Last summer (2020) my brother came to visit me for a week when I was living in Boulder Colorado and wanted an overview of the best of the state. After living there for almost a year and road tripping the entire summer, I had the best Colorado road trip itinerary laid out for our ultimate summer vacation. Keep reading for the full list of everything we did each day!
This Colorado road trip itinerary is perfect for the outdoor enthusiast and is based mostly in Summit County. It features famous towns such as Breckenridge and Aspen, but passes through some charming small towns too such as Frisco and Silverthorne. It has its fair share of fun water sports, epic hikes, scenic drives, and beer. I promise you’ll never be bored!
I definitely recommend making sure you have a vehicle with 4 wheel drive for this road trip. It makes driving through the mountains much easier, and allows you to see so much more of the state.
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Day 1: Land in Denver, Spend The Day in Boulder
Day 1 of your Colorado road trip can go a few different ways depending on when you arrive, how much energy you have, and what you want to do. My brother arrived early in the morning and didn’t want to pack the day too full, so I gave him a good overview of Boulder (where I lived) on this day.
Colorado has no shortage of delicious breakfast restaurants to try (you can view a list of my 10 favorites here), but Denver Biscuit Co and Snooze are both conveniently located between the airport and Boulder, so I’d recommend stopping at one of those first. You’ll want to fuel up for your first full day of adventure!
Pro Tip: When you first arrive in Colorado the first thing you’re going to want to do is head straight to the mountains, but I’d recommend holding off on any intense hikes for the first few days (at least). It’s going to take your body some time to adjust to the altitude.
Hikes in Boulder
Boulder has some pretty hikes that will be doable when you first arrive. You can view a list of my favorite hikes in Boulder here. Some good ones for out of town visitors on your first day would be:
First & Second Flatirons Loop: pet-friendly This loop is only about 3 miles long and located in Chautauqua Park. It’s an easy hike for your first day and offers the iconic views of the Flatirons that you’ve seen in pictures.
Royal Arch: pet-friendly Royal Arch is a short hike, but it’s steep in just a couple places. But I’ve done this hike in all types of weather conditions and it’s always worth the view!
Green Mountain: If you’re looking for just an easy nature walk, I’d recommend the Green Mountain West Trail (NOT the full Green Mountain Trail). This trail is also located in Chautauqua Park, but it starts a little ways up Flagstaff instead of at the base of the mountain, so it cuts out a lot of elevation.
Related: 5 Best Hikes in Boulder
Afternoon on Pearl Street
There are tons of local shops and restaurants on Pearl Street, so I highly recommend you spend an afternoon here just walking up and down the cobblestone streets of Pearl Street Mall. Some of my favorite places to eat and drink here include: Hapa Sushi (great happy hour deals!), Foolish Craig’s, Boulder Baked, Sundown Saloon (“The Downer”), Bar Taco, and Avanti Food and Bev.
Sunset and Camping on Sugarloaf (or spend the night at the Boulderado)
My absolute favorite thing to do in Boulder is drive up Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset and then stay at one of the dispersed campsites for the night.
Directions to Sugarloaf Mountain: From central Boulder, follow Canyon Road all the way up to Sugarloaf Mountain Road, turn right and continue all the way up until you see signs for Switzerland Trail. Turn right and follow the dirt road up to a circular clearing at the start of Switzerland Trail.
All of the roads from here are going to be on your left.
To go to the sunset clearing, take the road furthest from you down Switzerland Trail about 2 miles and you’ll get to a pull-off on the right with a fire ring that overlooks the mountains. If you can’t find this exact pull-off though don’t worry because there is no shortage of great places to pull off for sunset!
To get to the campsites, you will follow the furthest road from you (or the closest one to you when you’re entering the clearing) and you’ll find campsites all around you almost immediately.
If you would rather stay in a hotel than camp, I highly recommend Hotel Boulderado. Hotel Boulderado is a charming, older Victorian style hotel. It has a speakeasy bar downstairs where locals love to hang out, a corner restaurant, and a spa. It’s located on Pearl Street Mall right at the base of the canyon so it’s perfect whether you love shopping and dining or mountain activities.
Related: Best of Boulder Colorado
Day 2: Glenwood Springs/Aspen
On day 2 of your Colorado road trip it’s time to wake up bright and early, have some breakfast, and head to Glenwood Springs. This is a great place to stop for a relaxing morning before heading to Aspen for adventure.
