Summer is here! It’s time to dig out those hiking boots, grab your keys and explore the world around you.
And there’s something about a road trip that says summer to us. Every mile is filled with discovery, excitement, peace. You’re in the moment because the trip is as important as your final destination. Radio up, windows down… you can forget about your to-do list for a while. This is your time to live in the moment right alongside the natural world.
A road trip to discover new places and uncover new pieces of yourself is always worth it, even if it means a few extra dollars in your gas tank.
We’ve pulled together four of the best Colorado road trips you need to take. Buckle up – these will be quite literally the high points of your summer. Like really high.
Like over 14,000 feet.
So if heights aren’t your thing, you might want to find some trails a little closer to sea level.
#1: Explore Southwest Colorado on Red Mountain Pass
Up first, a three day road trip on Red Mountain Pass in Southwest Colorado. Red Mountain Pass is the breathtaking high point of the Million Dollar Highway. At 11,017 feet, it’s known as one of the most scenic drives in the US.
Day 1: Start your journey through the heart of the San Juan Mountains to Cortez, Colorado.
Take a hike or plan a night out stargazing at Mesa Verde National Park, home of the Ancestral Pueblo people.
Need a place to stay? We’re obsessed with this cliff dwelling cabin in Cortez. It’s built into the cliffside with sweeping views of a canyon. Just a warning – you may never want to leave.
Day 2: Your morning starts with a drive to Durango, Colorado about 50 miles from Cortez.
You can choose to stop and take in the history and mountain trails or continue on another 40 miles to Silverton.
Durango is a bigger city than Silverton with a bit more to do (and eat). We recommend sticking your feet in the river or grabbing a Texas Taco from Serious Texas BBQ.
Silverton is a small mining town nestled in the middle of a valley for peaceful scenic views. It’s worth the trip, but if you plan to stay the night, be sure to book your room ahead of time as places to stay usually fill up.
Day 3: Your final day on your southwest Colorado road trip will take you on a drive to Ouray, about 25 miles north of Silverton.
The trip from Silverton to Ouray is known as the Million Dollar Highway. Legend has it that it took a million dollars per mile to build. The highest point of this drive is Red Mountain Pass offering some of the most amazing views in Colorado.
You’ll want to take your time to navigate the steep cliffs, especially since many places don’t have guardrails. But the slow pace will be ideal to take in all the scenic views.
When you’re ready to wrap up your three day Colorado road trip, make one last stop to relax and enjoy the Ouray Hot Springs!
#2: A Road Trip to the Top of Two 14ers
It doesn’t get higher than 14ers in Colorado and this trip will take you to the top of two in just four days.
This road trip through Colorado will start in Idaho Springs and end in Colorado Springs, making travel easy to and from Denver. Perfect for those who need to fly in for the trip.
Day 1: Journey up Mount Evans from Idaho Springs on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
This popular byway is only open during the summer and there’s a $15 fee to drive through. The 50 mile trip will take about 2 hours and will have you climbing all the way to the peak’s summit at 14,271 feet.
Mount Evans is known for having quite a bit of wildlife, so be on the lookout for bears, moose, and mountain goats on your way up!
Day 2: Head west to Silverthorne, then south into Breckenridge.
Once near Breckenridge, you’ll have your choice between multiple 14ers to hike that are all within one hour: Quandary, Decalibron, Grays & Torreys, Mount Elbert or Mount Sherman.
Note, you can’t drive to the top of any of these, so bring your hiking boots and lots of water. If you’re looking for a more leisurely “hike” check out Breckenridge's iconic troll!
Day 3: Drive from Breckenridge to Fairplay, then head south east to Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs has plenty of natural wonders to explore including Garden of the Gods, amazing red sandstone rock formations. You can also check out their bike rentals or segway tours and then grab an ice cream cone at Josh and John’s.
Day 4: Another high altitude day climbing Pikes Peak.
At 14,115 feet, the 40 mile round trip drive to the top of Pikes Peak will take 2-3 hours. On a clear day, you can see four states from the top: Kansas, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. You’ll have plenty of time for stops as the park opens at 7:30am and doesn't close until 8pm.
Plan some extra time at the top where you’ll find a state of the art gift shop (no joke) serving (again, no joke) really delicious cinnamon donuts you won’t want to miss.
Keep in mind there is an entrance fee to drive on the road (the fancy gift shop and donuts have to come from somewhere) or you can take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway up if you’re ready to give driving a break!
#3: Drive the Continental Divide on Independence Pass
Take a two day road trip out to Independence Pass starting in Denver and making your way to Aspen, Colorado. This road trip will have you crossing over the Continental Divide between Leadville and Aspen.
Day 1: Travel from Denver to Leadville, a mountain town home to around 30,000 people.
This historic Victorian-era mining town will have you feeling like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander downtown taking in views of the multiple 14,000 foot peaks.
And, if you ever wanted to own a Melly (from Melanzana), now is the time to do it! You can only purchase these in person at the shop in Leadville so make sure you make time for the stop. As of June 2022, they’re still requiring appointments so be sure to schedule accordingly.
Day 2: Head for Aspen through Independence Pass.
The trip through the pass is about 32 miles and takes about 2 hours. It’s the highest paved pass in North America at 12,095 feet above sea level.
There are multiple places to stop for the stunning views of aspen groves and the Fork River. If you want to stretch your legs, check out the multiple hiking trails.
While in Aspen, book a bus ride up to see the Maroon Bells to end your trip.You won’t regret it.
#4: Sneak in a Day Trip to the Black Canyon on South Rim Road
Start this must-do trip in Montrose and end in Buena Vista. This drive offers a combination of scenic overlooks and white knuckle turns for a memorable road trip!
Day 1: Leave Montrose for Black Canyon on South Rim Road.
This paved route is inside of Gunnison National Park, known for its steep cliffs, scenic drives and some of the darkest night skies in the country. Perfect for some star gazing if you plan to stay overnight.
Take the 8 mile route from Montrose and pause at each of the 12 scenic overlooks (three are wheelchair accessible) to take in views of the steep black walls made up of ancient metamorphic rocks.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can try the rock climbing and scrambling routes as you take in the epic canyon views. They're truly unlike any other.
Plan two to three hours to get through Black Canyon.
Day 2: Head east to Monarch Pass along the Continental Divide.
At 12,030 feet in elevation, this pass is one of Colorado’s most scenic drives and offers sweeping views of the Sawatch mountain range.
The pass can be treacherous with steep drop offs and limited road shoulders. The winding roads were even featured in the Fast and Furious 7 movie (try to drive more cautiously than they did please and thank you).
If you need a break, there’s a water station, gift shop and aerial tram for Monarch Mountain Ski Resort that will take you on a nine minute ride to the observatory for incredible views. On a clear day you might even see Pikes Peak from 140 miles away!
Find your Spirit of Adventure on a Colorado Road Trip
Let summer be your guide to stepping out into the unknown for little moments full of adventure, reflection and joy. The open road is calling, wash your spirit clean.
And, for anyone who’s camping, biking, backpacking, or looking to keep clean, don’t forget to pack a bar or two of Mountain Time Soap to refresh when you need it.
Take a drive to explore these natural wonders on a three day road trip through a mountain pass or a five day road trip to conquer some 14ers. Along the way, remember to pause and look around. Afterall, the drive is the destination.