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Plan Your Next Colorado Road Trip With These 6 Easy Tips

Colorado Road Trip

Colorado Road Trip!

Colorado road trip! These three words pretty much say it all. But what should you bring? Where should you go? How much time do you need to cover a good chunk of the state?

Whether you live here, somewhere else in the US, or abroad, Colorado is a popular travel destination and great place to hit the open road. I can already hear Tom Petty’s words rushing through my head just thinking about our next big road trip through the San Juan Skyway!

“It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down.  I had the radio on, I was drivin’.” – Tom Petty

Due to its vast size and distinct landscapes, Colorado offers untrammeled experiences that keep people coming back for more…and more!

Spontaneous Highway Stop
Spontaneous Highway Stop

The State of Colorado is far too large to see all in one trip. Unless you have a month to wander, it’s best to digest the state in bite-sized chunks. We typically only have 7-10 days for each of our road trips, so we try to keep the following things in mind as we plan each Colorado road trip itinerary:

1. Decide How Much Time You Have

You can see a lot in 6-7 days. You can see even more in 10-14. Figure out how much time you want to spend roaming. Then focus on the details. The devil is always in the details! And planning out the details can be as much fun as the trip itself. Okay, I got a little too excited there. 🙂

2. Be Realistic

This tip might be the most important. Be realistic about how much you can see and do. Remember to take breaks and accurately plan for the time it takes to travel from one place to the next. Colorado is 380 miles wide and 280 miles from north to south. You’ll want to jump out of the car to peer across scenic overlooks, use the restroom, and fuel up (both your car and your body). Or stop at one of Colorado’s ever-growing number of breweries.  All of these things take time.

Experience has taught us that it’s better to enjoy places for a longer period of time than try to see everything at once. Consider taking a full week or two to tour through the San Juan Mountains. Take at least five days to enjoy the history and wildlife of the southeast Colorado plains – especially all you bird lovers out there. Or spend a full week roaming the Front Range, including stops in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins.

3. Select Your Route

Decide your travel route and where your jumping off point is going to be. Are you a mountain lover? Head west, my friend. Are you thinking about visiting a national park? Colorado has four to choose from: Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, & Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. You can even string them all together in one epic trip!

Denver is by far the easiest place to fly into (and now you can even stay the night at the Westin Denver International Airport Hotel). Colorado Springs, Eagle, Durango, Hayden (near Steamboat), and Grand Junction – just to name a few – all have reasonably-sized airports too. If you plan to rent a car, especially during the busy summer- and winter-tourist seasons, we highly recommend reserving one in advance.

Ready for the Road
Ready for the Road

4. Determine Time in Each Location

How much time should I spend in each place? Ah, the timeless travel question. We rarely stay less than two nights in each major destination. You’ll lose at least half a day traveling between towns, so spending a couple evenings in each spot can really relieve the stress. You’re on vacation, right?!? The last thing you want to do is feel your blood pressure rise.

If you’re going to Durango, you’ll need at least a full day to visit Mesa Verde, another full day to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and a third full day to float the whitewater rapids of the Animas River. That’s at least two or three nights right there. The same can be said for most major destination towns and cities in Colorado.

5. Plan Your Activities in Advance

We like to research possible activities in advance. However, we also like to be spontaneous. Instead of planning things out by the hour, try creating a menu of options for each of the places you plan to visit.

For example, we had three days to hang out in Buena Vista the last time we passed through. We made a list of possible hikes of fourteeners (Mount Yale or Mount Princeton), included some of our favorite restaurants (the obvious choice is Eddyline Brewery), and left the door open to visit either Princeton Hot Springs or Cottonwood Hot Springs. We also made a list of potential short drives, including going up Cottonwood Pass or visiting the St. Elmo Ghost Town. We knew we wouldn’t be able to tackle all these amazing places – and we didn’t – but it was great to be able to go with the flow. We ended up being in the mood to relax…so guess what we ended up doing?

Jammin' to Colorado Road Trip Playlist
Jammin’ to Colorado Road Trip Playlist

6. Extra Credit: Make a Colorado Road Trip Playlist

What good is a road trip without a soundtrack to life? There’s no better way to pass the miles by than jam out to some of your favorite tunes. For our last Colorado road trip, we prepared a playlist all about the state. Don’t have time to make your own? Then try out our Colorado Road Trip Playlist.

Have you taken a Colorado road trip lately? Share some of your insights and fondest memories below.  Or share your favorite road trip music.  Have a burning question? Ask away in our comment field.

Josh T

Josh is a native son and big fan of pack burro racing. He thru-hiked the Colorado Trail, loves running and biking, and is passionate about sharing his favorite journeys and experiences with others. You can typically find Josh out exploring the less beaten paths under Colorado’s sunny skies.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks Josh T! I’m on my annual Rock Art Journey- can you give me more info on the sites you mentioned off county roads 23 and 65? I’ll visit the Canyon Pintado sites, but I’d hate to neglect anything nearby. I appreciate your help.
    Karen Veni

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