Montana, Wyoming & Colorado Road Trip

Grand-Teton8

During September 2020, I went straight to the wild west and did the most epic road trip around Montana , Wyoming and Colorado !

The American West is known for its sky-high Rocky Mountains , fascinating wildlife, old Western towns and a lot of great adventure!

A bison at the National Bison Range

I did this fun mini road trip with my cousin where we started in Kalispell, Montana and ended in Denver, Colorado .

Our time in Montana was spent staying in Kalispell and exploring Whitefish Lake and Glacier National Park . From there, we drove south and explored the National Bison Range , Missoula and Bozeman .

A woman exploring Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

After spending a few days in Montana, we drove to Wyoming and spent two nights in the charming Western town of Cody while we explored Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park .

Next, we made our way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado before flying home.

A woman doing a hike in Steamboat Springs on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Overall, my cousin and I had the best time on our Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip and I am so excited to share the route that we followed for eight days.

**Please note that this blog post uses affiliate links meaning that if you make a purchase via my affiliate link, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only promote and talk about products and services that I have used and like.

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Montana, Wyoming and Colorado Road Trip

The Best Montana, Wyoming and Colorado Road Trip

A woman exploring the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Safety within the National Parks:

During a road trip through Montana, Wyoming and Colorado , it is important that you purchase bear spray for your adventures through the National Parks. There are a lot of Grizzlies in this region of the country and there is no guarantee of your safety.

Bears are extremely wild animals and have unfortunately injured and even killed some visitors within the National Parks. Bear spray has proven to be effective and it also prevents injury to both humans and the bears.

Please, always be mindful if you are approached by a bear and don’t ever use a firearm!

When you are hiking in Grizzly country, make sure you are minding your own business, stay on the hiking paths and trails, make regular noise (such as talking, listening to music or even bring a bear bell with you) so that the bear(s) in the area are well aware that you are around and that you don’t surprise them out of the blue.

Cost for U.S. Parks:

A woman exploring Glacier National Park on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

It costs $35 USD per standard vehicle to get into most of the big USA National Parks and $10 USD per vehicle for most State Parks. It costs more for commercial vans, buses and tours.

The $35 passes are valid for seven consecutive days. If you are doing a road trip where you know you will be seeing a lot of National Parks along the way, I recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 USD. You will definitely save money that way!

Day 1: Fly into Kalispell and Explore Whitefish Lake

A woman wandering around Whitefish Lake on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Arrive In: Kalispell, MT

Where to Stay: Kalispell, MT or Whitefish, MT

Kalispell/Whitefish Hotel Recommendations:

Our Hotel: SpringHill Suites by Marriott , Kalispell, MT

Luxury Hotel Recommendation: The Lodge at Whitefish Lake , Whitefish, MT

Boutique Hotel Recommendation: The Firebrand Hotel , Whitefish, MT

Mid-Budget Hotel Recommendation: Duck Inn Lodge , Whitefish, MT

Budget Hotel Recommendation: Cedar Creek Lodge , Columbia Falls, MT

Rentals: Airbnb or Vrbo

A craft beer in Whitefish, Montana

Where to Eat:

Lunch in Whitefish: Great Northern Bar & Grill

Dinner in Whitefish: Casey’s

Estimate Amount of Driving: Around 45 minutes

Starting in Kalispell, Montana:

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park

Please note that Kalispell isn’t a major city here in the United States, so if you are flying domestically , you will most likely have a layover in another city. (My layover was in Denver and my cousin’s layover was in Dallas.)

( Click here if you are planning to road trip around the United States and want to rent an RV.)

Since my cousin and I stayed in Kalispell, we went there first to check into our hotel before enjoying the afternoon in Whitefish, which is a 20-minute drive north of Kalispell.

If you have time, I highly recommend exploring historic downtown Kalispell . A few great things to do in Kalispell is go shopping, enjoy a nice dinner, taste some local brews at Kalispell Brewing Company and walk through the Conrad Mansion Museum , the Hockaday Museum of Art , Kalispell Grand Hotel and the Northwest Montana History Museum .

An Afternoon in Whitefish, Montana:

Whitefish Lake during sunset

Whitefish is a beautiful town in the Glacier National Park area that cannot be missed on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip.

The town of Whitefish is a stunning year-round destination that offers a serene lake, ski resort and other fun outdoor adventures.

For lunch and beers, I recommend going to Great Northern Bar & Grill , which is an American restaurant that offers 29 beers on tap. This restaurant and beer bar also have arcade games, pool tables, live music and an outdoor biergarten.

Casey’s is a great restaurant to grab dinner in Whitefish. Offering a woodsy-chic ambiance along with delicious food and drinks along with live entertainment, Casey’s offers a few floors along with a rooftop where you could admire views of the nearby Rocky Mountains.

A few other awesome things to do in Whitefish is swim and sunbathe on the lake at Whitefish City Beach . You could also rent a boat, jet ski, fish, kayak, canoe and so much more.

Day 2: Day in Glacier National Park

A woman on the Hidden Lake Trail at Glacier National Park

Breakfast in Whitefish: Loula’s Café

Lunch in Glacier National Park: I recommend eating somewhere in the park.  

Huckleberry Pie Snack in Hungry Horse: The Huckleberry Patch

Dinner in Whitefish: Tupelo Grille

Estimate Amount of Driving: Between 2 to 4 hours

Best things to do in Glacier National Park:

St. Mary Falls in Glacier National Park

Our second day in Montana was spent exploring the fascinating wonders of Glacier National Park. (It will take you over a half hour to get to the west entrance of the park from Whitefish and over 45 minutes from Kalispell.)

During a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip, it is a MUST that you explore Glacier National Park! We only spent one day in Glacier due to timing and our schedule, but we could’ve easily spent a full week exploring the entire park. Discover the best 5 day itinerary for Glacier National Park !

A woman hiking in Glacier National Park during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Some of the popular hikes to do in Glacier National Park are to Iceberg Lake ; the Highline Trail , which is a long, but scenic route; Hidden Lake Trail and Overlook , which is the scenic hike my cousin and I did; St. Mary and Virginia Falls , which is the other hike my cousin and I did to see jaw dropping waterfalls and Avalanche Lake Loop , which is a beautiful hike through a cedar forest to a breathtaking lake.

A couple other great activities to do in Glacier is see the sunrise at Lake McDonald and take a glacier boat tour .

Dinner and Drinks in Whitefish:

Huckleberry pie from Northwestern Montana

After our fun day exploring Glacier National Park, we stopped in Hungry Horse and tried huckleberry pie at The Huckleberry Patch and it was absolutely delicious!

( Huckleberry is a fruit that is found in Northwestern Montana . Locals will take these delicious berries and create tasty treats with them such as pie.)

The Lodge at Whitefish Lake

Before grabbing dinner, we visited The Lodge at Whitefish where we enjoyed appetizers and a glass of wine. I highly recommend visiting this beautiful lodge because it is stunning inside and offers beautiful views of Whitefish Lake outside!

From there, we stopped back in Whitefish for dinner and drinks. My cousin and I enjoyed a taste of New Orleans at Tupelo Grille and we also got to watch a local band perform.

Afterwards, we grabbed a few craft beers at Bonsai Brewing Project , which is an adorable brewery that is located in a cute house and there is also a biergarten outside on the lawn.

Day 3: A Scenic Drive through the National Bison Range, Lunch in Missoula and Spending the Night in Bozeman

A woman enjoying her time at the National Bison Range in Montana

Where to Stay: Bozeman, MT

Bozeman Hotel Recommendations:

Our Hotel: Hampton Inn Bozeman , Bozeman, MT

Luxury Hotel Recommendation: Kimpton Armory Hotel Bozeman , Bozeman, MT

Boutique Hotel Recommendation: RSVP Hotel , Bozeman, MT

Mid-Budget Hotel Recommendation: The Lark , Bozeman, MT

Budget Hotel Recommendation: The Outpost Montana , Belgrade, MT

Duck pad Thai from Bozeman, Montana

Breakfast in Kalispell: Skyes Diner

Lunch in Missoula: Tamarack Brewing Company

Dinner in Bozeman: Feast Raw Bar & Bistro

Estimate Amount of Driving: Around 6 hours or more

National Bison Range:

A herd of bison at the National Bison Range

Another great road trip stop on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado route is the National Bison Range in Charlo, MT. (It will take a little less than two hours to drive from Kalispell and over two hours to drive from Whitefish to the National Bison Range.)

It will cost $5 USD per standard car to get into the National Bison Range.

When you arrive at the National Bison Range, there are a few scenic drives that you could do. The drive that my cousin and I did with our car was the Red Sleep Mountain Drive that is open from mid-May to early-October.

This 19-mile, one-way loop gains 2,000 feet in elevation and takes around two hours to drive through.

Antelope at the National Bison Range

Not only can you see bison at this range, there is also elk, White-Tail and Mule Deer, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Black Bears, coyotes and more. There are also over 200 different species of birds.

For those who are on a time limit, it is best that you either do the West Loop , which is a short, one-mile drive, along with the Prairie Drive , which is a 14-mile two-way traffic drive!

