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Best route from Denver to Durango

Old Dec 29th, 2004, 02:10 PM
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Best route from Denver to Durango

We are planning a trip "out west" this July. We are interested in touring the southwest part of Colorado (mesa Verde, Durango, Silverton, then up to Moab. We think that flying into/out of Denver would be the best bet. That being so (?) what is the best (1)fastest, then (2) most scenic way to drive to Durango or that area? How many hours as I can see from the map that it isn't a "straight shot"?

We have about 7-9 days to do the loop. How would you space your days to cover the things mentioned above? Finally is there anything that we should definitely see, such as other Indian ruins?
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Old Dec 29th, 2004, 04:07 PM
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(1) "Best" is in the eye of the beholder. What consitutes "best" for you?
(2) Fastest will probably be I-70 west to Grand Junction and US50/US550 south to Durango. This is quite a scenic route also.
(3) Most scenic IMO, would be US 285 to Salida. West on US 50 to Montrose with a stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. South on US 550 to Durango with stops at Ouray and Silverton.

With only 7-9 days, I'd probably skip Moab and save it for another trip. If you took the route above in number (2) from Denver, made a side trip to Mesa Verde, then the route in number (3) back to Denver, with all the little side trips you could make along the way, you could fill up months, let alone 7-9 days.

Moab is great too but the area around it deserves a few days as well and, IMO, doing both would not do justice to either.
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Old Dec 30th, 2004, 04:33 AM
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dwooddon--What is the driving time for (2) and (3) assuming that we will not make any stops (which isn't true!) Just trying to get an idea of where to stop for the night and still see things along the way.

Another question--Have you ever stayed in the Indian motel located at Mesa Verde? ( don't remember the name).
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Old Dec 30th, 2004, 02:27 PM
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Margo,

You may wish to try flying into Montrose or Grand Junction. These usually are more expensive but will save a lot of time. Denver to Durango via Grand Junction is around 8 hours. durango via hwy 285, over Monarch Pass to Montrose would be just a touch longer but more scenic by a long shot. Both routes go over Red Mountain, Molas, and Coal Bank Hill Passes and that is the most scenic part of the trip. When you come back from Mesa Verde it is almost the same amount of time to get back to I-70 Grand Junction if you come back through Moab as coming back via Nucla/Naturita and longer if you come back over Lizard Head Pass. Moab is pretty darn hot in July. I'd stay in the Mountains.

BeanMan
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Old Dec 30th, 2004, 02:33 PM
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Margo,

I forgot to mention checking out prices to Salt Lake City. It is almost the same driving time from SLC to GJT as it is from DIA to GJT.

Durango is four hours from GJT, SLC is four hours from GJT and DIA is also four hours.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park should not be missed since it is only a few miles from HWY 50 if you are coming from Monarch Pass and only about ten miles east of Montrose if you are coming down from GJT. You can see the sights in a couple of hours there.

BeanMan
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Old Dec 30th, 2004, 03:15 PM
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Depending on how you like to travel, Moab could be done.

Day 1. Taking dwooddon's route #3 will take most of the day to get to Montrose.
Day 2 Black Canyon of the Gunnison if you didn't have enought time on day 1. Make your way down the Million Dollar Highway, siteseeing and stopping in Ouray and Silverton on the way down to Durango
Day 3 Explore Durango before driving to Mesa Verde.
Day 4 Mesa Verde
Day 5 Mesa Verde before heading to Moab.
Day 6 Moab - Arches
Day 7 Moab - Canyonlands & Dead Horse State Park
Day 8 Moab area
Day 9 back to Denver via Hwy 128 to I-70 then I-70 to Denver.

Utahtea
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Old Dec 30th, 2004, 06:02 PM
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Margo: My route #2 is about 438 miles from Denver Intl Airport and will take about 8 hours without stops.

#3 is shorter in distance, about 397 miles, but will take at least 10 hours, without stops, for a couple of reasons. First, it is faster to get onto I70 and up into the mountains on route #2. On route #3, you have to get across Denver to the southwest edge of the metro area to get onto US 285. That will be more time consuming. Second, once you get into the mountains, the entire route is on good two lane roads. Every town you pass through will have lowered speed limits and heavy vehicles that cannot climb long grades at the speed limit will slow you down since passing opportunities are fewer on these kinds of roads.

