It’s time to take an incredible Colorado road trip!
Colorado has all the essential elements for an epic road trip. From exploring Rocky Mountain National Park trails and saddling up at a dude ranch to urban adventure, farm fresh foodie finds and discovering small town Americana. Read on for my Colorado itinerary and guide to help you plan an unforgettable 10-day Colorado road trip.
I made life-long memories on a north Colorado road trip with Visit Colorado. We covered just over 300 miles and packed in some top Colorado landmarks which included stops in Denver – The Mile High City, Fort Collins, Boulder and Loveland.
Outdoor adventures found us hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park, staying in a cabin in Estes Park and saddling up for horse riding at a dude ranch. It’s a trip that’ll suit any age and is perfect for both families as well as adult groups. I had the best time in Colorado and I think you will too.
I’m sharing a ten-day Colorado itinerary to help you plan your own road trip to Colorado. We’re sticking to Northern Colorado to keep driving hours down. Nobody wants to spend half their vacation in the car and Colorado’s a huge state so ten days isn’t nearly enough time to cover it all.
Here you’ll find some cool Colorado road trip ideas, the places we stopped, suggested things to see and do, Northern Colorado attractions, best places to eat and where to stay. There’s a route map and travel tips too.
Be ready to leave a piece of your heart in the American West.
A Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
Days 1-3 – Denver (2 nights)
Day one starts in Denver, Colorado’s capital and largest city which sits a mile above sea level. Because it’s at high altitude the skies are bluer and you’re closer to the sun. Take sun cream and be sure to use it and drink plenty of water to avoid altitude sickness. You’ll find 300 glorious days of sunshine a year and the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains beckoning in the distance. We’ll get to them later…
I loved Denver which is chock full of urban adventure for all ages. It has a vibrant downtown, bold architecture, museums, street art, amazing farm-to-table food and a laid-back vibe.
Things to do in Denver
Check out Union Station aka Denver’s Living Room – it’s where everyone goes Downtown to chill, chat and chow down. I recommend breakfast at Mercantile Dining and Provision at least one day of your trip.
Take an e-Tuk ride
A fun way to discover the Mile High City and get your Denver bearings is a 2.5 hour tour with e-Tuk Ride. We visited some top Denver attractions including the Big Blue Bear, historical sites like the Brown Palace Hotel, Molly Brown museum and lively Larimer Square. They say it’s the best fun you can have on three wheels and they’d be right. Our crazy guides had us giggling our way around Denver.
Visit RiNo Arts District
Explore Denver’s murals and street art in RiNo (River North) arts district. You’ll find dozens of murals, galleries and craft breweries in this hip hood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much epic street art in such a small area.
Stop by Central Market for lunch, you’ll find everything from healthy salads, vegan food to burgers, pizza, seafood, deli sandwiches gelato and chocolate.
Where to stay in Denver
We stayed at the modern Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. It’s in a perfect downtown location with easy walking to the museums, RiNo, Civic Center, Larimer Square and other downtown hotspots. The Sheraton has a cool bar and choice of restaurants, cafes and coffee shop. There’s also a heated rooftop pool for soaking up the Denver sunshine.
This is just a small taste of what to see and do in the city. Read my in-depth guide on how to spend two days in Denver.
Travelbunny tip: If you fly into Denver save yourself two day’s car hire costs and take the direct rail service from Denver International Airport to Denver Union Station. The 37-minute trip only costs $10.50 per person. Denver is easy to get around on foot, free shuttle bus and by public transport so you can leave picking up your hire car until day 3 when you head to Loveland.
Days 3-4 – Loveland, the Sweetheart City (1 night)
Denver to Loveland
From Denver, take the I-25 North to exit 257 and then head west. The drive from Denver to Loveland takes around 1 hour.
I have a lot of love for Loveland, the town that sits at the foot of the Rocky Mountain Front Range. The mountains are almost within touching distance but you’ll thank me for this stop because Loveland’s a gem of a town. It’s where you’ll get your first taste of Colorado’s great outdoors, lock in your love at Loveland’s love sign and drink Sweetheart Wine.
Things to do in Loveland Colorado
Hike the Devil’s Backbone
I loved getting my hiking shoes on and stepping up to the Devil’s Backbone. The trail is perfect for enjoying some epic views and the dramatic rock formations which overlook the town. Twelve miles of well-signed trails take you through a beautiful landscape of long vistas carpeted with wild flowers.
If you’re not up for the full hike make sure you at least get to the “keyhole”. You won’t want to miss this natural arch in the rocks with views out over the mountains. It’s slightly uphill for the first half mile but then levels out to easy walking terrain. You’ll find parking, toilets and drinking water at the beginning of the trail which is open from dawn to dusk. Entry is free.