You could also go on a hike within certain areas of the National Bison Range. Most of the hiking trails are within a mile long and they are easy. You could enjoy the Nature Trail , Grassland Trail , Bitterroot Trail and High Point Trail .

Lunch in Missoula:

The Hip Strip in Missoula, Montana

Located an hour south of the National Bison Range is Missoula, Montana . Overall, the city of Missoula is filled with hip restaurants and breweries , local shops and a thriving music scene.

One of the best places to grab lunch and enjoy good food and beer is at Tamarack Brewing Company that overlooks Caras Park. I totally recommend getting one of their beer flights so that you could taste a few of Tamarack ’s great brews.

Visiting a brewery on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

After lunch, I recommend walking around the Hip Strip of Missoula and if you have time and want to do a hike, definitely make your way up to the M, which is a large concrete structure on the side of a mountain that overlooks the entire city.

A few great museums to check out in Missoula is the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula , the Montana Natural History Center and the Missoula Art Museum .

Evening in Bozeman:

Bozeman, Montana is a three-hour drive south east of Missoula and it was where we spent the night before heading into Wyoming the next day.

Not only is Missoula a great city to stop in during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip, Bozeman another destination that cannot be overlooked.

After settling into our hotel in Bozeman, my cousin and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Feast Raw Bar & Bistro , which features an amazing epicurean dining experience.

A few popular things to do around Bozeman, Montana is to go skiing and snowboarding in the winter at either Bridger Bowl and Big Sky .

The city also boasts the Museum of the Rockies , which features the world’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils and Montana State University is also situated in Bozeman.

There are also great hiking trails, hot springs and other fun outdoor adventures in the Bozeman area.

Day 4: Yellowstone National Park and Cody, Wyoming

A woman enjoying Yellowstone National Park on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Where to Stay: Cody, WY

Cody Hotel Recommendation: Chamberlin Inn

Avocado toast for breakfast in Bozeman

Breakfast in Bozeman: The Farmer’s Daughter

Lunch in Yellowstone: I recommend eating somewhere in the park.  

Dinner in Cody: Proud Cut Saloon

Estimate Amount of Driving: Around 6 to 7 hours

Day in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming:

A happy woman exploring the Morning Glory pool in Yellowstone on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Before my cousin and I departed Bozeman for Yellowstone National Park , we fueled up at The Farmer ’ s Daughter , which is a lovely farm-to-table café!

It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get from Bozeman to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park . The first place we stopped at once we got into Yellowstone was Mammoth Hot Springs , which is a 15 to 20-minute drive south from the north entrance. (We mainly stayed on the Grand Loop Road .)

After checking out Mammoth Hot Springs, I recommend making your way to see Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone . It’s a little out of the way (we unfortunately didn’t have the time to see it), but it’s totally worth it because of how breathtaking it is!

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an hour drive south east from Mammoth Hot Springs and 30 minutes east from Beryl Spring .

Beryl Spring is another cool spot to check out in Yellowstone National Park as it is one of the hottest springs there.

A woman walking around Excelsior Geyser Crater at Yellowstone National Park

Located 20 to 25 minutes south from Beryl Spring is the Fountain Paint Pot and Red Spouter . At this spot, you could also see Fountain Geyser and Morning Geyser .

From there, we drove another 5 minutes to Excelsior Geyser Crater (in the Midway Geyser Basin ) where you could see the aqua blue crater itself along with the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring !

At the end of the day, make sure you do not miss out on seeing Old Faithful along the Upper Geyser Basin . It is a 10-minute drive south from the Midway Geyser Basin and it’s Yellowstone National Park’s most famous geyser .

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful is a frequent and predictable active geyser that will erupt around 20 times a day and will last around 10 minutes. The average time between eruptions is usually between one to two hours. It is definitely one of the top tourist attractions at Yellowstone and it is totally worth seeing!

Once my cousin and I saw Old Faithful erupt, we took a walk along the Upper Geyser Basin before leaving the park to go to Cody.

Some of the best spots to check out on the Upper Geyser Basin is Castle Geyser and Morning Glory Pool .

Evening in Cody, Wyoming:

A woman walking through the gardens at Chamberlin Inn in Cody, WY

After exiting the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park , my cousin and I made our way to the old Western town of Cody, Wyoming where we spent the night at the lovely boutique hotel – Chamberlin Inn . (It will take around two hours and 45 minutes to drive from Old Faithful to Chamberlin Inn in Cody.)

Once we were checked into the Chamberlin Inn , we enjoyed dinner at an authentic Western saloon called Proud Cut Saloon . A Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip would not be complete without a Western saloon experience.

** Chamberlin Inn Special Offer**

A woman playing Chinese checkers at Chamberlin Inn in Wyoming

Chamberlin Inn is offering a special rate for their Classic Queen room (with a free upgrade offered upon arrival, based on availability)!

Also receive a $25 USD gift certificate that is redeemable at the hotel’s cocktail lounge during your stay (one voucher per stay). You also have a choice of either a One-Day Pass to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West OR receive a $20 voucher at Wyoming Trout Guides .

Please use promo code PLAY and click here to get this great package! (This package is available without any minimum, so you could enjoy it all by staying one night or longer.)

Day 5: Grand Teton National Park and Cody

A woman at Grand Teton National Park during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Breakfast in Cody: The Beta Coffeehouse

Lunch in Grand Teton: I recommend eating somewhere in the park.

Dinner in Cody: Trailhead Restaurant

A Day in Grand Teton National Park:

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

Since visiting Yellowstone National Park mainly consists of sightseeing, I recommend taking advantage of all the amazing hiking trails at Grand Teton National Park like we did! (It will take around three hours to drive from Cody to the north entrance of Grand Teton National Park .)

My cousin and I hiked around the scenic loop of Jenny Lake . This easy to moderate hike allows you to enjoy breathtaking views of Grand Teton , Teewinot Mountain, Mt. Owen, Cascade Canyon, Storm Point, Symmetry Spire, Mt. St. John, Rockchuck Peak and Mt. Moran.

A woman hiking in Grand Teton National Park during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

If you don’t have enough time to hike around Jenny Lake, but want to get a similar experience, I recommend hiking around String Lake , which is only 3.8 miles round-trip. This easy hike offers views of Teewinot Mountain, Grand Teton and Mt. Owen.

A really cool, strenuous hike that my cousin and I want to do next time we visit Grand Teton is the Delta Lake hike . It is a 9-mile round trip hike that goes through the Lupine Meadows Access to Delta Lake.

Another great hike that is at a moderate level in Grand Teton National Park is the Cascade Canyon Trail . This 10-mile, round-trip hike begins at Jenny Lake Trailhead and climbs above Hidden Falls.

A woman admiring the Tetons in Wyoming

Grand Teton is a beautifully photogenic National Park, so I highly recommend stopping at Schwabacher’s Landing and Snake River Overlook to get some great pictures!

The Night in Cody, Wyoming:

A woman drinking red wine at Chamberlin Inn in Cody, Wyoming

When we arrived back in Cody after driving three hours from Grand Teton National Park, we were starving, so we grabbed dinner at Trailhead Restaurant . This great bar, grill and wood fired pizza restaurant offers delicious dishes and they also have a stage where they host local bands.

After our delicious dinner, we hung out at the Chamberlin Inn ’s parlour and cocktail lounge. On certain nights, the hotel will host a live musician or band who will play in their dreamy and intimate courtyard.

Day 6: Drive from Cody to Steamboat Springs

The Rocky Mountains during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

Where to Stay: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Steamboat Springs Hotel Recommendations:

Our Accommodation: Airbnb

Luxury Hotel Recommendation: Highmark Steamboat Springs by Mountain Resorts

Boutique Hotel Recommendation: The Bristol by Magnuson Worldwide

Mid-Budget Hotel Recommendation: The Steamboat Grand

Budget Hotel Recommendation: Steamboat Mountain Lodge

Omelet breakfast at Annie's Soda Saloon in Cody, Wyoming

Breakfast in Cody: Annie’s Soda Saloon & Café

Lunch: I recommend going to a grocery store and picking up food for lunch or stopping somewhere on the road.

Dinner in Steamboat Springs: Vaqueros Mexican Restaurant & Taqueria

Estimate Amount of Driving: Around 7 hours

Morning in Cody, Wyoming:

Rodeo office in Cody, Wyoming

My cousin and I woke up early on our last morning in Cody and got a delicious breakfast at Annie’s Soda Saloon & Café . Afterwards, we checked out the Buffalo Bill Center of the West .

This amazing center features five different museums and they will all leave you amazed! The five museums are The Buffalo Bill Museum itself, Plains Indian Museum , Whitney Western Art Museum , Draper Natural History Museum and The New Cody Firearms Museum .

Driving from Cody to Steamboat Springs:

Aspen trees in bloom during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

We left Cody mid to late morning and drove a little less than seven hours south to Steamboat Springs, Colorado . This beautiful mountain resort town should not be missed on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip!

The drive from Cody to Steamboat Springs is picturesque, but please know that there aren’t many spots to stop along the way.

You will be on the Interstate for most of the drive, but you do go through some small towns every few hours. (Please fill up on gas whenever you get the chance to.)

