From jaw-dropping gorges to sky-high peaks, this Rocky Mountain road trip showcases some of Colorado’s most scenic and awe-inspiring destinations. The best part? Many of these stops offer a decidedly uncrowded take on the Centennial State, something that can be hard to find in a region well-known as a mecca for outdoor adventure. From Canon City to the Trail Ridge Road, its Wild West and wilderness on this one-of-a-kind route.
1. Canon City
History buffs can get the lay of the land through the self-guided Fremont County Heritage Tours downtown walking tour, which illuminates Canon City’s gold prospecting past and historic turn-of-the-century architecture, before heading straight to the Royal Gorge Route Railroad for a trip back in time and into the gorge itself. Along the way, you’ll glimpse wildlife, enjoy fine dining and get to watch the adventurous souls rafting the pounding whitewater of the Arkansas River. For a bird’s eye view of the river perfect for photographers, try a hike along the easily accessible Tunnel Road trail or take to the South Canon Trail System, which connects multiple wildernesses and offers miles of hiking and mountain biking opportunities.
2. Colorado Springs
Drive 45 miles, 55 minutes
Colorado’s second city is a hotspot for some of the area’s best sports and cultural attractions from the US Olympic Training Center, where lucky guests can catch glimpses of some of the world’s greatest athletes preparing for action, to the grounds of the highly-selective Air Force Academy where you can tour the historic buildings and enjoy exhibits that highlight the achievements of Academy graduates. The Garden of the Gods is one of the city’s most wondrous sites and one of the great public parks in the world. Red rock spires tower above the 15 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails that wind through the ancient landscape. It also sits near the foot of Pike’s Peak, colloquially known as America’s Mountain. Hikes to the summit of this famed 14,000 footer range from easy to advanced depending on the trail, so be sure to consult a guide at the visitor’s center before setting out.
Drive 81 miles, 1hour, 19 minutes
Eighty miles north in the gold-rush town of Golden, Colorado, Wild West history and outdoor thrills combine for a memorable and family-friendly destination. Head to the summit of Lookout Mountain, most easily accessed via a brief two-mile hike on the Lookout Mountain Trail, for views of downtown Denver just 12 miles away and to visit the grave of famed entertainer “Buffalo Bill” Cody. A museum in the gun-slinging showman’s honor features related artifacts from the 19th-century and looks out over the town of Golden. Anglers, kayakers and hikers will enjoy the trail system surrounding picturesque Clear Creek where you can cast a line, paddle, picnic or stroll along the paved trails. Of course, a stopover at the Coors Brewery, the largest single-site brewery in the world, is a must-do when in Golden. Enjoy the history, beer-making process and samples of the iconic brand as part of the tour.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
Drive 61 miles, 1 hour, 31 minutes
This bucket-list destination checks all the boxes for outdoor lovers – scenic hikes, stunning vistas and plentiful wildlife. Trail Ridge Road, which unfolds before you as it winds at elevation through the majestic mountain landscape, is the classic way to see the park from the comfort of your car. Herds of elk and alpine wildflowers and fill the sweeping valleys below, bighorn sheep ramble on the slopes above and ptarmigans swoop through the thin mountain air beckoning photographers, budding botanists and birders to stop at almost every pass. There are over 355 miles of trails in the National Park, but some favorites that show off the park’s natural grandeur include Bear Lake, Ouzel Falls and Deer Mountain, all of which are comfortable for most outdoors lovers. The Estes Park Visitor’s Center has everything you need to plan your visit and the small town offers restaurants and shops in a unique alpine setting.