Having said all that, I'd still recommend using one of these routes outbound and the other on your return to Denver. In their own way, each route is highly scenic.

Both of these time estimates assume good weather and no accidents. It is not likely but at these high elevations, it is possible to get snow or ice, even in July.
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Old Jan 6th, 2005, 12:03 PM
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Well I am back to planning for our trip to Colorado (as well as one week to Charleston in April) After reading through much literature, I have a couple of addtional questions:

There was a suggestion of taking a Hummer trip out of Durango into the mountains to see gold mines, ghost towns, etc. Now would this be something that we will not be able to see otherwise? (or something much like it?) It seemed rather pricey not to mention that it is a time commitment.

When talking about driving over to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, is there a definite location to best see it? Or does one just drive along route 50?

I am sure I will have other questions so thanks in advance. Margo
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Old Jan 6th, 2005, 02:38 PM
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The 4-wheeler trips can be great fun if you like being in the back country and seeing what's there. It will be very scenic and, depending on where they take you, maybe historically interesting. Having said that, you are going to see wonderous sights from the highways as you travel in and out. The 4-wheel drive would be frosting on the cake.

The main canyon views at Black Canyon are a few miles off the highway(less than 10). Stop at the vistor's center and they can tell you where to go and what to see depending on the amount of time you have. It is well worth the short side trip.
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Old Jan 6th, 2005, 03:06 PM
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I agree with dwooddon's route 2 southbound, then route 3 (US550) northbound on your return.

It's an AMAZING area. You'll love this trip. So many leave out this area. DO include Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

If you have a day at OURAY - take the full day "Black Bear/Imogene Pass" jeep tour with SOA (Switzerland of America). Wonderful! Not roads for amateurs... Reserve in advance.
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Old Jan 6th, 2005, 03:18 PM
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The most spectacular route?
Easy. Go from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park. Drive over Trail Ridge Road.

From Grandby on the West side of RMNP, turn south toward Georgetown over the Berthoud Pass.

From Georgetown drive south over the Guanella Pass, past Mt. Bierstedt, to
Fairplay and continue to Buena Vista.

At Buena Vista, turn west on an unpaved road over Cottonwood Pass to Taylor Park and continue to Gunnison along the Taylor River. (In years past the Taylor has been a blue ribbon trout stream.)

Turn west in Gunnison and continue on to the Black Canyon.

At Montrose turn south on US 550 through Ouray, over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton, then over Coal Bank and Molas to Durango.

If you want to throw in anything else, detour up to Delta and take the road up to Grand Mesa. Come down on theorhter side to I 70 and drive to Colorado National Monument and then drive to Delta and south to Montrose.

Coming back you have some choices, too.

That way is a bit longer!! But you will not complain about a lack of scenery.
I used a regular old Chevvy for my trek a few years ago.

The road over Cottonwood Pass goes right over the main range of the Saguache Mountains past Mount Yale.

The road winds a little bit over the pass, but it is a fun run.

Then the route over Grand Mesa is spectacular as well.

The US 550 route is nice, too.
And Guanella Pass is a spectacular ride.
And, in my opinion, nothing much beats Trail Ridge Road.
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Old Jan 6th, 2005, 07:02 PM
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Margo,

If you do decide on a Jeep trip I recomend doing it out of Ouray, You'll spend more time seeing what you are paying for. Taking a Hummer sounds like more expensive than the Ouray trips too.

The South side of the Black Canyon off of hwy 50 is the side to see. the whole loop is only a few miles long so you can easily see the best views in a short period of time.

Cheers,

BeanMan
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Old Jan 7th, 2005, 07:14 AM
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Such good advise!! And more questions!

Looking at the map and suggestions here the itinerary is shaping up as below--

Day 1 Arrive Denver, drive to Frisco or Leadville. Which would be more interesting and where to stay in interesting hotel/motel? Price not important for the right place.

Day 2 Ouray (after viewing the Black Canyon of Gunnison. Is this too long a day on the road? If so, where to stay between Leadville and Ouray.

Day 3 Durango or Mesa Verde at Far View Lodge.

Day 4 Mesa Verde Far View Lodge.

Day 5 Moab

Day 6 Moab

Day 7 Moab

Day 8 Back to Denver to stay overnight before returning home the next day.