Evening in Steamboat Springs:

Wine with a view in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

After checking into our mountain retreat chalet condo that we found on Airbnb , my cousin and I headed into downtown Steamboat Springs to enjoy a delicious Mexican dinner at Vaqueros Mexican Restaurant & Taqueria . This authentic spot has a rooftop that offers beautiful views of Steamboat.

When we were finished with dinner, we walked around the stunning downtown area that was decorated with Christmas lights and enjoyed drinks at The Barley Tap and Tavern .

Day 7: Enjoying the Beauty of Steamboat Springs, Colorado

A woman enjoying Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Where to Stay: Steamboat Springs, CO

Breakfast in Steamboat Springs: Seedz Café  

Lunch in Steamboat Springs: I recommend check out one of Steamboat’s breweries for lunch and beer.

Dinner in Steamboat Springs: Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant

Estimate Amount of Driving: Less than 1 hour

Things to do in Steamboat Springs:

A woman hiking Fish Creek Falls during a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip

During my cousin and I’s time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, we did the Fish Creek Falls hike , which is a ¼-mile to 6.5-mile hike (depending on which trail you want to do). This trail is considered a moderate hike and it allows you to walk through a wonderland of aspen trees and admire breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and local waterfalls.

Please note that Fish Creek Falls is a 10-minute drive from downtown Steamboat and it will cost you $5 USD per day to park your car at the trailhead’s parking lot. Fish Creek Falls is open year round from 6am to 10pm MST.

Hot springs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

After our hike, I visited Strawberry Park Hot Springs on my own and enjoyed the healing properties that these warm pools offer.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs are a year-round destination and it is open every day from 10am to 10pm MST. It also has camping and glamping!

Other fun things to do in Steamboat Springs on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip are participating in the Steamboat Brew Trail , visiting the museums downtown and horseback riding through the Aspens .

I also recommend doing a day trip and checking out Rocky Mountain National Park!

Day 8: Drive to Denver to Fly Home

A woman hiking through Aspen woodland paths in Colorado

On our eighth morning, my cousin and I woke up early to drive three hours east to fly home from Denver International Airport .

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

I hope you all enjoyed reading about the best Montana, Wyoming and Colorado road trip. If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected].

Basic Facts of the United States:

Currency: United States Dollar, Capital: Washington D.C., MT State Capital: Helena, WY State Capital: Cheyenne, CO State Capital: Denver, MT/WY/CO Time Zones: All are in Mountain Standard Time

*Anything could happen during your travels. Always make sure you are insured in case there are unforeseen circumstances such as lost luggage/theft, natural disasters, personal liabilities and more.  Click here  to get insured for your next trip.

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17 comments.

Looks like a perfect nature trip ~ the parks, springs and hiking trails look amazing. Your photos are fabulous ~ every place looks breathtaking ~ the air must have been so pure and crisp! Glad you got to spend time with cousin Lexi ~ love you, mom xoxo 🥰⚘♥️

It really was mom! I loved it. Also love you too! <3

This seems to be THE perfect road trip itinerary Taylor! Whitefish Lake looks mesmerizing and I’d love to see the beauty of Glacier NP one day. 🙂

It really was so nice! I hope to return one day! 🙂

It looks like you had the best time on your road trip. I want to go to Glacier National Park so bad! Yellowstone is such a fun park too. I will be using this itinerary when I go!

Thank you Francesca! You would love both of those parks. They are spectacular! 🙂

Thank u for sharing…..this trip has been on my bucket list since watching Yellowstone . I am not one to venture out of Texas much cause at 47 yrs old I am quite a scaredy cat. Thank u for the details at every stop. Definitely will make my upcoming trip planning so much easier!! ❤😁

You’re very welcome Elizabeth! You would love this trip. It is so much fun and there are so many great National Parks! 🙂

I loved reading through your adventures! I am planning a trip next August and this was so helpful!!! Thank you

Thank you Erica! I hope you have an amazing trip! It’s beautiful out there. 🙂

Your itinerary is amazing and perfect! Thank you for sharing! One question: could this trip be reversed—starting in Denver/steamboat and ending in Kalispell? Thanks so much

Thank you Selena! Yes, this trip can definitely be reversed. 🙂

You’re the best-thanks for the quick reply!

What car company did you use for your trip? It looks fabulous and would love to do it some day!

I believe we used Enterprise for our car rental. 🙂

wow this awoke my wanderlust! wish to visit all these places once in my lifetime. Thank you so much for sharing .

Thank you so much!

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Grand-Teton8

The Ultimate 2 Week National Park Road Trip: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah 

2 Week National Parks Road Trip

So you’re looking for an epic, once-in-a-lifetime road trip? One filled with the perfect mix…

So you’re looking for an epic, once-in-a-lifetime road trip? One filled with the perfect mix of awe-inspiring mountain peaks, vast desert landscapes, and crystal clear lakes? You’ve come to the right place. This route kicks off in Denver, Colorado and takes you through some of the country’s most photo-worthy scenery and diverse terrain. Explore five National Parks, ranging from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, before closing the loop via Lake Powell and Arches National Park, and returning to the Mile High City.

The ideal length for this route would be two to three weeks to really soak up everything it has to offer (which is a lot).

Day 1: Denver, Colorado → Yellowstone National Park

Day1 Denver Colorado → Yellowstone National Park 1

Denver is the ideal spot to kick start this adventure. You’ll fly into Denver International Airport and take the quick 20-minute uber ride (approx. $20) to the  Denver VanCraft depot . The office opens at 9am making it easy to get a morning flight in and pick up your VanCraft van just in time for a late breakfast in Denver (check out Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen in Five Points near I-25) before hitting the wide open road due north.

With eyes on the prize, it’s time to crank out some miles to get up to Yellowstone National Park. A quick disclaimer: Doing this trip in 10 days is not for the faint of heart. We’d recommend baking in a few extra days on the front end to explore the 9-hour stretch up to the northern entrance to Yellowstone. If you are cranking out the drive though, don’t forget to slow down for a commemorative shot with the Wyoming state sign to mark the official start of the multi-state road trip. And if you’re itching to get the tires a little dusty, be sure to check out Chugwater Basin Road to quench your thirst for dirt and get you amped for what’s to come on this route.

Want to ease into vacation mode and experience the greater Denver area before hitting the road?

● Book an extra day in Denver to take in the plethora of breweries, local hikes, and unparalleled bites before starting your journey North ● Looking for a thrill to kickstart the trip? Give rafting a go ● See who’s playing at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre ● Head to Coors Field for a baseball game ● Explore Rocky Mountain National Park.  See here  for more information on Colorado’s National Parks

Day 2: Yellowstone National Park

Day 2 Yellowstone National Park 1

Start your day at camp (campsite options below!), coffee in hand, overlooking the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. After whipping up a hearty breakfast on the VanCraft two-burner stove, hit the happy trails and head out for your first taste of what Yellowstone has to offer.

First up is Mammoth Hot Springs, a martian-like terrain boasting terraces of steaming travertine pools. This boardwalk trail is just the warm-up you’ll need for today’s adventure.

Once you’ve taken in every last drop of the springs, start the journey to Canyon Village, stopping to stretch your legs for the quick 100-yard walk to the Tower Fall Overlook to take in one of the most popular waterfalls in the park, cascading down 132 feet.

Next stop was a hike down to the top of Lower Falls. A few must-see vantage points to fully appreciate the scale of these falls are:

● The Brink of Lower Falls ● Red Rock Point Yellowstone ● Inspiration Point

Pro Tip:  While you’re in Canyon Village, near Lower Falls, stop by the village store and grab yourself a mix of local beers for camp later.

Round off the day with a drive through Hayden Valley, one of the most popular spots for spotting Yellowstone’s famous bison, elk and deer, and a scenic snack spot at Yellowstone Lake, before heading back to camp.

Wind down with tacos (a camp favorite), a well-deserved ice cold beer, and a shower off the back of the van before curling up for the night.

Yellowstone Campsites:

● Epic wild-camp spot just outside of Gardiner, MT. (GPS Coordinates 45.07225, 110.67154) ● Eagle Creek Campground: First come, first serve. ● Rocky Mountain RV & Campground. Great showers! (Gardiner, Montana) ● For the latest information on Campgrounds inside Yellowstone check out  this page

Pro Tip:  Want to stay inside Yellowstone National Park but don’t have a reservation? Check out Indian Creek Campground first thing in the morning to nab a first come, first serve spot if there’s any available, or pop by other reservation-only campgrounds in the early morning to see if there’s been any day-of cancellations.

Day 3: Yellowstone National Park → Grand Teton National Park

Day 3 Yellowstone National Park → Grand Teton National Park

Today you’re officially starting to make your way south, winding and trekking your way through the remaining must-sees of Yellowstone, on your way to Grand Teton National Park.

As you head South, take in these noteworthy hikes and iconic Yellowstone sights:

● Norris Geyser Basin ● Artists Paintpots ● Grand Prismatic Spring ● Fairy Falls hike to see it from above ● And last, but certainly not least, Old Faithful (be sure to look into the  time predictions )

After catching the show at Old Faithful, take in the sunset next to Jackson Lake with the Grand Tetons towering in the background, before heading to camp for the night.

