This two-week best of Colorado itinerary offers enough time to hit many of the highlights while still enjoying a few lesser-known spots. The route involves a lot of driving, but the scenery is gorgeous and diverse, and you’ll still have time for hiking, wine-tasting, and visiting ancient ruins. This route divides into a northern and a southern loop. If you only have a week, you can return to Denver from Grand Junction after Day 7.
Arrive at Denver International Airport and transfer to one of the Mile High City’s cozy bed-and-breakfasts. Stroll through the Denver Botanic Gardens or shop in bustling Larimer Square, the city’s oldest block, before enjoying a cold craft beer at Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub, and a farm-to-table dinner at The Kitchen Denver or juicy steaks at Elway’s.
Head north to Boulder and hike in Chautauqua Park then drive up Flagstaff Mountain for gorgeous panoramic views. Sip a cup of tea seated at a topchan at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse before shopping and people-watching along the Pearl Street Mall. Settle into a downtown hotel and dine at Frasca Food and Wine or The Med.
Drive through artsy Lyons en route to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Look for bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes and elk in Moraine Park, then tuck into a picnic lunch near sparkling Bear Lake. Take an afternoon hike followed by a casual dinner in downtown Estes Park.
Fuel up at Notchtop Bakery & Cafe before re-entering the park to drive the winding hairpins along Trail Ridge Road, one of Colorado’s most spectacular drives. Stop at the vista points, trailheads, and Alpine Visitor Center along the way, then spend the night at the rustic Grand Lake Lodge, perched high above Grand Lake, a year-round recreation hub on the west side.
Head northwest to Colorado’s cowboy corner, anchored by the ranching-turned-recreation town of Steamboat Springs. Spend the afternoon hiking or horseback riding through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area or zip-lining near Rabbit Ears Pass. Shop for Western wear at F. M. Light & Sons before savoring a classic Italian dinner at Mambo Italiano or Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant.
Get up early to visit Dinosaur National Monument, a three-hour drive west. Veer briefly into Utah to visit the Dinosaur Quarry’s famous bones then drive to the Echo Park Overlook to see the gorgeous valley where the Yampa and Green Rivers meet. Camp in the monument or bunk down in Craig.
Search for ancient pictographs in the Cañyon Pintado National Historic District en route to Grand Junction. Pedal, hike, or raft through the beautiful high-desert scenery or explore the dizzying heights of the world’s largest flat-topped mountain along the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. Save time for a wine-tasting in nearby Palisade before enjoying fresh farm-to-table fare at Bin 707 Foodbar.
After breakfast in Grand Junction at Main Street Bagels, visit the sandstone towers and hidden crannies of Colorado National Monument. View the fossil treasures at the Dinosaur Journey Museum before another wine tasting and an overnight in or near Grand Junction.
Head southeast to view the sheer, dark walls of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park before driving south to Ouray. Enjoy dinner in the historic downtown followed by a decadent dessert at Mouse’s Chocolates and a relaxing soak in the Ouray Hot Springs.
In the morning, take a jeep tour to wildflower-filled Yankee Boy Basin, then drive to Telluride and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the historic downtown. Soak up the scenery by riding the free, year-round gondola up to the mountain village or hiking to beautiful Bridal Veil Falls. Check in at the historic Madeline Hotel, then walk to La Marmotte for dinner.
Leave early for the stunning drive through the San Juan Mountains and down to the sweeping sandstone landscape around Cortez. Visit the Anasazi Heritage Center before exploring the twisting chasms and ancient pueblos in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Top off your day with an icy margarita and delicious Mexican food at Pepperhead Restaurant.
Spend the day exploring Mesa Verde National Park. Arrive early at the visitor center to snag tickets to Balcony House or Cliff Palace, then head to Chapin Mesa to visit the archaeological museum and drive the scenic Mesa Top Loop Road. End your day in lively Durango with dinner at the Steamworks Brewing Company.
Board the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for an all-day outing in the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains. While in Silverton, explore quaint shops and colorful mining-era buildings before returning to Durango for a second night.
It’s a six-hour drive to Denver via U.S. 160 and U.S. 285. Stop for lunch at Little Red Hen Bakery in Salida and stretch your legs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Settle into your downtown hotel, then enjoy dinner and live music in LoDo.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Colorado.