Looking for road trip ideas for Colorado? We got you covered. We spent about a month making our way through Colorful Colorado, hitting all 4 National Parks, Colorado Springs and Denver. Colorado is by far the most beautiful state we have visited. There is not a road you can drive down or a direction you can look in where you won’t see gorgeous views.
We came to Colorado via New Mexico so we began our route in southwest Colorado making our first stop:
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is home to extremely well preserved archaeological sites and Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings.
We spent half a day here and got in a great short hike on Petroglyph Point Trail (2.4 mile loop), which provides views of the canyons and leads you to a big petroglyph panel in the rock wall. We also drove along Mesa Top Loop Road stopping at several overlooks to see the cliff dwellings, Square Tower House, Sun Point, and an awesome view of Cliff Palace.
There are several ranger guided tour options including Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House, but the tours are very popular with limited spots. You have to purchase the tickets in person but can get them up to two days in advance. We recommend getting them ahead of time if you can, we tried to get them the day of and had no luck.
Where We Stayed:
La Mesa RV Park in Cortez, Colorado $25 a night with Passport America rate. This was a small RV park not far from Mesa Verde, in town near a bunch of stores, was quiet and had everything we needed for a quick overnight stop.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest dunes in North America.
Hike to High Dunes which is about 699 feet tall, it's not the highest dune in the park but looks like it from the parking lot. It is about 2.2 miles round trip but be warned this isn't easy, hiking up steep, soft and deep sand is definitely a workout (which we questioned the intelligence of doing several times during our hike). But the views of the entire dune field from the top are pretty spectacular.
If sand hiking isn't your thing, there are several trails through the forest in this park as well. Be sure to also try sand sledding or sand boarding down the dunes. You can rent them outside the park.
Make sure you have a wooden sled or board- regular plastic sled do NOT work.
Where We Stayed:
We boondocked about 15 miles away from the park at San Luis State Wildlife Area. This spot is free if you have a Colorado State Wildlife Area Annual Pass which costs $36 (we picked ours up at the gas station in Mosca on the way in). Sites have electric, there is a dumpster and dump station but you will need to go in with water. The views across the lake of the dunes and mountains are hard to beat, it was quiet, peaceful and we had pretty good reception.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon is a very dramatic, dark, and imposing park which showcases some incredibly steep cliffs and spires.
There are not really many hiking trails here, but we enjoyed stopping at all 12 of the different overlook points along South Rim Drive which feature stunning views. The views from Chasm View and the Painted Wall Overlook are particularly impressive.
From June 1- August 10 dogs are not allowed to be walked or carried in the campground or walked on the southern portion of the Rim Rock Trail because female mule deer get aggressive about protecting their new fawns. While we were there in May, we experienced this as a deer started following and chasing me and Hayley when we were out on a walk. So be aware.
Where We Stayed:
We stayed at the South Rim Campground. Since it was off-season it only cost $8 a night. We stayed on A loop which had no hookups, but if you need electric, head to B loop.
Pike National Forest- Lake George
We spent a few slow days here catching up on work, taking the dogs on long walks and enjoying the quiet. Throughout Pike National Forest you can find plenty of hiking trails and ATV trails which are very popular on the weekends.
Where we Stayed:
We boondocked, so it was free! Upon entering the area there are a couple of nice spots for bigger rigs/Class A's. But if you have a car or van you can go much further down the road which gets pretty rutted for some pretty secluded and beautiful spots.
Garden of the Gods Park: The park is very appropriately named with so many cool rock formations that rise seemingly out of nowhere. We took the dogs and hiked a couple of the short trails here. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon and there are no entrance fees.
Red Rock Canyon Open Space: another free park with plenty of hiking/biking paths and an off-leash dog trail which our girls loved.
We regret not allotting more time here. There is so much to do and see in the the Colorado Springs area like Pikes Peak, the Manitou Springs Incline, and Seven Falls, so be sure to give yourself a few days to explore.
Where we Stayed:
Mountaindale Cabin & RV Park - not the most conveniently located, it’s a good 25 minutes to the main attractions in Colorado Springs but it’s a really nice campground, very well maintained, big open sites with plenty of room between you and your neighbors and cost $28.46 per night with our Passport America membership.
Rino Art Walk (street graffiti art) and grab lunch nearby at Denver’s Central Market; check out one of Denver’s awesome farmers markets; Hike at Red Rock Park and Amphitheater; and explore Downtown Golden.
Where we stayed:
Airbnb. Kevin’s parents were visiting us so we rented a house, not much help as far as campgrounds go but they are most likely on the outskirts of the city.
Rocky Mountain National Park / Estes Park
Top hiking trail pics for Rocky Mountains: Emerald Lake Trail which will take you past Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and finally Emerald (3.6 miles) and is probably up there with our all time favorite hikes; Cub Lake Trail to the Pool and back via Fern Lake Trail (7.15 miles), and Ouzel Falls Trail (5.5 miles) which takes you past Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and ends at Ouzel.
We also spent some time exploring Estes Park, a cute little town with a lot of shops and a historic old movie theater.
