Ask Fodor's: Best Itinerary for a Colorado Road Trip?
Our column this week features a question submitted by @TrellisHicks via Twitter:
What would you recommend for a 6-day Colorado road trip? Going to stay near home this year for vacation.
In a state as rich in majestic landscapes, Old West charm, and urban treasures as Colorado, narrowing down your options for a six-day trip can be tricky. No matter what, you'll have to leave some activities for a follow-up visit. I recommend two itineraries—one well-trod, one off-the-beaten-path—that offer solid overviews of the state's natural and cultural wonders.
For both itineraries, start your trip in the state capital of Denver, where you can spend a day acclimating yourself to the altitude and indulging in the city's thriving cultural and culinary scenes. Make sure to visit the Lower Downtown (or LoDo) area. This historic district showcases the city's oldest architecture as well as several trendy art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
For the well-trod itinerary, follow up your day in Denver with one in Boulder, which is a straightforward 30-mile drive up U.S. Route 36. Stroll through the upscale boutiques and art galleries that line the Pearl Street Mall, then treat yourself to a hearty dinner at one of the city's many brewpubs, such as West Flanders Brewing Company or Fate Brewing Company.
Leave Boulder early the next morning for the trip's capstone: Rocky Mountain National Park, a mere hour's drive to the northwest via Estes Park. Spend your next three days marveling at the park's alpine lakes, snowcapped peaks, and easy-to-spot wildlife. Take time to drive along Trail Ridge Road, the world's highest continuous paved highway, and don't miss hiking from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake, an especially scenic—and popular—trail. For lodgings, you can pitch a tent in the park's five top-notch campgrounds or find reasonable accommodations at nearby Estes Park.
For those seeking to explore some less-visited areas of Colorado, set off from Denver to the Old West mining town of Durango. It should take roughly eight hours to drive there. The Main Avenue National Historic District, with its retro streetlamps and elegant Victorian buildings, is sure to please history buffs, while outdoorsy types will revel in the excellent mountain bike and hiking trails just outside town.
From Durango, you can take advantage of several easy daytrips. Mesa Verde National Park, about 35 miles to the west along U.S. 160, shouldn't be missed. This archaeological dreamland includes nearly 600 ancient dwellings carved into high sandstone cliffs by the Ancestral Puebloan people. Be sure to arrive early so that you'll have time to enjoy the park's many attractions, especially the Cliff Palace and Petroglyph Point Trail.
Another worthy side trip from Durango is to Telluride and the former mining camps of Silverton and Ouray nearby. Nestled in the rugged San Juan Mountains, these towns are full of scenic remnants from former boom times when silver was plentiful. An added bonus is that you'll be treated to one of the country's most gloriously scenic drives along the San Juan Skyway, which passes through Ouray and Silverton. —Luke Epplin, Associate Editor, Countryside and Adventure
Photo Credit: © Yarek Gora | Dreamstime.com (Rocky Mountains); © Welcomia | Dreamstime.com (Denver skyline); © Bjulien03 | Dreamstime.com (Rocky Mountain National Park); © Kravka | Dreamstime.com (Mesa Verde)
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If you are going to do Southwest Colorado, do not fly into Denver unless you get an amazing airfare! Fly into Albuquerque [ABQ] to save almost 4 hours of driving! You can also fly into Durango [DRO] but it will usually cost more than flights into ABQ and you will find rental cars to be more expensive.
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