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September 18, 2020 9 min read

We are big fans of road trips. Big. Fans. 

What’s not to love? Some great tunes, curvy roads, snacks, and journeying to places that many won’t put the effort into exploring. Colorado is a wonderland of unique, breathtaking adventures. From mountains to canyons, sand dunes to waterfalls, stunning white water rafting, glorious hiking, and so much more, Colorado has it all.

This road trip is focused on Denver and the surrounding area. Denver is a fantastic city with a light, zinging energy. You could add any number of extras into this trip to extend it, and we will list some of our favorites below. 

But for now, let’s get down to our favorite 7-day itinerary to see some of Colorado’s best!

Day 1- Denver to Colorado Springs

Highlight: Garden of the Gods

Arrive at the Denver Colorado Airport and pick up your rental car. We recommend something with 4-wheel drive to get down some of the roads.

 

Drive to Colorado Springs where you can stay the night in a hotel or airbnb. Our favorite options are here:

  • Budget Friendly

  • Middle

  • Best

Spend the evening visiting Garden of the Gods park and watch the sun set while perched on one of these gorgeous formations. We spent a lot of time walking around and admiring all of the different rocks while the sun was still up, then returned to one that you could climb to enjoy the sunset. 

To get this view, enter Garden of the Gods from Parking Lot 1, next to the Kissing Camels formation. Walk on the pathway past the kissing camels and turn right to enter the park between the two boulders. You will see some structures inside where people can rock climb- take a left on the path and continue on it until the next left. It takes about 10 minutes total. 

Day 2- Colorado Springs to Alamosa

Highlights: Bishop’s Castle & Sand Dunes

Start early on this day because the Sand Dunes National Park closes at 6 p.m. and you want to make sure you have enough time to play in the sand!

Tip: Enter GPS coordinates from Colorado Springs to Bishop’s Castle, and then on to the Great Sand Dunes. There is no reception at Bishop’s Castle, so you want to make sure you know where you’re going next when it’s time to leave.

Drive from Colorado Springs to Bishop Castle (Estimated Drive Time 1.5 hours)

Bishop’s Castle was built by ONE man over the last 60 years. It is massive, trippy, and slightly sketchy. Will you live? Will you fall over the very low edge of the tower as the metal sways in the wind 160 feet suspended in air. But it’s also glorious. So uniquely designed and built. So much to admire! This visit is not one to be missed.

Admission: Free Will Donation

Drive from Bishop’s Castle to Great Sand Dunes National Park- (Estimated drive time 2 hr 15 minutes)

There is a place just a few minutes outside of the park called the Oasis- you can rent sandbars or sand sleds here for $20 for the day at the sand dunes. Normal sleds/boards will NOT work as you have to have a special kind with wax.

The sand dunes are absolutely amazing- so beautiful and fun to play in. However, they are deceiving! Leave yourself enough time- the rental of boards can take a while if you choose to do that, and lines can get lengthy to enter the park. Once you park, it takes about 15 minutes to get TO the sand dunes, so if you were worried about too much car time— don’t! 

Admission- $25 per car to enter the park, $20 for board rental if you choose to do this

Bonus adventure: On your way out of the sand dunes on Rd 150, take a left and follow signs for Zapata Falls. Note- you should have a higher clearance vehicle. The road to get to the trailhead is extremely bumpy. 

Once you are there, you can take a short 1/2 mile-ish hike to the stream. Follow the stream up to the waterfall tucked in-between the cliffs. It’s VERY cold as it is basically melted glacier water! But very nice after a long day of driving and playing in a giant sandbox.

Hotel: There are a few places to stay in Alamosa, however, you will find it to be a very quaint little town!

Day 3- Drive from Alamosa to Montrose

Highlight: White Water Rafting & Black Canyon

Drive from Alamosa to Salida (1.5 hours)

Here, you can go for an absolutely fun-filled morning white water rafting. The company that we used wasSalida River Adventures - they are a smaller outfit. They were extremely kind and helpful. 

Wear quick dry clothes & shoes that will stay on your feet- you’re not allowed to wear flip flops. Put on sunscreen before you go, and bring extra sunscreen and water in a waterproof bag that can clip. I wore an SPF50 long sleeve top that that was absolutely perfect- I didn’t need extra sunscreen. 

Note: If you’re taking this trip during the COVID-19 pandemic, you are required to wear a face mask getting ready and while you’re getting shuttled to your starting point , but once you’re in the water, you do not have to wear it.

Admission: Around $50 per person

After your white water rafting adventure, hop in the car and get ready for a fantastic drive through the mountains! This was one of my favorite stretches of highway as you wind through gorgeous green rolling mountains. If your timing is like ours, you’ll get to see the sun start to set as you arrive in Montrose, which is where the Black Canyon Visitor Center is.

I actually liked the Black Canyon better than the Grand Canyon. For me, it’s something about the jagged ravines and massive mountains colliding that is just stunning. You can get out and walk around here and enjoy the views.

Admission: Free 
I recommend camping here! It was really fun to wake up and drive along the canyon and admire it’s views the next morning. Camping is $16. You can make reservations, however, they save some spots for last minute wanderers. We talked to the Forest Ranger, and he guided us to a spot that had cones blocking it off. He said they do this intentionally. 

Why camp? The stars were cluttering the sky! I have rarely seen such a beautiful display of stars. We laid on the ground for a solid hour just staring in awe, and even caught a few shooting stars. It was absolutely glorious. 

However, if you’re not a camper, there are a few hotels you can choose to stay in Montrose.

