10 Day Road Trip in Colorado

Old May 12th, 2017, 10:41 PM
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10 Day Road Trip in Colorado

Hi, Our family of five will be visiting CO in June for the first time for 10 days. We plan to either drive in from AZ, make a loop and leave from UT or vice versa. Is one route better than the other? We are more outdoor people-enjoy hiking, nature walks, mountain, trees, lakes, and wild life. How many days should we stay at each place (and nearby places to go) and where in the region is the best place to find lodging. I have read the SW side of CO is the prettiest, true? Any part of the route are winding and dangerous?
1. Mesa Verde NP (Durango, Pagosa Springs, Silverton?, Ouray?)
2. Colorado Springs (Garden of the Gods, Pike's Peak?, United States AF?, Manitou Springs?)
3. Denver-have read not to spend too much time there, 1 night? 2 nights? Where to visit, Mt. Evans, Botanic Garden?
4.Rocky Mountain NP-read that Estes Park is a very touristy place with lots of shops. Which place is better for lodging? I am having a hard time finding not so pricey vacation rentals in Estes Park as we are family of 5. Any hotel takes 5 people? Is it better to drive vis 34 to Grand Lake and find lodging there? How many nights should we spend there?

The following places came up on my online research. Which ones would you recommend? And how much time do we need? Aspen (maroon bells), Arapaho National Forest, White River National Forest.
Thank you very much for your help!
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Old May 13th, 2017, 01:34 AM
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If you are making a loop in Colorado, why not fly into Denver at the least.
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Old May 13th, 2017, 09:04 AM
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Sorry, but I get so tired of seeing these unrealistic laundry lists of places to see, in a quick drive-through of states that deserve to be seen slowly and enjoyed more than from a car window. Especially with 5 people in the car.

Have you looked on a map? Do you realize that mountain driving takes time and stress? You've been told to avoid Denver?

"I have read the SW side of CO is the prettiest, true?" Seriously?

Durango is gorgeous, as is Ouray, Aspen, Grand Lake, RMNP. . . .

"We are more outdoor people-enjoy hiking, nature walks, mountain, trees, lakes, and wild life." Do your research and limit your plan so you can actually enjoy yourselves and GET OUT OF YOUR CAR.
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Old May 13th, 2017, 11:20 AM
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Where are you coming to AZ from? Consider flying into SLC and driving from there to see at least 2 of the "Big 5" National Parks in Utah and then see what you can of the western 2/3 of Colorado.
Another way to do it would be to take the California Zephyr out of SLC early in the morning and arrive in Glenwood Springs a little after noon.
There is a good bus service from Glenwood Springs up to Maroon Bells and Aspen.
In Glenwood Springs next to the Colorado River is the world's largest hot spring fed swimming pool.
There is a beautiful paved bike/hiking trail that runs through the Glenwood Canyon just east of town.
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Old May 13th, 2017, 01:58 PM
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I would spend a good portion of your time between Mesa Verde and Ouray/ Telluride. The hiking and scenery there is fantastic. A fun thing to do is a jeep drive up to Yankee Boy Basin or Imogene Pass from Ouray. You can go with a company so they do the driving and you get to enjoy the views.

Colorado Springs- the cog railway up Pikes Peak is great. Do a picnic in Garden of the Gods, a quick stop at the Air Force Academy chapel and that's it. I would only pick this area if it is of specific interest to you.

Pick one more spot if you must- don't try to do Aspen, RMNP, Denver. Concentrate your 10 days between 3 locales that are of the most interest to you. Honestly, you can spend 10 days easily in just two places so 3 is pushing it.

You can hike for a lifetime in Colorado and not repeat a trail. You can white water raft, do scenic drives, tour mines, see museums, ride trains in several great places ( Durango, Georgetown, Colorado Springs), soak in hot springs ( Glenwood, Pagosa Springs). Just pick your fun and enjoy!
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Old May 14th, 2017, 03:58 AM
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I think the cog railway up Pikes Peak is a snooze==costs a lot, you go up, walk around and go down--i think it takes a half day, at least for the planning, getting there, etc.
Mesa Verde is a wonder of the world (to me!) and deserves more than a day.
I am also not a fan of CO Springs area with sos many other wonderful things to do and see in Colorado, when you have to choose.
AND Denver DOES have some really nice things to do and see also.
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Old May 14th, 2017, 07:43 PM
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Thanks so much for all the replies.
Our family is more used to find a few locations and stay at a vacation rental and spend a few days at each location. We spent 4 nights in UT and another 4 in Yellowstone last year but got to see lots of different things and walk different trails without having to constantly packing and unpacking. We took time to look at each place instead of driving from one place to anther then to another. This is also why planning this CO trip is challenging because there are so many places to see and lots of things to do and it's hard to pick one over the other.
We are coming from CA, can either go through AZ or UT. I have decided not to include Grand Canyon since our plan is to visit CO the best we can.
Ok. Here is what I have narrowed down. Please advise on how many days for each location/region. I know it also depends on what to do there, and somewhere I would like to include a beginner's whitewater rafting. We have never done it, but would like to try it, without costing an arm and a leg.
1. Mesa Verde area (Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Durango... ) Is taking 145 better? I prefer not to drive the "Million Dollar Highway. Which is less nerd-racking? Is there a more central location to find lodging in order to visit Telluride, Ouray, and even Montrose? (2 or 3 nights? since we won't get here till afternoon the first day)