Have a Picnic in Benson Sculpture Garden
Benson Sculpture Garden, Loveland
Loveland is America’s sculpture hub with three foundries located in the town. Any sculpture you see in any US city probably started life in Loveland and there are over 380 public works of art displayed around the town and in the three sculpture gardens.
At Benson Sculpture garden you’ll find 148 pieces from interactive to contemporary and traditional. The beautiful gardens are good for a stroll to check out the art and the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. If you’ve got kids they’ll love the interactive children’s part of the park.
Wine Tasting at Sweet Heart Winery
Sweet Heart Winery, Loveland
Colorado is great at craft breweries and Bourbon but there’s a winery too and the wine is good. Very good. Grapes are sourced from small-lot vineyards in Colorado and California and the wines are made at Sweet Heart Winery.
The family started off production in their garage and nowadays produce excellent wines from their eight-acre winery. Every glass is made with love and it shows – they’re passionate about what they do and they aim for perfection. Drop by Sweetheart Winery for a tasting or a flight of wine with charcuterie and don’t forget to have a look-see at the beautiful grounds for views of the Devil’s Backbone and the vineyard.
A Night on the Town in Downtown Loveland
There’s everything you need for a good night out in Loveland within a block or two. You’ll already have walked your socks off at the Devil’s Backbone so it makes sense to keep it easy for this evening.
Head for dinner at Door 222 and kick off the evening with a cocktail. I can recommend the Cat Scratch Fever with Spring 44 Gin, blueberry matcha simple syrup and fresh lemon Juice. I may have had two…
Door 222 sources its food as locally as possible and gives it a unique Colorado twist. I thoroughly enjoyed my main of Pork Belly but for me the tapas style starter dishes really hit the spot.
Door 222, Loveland
I especially loved the Shaved Brussels Sprouts with bacon, Manchego cheese and Maple Sherry Glaze. The Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with Marcona Almonds were little bites of heaven. For dessert I indulged in the Meyer Lemon and blueberry tart which was a little naughty but a lot nice. You’ll need to book as Door 222 is popular.
After dinner head to Flipside pinball arcade and indulge your competitive edge with pinball and retro computer games like PacMan. Finish up at Wicked Tequila Room who serve Margarita’s as big as your head but take it easy – you’ll be on the road again in the morning.
Where to Stay in Loveland, Colorado
I recommend the brand new Courtyard by Marriott which is located across from the Promenade Shops at Centerra one of the premier shopping spots in Northern Colorado. Great if you need some last minute road trip shopping.
Courtyard by Marriott, Loveland
The brand new Courtyard by Marriott rooms are spacious, bright and airy with calm décor and a big comfy bed. Huge windows are great for checking out the beautiful Loveland views. There’s a gym which I didn’t use but I loved the heated pool and jacuzzi.
Before you leave Loveland don’t forget to lock in your love at the giant ‘Love’ sign at Loveland’s Visitor Centre.
Love Sign in Loveland, Colorado
Days 4-6 – Dude Ranch at Red Feather Lakes (2 nights)
Loveland to Red Feather Lakes
Say so long to Loveland and continue North on Route 287 to County Rd 74e – Red Feather Lakes Road. Turn left at the Forks onto County Rd 74e – Red Feather Lakes Road. Drive 17.8 miles. The Sundance sign and gate are on the left hand side. Approx 60 miles, the drive should take around 1 hour 20 minutes.
If you haven’t stayed on a dude ranch have you even been to the American West? Saddling up at a dude ranch adds a wonderful western element to your Colorado road trip and this was one of the road trip highlights for me.
We stayed at Sundance Trail guest ranch where we took horseback rides under Colorado’s big blue skies catching glimpses of snow-topped Rocky Mountain peaks. I can tell you there’s absolutely no feeling like riding horseback amid stunning scenery and looking across miles of national park to the distant mountains. You have to do this!
Other activities include rock-climbing, hiking, tomahawk throwing and rifle shooting and learning how to be a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy.
Days ended around the campfire singing cowboy songs and toasting marshmallows. Read my full review of Sundance Dude Ranch to see exactly why a Colorado ranch should be part of your road trip.
Days 6-7 Fort Collins (1 night)
Red Feather Lakes to Fort Collins
Re-trace your journey to Route 287 and follow the signs to Fort Collins. The 40 mile journey should take around 45 minutes.
Fort Collins is our next stop on our Colorado road trip itinerary. Fort Collins may look familiar – it was the town that inspired the design of Disneyland’s Main Street, USA.
FoCo has a big measure of outdoor adventure. You’ll also find micro-breweries, distilleries and farm fresh food accompanied by a taste of small town Americana.
