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The Ultimate 1 Week Colorado Road Trip

If you know Jake and I, you know we love to travel around Colorado. So, we usually get asked a lot by people visiting Colorado what to do and where to go. Obviously, Colorado is a big state and it’s hard to see everything in 1 week, so we have narrowed it down to our absolute favorite places and put it into the perfect 1-week itinerary.

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Beware though, because this is an action-packed week, it’s pretty ambitious! This Colorado road trip is about 17.5 hours round trip and covers 838 miles. While it’s always better to get out of the car and explore on foot, even some of the sights you see from the car will blow your mind.

We always try to keep a low budget when traveling around Colorado, so we try to find free or low-cost campsites along our route.

Check out our article on: 3 Great Websites For Free Camping. These apps and websites are going to be critical for finding your way to many campsites/campgrounds that we mention.

This Colorado road trip is designed for late spring, summer, or early fall season because many of the hikes are closed or inaccessible during other times of the year.  The itinerary starts from Denver and does a loop around to some of the greatest attractions in Colorado.

Colorado Road Trip 1 Week Itinerary

Day 1

  • Fly/drive to Denver
  • Rent a Car (If you fly)
  • Spend a day/night in Denver (Acclimate to the elevation change – THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!)
  • Visit Red Rocks Amphitheatre
  • Check out some breweries
  • Camp at Indian Paintbrush Campground

Day 2

  • Drive into the mountains via I-70 Interstate
  • Drive up Mt. Evans 14’er
  • Hike St. Mary’s Glacier
  • Camp along Fall River Road near St. Mary’s Glacier or at Heffernan Gulch 

Day 3

Day 4

  • Drive to Telluride, CO or Ouray, CO
  • Explore downtown
  • Rest Day
  • Camp at Ridgeway State Park or Along County Road 7

Day 5

  • Hike Ice Lake and Island Lake Trail
  • Camp at Ridgway State Park

Day 6

  • Drive to Gunnison
  • Do a scenic drive through Black Canyon and get out at viewpoints
  • Valley View Hot Springs
  • Camp or grab a cabin room at the Valley View Hot Springs

Day 7

  • Head back to Denver/home


You will need PERMITS and RESERVATIONS for some of these activities/accommodations.  So be sure that you plan ahead so that you don’t miss out.

This road trip is very much designed around camping, and lots of primitive camping too (e.i. no facilities, bathrooms, water, electricity, etc).  This is how we prefer to travel because it saves hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars.  And you really get to enjoy the natural beauty of Colorado.  But if you’re more comfortable in hotel rooms, please feel free to modify the trip.

We often compare prices on Kayak, Hopper, and Expedia to find the best deals on hotels. But we also love using VRBO for unique vacation rentals.

We mention a few National Parks. If you visit more than 3 of them, it’s smart to get a National Parks Pass (you will save money on entry fees).

Day 1: Denver and Acclimating

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

The first day will be spent in Denver so you can acclimate to the elevation. It will be a nice relaxing day to start off the road trip. First, you will want to fly or drive to Denver. Flights into Denver can be really cheap, but we usually prefer driving so we can bring all our camping gear along.

If you fly, you will want to rent a car for the week. We suggest renting a SUV, so getting to certain hikes is easier. You also might be able to get a vehicle that is big enough to sleep in, so you don’t have to bring a tent. 

We use Kayak to find the best deals on rental cars and hotels!

After getting into Denver, it would be a good idea to stock up on food, water and anything you might need for camping for 7 days. We love cutting the cost down by making a lot of our own meals so we don’t have to eat out every meal.

Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Before coming, check the concert/event lineup at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and see if there is something you would enjoy.  Some concerts sell out months in advance, but other’s may have tickets right up until day of. Red Rocks is the most spectacular natural ampitheatre in the world (opinion, but not really). 

If you find a show you would enjoy, you should base your arrival to Denver around that show date. If you don’t see a show you would enjoy, then you could go see the amphitheater during the day before the night’s event. It’s free to visit during the day, and there’s a number of activities that you can do surrounded by the natural beauty.  So Red Rocks will either be a day activity or night activity depending on which way you want to experience it.

Another activity you could partake in is visiting a few breweries in Denver. The city is well known for having a ton of really great craft breweries. Some of our favorites are: Wynkoop Brewing Company, Station 26 Brewing Co, Hogshead Brewery, Briar Common Brewery and Eatery, and Joyride Brewery. All of these breweries have great outdoor seating, so if it’s a nice day, you can enjoy a brew outside!  

And if breweries aren’t your thing, there’s loads of other fun entertainment in the city.  You could catch a Rockies baseball game. Or if you just want to explore, the most happening neighborhoods are Lodo (lower downtown) and RiNo (river north).

If cities aren’t your thing, the Highlands neighborhood is just outside the city but still has a good variety of bars, restaurants, breweries, etc.

