Help tweak my Colorado itinerary

Jun 24th, 2015, 05:49 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 18
Help tweak my Colorado itinerary

Although I have a general outline for a 10 day Colorado itinerary (excluding arrival & departure days), I still have a few gaps. I have a general loop route identified and destinations listed for every day, but about 3 or 4 days may be cushion, and could be used differently. The idea is to eliminate as much wasted/boring travel time as possible. It would also be possible to start at either end of the loop and go the other way.

One of the main issues I have is concerning lodging. In some cases, I have identified daily destinations based on travel time, without knowing what lodging is available there, or whether it would be better to add or drop an hour of travel time to get better lodging. Recommendations concerning daily destinations are welcome. Additionally, although I have identified main attractions I would like to visit, I do not know what stops to make along the way or at some of the destinations for hiking, scenic views, etc. Any suggestions are appreciated. The proposed itinerary follows:

1) Arrive Denver
2) Rocky Mountain NP – Trail Ridge Road – go in front gate and leave thru back gate (Grand Lake); travel to Granby or Fraser for night(?)
3) Travel to Glenwood Springs. Visit spring pools. Other hike/activity?
4) Travel to Crested Butte (?). Destination only selected due to location - possible cushion day.
5) Visit Black Canyon Gunnison NP; travel to Ouray
6) Travel to Durango and Mesa Verde NP; stay in Durango
7) Great Sand Dunes NP
8) Salida – possible cushion day
9) Buena Vista – possible cushion day
10) Colorado Springs –Pikes Peak
11) Colorado Springs – Garden of the Gods
12) Depart Denver
Sluggo27 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2015, 06:27 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 27,866
Too many things, with not enough to time to really see or enjoy them.
A full day at Mesa Verde is minimum and that isn't even enough.
DebitNM is offline  
Jun 24th, 2015, 06:34 PM
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 588
I will write more tomorrow. But right off the top a few things. 2)Stay in Grand Lake. Neat little town where even moose visit. Check Trip Advisor for motel reviews --at least one right on the lake.2) no reason for a night in Salida and Buena Vista unless someone suggests specific activities for you.3) in my opinion Ouray is the prettiest town in the state. The setting is truly awesome and the hot springs pool there is better than Glenwood, I think.. Smaller, more natural and the setting is breathtaking.

Can't help much on hiking or activities but others will I am sure.

When is your trip? Driving? Flying and renting car?
Have fun.
lindagj is offline  
Jun 24th, 2015, 07:19 PM
Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 148
Hi! So here are my suggestions based on this itinerary:

1) I would go on to Estes Park and stay there after arriving in Denver if you don't arrive late. Then you are ready to go in the morning and can enjoy RMNP for a longer period of time.

2)You could do something like a canoe or kayak trip in the morning, or even a short hike, and then drive Trail Ridge Road in the afternoon on your way to Granby or Fraser for your overnight.

3)On your way to Glenwood Springs, you can get off I70 (before Eisenhower Tunnel) and take Rte 6 across Loveland Pass. You will be crossing the continental divide, and it's really a very pretty drive. It only adds an extra half hour or so to your drive as well because you will get back on I70. Also, a fantastic hike to do in Glenwood Springs is Hanging Lake. Coming from the east you will actually have to get off at the No Name exit, then get back on I70 east to go back to the Hanging Lake exit because there isn't a westbound exit. You could then enjoy the springs in the late afternoon. Something else I found fun in Glenwood Springs is the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue. It's dinner with a show (although I recommend maybe eating dinner somewhere else…), and the show is wonderful.

4) I'd overnight in Montrose vs. Crested Butte, unless you had another reason for going to Crested Butte. I'd start the morning off by heading to see the Maroon Bells near Aspen, and maybe visit the town of Aspen. Then in the afternoon head on to Montrose for the night. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is only about 20 minutes from Montrose, so you can easily see that the next morning.

5) Depending on arrival time in Ouray, you can check out Box Canyon Falls, and there is also a hot springs there as well. Be sure to go up to the lookout above the town on Million Dollar Highway around sunset, it's a beautiful view.

6-9) Here's where I would make the most changes.

6) Drive Million Dollar Highway to Durango, maybe do some hikes along the way. Personal favorite is Ice Lakes (, and next on my to-do list when I come out is Bear Creek Recreation Trail to Grizzly Bear Mine ( Spend the evening exploring Durango. Overnight in Durango.

7) Go to Mesa Verde. Here's the thing with staying in Durango and going to MV. Durango is about an hour from the entrance, but from the entrance to the top of the mesa is another 45 minutes. So with only one full day in Mesa Verde, you will probably only be able to do one mesa (there are two, Wetherill and Chapin). I've only done the ones on Chapin Mesa (Spruce Tree, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House), and I highly recommend them. But, as DebitNM has pointed out in numerous other threads regarding this, Wetherill has options that allow you to actually go inside the ruins, so you get a different perspective. I'm sure DebitNM will have some great suggestions for you regarding MV. After your full day here, I would come back to Durango for the night. If you don't like the idea of driving so far before and after your adventure, then Cortez is an option. It's very close to the entrance of the park.