Grand Teton National Park Campgrounds:

● Colter Bay Campground ● Jenny Lake Campground ● Gros Ventre Campground (our team stayed here and loved it!) ● Kudar Log Cabins and RV in Jackson, Wyoming

For more camping information,  click here .

Heads Up:  Keep an eye out for bison, elk, and deer! If you’re lucky, you may even see an entire herd traveling up the road like the VanCraft team did.

Day 4: Grand Teton National Park

Day 4 Grand Teton National Park

Wake up and take in the view of the Grand Tetons peeking through the trees of the campground. You’ve been pounding pavement and cranking out the miles on foot and deserve a relaxing morning among the trees. Today’s going to be low-key, with scenic drives and short overlook strolls at the heart of it. Here’s what’s on the to-do:

● Roadside breakfast/lunch at Glacier View Turnout ● The Moulton Barn on Mormon Row: An infamous spot for photographers ● Jenny Lake Scenic Drive: A favorite for it’s close proximity to the Tetons and expansive lake with jumping rocks for those who fancy a dip. ● Signal Mountain drive with panoramic views at the top ● National Museum of Wildlife Art on the way into Jackson Hole ● Shopping, a bite and brews in Jackson Hole ● Set alarm for sunrise in the Tetons

Interested in staying in town instead of in the park? Check out Kudar Log Cabins and RV in Jackson to be in walking distance from the shops and restaurants.

Day 5: Grand Teton National Park → Zion National Park

Day 5 Grand Teton National Park → Zion National Park

Sunrise in the Grand Tetons is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. If you’re not an early riser, fear not! The beautiful thing about having a van is you can quite literally roll out of bed and drive to your viewpoint of choice in your pjs, before coffee and breakfast even enter your mind.

Here’s some of the best places to watch the sunrise in the Grand Tetons:

● The Moulton Barn: If you’re into photography, you’ll probably recognize the barns of Mormon Row, known as one of the best places to take in the sunrise of the Tetons. ● Snake River Overlook ● Schwabacher’s Landing ● Turnouts along Teton Park Road

After taking in the sunrise, sipping on freshly-brewed coffee, and enjoying a home cooked breakfast in the fresh morning air, it’s time to start the journey south to Zion National Park.

Optional Detours (If you have time):

● Park City is worth a detour. Grab a bite on Main Street, spend a day on the mountain (Lake Catherine Via Brighton Lakes Trail is a great 4 mile hike and worth the drive), and stay on any of the surrounding BLM land (queue iOverlander). ● Bryce Canyon: You’ll thank us later!

When you make it into Springdale (the town at the entrance to Zion), treat yourself to a meal at King’s Landing. A classy-yet-casual, spot with come-as-you-are vibes, mountain views, and outdoor seating. A perfect place to take in the sunset with Zion’s signature red peaks in the background.

● BLM land: There’s no shortage of free camp options around Zion, with miles and miles of BLM land surrounding the park. Check out iOverlander, and take your pick. A favorite of mine was at the top of the Smithsonian Butte pass. It’s one of those spots that makes you truly thankful for public land. ● Watchman Campground (in Zion) ● South Campground (in Zion)

Need a night to refresh after the drive or a place to escape the heat if it’s the heart of summer? There’s plenty of hotel options in Springdale and surrounding areas that hit every price point and taste (the Driftwood Lodge definitely lived up to the hype).

Day 6: Zion National Park

Day 6 Zion National Park

Today’s the day to see what Zion is all about! It’s time to stretch the ol’ legs and hit the happy trails again, but this time with a twist. You’ll be hiking through water. The Narrows is one of those must-do bucket-list hikes. Pack a lunch and get ready for a one-of-a-kind, out-and-back, trail!

Other hikes that are worth the effort:

● Angel’s Landing: If you’re feeling adventurous and up for the challenge ● Canyon Overlook Trail (see Day 7)

Post hike head over to Zion Canyon Brew Pub for some locally brewed craft beers and classic pub food.

Pro Tip:  In the warmer months most people arrive at the park around 8am attempting to beat the crowds and the heat…if you want to feel a little more “out there” and a little less like you’re in Disneyland, you’ll either need to be at the Zion Shuttle 30 minutes before the first shuttle heads out, or hold off on heading out until early afternoon when everyone else is calling it quits for the day.

Day 7: Zion National Park → Grand Canyon National Park

Day 7 Zion National Park → Grand Canyon National Park

Today you’re headed to the Grand Canyon! Whip yourself up another homemade feast or start the morning with a to-go breakfast from Oscar’s in Springdale as you make your way out of town. Your morning drive will take you through Zion, giving you a whole new appreciation for the park as you climb in elevation to the trailhead of the Canyon Overlook Trail. This quick 1-mile out and back trail is the perfect way to end your time in Zion as you charge on towards Grand Canyon National Park.

Along the way consider stopping off at some of these:

● Moqui Cave. A quick 1-mile round trip hike up to the caves is a great pitstop. ● The Wave: 6.7 mile out and back trail to sandstone feature known as “The Wave” ● Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch Trail: 5.6 mile trail to Slot Canyons ● Cameron Trading Post – a Grand Canyon classic for souvenirs

You’re camping at Desert View Campground tonight, mere steps away from the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. On your drive down, stop at Walmart in Page, AZ to restock and treat yourself to something sweet for a sunset picnic. Once you’ve settled into camp and cooked up a feast, head on over to the Watch Tower parking lot with a bottle of wine and dessert. Follow the rim all the way to the left until the crowds disperse, and pick your favorite secluded spot to take in the sunset and enjoy your treat.

Enjoy a campfire back at Desert View Campground before hitting the hay for the night.

Day 8: Grand Canyon National Park → Lake Powell

Day 8 Grand Canyon National Park → Lake Powell

Much like the Grand Tetons, a sunrise over the Grand Canyon is also a must-see at least once in your life. There’s a .25-mile trail from the campground that leads straight to the edge, close enough to bring your coffee with you for the trek. Soak it up and take it all in before heading back to camp for an early breakfast.

If you have an extra day it’s definitely worth heading to the Grand Canyon Village to hike down into the canyon, but if you’re strapped for time pack up and head to Lake Powell. Today you’re going kayaking. This ain’t your average summer-camp paddle. This 7-mile round trip paddle will take you from Antelope Point Marina to Antelope Canyon, one of the area’s most impressive slot canyons, where you’ll be able to explore on foot before returning to the water.

For kayak rentals checkout :  https://lakepowellxperience.com/  and/or  https://lakepowellpaddleboards.com/

If you have time, check out Horseshoe bend while you’re in the area as well!

  • Beehive Campsites, 6 established sites for $14/night, overlooking Lake Powell. First come, first serve. (GPS Coordinates: 36.936710, -111.497730)
  • Wahweap RV & Campground
  • Plenty of off-grid spots as well around the lake (see iOverlander)

Day 9: Lake Powell → Arches National Park

Day 9 Lake Powell → Arches National Park

Day nine is all about detours and deserts. As you head north, take some time to take it all in:

● Grey Mesa: Fun network of dirt trails to break up the drive. ● Monument Valley: A must! ● Valley of the Gods: Great network of dirt trails for lunch.

In Arches National Park there’s countless must-sees, but if time is limited pick a few of these to take in:

● North Window, South Window and Turret Arch – 1.0 round trip ● Double Arch – 0.5 miles roundtrip ● Delicate Arch – 3.0 miles roundtrip ● Park Avenue Overlook – 20 yards from parking lot

More time? Check out Moab and Canyonlands while you’re in the area.

There are plenty of options around Moab and Arches, but if you’re interested in starting the journey back to Denver today, head to “A Trail Through Time” for an awesome mountaintop campsite, with mesa and mountain views, to ring in your last night on the road.

Day 10: Arches National Park → Denver

Day 10 Arches National Park → Denver

It’s nearing the end of the trip, but the adventure isn’t quite over. As you wind your way back to Denver, take in the mountainscapes and rushing rivers as your cruise down I-70 through Vail, Breckenridge, and Idaho Springs, before pulling into the Denver VanCraft depot.

Have a little time to kill before your flight? Check out Station 26, just around the corner from the VanCraft depot, for some local beers to cap off this trip of a lifetime!

We said it, and we’ll say it again. This route is one for the books. And there’s nothing quite like having the comforts of home and the peace of mind that a VanCraft provides, as you hit the road for this 2,500-mile, jam-packed, adventure.

Happy adventuring and don’t forget to tag #vancraft on your own epic adventure. We can’t wait to see where it’ll take you!

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The Only Rocky Mountain Road Trip Route You Need (2-Week Itinerary)

Post Summary: The Best Rocky Mountain Road Trip Route And Detailed Day-By-Day Itinerary.

Road tripppp! The windows down, tune blasting, and miles of adventure on your wheels.

Chances are, you’ve heard of the Pacific Coast road trip , the ultimate Southwest road trip , or even just an incredible weekend trip down the 101 on an Oregon Coast itinerary .

But what if you can’t make it all the way out west? Is there an epic west coast road trip route that’s a little more inland?

YES. The Rocky Mountains.

This massive mountain range stretches more than 3,000 miles from New Mexico all the way north to the most north part of British Columbia, Canada!