There isn’t a whole lot of camping around the Denver area, so we suggest staying at the Indian Paintbrush Campground. Camping costs about $25/night. This campground has restrooms, showers and drinking water. You can reserve a campsite HERE. We suggest reserving a campsite in advance, because they do run out.

Day 2: Into the Mountains!

View From The Top Of Mt. Evans (Photo by: Alyson Boonstra)

On day 2, you will want to wake up early to pack up your stuff to get going on the road. This is where the fun part of this Colorado road trip begins. You will be heading into the mountains via the I-70 interstate.

There is a perfect 14’er (mountain peak exceeding 1400 feet) that you can drive up to the top of and have a stunning 360 panorama view of mountains! 

If you really want the physical challenge to hike a 14’er then Mt. Evans or Mt. Beirstadt are great options.  But we don’t suggest hiking a 14’er because a lot of people who aren’t acclimated to the elevation tend to be more likely to get altitude sickness.

And it doesn’t only discriminate between fit and unfit people. Altitude sickness can be a trip ruiner, so taking it easy will ensure that you’re ready to tackle the rest of the road trip.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.

St. Mary’s Glacier

Get back into the car and head towards St. Mary’s Glacier. This hike will be a good introductory hike into the mountains of Colorado. This hike is 1.9 miles roundtrip with 807 feet in elevation gain. Drink a lot of water along the way and take necessary breaks when needed. 

Most likely there will be a glacier there year round and you might even see people bringing up their skis to take a quick run down the glacier! There is a $5 parking fee.

The box is located by the porta potties in the middle of the parking lot. Be sure to tear off the end piece on the envelope to put in the dash of your vehicle.

For camping for the evening, there are campsites along Fall River Road where you could either set up before the hike or afterwards. Or there is a campsite that is across the interstate at Heffernan Gulch. Both of these camping options are free!

Day 3: Glenwood Springs and Hanging Lake

blue-green water with a waterfall flowing into it, making it one of the best hikes in colorado
Hanging Lake

Day 3 you will be adventuring on to Glenwood Springs. This town is known for it’s hot springs, and can have a sulphur smell to it, but don’t let that scare you away!

Before you plan your trip, check into getting a permit for Hanging Lake. You will need to purchase a shuttle and permit package. This hike is 2.8 miles with 1204 feet in elevation gain. This hike can be a challenge, but if you take breaks along the way and take it slow, it will be super rewarding in the end. For more information on this hike check out our article: Hanging Lake.

After this hike, head to the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. The price to use the hot springs ranges from $20-$28 depending on the time of year. This will be a great way to spend an afternoon and have an authentic feel of Glenwood Springs. This is a great time to take advantage and shower after soaking in the hot springs.

On this night we suggest camping at Prince Creek Rd or Buford Road. Or if you want a break from camping you can usually find a hotel room in this town for a reasonable price.

Day 4: Stunning Mountain Towns

Telluride, CO (Photo by: Nathan Mead)

On day 4 you can choose between heading toward the well-known town Telluride, CO or head to another similar town of Ouray, CO. Both have stunning views of surrounding mountains.

Ouray will be more on the route to the next hike, but if Telluride has always been on your list of beautiful places to see, this will be your chance because you are fairly close.

If you choose Ouray, check out the best things to do in Ouray, CO.

Ouray, CO

If you choose to head into Telluride, you can spend part of the day downtown and part of the day riding up the free gondola and into the ski resort. Also, be sure to check out Bridal Veil Falls which is the stunning waterfall that you can see from town. There is a hike up to the falls but the hike we have planned for tomorrow is a tough one, so we suggest saving your energy.

Ridgeway State Park Campground

If you choose to check out the town of Telluride, than we suggest camping at Ridgeway State Park. We suggest reserving a campsite in advance because they sell out fast at popular times of the year. This is about an hour drive from Telluride, but you will be closer to the adventure planned for tomorrow.

Box Canyon

If you choose to spend the day at Ouray, we suggest walking around downtown. There is also an easy hike/tourist attraction called Box Canyon. Check out our article: Box Canyon for more information.

If you choose to check out Ouray, than you can camp at these free campsites: Mineral Creek, Sultan & Anvil, or Golden Horn Primitive. If these 3 campsites are full or you prefer to not be in a campground there is free camping along County Road 7 (the road leading to the trailhead for tomorrow’s hike).

Day 5: Ice Lake and Island Lake

Ice Lake

Day 5 is one of our favorites, but definitely one of the hardest adventure days (we promise, it will be worth it though). Depending on where you camp for the previous evening, head toward Ice Lake and Island Lake Trailhead

Luckily both of these lakes are close together so you can see both in one hike.  They are some of the most beautiful lakes in all of Colorado. This hike is 6.5 miles with 2736 feet in elevation gain.