Now should another day be added somewhere? We do like to sightsee and take walks. I know it will be hot in Moab in July but we can take it after just returning from Cambodia where it was not only HOT but humid as well.

Thanks again
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Old Jan 7th, 2005, 07:18 AM
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Hi Margo,

If you want a combination of speedy and scenic, I would suggest dwoodon's route #3 with an amendment. Go west on I70 from Denver, and turn south on 91 just past Frisco. Between the I-70 turnoff and Salida, you will pass more than 15 of Colorado's Fourteeners. And, I would also leave Moab for next time.

If you decide to go that way, I would absolutely not hesitate to make it AT LEAST a two-day adventure. You will want to stop so many different places to sightsee, take pictures, etc. My recommendation would be to drive to Salida or Montrose the first day and spend the night. It is much less expensive to stay in Montrose, and from there, you can backtrack about 10 miles the next morning to Black Canyon's south rim.

When my family went to Colorado last summer, we stayed in Montrose (at the Comfort Inn on the east side of town - clean, quiet, and reasonable rates), and then we went to BC the next morning. If you ar going in July, I would highly recommend doing BC early in the morning as it can be unbearably hot up there in the heat of the day. It would be easy to spend half a day on the south rim of the Black Canyon.

From there, we went back down thru Montrose and headed down 550 to Ouray. Ouray is, without a doubt, my favorite place in Colorado. I have never done a jeep tour (I'm a scaredy cat, I know), but everyone I have talked to has recommended SOA. There are also hot springs in Ouray. On to Silverton - a beautiful place to stop and stretch your legs. It is mostly touristy shops, so I never spend much time in town. If you are in Silverton early- to mid-afternoon, you might be able to see/hear the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. www.durangotrain.com
After BC, Ouray, and a few scenic stops, we arrived in Silverton about 4 pm.

You will probably want to head on to Durango that day for a better selection of hotels and food. We have stayed at the Ramada Ltd. on the north end of town and thought it was just fine - clean, reasonable and nice but not fancy.

If you like trains, you could take a day (a WHOLE day) to do the train trip from Durango to Silverton that I mentioned above. It is some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable, but it is about a 9 hour round-trip. If you go, take sunglasses so you don't get ashes in your eyes. The tickets are fairly expensive, but it's not any more expensive per-hour than movie tickets. And, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just buy your tickets early if you plan to go because they will be booked solid.

From Durango I would head to Mesa Verde, about a 45-minute drive to the entrance of the park, and about another 45 minutes to the visitor center. Beware, if you go in July, there is a good chance there could be wildfires. Colorado has been in such a drought the last couple of years and Mesa Verde has had several fires and had to shut down parts of the park.

Two years ago, our family stayed at the Far View Lodge in the park (I think this is what you mean by the "Indian motel"). It is decent, but no A/C. Unless you plan on spending lots of time in your room, it shouldn't be an issue though. It gets plenty cool to sleep at night, even during summer. Here is a link to another post where I talked at length about MV. <http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...&tid=34396837>

Glad to answer any other questions you might have!
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Old Jan 7th, 2005, 12:44 PM
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Leadville over Frisco.
But to miss Trail Ridge Road is to miss the best.
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 03:39 PM
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Brookwood, I am not ignoring your suggestion of the Trail Ridge Road in the RMNP, but we did take that road a few years ago in August. It was a hot day when we started up, and when we reached the top it started to Snow!! It was very scary coming down. But this time we will head west and south.

My concern at this time is not to plan too much driving each day so as not to have time to stop and view things and make sudden side trips if we see a sign to a "ghost town" or some such thing. So I am asking if a stop between Leadville and Ouray is in order? And if so, where?

Can anyone give me the lowdown on Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde? The fact that it doesn't have AC in July bothers me a bit. Anyone stayed there in July?