If you’re craving a good road trip, this post is exactly what you’re looking for.

Packed out with 6-7 national park visits (you heard that right!), mountain vistas, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife, this Rocky Mountain road trip is nothing short of iconic.

In this post, we’re breaking down each day of your adventure, and what you can do to make the most of those epic miles on the road.

We’re also sharing some tips on extending your trip into Canada for even more attractions and beauty!

Let’s get started!

Grand Teton Mountains During Sunrise - TheMandagies.com

The Ultimate Rocky Mountain Road Trip Itinerary

This post was sponsored by B&H Photo/Video. All opinions and ideas are completely our own. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for camera gear and equipment suggestions for the road!

Rocky Mountain Road Trip Map

So what exactly does a Rocky Mountain Road trip cover? Well, the Rockies is a mountain range that spans from its southern tip of New Mexico all the way north to Western British Columbia in Canada.

In this post, we’re sharing a one-way route between Denver, Colorado all the way up to Jasper, Alberta.

We wanted to create a route that toured the most popular national parks and iconic locations in the Rocky Mountains and experience it all in the span of one epic road trip!

Here’s an overview of the national parks we will cover in this route:

Rocky Mountain Road Trip Driving Route

Before You Start Your Trip, You Should Be Packing…

A Rocky Mountain road trip can be perfectly catered to anything from a luxury trip to even a dirtbagging one. Lucky for you, we’ve got blog posts for both kinds of adventures.

We’ve listed some of our most popular posts below to help equip you for the type of trip you want to have!

Roughing It: 

  • How To Find Free Camping Spots In The USA
  • Easy Camping Meals To Make On The Road
  • How To Sleep In Your Car Comfortably
  • How To Go Camping In The Rain
  • Camping Hack: You HAVE to download the app called The Dyrt ! It’s the largest campground finder on the market, and its pro features have offline browsing, route planning, and BLM and National Forest boundary maps! Try their pro membership free for 30-days when using our code MANDAGIES !

colorado montana road trip

Exploring In Comfort:

  • Want To Try A Luxury Airbnb?   Use This Code For $40 Off Your First Booking!
  • Road Trip Essentials For A Fun and Comfortable Ride
  • 101 Road Trip Questions To Pass The Time
  • Rent a luxury RV For Your Road Trip With Outdoorsy  (It’s like Airbnb but for Recreation Vehicles!)

Rocky Mountain Day By Day Itinerary

Day 1: fly into denver, then drive to boulder, colorado.

While you can certainly stay in Denver, we actually recommend starting your Rocky Mountain road trip adventure in Boulder, Colorado.

Here, there are endless opportunities for hiking and exploring, and even more options for unique restaurants and shopping.

Things To Do Around Boulder:

  • Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Park
  • Boulder Creek Path (easily accessible bike and walking trail in town)
  • Bear Peak vis Mesa Trailhead
  • Chautauqua Park

Can’t wait to get to the mountains? You can drive right to Estes Park from Denver, Colorado to get your road trip adventures started right away! 

The drive from downtown Denver to Estes Park, CO is around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

View of Rocky Mountain National Park from car - TheMandagies.com

Day 2-3: Explore Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in North Central Colorado and is full of amazing hikes, wildlife viewing opportunities, and gorgeous mountain views. It’s no wonder this park is one of the most popular places to elope in the US !

If you want to stay in the park, Estes Park is a great place to find hotels , cabins and other accommodations.

If you dare, you can stay in the Stanley Hotel , which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s book The Shining. Eek!

Spooky cribs aside, this park has a little bit of everything. From lush valleys to unforgiving tundra, you can really cater your Rocky Mountain road trip to exactly your outdoor preferences!

Some highlights of the Rocky Mountain National Park include:

  • Drive The Trail Ridge Road and experience the Colorado Tundra.
  • Hike To Bear Lake, and extend your trail to include Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, too.
  • Take a leisurely walk around Sprague Lake trail – accessible for all!
  • Grab some backcountry camping permits and explore deeper in the mountains.
  • Spend some time in Moraine Park and spot some wildlife in the morning and evening by the river.
  • Spot Saint Malo’s Chapel On The Rock.
  • Hike to Sky Pond Lake Trail.

Looking to escape the crowds? The western side of the park is much less visited and has the majority of moose sightings!

Ask around at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center to inquire about recent wildlife spottings.

Paige Denkin taking photos - Tundra at Rocky Mountain National Park - TheMandagies.com

Day 3: Drive To Jackson, Wyoming (~8 Hour Drive)

Now is the time to head over to your next destination in the Rockies! There are a few driving options to take, and it all depends on what you want to see along the way.

Below we’ve included two options to get from Colorado to Wyoming. The choice is up to you!

Most Scenic Route: (8-10 hours) – Have lots of time to spare? Drive through the Rocky Mountain tundra (aka Trail Ridge Road) and stop at the Alpine Visitors Center for incredible views and short hikes. Just make sure to bring a jacket because it’s COLD!

After a quick bout on I-80 in Wyoming, drive north on Highway 287 from Rawlins. This route will give you a grand welcome of the Tetons and allow you to drive down the 40 miles mountain range on Highway 191 on your way to Jackson, Wyoming.

Most Direct Route: (7-8 hours) –  Assuming you are coming from Estes Park, you’ll exit east of the park and drive North to Wyoming.

Stop for lunch in Laramie, Wyoming and continue on I-80 west. Grab some dinner in Rock Springs, Wyoming and continue north on Highway 191. You’ll enter Jackson on the south end.

Driving through The Tundra at Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain Road Trip Tips:

Long road trips call for lots of entertainment. Here are some things to consider when having these long stints in the car:

  • Switch drivers every 2-3 hours.
  • Stop for meals. Skipping meals can cause fatigue and hangry passengers and drivers.
  • Download some good podcasts for the road . Our current favorites are Crime Junkie , Here To Make Friends , and Reply All .
  • Read through our 101 Road Trip Questions list and get to know your group better!

Mormon Row Barn at Sunrise - Grand Teton National Park - TheMandagies.com

Day 4-5: Explore Grand Teton National Park

The Grand Teton National Park has one of the most magnificent mountain range views in the United States! The highest peak is the Grand Teton, sitting at 13,770 feet tall and it’s part of a fault-block range spanning 40 miles long.

The best part? You can drive parallel to this amazing range in its entirety from north to south. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road!

Whether camping or staying in one of Jackson’s many beautiful resorts , there’s something for everyone here. Camp at the iconic Jenny Lake Campground for tons of nearby outdoor activities and lake access.

Open year-round, the Grand Tetons have something new each season. It’s definitely worth a return trip to see it in all its phases! Curious what it’s like in winter? Read about things to do in Grand Teton National Park during winter!

Spring and summer bring lush meadows and amazing alpine lake hikes. Fall and winter and definitely cooler in temperature, and provide some amazing colors and wildlife sightings in the National Elk Refuge near Jackson, WY.

Must-Do Hikes In Grand Teton National Park:

  • Taggart and Bradley Lake ( Or come in the winter to snowshoe Taggart Lake! )
  • String Lake Loop Hike
  • Leigh Lake Loop
  • Cascade Canyon Trail

Best Viewpoints In Grand Teton National Park:

  • Schwabacher’s Landing
  • Blacktail Ponds Overlook
  • Glacier View Turnout
  • Snake River Overlook

Lower Yellowstone Falls - TheMandagies.com

Day 6-7: Explore Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States, established on March 1st, 1872. It’s also widely accepted as the first national park in the world.

While the vast majority of the park is located in Wyoming (96%), there are a few sections in Montana (3%), and Idaho (1%), but the main attractions are located in Wyoming.

Yellowstone is known for its unique geothermal activity, with some of the biggest attractions being geysers like Old Faithful, The Grand Prismatic and The Upper Geyser Basin.  Want to take a dip? There is a LEGAL way to soak in Yellowstone’s geothermal pools, and you can do it along the Boiling River !

If you’re looking to spot some wildlife on your Rocky Mountain road trip, you’ve come to the right place.

Yellowstone is regarded as one of the United States’ most protected wildlife areas, with bison, elk, grizzly bears, and wolves (among so many other species!) roaming wild in the park.

In order to see animals at their most active times, visit the park during sunrise or sunset. Make sure to bring a zoom lens and spot them from far away too! We like to use our Canon 100-400mm f/4.5 lens for maximum versatility.

Read More: 30+ EPIC Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park!

Grand Prismatic Overlook - Yellowstone National Park - TheMandagies.com

Most Iconic Attractions In Yellowstone National Park:

  • Old Faithful Geyser
  • Grand Prismatic Overlook
  • The Boiling River
  • Mount Washburn
  • Lamar Valley (wildlife viewing)
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Canyon Village Waterfall Overlooks

Read More:   31+ Amazing Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park (Itinerary + Map!)

open back of toyota FJ cruiser while camping

Day 7: Drive To Kalispell, Montana (West) OR East Glacier Village (East) (~8 Hour Drive)

Now is the time to leave beautiful Wyoming and head over to the wild mountains of Montana!

Glacier Westbound Highlights:

  • Stop at Flathead Lake for a dip in the water and a quick meal.
  • Westbound stopping points include Kalispell, Whitefish, Apgar, and Glacier West campgrounds.

