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