4 Day Colorado Road Trip 2023: The Ultimate Itinerary From Denver
Ready for the ultimate 4 day Colorado road trip?
Colorado is a huge state filled with epic views and stunning mountain passes. We’ve got hidden gems, short hikes, and scenic drives to keep you amazed as your spend four days driving across the Centennial State.
We’ll start in Denver head across Rocky Mountain National Park, climb to a travertine alpine lake, follow the highway to the sky over the continental divide, then take the million dollar highway down through the scrappy western landscape of abandoned mining towns.
We’ll show you the top attractions to see if you’ve got four days to do a Colorado loop road trip from Denver. We’ll end our road trip itinerary 1 hour south of Denver, in Colorado Springs. From there, you can decide to add to your journey or loop back to Denver.
Make sure you’re road trip ready – get a your car safety checked, stock up on snacks and other road trip essentials, and get read to hit the open road. This is going to be a fantastic four day Colorado road trip to remember!
4 Day Colorado Road Trip Itinerary Overview
- Day One: Denver to Grand Lake
- Day Two: Grand Lake to Grand Junction
- Day Three: Grand Junction to Durango
- Day Four: Durango to Colorado Springs
📍Day One: Denver To Grand Lake
You’ll start this exciting road trip with a drive through Rocky National Park along the Trail Ridge Road.
Your first stop on this 4 day Colorado road trip is the quaint town of Estes Park. This small town has a lot to offer just an hour and a half from Denver.
Stroll the main street of Elkhorn Ave, browsing in gift shops and watching candy shops pull traditional taffy, then grab a coffee and cinnamon roll to fuel you for the day ahead.
There’s actually a competition in Estes Park over the best cinnamon roll. Pick one (or two) places to try – such as Notchtop Bakery and Cinnamon’s Bakery, which are two of the best bakeries in town.
Take the Estes Aerial Tram to the top of the mountain. Rising over 1,100 vertical feet in 3 ½ minutes, this free-hanging tram has beautiful views of the valley below. Keep in mind that during busy season, there may be a long wait for the tram.
Have a relaxing lunch on the back terrace of Ed’s Cantina, then it’s time to get back on the road.
Drive through Estes Park to follow the Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. This scenic route is only open from Memorial Day to mid-October.
Called the “Highway to the Sky”, this 48-mile-long stretch of highway is the highest continuously paved stretch of road in the United States.
It winds its way up through the Rocky Mountains, crossing the Continental Divide at an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Take your time, and make lots of stops to photograph the views!
✅ To add to your adventure, download a Self-Guided Audio Tour of Rocky Mountain National Park. This app includes tips, stories and directions based on where you are in the park, making your experience completely customizable to your road trip.
You’ll finish the Trail Ridge Road in Grand Lake, Colorado, where you’ll stop for the night.
⏲️ Total Drive Time: Approx. 4 hours
Important: To enter Trail Ridge Road, you need a Timed Entry Reservation for 2023. Make a reservation for a fee of $2 USD. You will still need to pay an entrance fee or show your Annual Park Pass to enter the park.
Without an Annual Park Pass, the single-vehicle fee to enter Rocky Mountain National Park is $30.
At the time of writing, reservation are available on the first day of the month for the following month (so on May 1, reservations for all of June will be available). In addition, at 5 pm each night, reservations will open up for the following day. Planning ahead is crucial.
If you do not have a reservation, you can still enter Trail Ridge Road, but you’ll need to do so outside of reservation hours. In the past this has been before 9 am, and after 2 pm, but its best to confirm current park restrictions and reservations.
Where to stay in Grand Lake
✅ Recommended Budget Hotel: Western Riviera Lodging
This hotel had great views of the lake. Sit on their terrace, enjoy the 24 hour coffee and tea bar, and relax. There’s also a shared deck with BBQ facilities if you feel like cooking up some dinner!
✅ Recommended Upscale Hotel: Grand Lake Lodge
This lodge is a step up from a basic motel, and has a lot more character. Here you’ll find a historic lodge and adorable wooden cabins to sleep in. There is a view of the lake, a firepit on the outdoor deck, a pool, and a hot tub.
📍Day Two: Grand Lake To Grand Junction
For your second day on the road, take Route 70 to Grand Junction, Colorado. Your first stop will be in Hanging Lake, after about 2 ½ hours of driving.
Hanging Lake is a turquoise alpine lake at the top of a tough, 1.2 mile climb. The Hanging Lake hike ascends 1,200 feet in a very short distance, so if you choose to take the hike be prepared for a steep journey.
This lake is unique because it is formed of travertine deposits- making it seems like it’s floating, or hanging, from the mountain. The travertine is very fragile, so there is no swimming or even touching the water here.
Up for a real challenge? Add in a hike to Spouting Rock, just above the lake.
To hike to Hanging Lake you must purchase a permit online. Fees are $10-12 per person depending on the season, which also includes parking. Please note dogs are not permitted on the trail.