But the first (and most important) order of business is breakfast! My favorite breakfast restaurant on the planet is The Buff in Boulder. Make sure you fill up on omelettes and mimosas here! After breakfast, you just have to hop onto Highway 70, drive about 3 hours west (most beautiful drive ever), and you’ll arrive in Glenwood Springs.
Here I recommend soaking in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. You can take in the views of the aspen trees against the red mountains and let your muscles relax before a full week of adventure ahead!
After your soak, take a stroll downtown and grab some lunch before heading to Aspen. There are plenty of restaurants in the main square, but my favorite is the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub. I usually grab a burger to go and make my own little picnic by the water.
Afterwards, it’s time to head down to Aspen. If you’re staying in a hotel or airbnb then now would be a great time to check in and freshen up before heading downtown for the evening.
Evening In Downtown Aspen
There is so much to do in downtown Aspen! There are plenty of great shops to visit and bars and restaurants to try.
- Ride the gondola
- Visit Snowmass Village
- Catch a live show at Belly Up Aspen
- Or even go paragliding!
As for dinner, most of my favorite bars and restaurants are located right downtown. Some of my favorite restaurants are: The Red Onion, Ajax Tavern, White House Tavern, and Aspen Over Easy (breakfast).
Related: Best Weekend Getaways In Colorado
Day 3: Aspen and Hagerman Pass
Day 3 of your Colorado road trip will be a full day spent outside!
You have a couple of options for how to spend your morning.
If you love water sports, I’d recommend white water rafting or paddleboarding in the Roaring Fork River. If that’s not quite your thing, there are plenty of famously gorgeous hikes to check out nearby in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness.
Some easier or shorter hikes to accomplish would be the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop, Crater Lake, or the Rim Trail in Snowmass Village.
Reservations are currently required in order to visit Maroon Bells. Tickets are released on the first of each month for that month, so make sure you plan in advance and snag tickets early if you plan on visiting. You can make reservations here.
If you’re looking for more challenging hikes, I recommend checking out anything in Conundrum Creek, American Lake, or Cathedral Lake.
Hagerman Pass to Turquoise Lake
This afternoon, it’s time to check out a fun and easy offroading trail, Hagerman Pass, which will take you up to Turquoise Lake, your campsite for the evening. This campsite is located at a higher elevation and there are fire bans in place for the summer time, so definitely be sure to pack some cozy socks and warmer clothes. Also be sure to have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance. The views are so beautiful!
Related: 5 Best Off-road Trails in Telluride
Day 4: Leadville/Vail/Breck
Leadville & Vail
Sitting at 10,151 above sea level, Leadville is actually the highest incorporated city in America. It’s a very small town, but has a cute downtown area with some good coffee shops. On day 4 of your Colorado itinerary, stop into town for breakfast and then take Highway 24 to Vail. This brings you back to Highway 70/central Colorado. And there are tons of great restaurants in Vail to stop at for lunch!
Once you arrive you can park directly in the garage for Lionshead Village. There is no fee to park in the garage in the summertime!
Best restaurants in Vail: Pepi’s Bar and Restaurant for a burger and beer, La Nonna for incredible italian food from a Dolomite native, Red Lion or Bart and Yetis for live music and beer, or Sweet Basil for fine dining.
If you want to spend a little more time in Vail, you can take a walk or go tubing down Gore Creek. I’d also recommend riding the gondola downtown to see the views over the mountains. If you have a bike, you can opt for a fun downhill ride right back into town!
After lunch, head back on the road and make your way to Breckenridge. This would be a good night to stay in a hotel if you choose to, but personally I think Breckenridge is full of some of the best campsites in Colorado, so I normally camp.
This evening I’d recommend just parking near Main Street and walking around the downtown area. There are tons of cute shops to stop into, and plenty of delicious food breweries and restaurants. My favorite place to grab dinner downtown is at Breckenridge Brewery. They have some of my favorite beers in Colorado, such as the Mango Mosaic IPA and the Agave Wheat beer. Ollie’s Pub and Grub is also a great option. It’s a sports bar located right downtown with plenty of great food to try and local Colorado beers on tap.
Related: Guide To Breckenridge
Day 5: Adventure day in Breck/Frisco/Silverthorne
Day 5 of your Colorado road trip is another full day of adventure, and you have so many great options in this area for how to spend it. If you want to go paddleboarding or kayaking, I recommend heading down to the Dillon Reservoir. To go hiking, check out the Mayflower Gulch area, Silver Dollar Lake, or even some 14ers if you’re up for a challenge such as Mount Bierstadt, Quandary Peak, or Grays and Torreys. If you’re looking for a scenic drive you can take the Mount Evans Scenic Byway or go offroading at Georgia Pass. If you choose Georgia Pass, keep an eye out for mountain goats!