Glacier Eastbound Highlights:

  • Driving through Bozeman, Motana and Montana’s capital city, Helena.
  • Take the scenic route through MacDonald Pass  for stunning viewpoints of Helena.
  • Eastbound stops include East Glacier Village, St. Mary Lake, and Many Glacier Area.

Tired and broke on the road? Don’t try to send it in one day if you aren’t completely awake. Not only is it unsafe for you, but dangerous for everyone else on the road as well!

Read our guide to finding free camping in the USA for some last-minute shut-eye to keep you alert on your journey.

Many Glacier Lodge - Glacier National Park, Montana - TheMandagies.com

Day 8-9: Explore Glacier National Park

There are endless stunning mountain views, crystal clear lakes, and tons of hikes in Glacier National Park to keep you busy!

To make the most of your Rocky Mountain Road trip, we suggest timing your visit to arrive in Glacier National Park during the summer months, ideally late June to late August.

Even better if you can extend your stay into a 7-day trip to Glacier!  (We’ve got a downloadable itinerary for you here !)

Summer is when the iconic Going-To-The-Sun Road is open , which is a 50-mile drive that connects East and West Glacier. Along the way, you can discover beautiful trails, alpine lakes, and hidden waterfalls!

Most Photogenic Places In Glacier National Park:

  • Lake McDonald
  • Many Glacier Area
  • Going-To-The-Sun Road (~50 miles of gorgeous mountain vistas)
  • Iceberg Lake Trail
  • Grinnell Glacier
  • Bowman Lake
  • Hidden Lake Overlook
  • Highline Trail (Advanced Hikers)
  • St Mary Falls / Sun Point

Stay at nearby hotels in Kalispell, Montana for easy access to Glacier National Park.

NOT READY TO GO HOME?

Consider extending your rocky mountain road trip to include these other amazing national parks.

Don’t want your Rocky Mountain road trip to end? It doesn’t have to! Consider driving north to see more of the Canadian side of this amazing and beautiful range.

There are technically five Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks, but for the brevity of this trip, we’re going to cover the most popular ones – Banff and Jasper.

Have a lot more time? Here’s the complete list on Parks in the Canadian Rockies. Each one has its own unique features and landscape, and would definitely be worth a return trip to see them all.

  • Waterton-Glacier National Park
  • Kootenay National Park
  • Banff National Park
  • Yoho National Park
  • Jasper National Park

Driving Through Banff National Park - TheMandagies.com

Day 10: Drive From Kalispell to Banff, Alberta

Kalispell, Montana to Banff will bring you through the Canadian border, through little ski towns and into hot springs of British Columbia.

You’ll drive north on the west side of the Rockies, and finally, make your way into the mountains to Banff. Don’t forget your passport!

Things To See Between Kalispell and Banff:

  • Ram Creek Hot Springs
  • Fairmont Hot Springs

Do you have bear spray? Ditch it! You can’t bring it across the US-Canada border so unfortunately, you’ll have to leave it behind. Try donating it to a local Forest Ranger Station to let the volunteers and staff use them when maintaining the trails.

Day 11-12: Explore Banff National Park

Banff National Park is one of the most visited and popular parks in the entire country (Canada) , and for good reason too! With gorgeous mountains, abundant wildlife, and lots of outdoor activities, there’s a little something for everyone.

Here are some of our favorite things to do in Banff during the summer :

East End of Rundle Hike : This 3.6-mile out-and-back trail will have your legs burning and heart pumping!

With nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain in such a short distance, you’ll receive stunning views of the Bow Valley below in little time. Bring lots of water and snacks, and prepare for beautiful views!

Moraine and Lake Louise Area : Moraine and Lake Louise are hands down the two most popular lakes in the area.

Known for their incredible views and easy access , the shores can fill up fast with tourists, cameras, and boats. Don’t let that deter you though – they are popular for good reason. Simply come early in the morning or late in the day to enjoy it with fewer people!

Want more ideas? Check out ad adventurous 20 things to do in Banff during the summer , and even more variety of things to do in Banff during winter !

Day 13: Drive To Jasper National Park

While the trip from Banff to Jasper is only around 3 hours , you’re going to want to allocate a whole day to get between the two parks.

We say this because the stretch between Banff and Jasper is known to be one of the most beautiful and scenic highways in the entire world.

Often called the Icefields Parkway , this road (Highway 93) will have you pulling over for photos of glaciers, waterfalls, mountain vistas and more! Below, we’ve included some stops to consider on your drive between parks:

Most Photogenic Locations On The Icefields Parkway:

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Mistaya Canyon
  • Weeping Wall
  • Parker Ridge Canyon
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Sunwapta Falls
  • Wilcox Pass Trail
  • Columbia Icefield
  • Glacier Skywalk
  • Valley of Five Lakes Hike

Read More: The Perfect One Week Itinerary In Jasper National Park (Tips on the Icefields Parkway Drive!)

Photo Spots In Jasper National Park - Valley of Five Lakes

Day 14: Explore Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is the largest and most northern Canadian Rockies National Park. It boasts wilderness hot springs, alpine lakes, multi-day backpacking trips, and lots of opportunity for wildlife sightings!

Here, you’ll find fewer crowds than in Banff but still the same amount of adventure and outdoor activities to do. Here are a few suggestions for your time in Jasper:

10 Easy Jasper National Parks Hikes: We’ve compiled a list of the most accessible and easy hikes to do with the whole family! Check them out to start planning your time in Jasper, and don’t forget the bug spray!

One-Week Jasper Itinerary: We’ve done the research, you do the exploring! Here’s our complete guide to the top places to see in Jasper in one week , and how you can make the most of your time here.

Love landscape and wildlife photography? We’re breaking down the most photogenic places in Jasper National Park ! We’re sharing the best times to visit, exact locations, and more!

Day 15: Drive to Edmonton, Alberta (4-Hour Drive) And Fly Home!

Finished with your epic Rocky Mountain road trip? Don’t forget to share it with us!

Send us an email with a few photos from your trip and some stories to share. We want to hear from you and possibly feature your story on our social channels!

Rocky Mountain Road Trip - Sprague Lake - TheMandagies.com

Rocky Mountain Road Trip Example Itinerary

Looking for a rocky mountain road trip route? Click here to see an overview of the main cities to visit, as well as highway suggestions along your route.

Taking Pictures? Consider These Photography Tips For Your Rocky Mountain Road Trip

If you’re going to visit this many national parks, chances are you’re going to document this epic adventure!

Traveling with camera gear can bring some challenges and extra considerations. Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks to keep your gear safe and sound on the road!

Get Travelers Insurance. Sure, this may seem a little bit overkill, but we can’t chat about gear safety without letting you know of this option. Try chatting with your personal insurance company to see if they do temporary trips, or try

Flying with your gear? First of all, we DO NOT suggest checking (aka putting it in your luggage) your expensive equipment. There are too many variables that go along with leaving it out of your sight, so we recommend packing your gear in your carry-on. Our go-to plane bags are these ones from WANDRD!

Going on a scenic flight? Read our aerial photography tips and ways to capture the best photos in this post on the B&H Explora Blog! (Coming soon!)

Protect your gear on the go. In between locations, it’s important to keep your gear secure and safe en route. We like to use our  WANDRD PRVKE bag , which has cubes and customizable partitions to fit all our gear.

Berty and I often use lens hoods for our lense to protect it from hitting anything nearby. We also recently just purchased this Peak Design backpacking clip for easy access to our camera when hiking.

Read this post about traveling with camera gear!   We’re sharing all our specific product recommendations and tips on traveling with your cameras.

Photographers on a Rocky Mountain Road Trip - TheMandagies.com

What was your favorite part of this Rocky Mountain Road Trip route? Any parks that you’re most excited to see? Follow us on Instagram at @themandagies and tag us in your adventures with #themandagies so we can see them!

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Looking for the ultimate summer adventure? Here's your complete Rocky Mountain Road Trip itinerary - including travel in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and even Alberta, Canada! We're sharing all the best national parks along the way, camping tips, and more! #USA #Canada #nationalparks #montana #hiking #colorado #wyoming #yellowstone #photography #sunrise #rockymountains #rockies #grandtetons #glaciernationalpark #Banff #jasper

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The Ultimate Montana Road Trip by JetSettingFools.com

The Ultimate Montana Road Trip

Welcome to JetSetting Fools, here you will find our best travel tips for destinations worldwide. Some of the links on this site are Affiliate Links and if you use them to make a purchase, we may earn a commission. For more information, read our Disclosure Policy .

Montana. Just the name conjures up images of soaring mountains, stunning valleys, crystal-clear lakes and miles and miles and miles of wide open space under a big blue sky. Cattle graze on the range and wildlife roams freely over the land. The beauty of Montana is found at every turn…and the best way to see it – to experience it – is on a Montana Road Trip.

Planning a Montana Road Trip

Planning a trip to Montana is not an easy task – there is so much to see and do! However, using our Montana trip planner will help organize your ultimate road trip. 

We created an epic road trip in Montana that is concentrated in the northwest region of the state – undeniably, the most picturesque part of Montana. In our Montana trip plan, we include the best Montana destinations from quaint towns to Glacier National Park to scenic byways and hidden gems.