8) Sleep in, and take your time going to Alamosa. This is where I would recommend you spend the night before going to Great Sand Dunes. Use this as a cushion day.

9) Visit Great Sand Dunes in the morning before the sand gets hot. Something fun to do here is to go sand sledding, so if you can pick up some type of sled along the way (perfect thing to do on your cushion day!) then you will enjoy it. We actually found that wake boards work well, or some type of lightweight sled that has a smooth bottom. After your morning in Great Sand Dunes, I would head on to Colorado Springs.

10-11) Looks great!

12) You won't want to leave!!

Regarding lodging:

Most of the stops you've chosen have basic chain hotels that shouldn't be too hard to get a reservation at. The only ones I'm unsure of are Montrose (drove through) and Alamosa (only town that's pretty close to Great Sand Dunes - we camped at the park). But I believe they both have some of the basic hotel chains as well. Estes Park may be one you want to go ahead and book soon.
Virginia1990 is offline  
Jun 24th, 2015, 08:02 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 27,866
Besides seeing the cliff dwellings, there are some awesome hikes in Mesa Verde.
I'll post more tomorrow.
DebitNM is offline  
Jun 25th, 2015, 02:31 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,962
Instead of Pike's Peak, drive up Mt. Evans on your way to Glenwood.
Mesa Verde definitely even if you have to cut out Colorado Springs entirely. MV is a "wonder of the world" IMO!!
Virginia has given you a much better tour, IMO.
Gretchen is offline  
Jun 25th, 2015, 05:55 AM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,692
I'm not sure when this trip is planned, but the Mt. Evans highway is closed until late July this year due to snow and road damage.

I agree that Hanging Lake is a great hike, but arrive early as the parking lot fills up fast.

Spend one night at Mesa Verde. The Far View Lodge is only ok in my opinion but is necessary for a night to secure tickets for tours. Plus it is a long drive into the park for just a day trip.

Consider spending a night in Estes Park. Yes Estes Park is touristy but it will give you more time in RMNP and access to some fabulous hiking which you'd miss just driving through the park.
wtm003 is online now  
Jun 25th, 2015, 06:38 AM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 11,691
We enjoyed the adventure park (including cave) at Glenwood Springs. Agree with the hanging lake hike. We also did a bit of rafting out of Glenwood, though it was often more of a float trip.
Bitter is offline  
Jun 25th, 2015, 06:59 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 1,246
Take a day from Colorado Springs & add to Mesa Verde. We love the pool at Glenwood, we go every year.
BetsyG is offline  
Jun 25th, 2015, 07:06 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 18
Thanks for the excellent responses. I arrive in Denver late and pick up a rental car the next day. Will be with spouse and 2 teens. I think I have the general route down, but just need to redistribute some of the cushion days. I think I will adjust the schedule to spend more time in the Ouray/Durango area. I did not know there are places closer to Mesa Verde than Durango. Are there cabins inside the park? Are the Great Dunes that worthwhile? I only intended to drive by because it breaks up an otherwise long drive. Thanks again.
Sluggo27 is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 02:50 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,962
As mentioned above, Far View Lodge is the only place in Mesa Verde and it is very worthwhile staying there in order to visit the park adequately without eating up time getting into the Park.
We did the "drive by" of the dunes, and I think it is enough--and we had teens with us.
Gretchen is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 05:01 AM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 27,866
Far View Lodge is the only lodging IN Mesa Verde besides camping. It isn't fancy but affords great views of Sunset and Sunrise. It is likely to booked up, but keep calling, as there are often cancellations.

In the meantime, book a room in Cortez, as a back up. It's is a 10 minute drive from the turnoff to MV. Might be pretty full now too.

There are 2 evening activites - A Twilight Tour and Morefield Campground Evening Program.

About 10 minutes north of Cortez [in Dolores] there is a really nice musuem, if you haven't had your fill of the Ancient Puebloans [I haven't had my fill yet in 10 + years of being here]
DebitNM is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 07:16 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 7,510
You will spend the majority of your time looking through your car windows. The distances are massive and time consuming.
fmpden is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 12:03 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,962
I agree it is a lot, but it is not entirely undoable. He does have those cushion days. I've seen a lot worse. LOL
Gretchen is offline  
Jun 26th, 2015, 08:11 PM
Join Date: Mar 2015
Posts: 148
So based on your original post (most interest in RMNP), and the fact that you arrive in Denver late and don't get a rental car til the following morning, I would recommend doing the loop the opposite way.

