day 2: Garden of the Gods & Pikes Peak
Day 3: Drive to Great Sand Dunes, Spend the afternoon in Great Sand Dunes
Day 4: Great Sand Dunes, drive to Cortez
Day 5: Mesa Verde National Park
Day 6: Scenic Drive to Montrose in the morning, Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the afternoon
Day 7: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, drive to Snowmass/Aspen
Day 8: Snowmass/Aspen
Day 9: Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 10: Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 11: Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 12: Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 13: Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 14: Fly home

Best Time for this Colorado Itinerary

The best time for this Colorado itinerary is in the summer and early fall, when all of the scenic drives and hiking trails are open.

The summer months are the busiest months to visit the national parks, but with warm temperatures and great weather, this is also one of the best times to go hiking.

In autumn, Colorado is beautiful, as the leaves change to brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. This can still be a busy time in the national parks, in particular Rocky Mountain National Park, as visitors flock to the park to see the fall colors and elk mating season.

Once the snow arrives, usually by mid to late autumn, crowds begin to diminish. Temperatures are low in the winter, but so are the crowds. Several of the scenic drives that we list in this itinerary close during this time.

In the spring, warmer temperatures melt the snow and visitation picks up. Snow can linger on the higher hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park all of the way into July, depending on snowfall levels for that year.

Lake of Glass

Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park

Planning Your Trip

Accommodations

Here is a list of where you will need to make your hotel or campsite reservations. If you plan to visit Colorado during the busy summer and fall months, I recommend making your reservations 4 to 6 months in advance.

  • Colorado Springs: 2 nights
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park: 1 night
  • Cortez: 1 night
  • Montrose: 1 night
  • Snowmass/Aspen: 1 night
  • Estes Park: 3 nights

National Park Fees

  • Great Sand Dunes: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
  • Mesa Verde: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: $25 per vehicle, valid for 1 day

America the Beautiful Pass

For this Colorado itinerary, it is worth it to purchase the America the Beautiful Pass. This annual park pass costs $80 and is valid for one year. Not only will you save money on park fees for this trip but you will also get free admission to any other national park or federal recreation sites that you visit within 365 days of purchasing this pass.

Purchase your pass at the first national park that you visit (in this case, at Great Sand Dunes National Park) or you can get it online.

Click here to learn more.

Important Links for the Colorado National Parks

Here are the links to each national park website. Check park conditions and road closures before you go.

More Information about Colorado

NATIONAL PARKS:  The Colorado National Parks: Travel Guide & Itinerary

GREAT SAND DUNES: 8 Amazing Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park

MESA VERDE: Top 10 Things to Do in Mesa Verde National Park

BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: How to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison: North & South Rims
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: Best Things to Do on the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: How to Hike the Gunnison Route
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: 6 Best Things to Do on the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

ROCKY MOUNTAIN: Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: 15 Great Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: One Perfect Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
ROCKY MOUNTAIN: How to Hike to Sky Pond

ESTES PARK: Guide to Estes Park: Where to Stay, Where to Eat & the Best Things to do

SCENIC DRIVES IN COLORADO: 9 Spectacular Scenic Drives in Colorado

Rocky Mountain Hike Colorado itinerary

Hiking to Mount Ida in Rocky Mountain National Park


If you have any questions about this Colorado itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

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Colorado National Parks Itinerary

 

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Comments 2

  1. Love that you’ve highlighted some of Colorado’s best views. Colorado Springs has lots to offer as well. The Olympic and Paralympic museum, just opened is worth a few hours stop. Garden of the Gods is stunning along with Pikes Peak (one of only two 14ers you can drive to the top of). Next time you’re through Colorado, stop in to the Springs. It’s a fun and super family friendly place!

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