Montana Travel Planner

Whether you are visiting Montana for the first time or are returning to travel Montana’s scenic landscapes again, keeping track of your trip plans is essential. While we are sharing our top travel tips for the best places to visit in Montana on a road trip, you will need to organize the details of your accommodation reservations and planned activities. 

We recommend using a travel planner – like our Trip Planning Printables ! to get (and stay) organized for your vacation to Montana. 

Travel Planner Printables by JetSettingFools.com

Montana Road Trip Destinations

Views for days on our Beautiful Montana Drives

On our ultimate road trip for Montana, each day offers a new experience. Driving through Montana is an adventure in itself, but we are highlighting what to see and do in the absolute best places in Montana to visit.

When we were planning what to see in Montana, we used fellow traveler reviews and local recommendations to complete our Montana trip itinerary. These Montana bucket list destinations are all within close proximity, making it possible to organize an efficient Montana sightseeing trip.

Planning a Trip to Montana: Destinations to Visit

We feel the Montana destinations included in our plan are the best places to see on a trip to Montana.

The cities and sights included in our detailed Montana Road Trip Itinerary are:

  • Flathead Lake and National Bison Range
  • Kootenai Falls

Glacier National Park

  • Hungry Horse Reservoir
  • Swan-Seeley Valley

Montana State Road Map: Our Road Trip Destinations

Getting around Montana is much easier if you have an idea of where you are going ahead of time. Use this link to Google Maps to view all the destinations and sights on our Ultimate Montana Road Trip.

Montana Road Trip Map by JetSettingFools.com

Road Trips in Montana: How To Plan Your Vacation

More than nature and wildlife, American Flag Barn, Montana Road Trip

There are two ways to plan Montana road trips: On-the-move adventures where you check into new accommodations every couple of days OR take Montana day trips and stay in one place for all (or most) of your visit. You can plan your Montana vacation itinerary either way – and we’ll show you how!

Montana Road Trips: Multiple Day Trips

On our visit to Montana, we opted to base ourselves in one place and take multiple day trips in Montana. However, we did a lot of backtracking.

Fortunately, we had an entire month in Montana, which allowed plenty of time to explore and enjoy the state’s breathtaking scenery.

On-the-Move Montana Trip

We understand, however, that most travelers who plan a trip to Montana will have about a week to explore the state. Therefore, based off our experiences, we designed an ultimate road trip for 10 days in Montana that is on the move.

In our trip outline, we suggest moving to new accommodations just about every other day.

The benefit of this style of travel is that you won’t have to backtrack on your road trip through Montana. The downside, however, is that you will need to check into different Montana accommodations – and pack and unpack – every couple of days. 

Which Way for the Best Montana Road Trips? 

Even though we recommend staying in different destinations in our Montana travel planner, our Montana road trip plan can also work by staying in just one place and making daily road trips.

How you decide to plan your best Montana trip itinerary will depend on your style of travel. There is no right or wrong way to plan your Montana trip – it’s up to you!

If you do opt to base yourself in one place, we recommend staying in Columbia Falls at Cedar Creek Falls Lodge . Not only is it a convenient location to get to our featured Montana destinations, but there are also plenty of stores and restaurants in town, making it an ideal base. 

Tours of Montana

Do you want to travel Montana scenic roads without driving? Rather than planning all the details of a multiple day Montana road trip and then getting behind the wheel, let a professional show you the best of the state – including a couple of days in Glacier NP! Get the details here!

10-DAY MONTANA ROAD TRIP

Going To The Sun Road, Best Drives, Montana Road Trip

Exploring Montana by car is one of the best road trips in the US West! With intriguing towns, incredible attractions and a heaping dose of nature, Montana road trippers can experience a lot in a short amount of time.

Each day of our Montana road trip is filled with exciting sights and activities. Throughout our Montana itinerary, we include pertinent information, like where to stay, what to see and tips for drinking and dining. We also provide links to detailed Montana travel information. Additionally, for each day, we include a link to a Montana map marked with the recommended route and must-see sights.

Buckle in because this is a huge adventure of the absolute best things to do in Montana. Our Montana road trip planner includes everything you need to prepare for your amazing vacation.

Save, Pin or Bookmark this Montana road trip blog post so that you can access it while planning your trip to Montana!

DAY 1 of Your Montana Road Trip: KALISPELL – 2 NIGHTS

A look down Main St., Kalispell, MT

Kick off Day 1 of your Montana road trip itinerary in Kalispell. After arriving, getting settled in and picking up a few essentials, set off on foot to explore Kalispell.

Getting To Montana

The best way to get to Montana is by plane – and the airport in Kalispell is the Glacier Park International Airport (FCA). The airport is serviced year-round by major US and regional carriers. Kalispell is connected by non-stop flights to several large US cities – like San Francisco , Portland , Seattle , Denver , Phoenix , Las Vegas and Chicago . 

In our Montana road trip itinerary, we circle back to Kalispell, so you can search for roundtrip tickets. It is also possible to fly out (or into) Missoula, which might be a cheaper option. We use Skyscanner and these tips to find the best flight schedules and fares !

Car Rental for Montana Road Trip

Get a good Rent a car, Glacier National Park, Montana

To ensure you have the best Montana road trip, you will need the right rental car . We foolishly reserved an economy car for our Montana trip – and were luckily upgraded to a mid-size SUV. In the Subaru Forester, we sat higher off the road, which meant we had a better vantage point for scenery and Montana wildlife watching. Additionally – and perhaps more importantly – is that the SUV handled the Montana roads quite a bit better than a economy car would have. We started our search on Expedia for the best car for a perfect road trip .

Pro Tip : While renting a car in Montana (or anywhere, for that matter) it is ideal to have your own car rental insurance. Many insurance policies will cover rental cars (so check to see if yours does), but the Chase Sapphire Preferred travel credit card offers primary insurance for auto rental damage. 

Road Trip Supplies

Kalispell is a hub of commercial activity – which is one reason why it’s a great beginning point for your Montana adventure. Before you start your discovery of the city, take an hour or so to pick up a few everyday travel necessities . Kalispell’s shopping district – which includes stores like Walmart, Target and Cabela’s – lies just north of the old town.

Some of the things we recommend buying once in Montana (that you likely won’t be able to fit in your luggage ) are a small cooler to keep drinks and picnic lunches cold and foldable outdoor chairs to use at scenic spots. Additionally, you can pick up snacks for your road trip – like granola bars, trail mix and fresh fruit – at one of the grocery stores (such as Albertsons or Smith’s).

Bear spray is another thing you should must have for your Montana road trip – especially if you plan on doing any hikes. While not permitted on flights (even in checked luggage), but you can get bear spray at the Kalispell airport on arrival. The Glacier Outfitter store sells ‘last year’s model’ for a discounted price. Another way to get bear spray (maybe even for free) is to ask if anyone left some behind at your car rental counter – this is how we obtained one for our Montana trip.

Kalispell Accommodations – 2 nights

Old Poster, Cowgirl, Kalispell, MT

With two nights in Kalispell, you will want to stay centrally located in the heart of the historic Old Town – and the Grand Hotel is the perfect place! The Grand Hotel was the first luxury hotel in Kalispell when it opened in 1912 – and it retains a rich sense of history to this day.

What To See in Kalispell

Hockaday Museum, Kalispell, MT

After getting supplied and settled in, it’s time to start your Montana vacation and step out to discover Kalispell!

The city is easily navigated on foot and we recommend starting your exploration on Main Street, where there are shops and restaurants galore.

Find all of our tips for what to see, do and eat in our detailed guide, Things To Do in Kalispell .

MONTANA DAY 1 MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions from FCA to Kalispell. 

DAY 2 of Your Road Trip Montana: FLATHEAD LAKE and BISON RANGE – DAY TRIP

View of Flathead Lake, Montana Road Trip

On the second day of your road trip through Montana, set off on a full day adventure to one of the region’s signature landmarks: Flathead Lake – the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.

Flathead Lake, Montana Road Trip

Flathead Lake sailboat waiting for some wind, Montana Road Trip

Flathead Lake is a large, natural freshwater lake filled with transparent teal-blue water and waves that lap the shoreline. Flathead Lake sits just 10 miles southeast of Kalispell – but it has 160 miles of shoreline, which can all be explored on a one-day trip.

The serene landscapes, lakeside towns and Montana state parks are top attractions year-round – but in the summertime, Flathead Lake is all about cherry season. Visitors are invited to stop at the roadside stands to pick up a box of fresh-picked Montana cherries. Summer is also the best time to partake in water activities at Flathead Lake.

Flathead Lake, however, is not the day’s only destination – as a handful of intriguing Montana sites to visit lie just to the south, which we think are well worth the detour!

West Side of Flathead Lake

Somers, Montana Road Trip

The best way to explore Flathead Lake from Kalispell is to start by driving south along the western shore on Highway 93. During the drive, consider making stops in Somers, Lakeside, Big Arm and Polson to appreciate the views, take a boat out on the water or go for a swim.

Pro Tip : Be aware that the south end of the lake is on the Flathead Indian Reservation and tribal recreation permits are required for some activities.