Where We Stayed:
We were in the Rockies during Memorial Day Weekend, which we did not plan in advance so we had to move around a bit. The NPS Moraine Lake Campground cost $26, was in a great location, nice big backyards, plenty of wildlife in the area and the views were incredible, especially from C loop.
We also spent one night at the Estes Park KOA at a rate of $89.47, which is expensive and it was small & cramped so it would not have been our first choice. The last two nights we spent at Manor RV Park, also expensive at $81.92 per night but we got a site on the river and the staff could not have been more helpful or friendlier so we enjoyed our stay here.
That wraps up the Colorado portion of our road trip. Did we miss anything? Let us know if the comments below, we would love an excuse to go back!
By: Ashley Quiambao
We haven’t hit a National Park in months and in the past couple weeks we managed to check 3 more off our list. First was a big trip to Big Bend and then we made our way north to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas. Guadalupe is only about a 30 minute drive to Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is in New Mexico. We hit both parks over a few days and think it would be a great long weekend trip for anyone. So here’s the lowdown:
What it Cost:
We have the America the Beautiful Annual Pass so daily entry into both parks was free. Otherwise its $7 per person for Guadalupe and $15 per person for Carlsbad (plus the cost of any additional tours you do). Honestly, the parks pass is amazing and we HIGHLY recommend it. If you plan on hitting a couple parks in a year it will save you a bunch of money and it supports the parks so WIN WIN. It’s $80 per pass which can cover up to 4 adults (passholder and passengers) and gets you in to all the NPS sites for free. If you are a senior it’s $20 per year (or you can get a lifetime pass for $80) and if you are a veteran or disabled you can get a free pass.
Where to Stay:
If you have ever driven in west Texas you know there is nothing there. For miles and miles its just the highway and flat open fields. So your options are pretty limited for where to stay. We stayed at the NPS campground at Guadalupe, which is really just a big parking lot by the trail heads. Certainly not glamorous but easy and convenient. There are no hookups available and it’s $15 a night. But they do have bathrooms (no showers) and potable water. Keep in mind if you are heading there to make sure you are fully stocked - food, gas etc because there are no close amenities.
We arrived mid morning and had no problem claiming a spot, there were about 20 RV spots with some smaller van or car spots available. We parked in the middle row and got plenty of sun for our solar panels. One thing to note, be mindful of the weather forecast. They get a fair amount of wind there, in fact we stayed a day longer because of 60-70 mile an hour gusts that we opted not to drive through. When the wind kicks up like that, visibility on the mountains is tough and it makes hiking some of the trails pretty miserable.
We stayed at Guadalupe for a few nights so we could do a couple of hikes and then drove Wanda to Carlsbad Caverns for our visit and then stayed in Brantley Lake State Park after. The state park is not too far from the caverns and it’s a cool spot in the middle of the desert. It was really quiet and only $14 a night for a w/e spot. But I will say the showers left much to be desired, they were freezing.
What to Do:
At Guadalupe, we hiked 2 trails. The first day we set off on the Devil’s Hall Trail (3.8 miles) which was a very unique hike. After the first half mile or so you are dumped into a rocky wash where you have to pick your own path, moving and jumping on and over boulders. It feels like it goes on for a lot longer than it does but you eventually reach the Hikers Staircase which you have to scramble up. Here the terrain changes pretty dramatically and you head through a pretty slanted section with more rock stairs...kinda feels like you are a bit tipsy walking through. At the end is Devils Hall. It is really pretty and beautiful and not at all what we were expecting, a happy surprise. Overall, it’s an easy trail just be mindful of your footwear choice because the boulders are a little rough on your feet/ankles/knees.
The second trail we tackled was Guadalupe Peak which is the highest peak in Texas rising to 8,751 feet. The trail is about 8.4 miles long and rated as strenuous, which it is. It was really quite a tough hike up. It’s pretty much straight up 3,000 feet with not many sections of plateaus or flats. The trail also tricks you a bit, we thought we were close to the top several times only to turn a corner and see in the distance another ridge and another taller mountain to climb. The view from the top is worth the climb and you have to sign the register at the top proving you made it! If you take this hike on we would recommend packing light, taking plenty of water/snacks and head up early before the heat.
There is a primitive campground about a mile from the top that you can stay overnight in but we went up and down in one day. We spoke to a couple hikers who stayed up there who said it was absolutely awful up there with the heavy winds.
We have been in a couple caverns in the past month or so and we decided to do something a little different, to try an adventure cave tour at Carlsbad. They offer several options at different times and different days. Our only option was the Lower Cave Tour. It was a 3 hour tour. Armed with headlamps and hard hats you use a rope to climb down and then descend approximately 60 feet of ladders into a section of the cave beneath the main "Big Room". It was a fun way to explore and we really liked viewing the cave in its natural state. After the tour we walked the Big Room which is very appropriately named. It is massive, the size and depth of it blows any other cave we have seen out of the water. There is a nice path which loops around the whole room highlighting different formations along the way.
It was awesome to be able to explore 2 National Parks back to back like this. It is such a quick easy drive between the two and the parks are so different from each other. You get to experience two unique environments and terrains.
Have you ever been to Guadalupe or Carlsbad? Let us know in the comments below.