There are few road trips that take you to the base of Colorado’s towering mountain peaks, the heart of red-rock canyons, the front door of ancient ruins and the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Start in Rocky Mountain National Park, an alpine paradise dotted by clear lakes, bighorn sheep and stunning peaks. Take Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the National Park Service, through the park to its west side, exiting at Grand Lake. From there, you’ll head to Kremmling before turning onto one of Colorado’s most scenic routes, Hwy. 9, which runs along the clear waters of the Colorado River until it reaches I-70. Continue to Grand Junction, heading south to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose and then Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez.
Established by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde was the first national park created to “preserve the works of man.” It preserves the cultural heritage left behind by Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the area from 600 to 1300.
From there, you’ll point your wheels toward Monument Valley, a gathering of dramatic sandstone buttes that reach for the deep blue sky above. It’s in the heart of the Navajo Nation, and you can get guided vehicle and horse tours from local guides. Then head to Grand Canyon National Park via Cameron, Ariz. (see page 6-21 to learn more).
On your way back to Denver, visit Farmington, N.M., before heading to Durango, one of Colorado’s best university towns. Continue north to take a dip in Pagosa Springs’ legendary hot springs and then press on to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Alamosa, Colo. Some of our favorite roadside stops follow below.
Road Trip Map
Before You Go
Download the Gypsy Guide App
Enjoy the freedom of driving your own car while traveling with an entertaining guide that doesn’t take up space. Learn more at gypsyguide.com/tour/rocky-mountain-national-park/ and gypsyguide.com/tour/grand-canyon-south-rim/
6 Things to Take on Vacation
After many trips to the Grand Canyon and Southwest, our editor has created a list of her favorite things to bring along.
Have lots of time? Before you head west, make a side trip to Rocky Mountain National Park just 1.5 hours from the Denver International Airport. Read more on our Colorado Parks website at www.mycoloradoparks.com/road-trips/denver-co.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Best of Rocky
Here are our favorite things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park including where to watch the sunrise and sunset, what peaks to summit, where to spot wildlife, and where to catch a waterfall. Read more on our Colorado Parks website at www.mycoloradoparks.com/national-parks/weekend-itinerary
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
At this impossibly sheer, narrow canyon in southwestern Colorado—at its thinnest points, the gorge spans just 40 feet at the Gunnison River and 1,100 feet at the rim—rock walls plunge as deep as 2,722 feet. Intrepid hikers and rock climbers can venture into the depths on several very steep, unmaintained trails. Other visitors prefer to peer into the chasm from a network of trails lining the north and south rims. Anglers love this place for its gold-medal water for trout fishing. Read more on our Colorado Parks website at www.mycoloradoparks.com/national-parks/bcotgnp
Mesa Verde National Park
Discover Mesa Verde’s Best
You could spend weeks exploring every nook and cranny of Mesa Verde National Park, a cultural gem located in southwestern Colorado. But what if you only have a day or two? Here are some of the park’s best spots.
It’s difficult to keep your eyes on the road as you drive through Monument Valley. That’s because the views of the sandstone buttes beyond your windshield are astonishing. Take a couple of extra minutes to stop at the various pull-outs and get out of your car to really experience this iconic landscape. Made famous beginning in the late 1930s when Hollywood director John Ford began filming his westerns here, Monument Valley became the front door to the great American West, if only as a myth, for millions of audiences. It sits in the heart of the Navajo Nation, home to an estimated 350,000 Navajo who live on the 17.5-million-acre reservation. Learn more about Monument Valley.
Grand Canyon National Park
48 Hours in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
Get ready for adventure. Here are some of our favorite things to do while at the South Rim from biking in solitude to exploring some of the rim’s most historic treasures.
Stop at Grand Canyon Visitor Center
Hidden secrets await in Tusayan.
A Grander Stay at Yavapai Lodge
Sleep well and sustainably about a mile from the rim. The Yavapai Lodge’s restaurant, tavern and nearby market and shuttle stop make navigating the rim easy.
Into the Deep
Read a family’s story about hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and discovering there’s more than meets the eye.
Yá’át’ééh to Farmington, New Mexico
In Navajo, yá’át’ééh means “welcome.” Dive deep into Navajo culture with these four stops in Farmington, N.M. Plus Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area, dotted by spires, sculpted rock and colorful hills, is just 35 miles away.
Community First in Durango
The great outdoors, creative food and passion for the community meet in Durango. But it’s heart is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Choose Your Durango Adventure
Your adventure can be as crazy or mild as you want it to be. Choose water, land, train or foodie escapades.
8 Hot Springs Soaks Between Denver and the Grand Canyon
Colorado is dotted with incredible hot springs and pools. Dip into some of the state’s best on your road trip from Denver to the Grand Canyon.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Is this south central Colorado or the Sahara? It’s not always easy to tell at this unique park where the continent’s tallest sand dunes join the rugged Sangre de Cristo mountains. Wander, sled or sand-ski among the dunes, or, even better, backpack out to camp in the sand. Learn more on our sister site at www.mycoloradoparks.com/national-parks/gsdnpp