Camp off Boreas Pass Road
When you’re done with your day of outdoor adventure, it’s only right to sleep outside too. My favorite area to camp in Colorado is off of Boreas Pass Road. Boreas Pass is a seasonal road that is only open in the summer. It has campsites right off the main road so you can reach them if you do not have a 4WD vehicle, or you can venture further into the woods if that’s more your style. Whichever you choose, you’re in for some gorgeous views and a great night under the stars.
Related: 10 Best Free Campsites in Colorado
Day 6: Take Loveland Pass to St. Mary’s Glacier on the way to Denver
This next day of your Colorado itinerary you’ll be heading to Denver, but with some stops along the way. When you leave Breckenridge, I recommend taking Loveland Pass. Loveland Pass is a gorgeous drive through the mountains and ski resorts such as Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Loveland Ski Area. It is open depending on the weather. It is plowed for the summer, but can close if it’s too windy. You can check the status of Loveland Pass here.
St. Mary’s Glacier
After Loveland Pass you’ll soon arrive in the town of Idaho Springs, which is home to St. Mary’s Glacier. St. Mary’s is a quick and pretty hike, so it’s a great stop if you’re just looking to get out of the car for a bit and see some views. The base of the glacier is only a 20 minute walk from the parking lot, and then it’s only a quick hike to see the glacier from above. If you’re feeling adventurous I’ve seen some people bring their skis up for a quick ride back down the glacier, but I’ve never tried it myself.
Once you’re done at St. Mary’s Glacier, it’s time to head to Denver for dinner and the last day of your trip!
Day 7: Enjoy these (free) things to do in Denver or take a day trip
There are quite a few ways you could spend the last day of your Colorado road trip depending on what you haven’t gotten to cross off of your bucket list yet, how much time/energy you have, and where you’re visiting from. Most of my audience lives in Denver or has been to Denver, so I wouldn’t normally include Denver in an itinerary. However this wouldn’t be the ultimate Colorado summer road trip itinerary without it!
If you have not been to Denver or if you’re just looking for more of a chill last day, there is so much you can do in this city! You can:
- Take a walk around Sloan Lake
- Have a picnic in Washington Park
- Go to Red Rocks Amphitheater (I love doing yoga here during the day or catching a concert at night)
- Go shopping in Larimer Square or Union Station
- Visit the Denver Zoo
- Or try some new bars and restaurants
My friend Alexis has a list on her blog Indigo Views of the best bars and restaurants in Denver that I totally agree with, so I’m just going to link it here for your reference!
Easy Day Trips From Denver
If you have been to Denver, I recommend spending your last day taking a day trip! Some great day trips would be Rocky Mountain National Park or Colorado Springs.
There are plenty of hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park ranging from short and sweet all the way to 14ers, so there is a hike for everyone here!
Some of the best easy hikes are:
- anything in the Bear Lake corridor (Sprague Lake, Bear Lake, Dream Lake, etc.)
- Ute Trail
- Lily Lake Loop
- Bierstadt Lake Loop
Some of the best more difficult day hikes include: Sky Pond, Emerald Lake, and Chasm Lake.
And be sure to stop in Estes Park after your hike for a beer from Wapiti Pub and some salt water taffy!
Another great option for a day trip is Colorado Springs. It’s only about an hour and a half from Denver and there is so much to do! I love Garden of the Gods Park, the Manitou Incline, driving Pike’s Peak Highway, and trying different breweries and restaurants downtown in Manitou Springs.
How To Stay Covid Safe While Traveling Domestically
One pro of spending the pandemic in Colorado was that it is very easy to keep your distance from others since most summer activities are outdoors. Last time I checked Colorado was Level Clear so masks are not required indoors for vaccinated folks, but make sure you stay up to date on the latest CDC recommendations.
It is painful for me not to be including Telluride in this Colorado road trip itinerary since it is my favorite city in Colorado. However I think it’s important to spend at least a couple days in each city so that you can thoroughly enjoy your time in them. Since Telluride is so far away and jam packed with things to do, I think it would be best to be on its own trip.
If you have a few extra days, I highly recommend adding a weekend in Telluride to the beginning of your trip! From Denver you’d just have to take Highway 70 West all the way to Grand Junction, then Highway 50 South to Telluride. On your way up to Aspen from there, you can take one of my favorite scenic drives, McClure Pass!
Related: Weekend Guide To Telluride