Pass through town, and take the Rim Rock Drive of Colorado National Monument before heading back to stay in Grand Junction that night.
Just 15 minutes down the road the trailhead you’ll find the town of Glenwood Springs, which makes a great lunch stop after your strenuous hike. Head to Slope and Hatch for an industrial-chic vibe and loaded up tacos, or check out the 19th Street Diner for comfort food and 1950s décor.
After lunch, you’ll have a 2 hour drive to Colorado National Monument. This rugged landscape is known for its deep valleys, red rock canyons, and spectacular rock formations.
Take the 23-mile-long Rim Rock Drive (the only paved road in the park), which ends in Fruita, Colorado. You’ll go through tunnels, and marvel at 19 different viewpoints on this scenic drive.
From Fruita, take Rt 50 south to Grand Junction.
This road is considered one of the “Grandest Scenic Drives in the American West”, and is a vastly underrated part of the National Park System. If you’re lucky you may spot an eagle, or some big-horned sheep.
This park is extremely popular with cyclists, so keep your eyes peeled for bikers while driving the Rim Rock Road.
You do not need a permit or reservation to enter Colorado National Monument, but you will need show your park pass of pay an entry fee ($25).
⏲️ Total Drive Time: Approx. 6 hours including Rim Rock Drive
Alternate Day 2 Route
Tired of all the driving? Hanging Lake more difficult than you planned? An alternate route is to stay longer in Glenwood Springs, and enjoy the hot springs this town is known for.
Spend the afternoon soaking in thermal waters surrounded by mountain views at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, then drive to Grand Junction to spend the night. Glenwood Hot Springs Pool is the largest hot spring mineral pool in the world- and it’s been working it’s mineral magic since 1888.
For something a bit more adventurous to do in Glenwood Springs, hit the Colorado River for some white water rafting. This thrilling half-day rafting tour takes you along Class II and Class III rapids with the expertise of a trained guide.
Where to stay in Grand Junction
✅ Recommended Budget Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Grand Junction
This hotel is just off the highway, making it an easy road trip stop. Recently renovated, it’s clean and comfortable, with a heated pool and a fitness center.
✅ Recommended Upscale Hotel: Hotel Maveric
On of the newer hotels in town, Hotel Maveric has clean, modern rooms. Spend some time at the rooftop restaurant and bar for great views of the city. Many travelers report that it’s a calm, quiet space.
📍Day Three: Grand Junction To Durango
It’s day three of your ultimate Colorado road trip, and time to head towards Durango!
Head down Rt 50/550 to Silverton, Colorado. This road is called the “Million Dollar Highway” and is full of mountain views, hairpin turns, and mining ghost towns.
Watch for black bears, elk, and mountain goats along this road. You should reach Silverton in 2 ½- 3 hours, depending on how often you stop.
The small town of Silverton (population of 650) is a great place to take a break. It’s brightly painted Greene Street is welcoming to tourists. Head one block off the main strip for a relaxing lunch at Eureka Station.
After lunch, head underground at Old Hundred Gold Mine. Tours leave every hour and take you into an old mine on a train, and give you a 45 minute guided tour of the mine.
You’ll then get a chance to pan for gold! Make sure to bring a sweater, as the mine is usually quite cool.
Head into Durango, only one hour’s drive south. Durango is on the edge of the desert, but with access to the San Juan Mountains, making it a popular base for many outdoor activities, from rafting to mountain biking.
If you’re looking for a quick but strenuous hike, take the “Skysteps”, or Centennial Nature Trail. This one hour hike starts at E 6th St and E 10th St, and leads to great views of Durango.
⏲️ Total Drive Time: Approx. 4 hours
Where to stay in Durango
There are two historic hotels in Durango you should consider spending the night: The General Palmer, and the Strater.
✅ Recommended Historic Hotel: The General Palmer: This hotel right in downtown Durango was built by General William Jackson Palmer in 1898 and has been a hotel ever since. Decorated in the Victorian style, this is a unique place to stay on your Colorado Road trip.
✅ Recommended Historic Hotel: The Strater Hotel: A Colorado Nat
\ional Landmark, the Strater Hotel was built in 1887. It’s distinctive red brick building in the center of Durango is unmissable. All the rooms are decorated with Victorian walnut antiques. In the evening, head to the hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon for live entertainment.
📍Day Four: Durango To Colorado Springs
On the last full day of your four day Colorado road trip, depart Durango early and head to Alamosa, CO, a drive of approx. 3 hours via Route 160.
Alamosa is home to Great Sand Dunes National Park, the highest sand dunes in North America, with dunes reaching over 750 feet.
There are lots of things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park – from hiking to fishing – but the most epic is sliding down the sand dunes with the help of a specially designed sand sled.
Pack a lunch, rent a sandboard (or sled) from Kristi’s Mountain Sports in Alamosa, and head to the dunes. You’ll spend the afternoon getting covered in sand while you fly down the sand dunes on (and off) your board.
