( Tripsavvy) – Beautiful and diverse landscape, scenic road trips, bucket list ski experiences, and a strong craft beer culture are some of the highlights of a trip to Colorado.
Start your trip in Denver to experience the capital city’s arts, culture, food, and nightlife, and then head to more remote destinations to immerse yourself in some of the most impressive scenery in the country. Use this guide to plan your perfect trip to the Centennial State.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Summer or winter are the best times to visit. They’re both peak season due to the enjoyable summer weather (it’s hot but never humid) and the draw of ski season in winter. However, fall offers some fun events like the Aspen Film Festival and Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, showcasing 2,700 beers from around the world. No matter when you visit, you’re likely to have some clear, sunny days, as the state boasts 300 days of sunshine per year.
- Getting Around: The best way to see the state is by car—it will give you the flexibility to explore, drive along the many scenic routes, and stash and transport your gear if you’re coming for some adventure.
- Travel Tip: The high altitude can be a problem for some travelers. Denver is at an elevation of 5,280 feet (earning it the nickname of the Mile High City), and you’ll climb even higher as you head into the mountains. Take it easy and stay hydrated to avoid altitude sickness.
Things to Do
Hit the great outdoors. Colorado is home to some pretty stunning landscape that’s enjoyable all year, including several national and state parks; more than 50 hikeable fourteeners (or 14ers, local speak for mountains whose peaks reach 14,000 feet in elevation); world-class ski resorts; and more ways to spend your days with Mother Nature. Adventure-seekers won’t be disappointed.
Go for a drive. You can also take in all that beautiful nature by car. Just outside Denver, you can do the Lariat Loop, drive Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road, or make your way to the southwest corner of the state to drive the San Juan Scenic Byway.
Grab a beer. Colorado is known for its craft beer scene, and you have hundreds to choose from on your visit. You’ll find them all over the state, with higher concentrations in cities like Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Golden, and Colorado Springs. But no matter where you are, you won’t be far from a good craft brew.
Get high. If that’s your thing, Colorado was one of the first states (along with Washington) to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012, and since then dispensaries have cropped up (pun intended) all over. Just be sure to finish your stash before crossing state lines.
What to Eat and Drink
Colorado is perhaps most known for its craft beer, but pair your pint with a few of the state’s tastiest and most iconic dishes, primarily consisting of local meats. When out for a meal, look for trout, bison burgers, elk, and Rocky Mountain oysters (aka bull testicles). It also lays claim to some of the best breakfast burritos and green chile in the country, and Colorado-style pizza (a thick-crust pie piled with toppings) is definitely a local and visitor favorite, especially at its origin, Beau Jo’s.
Denver: The Mile High City is the state’s capital and largest city, and it’s where you’ll find award-winning restaurants, a strong craft beer scene, arts and culture, and sports stadiums for the professional teams. It’s also a convenient and practical location for day trips to popular Rocky Mountain destinations.
Rocky Mountain National Park: Ranked third in the country (after the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains), this national park gets about 4.5 million visitors per year to hike, see wildlife, and drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road. Base yourself in the town of Estes Park.
Colorado Springs: Similar to Denver, Colorado Springs is a great jumping off point for some day trips. You can summit the 14,000-foot Pikes Peak by hiking or by car (one of the few you can do by car), and admire gorgeous views from the top (its beauty inspired the song “America the Beautiful”); visit Garden of the Gods, a park filled with towering red rock formations; and walk across the highest suspension bridge in the country at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, which towers 956 feet over the canyon and Arkansas River below. For even more thrill, ride the country’s highest zipline at 1,200 feet over the gorge.
Ski Resorts: Colorado has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, so naturally, its top ski resorts, such as Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and Telluride, are popular destinations come winter. Ski season lasts from about November to April depending on snowfall and weather, and each resort offers a different experience and vibe. These mountain towns are also great to visit in the summer for hiking, mountain biking, and festivals.
Mesa Verde National Park: Tucked all the way in the southwestern corner of Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage site attracts visitors from around the world to see its remarkably well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. After the park, drive one more hour to the Four Corners, a site that lets you stand in four states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona—simultaneously, where their borders meet.
San Juan Mountains: Arguably the most picturesque part of the state, a road trip through this area is highly recommended. The San Juan Skyway is a 230-mile loop through southwestern Colorado that takes you through Durango, Silverton, Telluride, and other towns. The stretch from Ouray and Silverton, known as the Million Dollar Highway, might be the most beautiful road trip you take in your life.
Great Sand Dunes National Park: Experience North America’s tallest sand dunes by hiking around the 30 square miles of dunes (there are no trails), sandboarding or sand sledding, spending the night to do some stargazing (it was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2019), or simply taking in the views of the dunes with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the backdrop.
Unless you’re driving to Colorado from a nearby state, you’re likely going to arrive by flying into Denver International Airport, about 20 minutes outside of downtown Denver. You can take a train to downtown’s Union Station, and then walk or use local public transit to explore. Plan on renting a car if your plans include destinations outside of Denver. If you’re headed straight to the mountain areas like Vail, Aspen, or others, shuttle companies, such as the Epic Mountain Express, offer round-trip rides from the airport to various mountain towns for a fee.
Money Saving Tips
- Traveling during the off-peak seasons of spring or fall will help to save money on flights and accommodations.
- If skiing is your reason for visiting, plan on day trips to the slopes instead of overnight stays to save on hotels, pack your own lunches to avoid pricey mountain meals, and look online for lift ticket discounts in advance. Schedule-permitting, ski on weekdays for lower lift ticket prices, as well as fewer crowds and less traffic.
- If you’re coming to check out Colorado’s amazing outdoor opportunities, consider trading a few hotel stays for nights under the stars instead. If you already own the proper gear, camping can save you a lot of money.