Thanks-Margo
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Old Jan 8th, 2005, 04:07 PM
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Hi Margo...my daughters and I stayed two nights last July at Far View Lodge and you can't beat the location and view, etc. We did all the main sites at Mesa Verde and enjoyed it a lot. The food situation leaves a lot to be desired. The lodge restaurant is pricey for a family. The cafeteria nearby was better for a family and you can even walk to it from the lodge. We were there in late July and, trust me, at night we had to turn the heat on once! The rooms are nothing but basic. Phone service was being installed, but our phone rang in the room next door and they never could fix it! By now, I am sure all those problems are resolved. It is a long drive up the mesa, so see all you can while there, including the lesser visited mesa side! We also took the Imogene Pass trip from SOA in Ouray and they were great! That was my kid's favorite thing they did. Also did hot air balloon near Ouray with San Juan balloons, but that isn't inexpensive either. But if you are only going to go hot air ballooning once in your life, what a gorgeous valley surrounded by mountains to do it in!There is also a boat trip in the Black Canyon offered by the Nat Park Service for a small fee (reservations only) that was great. I learned about it from this site and was very pleased. There is also a quaint motel not far from Montrose where you can watch a drive-in movie from your motel room, with piped in speakers. The kids enjoyed that as well. You will have a great trip. If time allowed, the Great Sand Dunes are an experience to climb/wander among. Enjoy Colorado!
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Old Jan 10th, 2005, 05:54 AM
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Margo -

When will you arrive in Denver? How much of day 1 will you have to spend on the road? That will affect recommendations of how far to drive. You may need to add another day before Ouray/Durango to keep from driving all day.

As far as Mesa Verde and the Far View Lodge, we have stayed there in July, and like I said in my previous post, the no A/C thing shouldn't be an issue unless you plan to spend all day in your room (which I assume you won't since there is plenty to do in the park). Check out the link I provided in my previous post for more in-depth info. I wrote a short novel about Mesa Verde - if you have never been there, I think it would be very helpful to you as you plan.
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Old Jan 11th, 2005, 05:26 AM
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Such good info is coming my way. As I said before, I do not want to spend too much time driving each day. I have been considering flying into Grand Junction and just concentrating on the part of Colorado south of I70, down to the NM line and over to Moab and back to GJ. If this happens I will have to miss the beautiful countryside from Denver to about Gunnison.

If we fly into Denver we will arrive noon or early afternoon and hope to drive to Leadville. I judge that to be about 3 hours from the Denver airport. Right? Then I can't see how to drive from Leadville to Ouray and take in the Black Canyon and Curecanti Park (Any other comments on the boat trip on Morrow Point reservoir?--thanks for that tip, patN).

Finally (for now), how much driving time is involved to drive from Moab, via I70, back to the Denver airport?
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Old Jan 11th, 2005, 09:07 AM
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Leadville will probably be a good place to stop the first day. While you are there, you can check out the Leadville museum and Baby Doe Tabor museum. There is the BEST burger-n-fries joint on the south side of town, on the left as you head south. A neat 50's theme with great food and great ice cream. I think there are a few outside tables.

Day 2 - head south on 285 thru Buena Vista to Poncha Springs. When you get to Poncha Springs, go west on Hwy. 50 thru Monarch Pass (stop and ride the gondola to the top!) and Gunnison. The entrance to the south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison will be on your right. There are big signs telling you where to turn. The official entrance to the park is about 7 miles from Hwy 50 via Hwy 347.

Plan to spend a full half-day in Black Canyon. Take lots of water - I don't remember seeing any vending machines. I did see two water fountains, but neither worked. The South Rim is a dead-end loop, so you have to turn around and come back out the same way you came in.

Depending on exactly how much time you spend in BC, you could stay in either Montrose or Ouray. Montrose is about 10 miles from the turnoff to BC, on Hwy. 50. There is a really good Mexican restaurant in Montrose - Amelia's. The locals all know where it is and can direct you. If it's not to hot, or if you are there in the evening, try to sit outside. We did last year and weren't bothered by bugs.

Day 3- South on 550 (from Montrose or Ouray). There are many places you will want to stop and take in the scenery. Make a stop at Silverton to enjoy the history and setting. Continue south on 550 toward Durango for more beautiful scenery. This section of 550 (Ouray to Durango) is called the Million Dollar Highway, and the views are truly worth every penny. You can spend a few hours in Durango, but in the interest of time, continue on to Mesa Verde for the night (about an hour and a half to the Far View Lodge). Try to take a late-evening tour, and get your tickets for the next day (early if possible). You will need reservations if you want to stay at Far View.

Ask if you have more questions!
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