Splash around in Medano Creek at the base of the dunes before rinsing off and getting back on the road. You’ll have a 2 ½ hour drive to end your day in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
From Colorado Springs, you’re only 1 ½ hours from Denver. There are a ton of things to do in Colorado Springs, including the famous Garden of the Gods.
✅ There are a few ways to see Garden of the Gods, one of which is by E-Bike Tour. Ride 5 miles around the paved road of the park, admiring the majestic red rock formations and Pikes Peak in the distance.
Depending on how much time you have, you can explore Colorado Springs, or head back to Denver in the morning to complete your loop in 5 days.
⏲️ Total Drive Time: Approx. 5 1/2 hours
Where to stay in Colorado Springs
✅ Recommended Budget Hotel: Best Western Plus Peak Vista Inn & Suites
Located just off the highway, this is an easy, clean and comfortable place to spend the night. Includes a pool, guest laundry, and a terrific breakfast.
✅ Recommended Upscale Hotel: Kinship Landing
This hip hotel is right in downtown Colorado Springs. Catering to all ages, rooms range from hostel-style bunks, to private suites. Travelers rave about how comfortable the beds are. Check out live music on the patio.
Colorado Road Trip Map
Do You Have More Time In Colorado? Additional Stops
Colorado is a big state, and while you can see some pretty amazing scenic drives and a few short hikes in four days, there’s always more to explore. If you have more than 4 days in Colorado, consider adding these destinations to your itinerary.
Steamboat Springs is often called “Ski Town, USA”, but don’t be fooled, there’s a lot of things to do in Steamboat Springs in the summer as well! Located two hours northwest of Grand Lake, this town makes a great additional stop on your Colorado road trip.
Steamboat is a great place for biking and hiking. If you’re looking for a more relaxing stop, enjoy some great food and live music in Gondola Square, take a dip in the natural hot springs, or take a slow float down the Yampa river on an innertube.
Crested Butte is another Colorado ski town with a lot of ambiance, and lots going on. Nested in the mountains, you’ll find this town east of Grand Junction.
With millions of acres of public land, visitors flock here in warm weather for the hiking. You’ll find trails for all abilities, with epic views as payoff for all your hard work.
Crested Butte is also Colorado’s official wildflower capital! Visit late June through July for the peak blooming season. In July, Crested Butte hosts a 10-day wildflower festival to support and celebrate these flowers.
📍Mesa Verde National Park
From Durango, you are only a 40 minute drive from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. You’ll need to drive another 30 minutes into the park to reach the Far View Lodge, the only lodge inside the park.
Mesa Verde is a fantastic National Park for all ages. This park preserves the heritage of the ancestral Pueblo people, including their cliff dwellings.
Plan ahead to reserve space in the lodge (or at another campground) as well as to book tours of the most popular cliff dwellings. Most of the cliff dwellings can only be visited on guided tours.
⚠️ Adventurous traveler alert: Some of these cliff dwelling tours include steep drops and tall ladders.
Colorado Road Trip: FAQs
Have questions about your Colorado Road Trip? We’ve got all the answers from how long you need, to when to go.
Is 4 days enough in Colorado?
Four days is the minimum time you need for a Colorado road trip. Colorado is a big state, with big distances to cover! With four days, you’ll spend most of your time driving, stopping at lookouts and exploring scenic drives. If you have a week, you can add a few more stops, or add in a hikes in some of the parks.
How many days do you need for a Colorado road trip?
Ten days would be the ideal amount of time for a Colorado road trip, which would allow you to stop in National Parks and spend time hiking, rather than driving to a new location each night.
With two weeks, you can include the town of Moab, Utah which gives you access to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, two of Utah’s Mighty Five Parks.
When is the best time to go on a Colorado trip?
The best time for a Colorado road trip is in late May (after Memorial Day) or early June, or in late August and early September.
During the summer months the crowds of families on summer vacation descend, and many places can become quite busy. However, outside of these shoulder months, you may find roads closed or covered in ice and show.
The Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park is only open from Memorial Day through mid-October, and you may find snow well into June. Other times of year, the road is closed as the weather makes this high pass too difficult and dangerous to traverse.
How To Get Around Colorado
The best way to get around Colorado is in a car! All of the roads on this Colorado 4 day itinerary are paved, and in good condition. While some may be high or windy, you don’t need to worry about having four-wheel drive or snow chains.
Have you considered renting a car? Whether you are flying into Denver, or just need more space make your road trip more comfortable, a rental car with unlimited mileage is a great way to road trip.
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The Wrap-Up: 4 Day Colorado Road Trip
This 4 day road trip in Colorado takes you from Denver to some amazing small towns and along some of the most scenic highways of the American West.
Discover hidden gem hikes, explore an old gold mine, or relax in a hot springs after a long drive. From mountain passes to National parks, this Colorado Road Trip is the ultimate way to explore this incredible state.