2. Colorado Springs area- (Garden of Gods,United States AF, Manitou Springs, ..) What's the easier route to get here? via US 50? How is the drive? (2 nights?)

3. Denver (1 or 2 nights?)
4. Estes Park (RMNP, 3 nights?)
5. White River National Forest -(Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument) (2 nights?)

Ok, I know the total number of nights doesn't add up to 10. I squeeze one night out of Grand Canyon area stop.

Which part of the route could I include these, if possible? Idaho Springs, Black Canyon, Aspen area.. There are so many places to see..
Thank you again for all your suggestions. I really appreciate them.
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Old May 14th, 2017, 09:04 PM
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Whether you are flying through PHX or SLC you are looking at a full day drive to get to SW CO so automatically take 2 days off your 10 days. It's another 6 1/2 hours minimum from SW CO to the Denver area. With kids, I would think you might want to expand your driving times a bit more. The drive between PHX and Durango for me with no stops other than one gas stop is 7 1/2 hours and that doesn't figure in airport time, baggage claim or car rental. If you can fly into or out of ABQ you will save several hours drive time to SW CO. If you really want to cover the area around Denver, you would be better off either flying in or out of Denver. If you still want to drive in and out of PHX and SLC, you might want to save RMHP, Denver, etc. for another trip. What you have read about SW CO is true. It is the nicest part of CO so you might want to consider that as well. With your interest in hiking, rafting, nature, wildlife, etc., you could easily fill your remaining 7 days without covering any more than Mesa Verde, telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Durango and Aspen's Maroon Bells. I think 1 day is sufficient to see Mesa Verde but it will be a full day and you would need to have lodging in the park or spend the night before and after fairly close by. My recommendation would be Durango. Durango also has the Animas river running through town with many good rafting companies to provide a great first time experience. If you don't want to drive the Million Dollar Highway, it will be very time consuming to visit Ouray and Silverton since that highway is the only road between those two towns. Your only other option is to drive to Silverton from Durango then back to Durango then through Telluride to Ouray which would add several hours to that drive. The mountain passes can be winding mountain roads but I would not call them dangerous they just have to be driven much slower than a typical flat, straight highway. To avoid winding mountain roads in SW CO is a bit challenging since there are 5 mountain passes in this part of CO but it's so worth it if you can get over the fear. The hikes around Telluride, Ouray, Silverton and Durango are as good as it gets, the scenery is incredible and wildlife abundant. The best options for lodging in SW CO are in Durango. If you want to explore SW CO
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Old May 14th, 2017, 09:16 PM
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This is continuation of my prior post. Durango has a lot of lodging options in all price ranges. It also is a central base for exploring the entire area of Pagosa springs, telluride, Mesa Verde, Silverton and Ouray. The area includes the narrow guage railroad, horseback riding, paddle boarding, hiking, fishing, rafting, glider rides and more, there are several lakes in the area and our local ski area, Purgatory offers a variety of family activities including zip line, alpine slide, mountain biking rentals and more. Depending on when in June, there may also be a festival of some sort going on in Telluride or Durango. Be prepared for summer vacation crowds at RMNP.
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Old May 14th, 2017, 10:30 PM
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Thank you, bailey123, for explaining in such detail, especially the route between Durango/Telluride/Ouray/Silverton. We will be renting a car coming from CA, that's why we are coming to CO from AZ. Is the road from Ridgway to Ouray via US 550 winding? We might have to skip Silverton if getting there is considered too much for us.
I have shortened our stops at AZ and UT, and this is what I have so far. The kids mentioning visiting Zion/Bryce Canyon one more time on our way back if it's possible. I just don't see how it can be done.