Day 4- Montrose to Telluride

Highlight: Telluride & Little Hawaii

Leave early in the morning and head to Telluride. It’s about an hour and a half drive. This was my other favorite stretch of mountains. You’ll go right by Mt. Sneffels, which you can hike on Day 6!

Telluride is hands down one of the cutest towns I’ve ever been to. It’s adorable, has a river running through it, has some amazing food choices, and just has this fresh energy that I loved, not to mention there are so many things around there to find to do. 

(If you have an extra few days, I would put them right here and make some day trips out to see Bridal Falls, Mesa Verde, and so many other amazing places.But that’s another story for another day!)

When you get to Telluride, I recommend heading towards the free gondola lift before lines start forming. You enter the station, and they’ll put you on a gondola that lasts about 12 minutes and goes up the side of the mountain. At the top, you can get off and walk around to enjoy the stunning views.

In the winter, this is one of the best skiing locations in Colorado!

Take the Gondola back down to town and grab a bite to eat. I HIGHLY recommend Caravan Middle Eastern Food. Truly just bursting with flavor. My favorite food on the entire trip was out of this little trailer!

Tip: Wear water shoes or quick drying shoes with a good grip for this next adventure.

After you’re filled up, grab a water bottle and head towards the Bear Creek Trail trailhead. You will follow this up the hill for about 5minutes. You’ll see a clearing with a sign about half way there- keep going another 5 minutes or so. You’ll see a few trails jutting off to the left- there are a few that will lead down to the river. Follow the river upstream until you see the cliffs jutting up with waterfalls running off of them. It’s a little tricky, but just take your time.

Again the water is freezing, but it’s really fun to see a few brave souls who have also stumbled here take turns dipping in the freezing cold pool.

It’s just breathtaking to see! 

Stay: There are some cute places to stay in Telluride, but if you’re on a budget or an adventurer, there are so many places you can camp at for free or a minimal fee. 

Camping options:

Hotel stays:

Day 5- Telluride to Boulder

Highlight: Blue Lakes Trail

Blue Lakes Trail doesn’t mess around. You’ll want to wake up early- Around 5-6 a.m. Drive to the Blue Lakes Trailhead Parking lot. It will take you about an hour and a half, depending on where you stayed the night before. We camped in Ridgway, so it was only about a 45 minutes drive. It’s slow, bumpy, and there will likely be cows free-range grazing that will take it upon themselves to chill in the middle of the road. They’ll moooove!

The hike is about 8 miles round trip. It says 3.4 on the sign, but with exploring at the top, we all came out with about 8 miles on our pedometers. You will also gain about 1,900 feet above sea level.

Once you get to the trailhead, you will begin the hardest part of the day- at least a mile of uphill hiking. The air is thin up here- around 9,000 feet above sea level. Take rests when you need to catch your breath or rest your legs. We planned on an all-day hike, so we didn’t feel guilty about it taking us a while to make it there. 

Some people can complete this hike in 1 1/2 hours- 2 hours. It took us 3 hours because we had some children with us!

The trail itself is dreamy- tall, towering trees with the sun glinting through them, fields of wildflowers, towering mountains all around, waterfalls, and streams flowing through.

Tips: wear quality hiking shoes with hiking socks so your feet won’t blister. Bring plenty of water and snacks/lunch! We use backpack waterpacks like this one. Many people underestimate their water intake needs. This is also not a day to skimp on calories! And lastly, bring a small packable rain poncho or jacket. It opened up and rained no less than 3 times (along with hail- in JULY) between full sunshine. The weather changes very quickly, especially in the afternoon.

The work, preparation, and hike is worth it. 

To get this view, when you get close to the lake, take a left towards the river that streams out of it. You’ll have to cross it via the logs laid across the span of the river. Hike up the hill about 10 minutes. There’s a stack of rocks on the mountainside, and this is where we got our view looking down on the lake. 

Some people camp up here overnight- there are 2 more lakes further up the trail another mile or two. You can also summit Mt Sneffels, but it would be difficult to achieve in one day. If you want to add another day, this would be a fantastic adventure. 

After your hike back down, you should be ready to sit in the car for a while. That is exactly what you need to do!

Drive to Denver/Boulder to spend the night. We chose to stay in Denver, but you’ll be going to boulder the next day, so you could go a bit further and just stay there. 

Day 6 - Denver to Boulder

Highlight: Flatiron Mountaintop

This doesn’t require as early of a morning as you have had, but try to make it to the FlatIrons mountain by 10 a.m. It can get quite hot in the afternoon, along with storms, so it’s really best to get there earlier.

This hike, you will get to the trailhead and go to the right (there’s an option to go either way- there are many trails in this area, and a lot of them are loops). Follow the signs for FlatIron 1 & 2. You will have about a 1,500 foot elevation gain and maybe 2 miles of hiking. 

There are so many beautiful view. We scaled up the side of the rocks in a free-style rock climb, but there is a path the whole way that is moderate. 

To get the shot above, about half way up, there is a rock formation that so many people were passing by, but it was one of my favorite parts to climb around and appreciate the views, with the 3rd flatiron majestically jutting up I the background. 

Keep following the trail up- it will feel about a dozen times like you’ve made it to the top, but it keeps going! Once you’re truly at the top, the 360* views are just outstanding and a perfect place for a picnic lunch!

After your hike back down, hopefully you’ve found a hotel to stay at with a hot tub! Rest up- you just completed a very busy, active week.
Day 7- Return rental car & fly home

If you have taken this road trip, let us know how it went!

Follow us on instagram @theivybrand or on Pinterest for more itineraries and adventures!

Steve Weigel
Steve Weigel


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