In August of 2016, my boyfriend, Steve, (now husband) and I packed up my Jeep and we were off for the best Colorado road trip ever! Other than skiing, Steve hadn’t been to Colorado much, because of this I made sure to plan to see the best of Colorado in my itinerary. I also planned to go to places with lots of activities! Even though not in Colorado, I added Utah’s Arches National Park to my itinerary because I had never been there and wanted to see it.
Day 1 Best Colorado Road Trip
First stop, Colorado Springs. After a 10+ hour drive from Iowa, Steve and I arrived in Colorado Springs in the late afternoon. I was excited as we were going to Garden of the Gods, because it is my favorite place in Colorado Springs. Garden of the Gods is a natural red rock park in Colorado Springs. Furthermore, the park is made even more spectacular with Pikes Peak standing majestically in the background. The very best way to see the park is to get out of your car and walk through the rocks. Better yet, get brave and climb around on the rocks! Thats what we did and had a fantastic time.
The Royal Gorge is located close to Canon City, Colorado which is not far from Colorado Springs. The Bridge spans over the Arkansas River. The Royal Gorge has the distinction of being the highest suspension bridge in the United States. In addition, until 2003, It was the highest in the world. We only had time to admire the bridge from the distance because, more importantly to me, it was time to white water raft!! White water rafting under the Royal Gorge has been a long time bucket list item for me.
White Water Rafting
Our 4 hour raft trip started out a bit mild but then the fun began. Steve and I sat in the front, of course. I’ve been on 5 and 6 day whitewater trips so I was looking forward to some big rapids. I got my wish! We hit many rapids and were soaked. I was loving the adventure. I felt like I was one of the balls in an old pinball machine. That is to say, our little raft seemed to be literally bouncing from rock to rock. At one point, our raft seemed to almost stand on its side! I thought for sure we were flipping over. In fact, had it not been for the guide’s expertise and commands, we would have flipped for sure! It was so fun!
I was glad our first couple days in Colorado were awesome as we continued on our road trip. We drove through the rest of the afternoon to south west Colorado, we were going to Mesa Verde in the morning and wanted to get most of the driving done with. We stayed at Ute Mountain Resort and woke up energized and ready to go.
Day 3 Best Colorado Road Trip
The next morning our Colorado road trip continued as we headed towards Mesa Verde. This was my fifth trip to Mesa Verde. I love everything about Mesa Verde but I especially love the peaceful feeling I get when I’m there.
Mesa Verde is a National Park in Southwest Colorado. Within the park are hundreds of stone cliff dwellings, pit houses and ceremonial areas built by Ancestral Puebloan people (formaly referred to as the Anasazi) who lived there from 550-1300 AD. These people built on top of the Mesa and also into the cliffs. When they left the area it is believed they went south, but there is no record of this.
We arrived at Mesa Verde in mid morning. There was an occasional light rain sprinkle, but nothing to ruin the day! Steve and I stopped at the visitor center for tour tickets. Tickets are needed to visit and tour the larger dwellings. I would also suggest good walking shoes as you will be walking on dirt, rocks, and possibly climbing a bit. The Ranger guided tours include, Long House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House. For more information follow this link to the Mesa Verde National Park site https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm .
Far View Sites
Our tours weren’t until later so we visited the ruins on top of the Mesa first at the Far View Sites. The Pueblo people who had lived here were farmers and hunters. There is a short easy trail interlinking the complexes on the site with information signs. This is a self-guided tour and is a great way to start your Mesa Verde trip.
Next it was time for our first guided tour. We were ready to explore the Balcony House which is a large cliff dwelling. This is a Ranger guided tour which you will need tickets for. I have been here before and was excited to see it again! To access the Balcony House you must climb a 32′ ladder which adds a bit of adventure to this tour! In addition you go through an ancient tunnel and crawl out the other side! This is a fun tour!
The Petroglyph Trail is a 2.4 mile round trip loop trail. A little over half way you will pass a larger Petroglyph, thus the title of the trail. This trail is a lot of fun and a bit adventurous! Steve and I had a lot of fun hiking this trail, mostly because we just didn’t know what was coming up next! Once on the top though, you can see so far!! I highly recommend this trail!
Cliff Palace Sunset Tour
Finally it was time for the Cliff Palace sunset tour. This tour was everything we hoped for and more. Our tour guide really made the difference. He was knowledgeable and showed us the best spots for pictures. It was a exceptional experience and worth every penny.
Far View Lodge
That evening we stayed on the top of the Mesa at Far View Lodge. I had stayed here before and love the solitude and quietness of this lodge. At night, all you see are the stars above in the darkness.
Day 4 Best Colorado Road Trip
Steve and I woke up early to a beautiful sunrise across the Mesa. It appeared to be raining in the distance, but still a beautiful morning. We were only spending the morning here so we wanted to get in everything we could, hopefully without rain.
An early morning hike to Step House was our first venture. This is a small ruin and is self guided. It is a short 1 mile loop hike. This was not as spectacular las the larger more famous ruins, but it was still a nice hike and we enjoyed it!
Long house was our last ranger guided tour. This ruins are 13 miles from where we were staying, so a bit out of the way. You meet the Park Ranger at the parking lot, who will be your tour guide. It is a 2.25 mile round trip loop trail and you will have to descend to get to the ruin and then climb two 15 foot ladders. It is really cool to see the differences in the ruins.
As our Colorado road trip continued, we left Mesa Verde and it started to rain as we drove into the mountains. Unfortunately it rained most of the rest of the day. We passed through Durango and stopped at Silverton where I needed a bite to eat. From there we drove the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray which passes by Red Mountain. Unfortunately, this usually amazingly scenic drive was not very photogenic due to the rain. Regardless it was still a beautiful drive.