AZ-1 night
1.Durango - 2 nights (Mesa Verde, Pagosa Springs,Telluride, Ouray)
2. Montrose - 2 nights (Black Canyon)
3. Colorado Springs - 2 nights (Garden of Gods, USAF, Manitou Springs)
4. Denver-2 nights (Idaho Springs, Breckenridge?)
5. Estes-2 nights (RMNP, Grand Lake)
6. Glenwood Springs-2 nights (White River National Forest, Aspen, Maroon Belt, Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument)
UT-1 night
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Old May 14th, 2017, 10:38 PM
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livetoroam, Is there a way to combine to 3 or 4 locations? Our family enjoy visiting national parks, hiking, wildlife, lakes, photography of natures more than city life. Thanks.
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Old May 15th, 2017, 02:22 AM
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Manitou Springs is a kitschy town of shops.
I think you need to look at a map and count in the drives between these places.
From Denver you would go up to Estes Park and the RMNP. You drive through the Park to get to Grand Lake and down to I70 and then on to Glenwood Springs (see the Glenwood Canyon exhibit of how the highway was built for sure).
You have so many places and not enough time to do more than a drive by.
Since I don't think we knew the prequel to this, it is hard to advise how to allot time.
personally I would cut the CO Springs area out of this and see how it affects your entire time, including AZ and UT.
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Old May 15th, 2017, 08:34 AM
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You say this is a 10 day trip? Your latest schedule is 14 days and even using 14 days, you are going to have Only drive-bys in several locations. For example in SW CO, 2 nights in Durango. One full day is traveling to, through and from Mesa Verde. You also want to go to Pagosa. This 1/2 day round trip driving, add in the hot springs or a short hike and a break for lunch in town and there is your second day. Pagosa is in the opposite direction out of Durango from all of your other stops outside Durango so you might want to give that one up. You will have no time to raft the Animas river in Durango, go hiking, see any part of the wildlife or nature north of Durango or go on hikes or do any of the numerous outdoor activities that the area is known for or experience the beautiful San Juan and Uncompahgre mountains except from a car window. Next morning you would need to head out to Telluride which is at least 2 hour-2 1/2 hour drive from Durango with no stops for hike, nature, photos. A quick walk up the Main Street in Telluride, have lunch and jump back in the car to see Ouray. In Ouray, you might get the opportunity for a short stop at Box Canyon Falls, then back in the car to Montrose. The drive from Ouray to Montrose is not a mountainous, winding road; you will be OK. You mention Mt. Evans in your original post. Is this part of the reason you are going to Idaho Springs? Are you aware that this is a 14'er with a winding mountain road with no guardrail in places? Pikes Peak also has mountainous switchbacks. Breckinridge is a cute town but you get similar feel in towns like Telluride,Ouray, aspen, Durango. If you are looking to cut back, I would delete Colorado Springs and Denver, items 3 & 4 entirely. Limit Montrose to one day and add Silverton back in for the old mining town and mine tour. You simply do not have enough time. There is a lot of driving and many of the routes you will be driving will be one lane in each direction, filled with summer RV traffic; also consider delays due to summer road construction. One last piece of advice. You are driving in areas of mountainous driving. Go to YouTube to view videos to determine if these will cause you concern. Check out lizardhead pass, red mountain pass (in case you decide to try the drive between Silverton and Ouray), molas pass, coal bank pass, wolf creek pass, mt. Evans, pikes peak, RMNP, glenwood canyon. Also, Cotrip.org will give you information on construction and the road conditions throughout CO. Bottom line, you need to decide if your goal is to drive to all these places just to see them and say you have been there or is it to get out and enjoy the outdoors and the reason people love it here.
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Old May 15th, 2017, 02:16 PM
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Gretchen, If I cut the CO Springs entirely which route do you recommend to go from Black Canyon of the Gunnison to Denver then to Estes Park (RMNP)? US 70? If so, that means I will take the same route coming back towards UT?

bailey123, Yes, It's initially going to be 10 days because we make a stop in AZ going toward CO and another stop leaving CO in UT. If I shorten those stops I have 11 or 12 days (prob. 11 because the kids want to visit Zion/Bryce Canyon again if it works out).

Cutting CO Springs means no USAF academy and no Garden of Gods.
Adding Idaho Springs was initialling for Whitewater Rafting. We can do it at another location. Thank you for letting me know about the drive to Mt. Evans and Idaho Springs. We prefer NOT to have to drive dangerous-no-guard rail mountainous roads. So no Pikes Peak either.

So how does this sound?
6/10 arriving CO, visit Mesa Verde, stay at Cortez/Dolores
6/11 visit Durango, water rafting, hiking, stay at Cortez/Dolores
6/12 drive to Telluride (Any way to go to Ouray without driving dangerous roads? via CO-145 N and CO-62 E/State Hwy 62?) and spend a night at Ouray?
6/12 Drive toward Montrose and visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, spend a night at Montrose?

