Plan your bucket list summer road trip through Colorado
Summer is for road tripping, and what better place to turn up the tunes, take in the unparalleled views and explore than right here in Colorado? From active adventure-themed road trips to trips that immerse travelers in history, wine and roadside attractions, Colorado has a trip itinerary for every traveler’s taste.
Below is a sampling of unique itineraries that will take travelers to various regions of the state to immerse themselves in the culture of the communities.
Splash through Northern Colorado
In Steamboat Springs, fly fish, tube or paddle the Yampa River, the most free-flowing river in the entire Colorado River system. Visit Fish Creek Falls and explore seven natural mineral springs on a self-guided walking tour.
After these adventures, travel southeast on Highway 40 over Rabbit Ears Pass and head toward Walden. Stop at State Forest State Park for camping and fishing in the park’s alpine lakes and rivers. Watch for the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, a managed waterfowl nesting area and lush wetlands complete with meandering streams, just outside of Walden. Continue into Poudre Canyon, a Colorado Scenic Byway, and stop and see the 100-year-old Mishawaka, a bucket-list music venue offering “classic eats and river beats.”
Head to Fort Collins and cool off at the Poudre River Whitewater Park located in the up-and-coming River District neighborhood or Horsetooth Reservoir for boating fun.
Native American History and Culture
A road trip around southwest Colorado leads travelers through the history of the ancestral Puebloan, Ute and Navajo people.
Start at the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park, where tribal members interpret pictographs, surface ruins and artifacts. From there, head to the Cortez area and visit the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum, an archaeological museum and headquarters for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, containing the highest known archaeological site density in the U.S. Attend free dances and cultural programs at the Cortez Cultural Center in the evening. Overnight at the Canyons of the Ancients Guest Ranch and enjoy a traditional Navajo dinner.
Just east of Cortez, visit the spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages in Mesa Verde National Park. The park protects the rich cultural heritage of 26 tribes and offers visitors a spectacular window into the past.
From there, drive east to the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio and learn about the origin, culture, language and history of the Ute people. End the trip by visiting Chimney Rock National Monument, once home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people, and travel on to Pagosa Springs to soak in the hot mineral springs.
Experience Summer in Ski Resorts
Summit and Eagle Counties are home to some of the best-known ski areas in the world which transform into summer playgrounds
Start at Arapahoe Basin to experience the highest via ferrata climbing route in North America. Head to Keystone’s bike park with progression-focused terrain for riders of all abilities or hit the greens and enjoy a round of golf at one of Keystone’s two 18-hole golf courses.
Drive over Swan Mountain to the historic mining town of Breckenridge that offers endless hiking and mountain biking adventures set against the backdrop of the ski area's five massive peaks.
From Breckenridge, head to Copper Mountain and experience Woodward Copper’s on-snow, skiing and riding summer camps. Keep heading west on I-70 to Vail Mountain, where you can take a gondola ride with gorgeous mountain views.
Then hit up Epic Discovery featuring the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, tubing hill, climbing wall, zip lining and more. Just 10 miles down the road, Beaver Creek sits above the town of Avon. Hike, bike, horseback ride or 4x4 to Beano’s Cabin high up on the slopes of Beaver Creek Mountain to devour delectable cuisine.
Wines of Western Colorado
Western Colorado boasts two federally designated American Viticultural Areas along the Colorado River between Palisade and Grand Junction, and along the North Fork of the Gunnison River between Paonia and Hotchkiss. Together, these regions produce 90 percent of the wine grapes grown in Colorado.
Start a wine-inspired road trip in Paonia, stopping in Azura Cellars & Gallery and Alfred Eames Cellars. Head to Hotchkiss to taste wines at The Storm Cellar and Mesa Winds Farm and Winery and indulge in their farm-to-table small plates. Stopover at Big B’s Delicious Orchards for farm-fresh produce, live music, hard cider and camping in their orchard.
In Palisade, enjoy wine from 30+ wineries and taste the flavors of the area alongside Colorado wine at Peche and overnight at the Wine Country Inn. In Grand Junction, experience Carlson Vineyards tasting room on Main Street. End the wine tour at Two Rivers Winery and Chateau near the Colorado National Monument.