We reached the picturesque mountain town of Ouray about an hour before night fall. It is such a cute town and we had fun wandering around town. We stayed in the middle of downtown at the historic Hotel Ouray over looking the Main Street. Looking out of our hotel windows, I felt like I had stepped back in time!
Day 5 Colorado Road Trip
It was still a dreary day when we awoke, but at least not raining. No matter what, Steve and I were ready for a Jeep tour! We wanted to travel on the high country backroads and regardless of having 4 wheel drive, we decided to do a tour. Since neither of us were familiar with 4 wheeling on high mountain paths we weren’t sure what we would be encountering.
Jeep Ride to Governor’s Basin
There are several Jeep tours in Ouray and we decided on Governor’s Basin which is a 4 hour tour. The day was overcast, regardless it was still a fun and beautiful tour. The tour took us past the old Virginia Mine and then up to Governor’s Basin, where we got out and wandered around amongst the wildflowers taking pictures.
After we left Ouray, the sun slowly came out. In contrast, the day became bright and beautiful as we continued our Colorado road trip. Even though this is a Colorado road trip, we wanted to see Arches National Park so for this reason, we included a small section of Utah in our trip.
Arches National Park, Utah
The changing landscape from Ouray was fun to see as we drew closer to Moab, Utah where we would spend the night. The dry desert along with the rock spires and arches seemed like another planet after the green forests and white top mountains we left in the early afternoon. Plus it was sunny!! No more rain!
Arches National Park is located near Moab, Utah. It is known for its natural stone arches seen throughout the park. This area is popular with mountain bikers, hikers, tourists, and those that love nature. For more information about Arches Park, follow this link to the Arches National Park website https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm .
In the late afternoon, we drove to the windows section of the park. There we saw the North and South Windows, and Double Arch. All were just short walks from the parking area. We loved the rock formations and arches! In addition, we were there during sundown and Mother Nature put on an amazing show for us!! We actually had a blast climbing around on the rocks for the perfect sunset picture!
Day 6 Colorado Road Trip
Arches National Park
We woke up early to a beautiful sunny day, it was going to get hot so we wanted to hike and explore while it was still early. We were on the trail by 7 am hiking to Delicate Arch which is notably the park’s iconic and most famous arch. This is a 3 mile hike, out and back trail. It is not a difficult trail, but a bit tough with the incline on the way there and the increasing heat.
We also hiked a couple of other trails. Even though it was hot, we were having a great time going from arch to arch.
This arch is less than 1/2 mile from the parking lot and is an out and back trail. It gets its name from the sand all over the ground around it. I thought it was a bit tough to walk through the sand, but definitely worth the short walk to see this arch.
Broken Arch is less than 2 miles round trip. This trail is an out and back trail and easy to navigate. Sandstone Arch Trailhead is just a short walk away, different direction from the same general area.
This arch is less than a half mile out and back round trip hike from the parking area on the road between Sandstone Arch and Broken Arch.
You can find Tunnel Arch on the way to Pine Tree arch! The trail is another out and back trail and is not even a mile round trip.
Pine Tree Arch
Pine Tree Arch is an easy 1.8 mile out and back trail. We hiked it on our way to Landscape Arch.
The trail to Landscape Arch is a 1.5 mile round trip out and back trail. It is also easy to walk to. If you check out Pine Arch it is a little further. Landscape Arch is not only the largest arch in the park, but it also has the distinction of being the largest arch in the world!
Steve and I loved Arches National Park and hopefully will return someday and see more of Utah’s National Parks! Continuing our Colorado road trip we headed back to Colorado and on to Aspen. We were running behind as we were having so much fun at Arches so we ended up spending the night in Glenwood Springs and headed to Aspen and Maroon Bells in the morning.
Day 7 Colorado Road Trip
It was a beautiful morning when we arrived early in Aspen, although a bit chilly. We basically came to Aspen to check out Maroon Bells. We hopped on the Maroon Bell bus and were ready to go. In the summer, between 8 and 5 you can only reach Maroon Bells by bus, as I understand it, this is to reduce the traffic at this popular and scenic area. Before or after you can drive in on your own.
Maroon Bells was just as grand as I remembered! The peaks towering over the reflective pool is nature’s beauty at it’s best! Steve was just as awed as I was. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of peace and serenity I had just being here.
Hike to Crater Lake
Since we were here, we decided to hike to Crater Lake. This 3.6 mile round trip is an out and back hike up a rocky path. Much to our surprise and delight, just after we started our hike there was a Moose! He was at the far end of the lake munching on bushes! He was huge! The rangers there kept everyone at a safe distance and after a picture or two we headed up the path. Pretty amazing! The trail is a very pretty trail, cutting through an Aspen lined path. Occasionally we saw the peaks through the trees. Crater Lake was also beautiful! Although smaller than Maroon Lake. At 10,760 feet, all you saw of the mountains were the peaks!
After Maroon Bells we had lunch in Aspen at the Red Onion, which was very satisfying, especially after a busy morning. After leaving Aspen, we drove Independence Pass and then headed to Denver to see my son who lives near there.
Day 8 Colorado Road Trip
Today we spent the day at my son’s in Lakeview near Denver. It was a lazy day for me. While Steve and Tony went to golf, I slept. Steve and I headed to Golden for a bit of shopping and bumming around. It was a pretty unremarkable day, which was fine with me! As always, though, I loved spending time with my son!
Day 9 Colorado Road Trip
Today we headed home. After spending another night at my son’s place we awoke well before dawn. Well stocked with coffee Steve and I made the 10 hour long drive home to Iowa. Even though we worn a bit worn out from a busy week, we knew we looked forward to our next adventure, which I was already planning on the way home!! Best of all, we survived our first road trip together!!