Island Lake

Check out our article: Ice Lake and Island Lake for more information. If you were having a hard time with all the other hikes so far then this one might be a too difficult. If you are still up for the challenge, take your time and make sure to really drink enough water and take breaks along the way.

Campsite Along County Road 7

Once you are done with the hike, you are sure to be exhausted. For camping you can either camp at one of the campsites we listed above along County Road 7 or head back to Ridgeway State Park to head back in the direction for tomorrow’s next adventure.

Day 6: Black Canyon And More Hot Springs

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park

Day 6 will be much more relaxed than yesterday’s adventure! You will be heading toward Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. There is a nice scenic drive with little viewpoints along the way. Some of our favorite stops along the way are Gunnison Point, Pulpit Rock, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. Check out our article: Black Canyon In A Weekend to get a better idea of the viewpoints.

Valley View Hot Springs

After checking out Black Canyon, head toward the Valley View Hot Springs. On your way, you will pass by Blue Mesa Reservoir, the biggest lake in all of Colorado.  You will probably see some boaters zipping around the lake.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Then when you get to Valley View Hot Springs, it will be a nice cap off point for one adventurous road trip. You can soak in your sore muscles in some hot springs and just enjoy sweeping views.

They have dozens of different hot springs that range from mostly natural, to man-made hot spring fed swimming pools.  They charge $11-$30 depending on how long you stay and advanced reservations are recommended!

Valley View Hot Springs

For nighttime, they sell campsites for $10/night or you can stay in one of their cabin rooms starting at $30/night.

Day 7

Sadly, day 7 is when the trip comes to an end. You should plan to head back to Denver or home, wherever that may be!

You will take Rt 285 all the way to Denver, but don’t worry, there are still tons are amazing 14’ers that you will see on your drive.  If you need to stop for a bite to eat, make a short detour to Biggies Sub Shop in Buena Vista.  It’s a must pit-stop on your drive back to Denver.  A no-frills sub shop that will blow your socks off with gluttonous cheese steaks and more.

If you have more time, be sure to check out more fun things to do in Buena Vista.

Or if you missed Red Rocks Amphitheater at the beginning of the trip, you can check it out now.

Don’t forget to pack all the Road Trip Essentials

Hotels or Other Accommodations Along This Ultimate 1-Week Colorado Road Trip:

If camping isn’t your thing, use to find a hotel nearby! Or consider booking a Vrbo nearby each location for a more relaxed vacation vibe. 

Or one of our personal favorite options is to rent a campervan or RV from Outdoorsy or RVezy.

For more information about Outdoorsy & RVezy, check out our post: Outdoorsy Vs. RVezy Review | Which Rental Service Is Better

Takeaway | The Ultimate 1 Week Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

This trip is very packed with grand adventures, so it’s not for the faint of heart. This trip also requires a lot of driving, in order to see the beauty of Colorado. If you are in-shape and ready to attack Colorado in the best way possible, this is the trip for you! The best part of camping along this trip is if you decide you want to stop somewhere along the way, you aren’t tied down to a hotel room or have to be in a hurry to get anywhere. 

If you have more than a week, this trip could easily be slowed down to explore at a more leisurely pace. Or if you are not coming from Denver, you can jump into the road trip anywhere along the loop. Also, if camping isn’t your thing, you could mix in a hotel room, or get one every night.

If you completed everything on this Colorado road trip itinerary, YOU ARE A LEGEND! We hope you guys enjoy our suggestions of places to visit on the Ultimate Colorado road trip.

If you will be headed next door to Utah, check out our article: The Ultimate Southern Utah Road Trip

Honorable Mention

We tried to fit all our favorites in here, but it’s so hard!  Here are some things that didn’t make the list but you could substitute in if they interest you.

Piney Lake

This beautiful lake near Vail, CO didn’t make the cut because it’s kind of difficult to get to.  It’s about an hour on a rough dirt road.  But you can drive right up to the lake and it’s gorgeous.  You can rent a canoe to paddle around the lake and stop into the restaurant for a bite to eat.  More Info.

(Fit this in on Day 2 or 3 of this ultimate 1-week Colorado Road Trip) 

Palisade Winery Tour

A Winery Tour in Palisade, CO can be a fun pit stop.  We have had a great time renting bikes here and going winery-hopping.  Check out our article about a Palisade Winery weekend getaway!

(Fit this in on Day 3 or 4)

Colorado National Monument

If you want to experience the desert vibe, The Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction is awesome. It has an amazing scenic drive with lots of short walks to viewpoints like this one.  You can see huge desert canyons and experience this unique gem that is different from the rest of the trip.

(Fit this in on Day 3 or 4)

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Colorado is home to Great Sand Dunes National Park.  It’s a absolutely surreal place. Massive sand dunes, huge blue sky, and all surrounded by snow-capped mountains. If you still have energy, make the detour to this unique place.

(Fit this in on Day 6 or 7)

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