Summer in Colorado is prime time for those who enjoy the high country. The central Rockies—with their stunning scenery, close proximity to Denver, and outstanding year-round recreation—are the ideal place to taste the state’s alpine grandeur while still leaving plenty of time for many other activities on offer. Take this trip between Memorial Day and early November, when Independence Pass is open.

mountain reflection in lake

Summer at Maroon Bells in Aspen. Photo © twildlife/iStock.

Day 1

Arrive at Denver International Airport and transfer to your hotel downtown. Visit the State Capitol Building to see the city’s celebrated mile-high marker, then enjoy an unforgettable view of the Rockies from City Park or the top of the Ferris wheel at Elitch Gardens before heading to LoDo for dinner.

Day 2

Drive west on I-70 into the Rocky Mountains, stopping in the colorful, mining-era town of Idaho Springs to explore the Argo Gold Mill and Museum or the Phoenix Gold Mine. Fill up with Mountain Pie pizza at Beau Jo’s before driving the spectacular Mount Evans Scenic and Historic Byway, North America’s highest paved road. Settle into your hotel in Breckenridge and enjoy drinks and dinner in the charming historic downtown.

panoramic view of forest and mountains in Breckenridge

Boreas Pass Road Overlook. Photo © Sharon Day/iStock.

Day 3

Fortify yourself at Cuppa Joe and walk the Boreas Pass Road, or, if you’re acclimated, rise with the sun and hike up Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s famous fourteeners. Next, drive over 10,662-foot Vail Pass to the town of Vail. Take a twilight stroll through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens before relaxing over aperitifs at the Root & Flower Wine Bar and dining at Sweet Basil.

Day 4

Savor the mountain views while playing a round of golf, biking up Vail Pass, or shopping in Vail Village before eating lunch at The Little Diner. In the afternoon, drive an hour west to Glenwood Springs, stopping along the way to hike up to Hanging Lake in gorgeous Glenwood Canyon. After exploring the downtown, walk to the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company for dinner before watching the sunset while soaking in Glenwood Hot Springs.

Day 5

Drive south along the Roaring Fork River to Aspen. After checking into the Limelight Hotel, ride the bus up Maroon Creek Valley to see Colorado’s most-photographed peaks—the crimson twin summits of the Maroon Bells. Go for a hike or return to Aspen and spend the rest of the day exploring the town’s art galleries. For dinner, sample the sushi at Matsuhisa or charcuterie and crepes at La Creperie du Village.

rafts full of people on the river surrounded by rocks and trees

Rafting on the mighty Arkansas River. Photo © Terri Cook and Lon Abbott.

Day 6

Drive over the dizzying heights of 12,095-foot Independence Pass, stopping at the Grottos and the ghost town of Independence. After descending to the beautiful Arkansas River Valley, return to Denver via one of two routes: drive south for white-water rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument; or head north to historic Leadville, America’s highest incorporated city, where colorful characters like Horace and “Baby Doe” Tabor and Molly Brown once struck it rich in the district’s high-elevation mines.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Colorado.