Things to do in Fort Collins
Platinum Cycle Route
Fort Collins is bike friendly with almost 300 miles of biking trails around the city.
The Platinum route will take you through parks, past La Cache Poudre River, Colorado State University and Old Town Fort Collins. Use the Share Program for bike hire at various bike stations around FoCo.
Have Lunch at the Exchange
The Exchange has a bike station right next door so after your bike ride park up and hang out here for lunch. Made from repurposed shipping containers The Exchange is home to various artisan food outlets. Think yummy Mexican Tacos, pizza from The Pizza Press, Chick’n’Cone spicy chicken bites for savouries. For dessert there’re doughnuts from the Fort Collins Donot Co (FoCo DoCo – love this!) or a myriad of ice cream flavours from Old Town Churn. There’s craft beer and soft drinks to wash it all down from The Crooked Stave.
Check out the Fort Collins Town Trails
There’s a range of self-guided walking tours around Fort Collins from a public arts trail, craft beer, cider and spirits trails too. The ‘made in Fort Collins’ trail will show how innovative the town is with visits to home grown producers like Otterbox and Nuance Chocolate.
The ghost sign tour will take you around nine old advertising signs painted onto walls and buildings. They’re at least 50 years old with some over a century old and a nice bit of FoCo history.
Dig into the Fort Collins Farm Fresh Food Scene
The food in Fort Collins is excellent. With a heritage in agriculture and locally sourced high quality food Fort Collins has got ‘farm to table’ dining sorted.
Evening – Drinks at Old Elk followed by dinner at Ginger and Baker
If you didn’t take one of the drinks tours then drop by the cosy Reserve for pre or post dinner drinks – either’s a good idea, both is better. They have a good line in creative cocktails or I recommend a nip of super smooth Old Elk Bourbon. If you’re partial to gin or vodka you’ll find that too. They also make Nooku a Bourbon Cream which is a bit like the Baileys we drink in the UK.
Dinner at Ginger and Baker
Casual or formal dining, there’s a choice at Ginger and Baker. Whether you head to the café or rooftop patio or climb the stairs to the Cache you can be sure of authentic farm fresh food. I had an amazing meal at the Cache – Colorado dining at its best. Be sure to leave room for dessert and a slice of Ginger and Baker pie. I chose traditional apple pie but the Mile High Chocolate Pie sounded epic!
Where to stay in Fort Collins
The Armstrong boutique hotel is part of the Fort Collins community. Recently renovated the 95 year old hotel oozes comfort, style and a nice element of quirk. You may be lucky enough to experience a ‘meet and greet’ from Oreo the hotel cat. It’s in a great location within easy walking to all the city’s hotspots.
Breakfast at Mugs Coffee Lounge
There’s no restaurant at the Armstrong so breakfast at Mugs Coffee Lounge is a must do. It’s right next door to the hotel so you won’t have far to go. Their aim is for people to leave more fulfilled than when they came in. I definitely left full and filled after my deliciously naughty omelette and bacon croissant! The ethical coffee’s pretty good too.
Days 7-9 Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park (2 nights)
Fort Collins to Estes Park
Leave Fort Collins heading to US-34 W to Estes Park. 42 miles, drive time around 1 hour
What to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Bid farewell to FoCo and head to Estes Park for outdoor adventure, lakes, mountains and epic scenery.
The mountains are calling, the Rocky Mountains, and they’re magnificent. We had just one day at Rocky Mountain National Park and it was utterly epic but it wasn’t enough so I’ve included two days in this itinerary but you can add more to suit your trip.
Enjoy the views from Trail Ridge Road
From Estes Park head for the Beaver Meadows Visitor Centre entrance looking out for wildlife on the way. We saw moose, elk, and deer. Enter the park at Beaver Meadows and drive up Trail Ridge Road, one of America’s scenic byways. It’s a designated All-American Road and climbs to an elevation of 12,183 feet so the views are incredible. The road is closed for half the year so check before you go. It snowed during our May visit.
Keep driving as far as the snow line will allow. The road will be cordoned off at this point but you can do what we did and explore on foot. We walked up to Rainbow Curve where the views of mountain ridges, tree-lined valleys and the road itself as it curves into infinity are stunning. I felt like I was on top of the world. It doesn’t get much better!
We took a picnic lunch and ate as we sat enjoying the views. It gets colder the higher up you go so take lots of layers and a good pair of walking shoes in summer or boots in winter.
Hike to Nymph Lake
After you’ve had your fill of the views (if that’s even possible) and a bit of lunch drive back down to Bear Lake Road, there’s parking at the trailhead. From here it’s a few minute’s hike to, you guessed it, Bear Lake. The ice was just melting so there were parts where we could see the Hallet Peak reflected in the water. Beautiful.