2) Pick up rental car, head to Colorado Springs, do Garden of the Gods and overnight there.
3) Pike’s Peak, drive to Alamosa, overnight in Alamosa (heavy driving day, 5-6ish hours?)
4) Great Sand Dunes in morning, then head to Cortez/Far View Lodge (heavy driving day, 5ish hours?)
5) Mesa Verde, overnight in Cortez, Far View Lodge, or Durango.
6) Durango to Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway with hiking stops, overnight in Ouray (hot springs here)
7) Drive through Black Canyon of the Gunnison, to Aspen to see Maroon Bells, then overnight in either Aspen or Glenwood Springs depending on how far you feel like driving (heavy driving day, 5-6ish hours? Or you can skip Aspen/Maroon Bells and go straight to Glenwood Springs)
8) Hanging Lake hike in morning, then drive to Grand Lake for overnight, can cross Loveland Pass along the way if you want
9) Trail Ridge Rd to Estes Park, overnight in Estes Park
10) Day in RMNP, overnight in Estes Park
11) Morning in RMNP, drive to Denver, overnight in Denver
12) Flight home

I think this way gets you a little more time in RMNP, which was on your original wish list in your first post. Also, it's probably important to note that I don't really consider it a heavy driving day unless it's more than 4ish hours, and the times I listed were based on Mapquest. It's been a while since I did the first two drives I listed as heavy driving days so I can't remember for sure how long it took, and I've never done the drive I listed as the third heavy driving day (when I did the southwestern loop we cut back over towards Denver from Montrose through Salida). But you can decide for your family what's appropriate and what's not. Some people like road trips, and some people would rather take their time and relax in fewer places. You just have to decide what it is you are wanting out of this trip.
Virginia1990 is offline  
Jun 27th, 2015, 03:31 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,962
I would not give COSprings area 2 days of this vacation. Personally, none. I also think more time in RMNP can be done by just leaving out Salida, etc. AND this itinerary still leaves just one day in MV.
Gretchen is offline  
Jun 29th, 2015, 04:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 18
Thanks again everyone. I really dont have a preference for RMNP. It was just the only major NP I knew of in CO before I got comments from informed sources, who appear to think that there are better places to go. FMPDen and Gretchen if you have any suggestions, please let me know, because I am definitely not trying to kill myself on this trip. The only problem is that everyone seems to say that the best part of CO is in the southwest, which is also farthest from the Denver airport. The challenge is getting there and back with somewhat interesting trips in both directions.
Sluggo27 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2015, 03:33 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,962
You can absolutely do a nice loop in your length of time, and your original idea was to include MV and what several of us have said is that you haven't given that enough time--just adding at least a day and staying in the Park to make the most use of your time.
If you allow 2 days for MV and 2 days for RMNP, draw some lines through other places you really want to see (not your cushion days). Glenwood Springs, etc.
I think you'll find a nice trip there that isn't all driving.
And seeing the mountains on the way are a real pleasure.
Gretchen is offline  
Jun 30th, 2015, 07:19 AM
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 2,952
You could do a loop around the entire state in your length of time, but waay too much driving for my tastes. Sure SW Colorado is pretty darn nice but northeast-central CO have some of the most iconic postcard scenes of the West.

Consider either SW Colo (Durango, Telluride, Ouray, Mesa Verde) - or - north-central Colo (Estes, Grand Lake, Glenwood, Aspen, Leadville), but not both.

Your trip, your call, but like fmpden I think it unfortunate when people see most of the state from inside a vehicle.
Nelson is online now  
Jun 30th, 2015, 11:43 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 7,510
.....The only problem is that everyone seems to say that the best part of CO is in the southwest,.....

And just who is everyone??? And lot of people recommend Estes Park and RMNP. I guess it depends on your standards but I would not say that the SW was the best. It is very, very, good but there many other parts of the state that are just as scenic. But what do I know? I have only lived here 35 years.

Nelson is dead on. Either do the SW corner or central Colorado. My strong recommendation for M Verde is at least one over night in the park. Also, Durango has the train to Silverton which is well worth it one way at least or both.

My objection to Estes Park is that it is really touristy and crowded in the summer. EP, itself, is just a collection of candy stores and tourists shops. Trail Ridge Road is a great drive. But in many ways Independence Pass from Leadville into the back side of Aspen is just as scenic and in someways more so, just my opinion. And Leadville is an authentic Victorian mining town little changed in the pass hundred plus years. The Mineral Belt hiking/biking trail around Leadville is a unknown gem. Or go over Tennessee pass and the training site for the 10th Mountain Div. The drive through Glenwood Canyon is one of the most scenic places in the state. Hike to Hanging lake. Although Georgetown (I-70) is more touristy, the Georgetown loop railroad and the tour through the silver mind is great and it doesn't take all day. Then, there is the Black Canyon and Gunnison.

I would go on but there is more than enough to occupy several weeks in central Colorado without getting anywhere the SW. Save the SW for another month and another trip.
fmpden is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 05:12 PM.