My son is into star trail photography. Is Black Canyon a good place for it? Should we spend another night in Montrose?

From Montrose toward RMNP, which way should we go if we are not going to visit CO Springs? Do we need a night in Denver/Boulder to get accustomed to the the high altitude?

Which place is good for whitewater rafting for beginners?

The following is tentative
6/13 spend a night in Denver/Boulder
6/14-16 RMNP
6/17 travel through Grand Lake, and stay at Glenwood Springs
6/18 visit White River/Maroon Bells/Aspen (How is the drive to Aspen?), spend another night at Glenwood Springs
6/19 travel toward Grand Junction, visit Colorado National Monument.

I am just about to memorize the map of CO now.
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Old May 15th, 2017, 05:33 PM
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Sounds like Gretchen lives in the Denver area so she can best advise you on that area of the state. I live in Durango. At least as far as SW CO goes, I can tell you that you are cheating yourself. Don't stay in Cortez, it's not at all attractive. Dolores is out of the way unless you are on your way to Telluride. Durango is the place to stay; charming old west town, beautiful area with river rafting for beginners to experts right in town. Great hikes all around within short drive. Where are you staying in arizona? It gives a better idea of proper plan. It's not that much out of the way in your drive from Telluride to Montrose to detour to Ouray but you should be able to get the same feel from Telluride so you may decide to drop Ouray. I am also into photography, there are many places in SW CO for astral photography. As far as using Denver to get used to altitude, Denver is probably the lowest altitude town you will visit at Around 5,300. Durango is over 6,000, Telluride over 8,000, Montrose almost 6,000. Your itinerary still does not include much time for outdoor, nature, hiking
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Old May 15th, 2017, 06:08 PM
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It would be helpful to know what attracts you to certain areas. E.g., Silverton, ouray, Telluride, Durango. There may be a better way to approach your first few days in CO
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Old May 17th, 2017, 10:02 PM
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bailey123, we will be staying at Flagstaff, AZ. I have decided not to spend time in Grand Canyon this trip as we want to spend most of our time in Colorado. Although leaving CO, we will spend two nights near Zion National Park.
Other than Black Canyon, which places are also good for astral photography?
I have heard Telluride, Durango, and Ouray are beautiful places with hiking trails, mountain views and waterfalls. Coming from So. California where plantations are normally brown during summer, greenery is very attractive.
I think my itinerary doesn't have all the details spelt out because my focus now is where to stay and for how many nights so I can book lodging.
Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it.
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Old May 18th, 2017, 05:31 AM
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Flagstaff is a good spot to stop in Arizona. It's a nice little college town with a cute downtown to spend your evening stop. It's an easy 5 hour drive to Durango across the Navajo Reservation (89 to 160). You might want to check lodging in Mesa Verde park (4-4 1/2 hours from Flagstaff to entrance), your first evening so that you may be able to see some of the park upon arrival and finish up the park the next morning then head to Durango as your home base for rafting, hiking, etc. a short drive out of Durango in any direction with no mountainous roads, will provide dark skies. it's only a 25 mile drive to Purgatory resort where you can find zip line mountain bike rentals, chairlift to the top of the mountain for views, alpine slide and biking. There are also many reasonable price lodging options here and you are in an area that would provide good night skies (check Purgatoryresort.com). Also, at this point, you are only 25 miles to Silverton and there are hiking options all the way to Silverton. Once in silverton, old mining town with mine tours. When you are ready to move on, take the 2-2 1/2 hour drive from Durango to Telluride taking 160 out of Durango. At this point, you can choose your night in Telluride or Ouray depending on what time you leave Durango and how much time you want to spend in Telluride. Both are limited in lodging options so you should arrange this asap. Recently, Groupon was offering lodging at a hotel in Telluride so you may want to check that out. A short drive out of Telluride or Ouray will also provide night skies. Once you get your lodging arranged, I can help you with hiking, rafting and other activities if you like
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Old May 18th, 2017, 06:01 AM
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After the Black Canyon of the Gunnison you can consider Buena Vista for white water rafting and then head directly to Rocky Mountain National Park or to Colorado Springs if you really want to go to the AFA. I wouldn't spend time in Denver on this trip.
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Old May 23rd, 2017, 11:26 AM
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If you are still considering a night in Telluride, here is the Groupon deal for lodging in Telluride that I mentioned earlier. I know the coupon is available today but don't know how long they will offer the coupon. Lodging available until Sept. https://www.groupon.com/deals/ga-bk-...e-telluride-4?
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