Hike to Nymph Lake
Half a mile away is Nymph Lake. It was icy and slippery but still a beautiful hike and as we came out of the trees it was like walking into a scene from Narnia. The lake was still pretty much frozen with a melt beginning around the edges and surrounded by fir trees. The mountains made a beautiful backdrop. Breathtaking.
These are just a couple of over 300 trails in RMNP so you can choose your level and trail length to suit. Just remember take only photographs and leave only footprints.
The town of Estes Park makes the perfect base for Rocky Mountain adventures. It’s not too far away and there are plenty of accommodation options. The main street is full of shops for outdoor gear, souvenirs, local crafts and oddly three Christmas shops.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars. We had breakfast in ‘Kind’ which is a great little cafe with a river-side patio. We took our breakfast bagels and coffee and watched the water babble past before taking a stroll along the river and around town.
Where to eat in Estes Park
There’s plenty of choice in town in the main street but it’s worth heading a couple of miles out to Bird & Jim Restaurant a favourite with locals. Always a good sign. We started with cocktails before enjoying good hearty food with an emphasis on the healthy – perfect hiking fodder. Food is sourced from front range Colorado farms and is tasty, filling and sustainable with a wine list to accompany.
Afterwards drop by Barrel for mead, cider and kombucha on tap as well as beer, wine, spirits and sodas. The bar has regular games and music nights as well as pool tables.
Where to stay in Estes Park
Evergreens on Fall River was perfect for our stay in Estes Park and around three miles from the centre of town. The cabins are in a pretty setting right next to the river and have all the self-catering facilities you’ll need. The cabins have two bedrooms with a kitchen area and living room with a balcony overlooking the river. A hot-tub by the river is perfect for relaxing in after our day’s hiking. So we did!
Read Tripadvisor reviews for Evergreens on Fall River
Days 9-10 Boulder (1 night)
Estes Park to Boulder
Take Highway US-36 to Boulder. 37 miles drive time around 1 hour.
Boulder beckons. We just had a few hours in Boulder, I recommend you stay at least a day.
We took a good walk around Boulder all the while the Flatirons looming in the hills beyond the city. I’d have liked to have hiked the foothills under the shadow of the Flatirons but that’s for another time. I hope. We were determined to see as much as we could in a few hours and we packed a lot in.
Things to do in Boulder
Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse caught our eye with its beautiful tiled façade. The teahouse, a symbol of peace and global friendship, was a gift from Dushanbe, Tajikistan which is Boulder’s sister town. They serve more than just tea, there’s a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner too.
A walk up Boulder Creek Path allowed us time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the sunshine. There were creek side art installations and people paddling in the water and picnicking.
Historic Pearl Street Mall is well worth a wander. It’s busy with buskers, street performers, shoppers, tourists and has epic people watching potential if you like that kind of thing. I do and I wasn’t disappointed.
There’re plenty of coffee shops, bars, restaurants and independent retailers run by locals. I loved the Savannah Bee Shop who are passionate about honeybees and sell all things bees and honey, including craft beer.
We visited Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and checked out the art deco theatre but ran out of time to squeeze in a visit to Boulder Museum.
Art Deco theatre in Boulder
Where to stay in Boulder
Check into the gorgeous Hotel Boulderado in downtown Boulder, the city’s first luxury hotel built in the early 1900s. Even if you don’t stay do drop by for a cheeky look at the beautiful stained glass ceiling window in the lobby, the fabulous staircase and all the retro features.
Head back to Denver International Airport if you’re flying or hit the road home.
DIA is around 50 minute’s drive from Boulder depending on traffic.
Planning your Colorado Road Trip
We flew direct from London Gatwick in the UK with Norwegian Airlines but there are other direct options.
Colorado Road Trip – When to go
Colorado is a four-season destination but whenever you go the weather can be changeable. We went in late spring in May when there was still a bit of snow when we hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park but it was fairly warm elsewhere. However, the following week there was a dump of snow which closed Denver airport. Winter is for skiers and winter sports and autumn or fall will treat you to colourful scenes of rich autumn foliage. Summer is glorious with long days, blue skies and lush green landscapes.
Colorado Road Trip Map
I hope my Colorado road trip itinerary has given you an idea of what you can do in Colorado. You can tailor this trip to your own needs with extra or fewer stops or even swap the order around. My Colorado road trip map will help give you an oversight of our route so you can tweak it to work for you. Questions? Get in touch by email or on social media.
I visited Colorado on a trip hosted by Visit Colorado. As always, all views, opinions and love of an epic road trip are entirely my own and I retain the right to write exactly as I please.
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Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.