Canyons and Plains
Southeast Colorado is shaped by its rich heritage of Hispanic and Native American culture. It’s a special place to enrich perspective, meander country roads and experience fascinating moments in the nation’s history firsthand.
Frontiersman Kit Carson, folk hero “Wild” Bill Hickok and explorer Zebulon Pike also followed this path on their fortune-seeking quests, leaving their mark on locations with important historic ties such as Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site and Boggsville Historic Site. And though they’re a tragic reminder of some of the darker sides of history, Amache National Historic Site and the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site also present an opportunity to learn from the past.
Travel even further back in time to Picketwire Canyon, where a guided auto tour shows travelers the largest dinosaur tracksite in North America. To the northeast, Vogel Canyon offers four hiking trails and is the site of rock art left behind by Native Americans 300-800 years ago. Both are found within the Comanche National Grassland, a haven for nearly 400 bird species.
Thanks to an extended growing season, the region is also known for its agriculture. Rocky Ford in particular is famed for its cantaloupe and watermelon. Stop by a roadside farm stand or farmers’ market for a true taste of summer.
Mystic San Luis Valley
San Luis Valley features quirky roadside attractions (UFO Watchtower, Colorado Gators Reptile Park and Stations of the Cross), incredible scenery and outdoor adventures, wildlife viewing and the tallest sand dunes in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Opening this summer, the historic Frontier Drive-In is a 1940s-era drive-in movie theater that has been reimagined with nightly film screenings on a fully restored movie screen, overnight accommodations in steelmaster sheds converted to luxury hotel suites and glamping yurts, and one-of-a-kind spas located inside signature 3D-printed adobe structures open to the sky.
Zapata Ranch, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is offering a slew of exciting summer workshops. These new offerings come on the heels of the recent expansion of the hip Mellow Moon Lodge and bike shop in Del Norte, and the purpose-built singletrack mountain bike trails emerging on the west side of the valley.
Pioneer Through the Plains
After the Louisiana Purchase, pioneers flocked to Colorado by the thousands, finding the plains a place to farm.
Start this trip near Orchard for camping near one of the best beaches in Colorado at Jackson Lake State Park. From there, search for mule deer, coyote and pronghorns (antelope) near the twin 300-foot-tall Pawnee Buttes in Pawnee National Grassland.
Head to Sterling to learn about the pioneers at the Overland Trail Museum, once the most traveled road in America, and drive across tracks laid by early railroad pioneers. Drive south to the Yuma Irrigation Research Farm, where travelers can learn about government-tested methods of soil conservation.
Head east to hunt deer, quail and turkeys near Wray. From there, drive south to Burlington to ride wooden horses, giraffes and lions while whirling to the music on the 1905 Kit Carson County Carousel. End the trip with some birding at Mountain Plover Festival in Karval, or in Limon’s wetlands.
Rockies Scenic Byway
For breathtaking views, plan your trip along the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway.
Drive east of Aspen on Highway 82 over Independence Pass to the historic town of Twin Lakes. Pick up a walking tour map at the Twin Lakes Visitor Center.
Head to Leadville, the highest elevated city in North America, and take a tour of the historic Tabor Opera House, learn about mining at the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame and ride back in time on the Leadville Railroad.
Head over Tennessee Pass past the Camp Hale National Historic Site (where the U.S. Army trained during World War II) and Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Pass through Red Cliff and end in the charming town of Minturn where the Minturn Market and Blue Starlight Drive-In are summer highlights.
Bike Through the Roaring Fork Valley
Take a bike excursion through the Roaring Fork Valley—home to Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The 40-mile stretch of highway links all five towns via Highway 82 from I-70 to the base of Independence Pass. Together, the region makes up the first Gold-Level International Mountain Biking Association Ride Center™ in Colorado. With more than 300 miles of high-quality singletrack to explore, the Roaring Fork Valley provides an incredible breadth of experiences for mountain bike enthusiasts seeking beauty and exhilaration. Guests can choose to drive and explore the trail systems within each town and ride the trails between each destination.
Which bucket list itinerary appeals most to you? Email us at [email protected]