South of Flathead Lake

Pronghorn Antelope, Montana Road Trip

At Polson, stay on Highway 93 and continue your road trip in Montana south to explore a few top Montana attractions in this area.

National Bison Range

National Bison Range, Montana Road Trip

Established in 1908 when the population of wild bison in America had dwindled to less than 100, the National Bison Range is a refuge for bison and other area wildlife. The herd of bison at the range is 300 strong – deer, antelope and birds also make the range their home. There are three roads through the park that allow visitors the opportunity to spot Montana wildlife.

During our trip to the National Bison Range, we were fortunate to see an abundance of animals from our car. In addition to bison, we witnessed a small group of grazing antelope and several deer. There is a fee to enter, but the America The Beautiful Pass is accepted (which is also the pass we used to enter Glacier National Park).

Garden of 1,000 Buddhas

An unexpected Montana discovery, Garden 1000 Buddahs, Montana Road Trip

An unusual sight in the middle of Montana, the Garden Land of 1,000 Buddhas is both peculiar and beautiful. The 10-acre garden is designed as a Dharma Wheel, the central symbol of Buddhism, and is highlighted by hundreds of Buddha statues.

It was out of pure curiosity that we decided to visit the garden – and, we have to admit, it certainly is one of the unique Montana road trip attractions. The peaceful garden is non-denominational and welcomes visitors of every faith and background. Entrance to the garden is free.

Windmill Village Bakery Donuts

Known all over Montana for their famous donuts, Windmill Village Bakery turns out a variety of sweet treats using locally sourced products. We desperately wanted to try their renowned confections, but unfortunately the shop was closed on the day of our trip. If you stop here, please let us know how incredibly delicious their donuts are!

St. Ignatius Mission Church

A landmark in Montana, the St. Ignatius Church dates to the 1890s and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the brick church are 58 paintings, which were created in the early 1900s by Brother Joseph Carignanao, the mission cook. Two of his artworks are dedicated to Native Americans. Admission to the church is free; donations accepted.

Miracle of America Museum

Founded in 1981, the Miracle of America Museum is a collection of thousands of American artifacts housed in multiple buildings – and is one of the popular Montana road trip ideas. The museum displays everything from classic cars to American kitsch. There is a $10 entrance fee to enter the museum.

East Side of Flathead Lake

Take Highway 93 north back to Polson and hop on Highway 35 to begin the drive along the eastern side of Flathead Lake. Stop for cherries and other fresh fruit at one of the orchard’s roadside stands and continue north to Bigfork. The lakeside community boasts a cute downtown where the streets are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops.

For dinner, The Raven comes highly recommended for the phenomenal lake views. However, our preferred drinking and dining establishment is the Flathead Lake Brewing Company Pub House, which offers outdoor seating, lake views, tasty brews (try the Citrus Smash IPA) and a great pub fare menu.

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions from Kalispell to Flathead Lake sights. 

DAY 3 of Your Montana Road Trip Planner: WHITEFISH – 2 NIGHTS

Looking down Central in Whitefish, Montana

The town of Whitefish is a must-see on Montana road trips – and it’s the next destination on Day 3 of your Montana trip itinerary.

Drive From Kalispell to Whitefish

Whitefish is just 15 miles north of Kalispell – and with such a short jaunt north – you can relax in Kalispell over coffee and breakfast. You could even linger longer and browse any Kalispell shops or parks you may have missed on the first day of your Montana Road Trip.

Whitefish Accommodations – 2 Nights

Classic Amtrak Train Station, Whitefish, Montana

Thriving as a tourist destination, Whitefish has numerous places to stay. Like in Kalispell, we recommend staying near the town center – and Firebrand Hotel is an ideal option. The 4-star hotel is styled as a posh mountain resort and features an open-air rooftop with hot tub.

Pro Tip : Because of the close proximity of Kalispell and Whitefish, road trippers can choose to stay in one town for 4 nights, rather than changing locations after two nights. This option will add a little extra driving onto your Montana day trips, but not a significant amount when comparing the relatively short distances to the true size of Montana!

What To See in Whitefish

Views over Whitefish, Montana

Whitefish is a picture-perfect western town that can easily be explored within a few hours. Spend time popping into the boutique shops that feature Montana-made products and then head for the hills – or rather, Big Mountain. The Whitefish Mountain Resort offers ample outdoor activities to choose from year round. Alternatively, spend the rest of the day on the water at Whitefish Lake.

Find details for what to see and do – in town and on the mountain – in our complete article, Things To Do in Whitefish !

DAY 3 MONTANA MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions from Kalispell to Whitefish.

DAY 4 of Your Montana Road Trip Itinerary: KOOTENAI FALLS – DAY TRIP

Best way to see Montana is on a Montana Road Trip

On Day 4, spend the day driving to one of the best Montana road trip attractions: Kootenai Falls.

Day Trip from Whitefish

This scenic Montana waterfall road trip heads north from Whitefish toward the Canadian border and the town of Eureka before meeting up with Lake Koocanusa. Following the shoreline south to Libby Dam, the drive then turns west to the stunning waterfalls and swinging bridge at Kootenai Falls.

Eureka, Montana

The small town of Eureka sits in Tobacco Valley just 9 miles south of the Canadian border. In Eureka, history buffs will want to stop by the Historical Village Museum, nature lovers can stretch their legs on the riverside path and foodies might like to sink their teeth into the famous Eureka or Huckleberry Burger at the Front Porch Grill House.

Pro Tip : Stop in the fun Eureka breweries – the H.A. Brewing Company or Koocanusa Brewery – and grab something to enjoy when you get back to Whitefish!

Lake Koocanusa and the Scenic Byway

The best view of Koocanusa Bridge, Montana Road Trip

Created when the Kootenai River was dammed in 1972, the 90-mile-long Lake Koocanusa spans the US-Canada border. The lake, which is nestled in a gorgeous gorge, is used for recreational purposes, like boating, fishing and camping. However, we enjoyed stopping at numerous scenic spots for stunning views via the Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway.

Following the eastern shoreline to the south, Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway (Highway 37) traverses 67 miles of astounding beauty. Make a stop at the Libby Dam (there are free bathrooms and an informational visitors’ center), then continue the drive west to Kootenai Falls. While stopping along the scenic byway, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – especially American Bald Eagles!

Fun Fact : The lake got its name in a contest; the winner used the first three letters of Kootenai River (KOO), the first three letters of Canada (CAN) and the abbreviation of the United States (USA) to create the name, Koocanusa!

Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge

View across Kootenai Swing Bridge, Montana Road Trip

Ranking as one of the largest waterfalls in the United States by flow rate, Kootenai Falls is a spectacular sight of tumbling and cascading water – and a popular destination for Montana road trips. The series of waterfalls flow down river for nearly one mile, with the longest single fall being 30 feet. A sacred site to the Kootenai Tribe, the falls mark the center of their world and a place to communicate with the spirits.

The Kootenai Swinging Bridge straddles the lower end of the falls, offering superb 360-degree views…but only to visitors who are brave enough to cross it!

Parking for Kootenai Falls and Swinging Bridge is located on Montana Highway 2; visitors then make a short trek on a well-worn path. The trail to the right goes to the main falls, while the one to the left ends at the Swinging Bridge.

Highway 2 to Whitefish

Rather than retracing your steps, we recommend taking Highway 2 back to Whitefish. Although there are not specific sights to see along this stretch of highway, the route passes by lush forested lands, gorgeous lakes and through classic American farmland…and it is simply magnificent.

Consider staying on Highway 2 past Kalispell to visit Sacred Waters Brewing Company for excellent craft beer in a casual setting before returning to Whitefish.

MONTANA DAY 4 MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions for sights along the route to Kootenai Falls. 

DAY 5 of Your Ultimate Montana Road Trip: GLACIER NP WEST – 4 NIGHTS

The best views from Logan Pass, Montana Road Trip

On Day 5 of your Montana trip, make the drive to Glacier National Park – the absolute highlight of any trip to Montana.

Drive From Whitefish to Glacier National Park

The road View on Going To The Sun Road, Montana Road Trip

Make the drive from Whitefish to Glacier National Park (about 45 minutes to the West Glacier Entrance). Nicknamed the ‘Crown of the Continent,’ features rising mountain peaks, glacier-carved lakes, abundant wildlife and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. Without a doubt, it is the absolute best place in Montana to visit!

Glacier Accommodations – 4 Nights

Welcome To Glacier National Park Sign, West Glacier Entrance, Montana

Visitors have a variety of choices when it comes to places to stay in Glacier NP – from budget stays to pricey abodes and rugged cabins to posh homes. While staying inside Glacier National Park is an attractive prospect, the lodges, cabins, motor inns and campgrounds are fully booked far in advance (often more than a year!). No worries if you don’t score a reservation, there are ample lodging options just outside the park in West Glacier and nearby towns.

On our Montana trip, we stayed in a private Airbnb house in Martin City – a town which is perfectly located between West Glacier and Columbia Falls (where there are restaurants and grocery stores). With four nights in one location, we highly recommend staying in a house, apartment or cabin that is equipped with a kitchen, so that you can prepare a few meals at home.

Pro Tip : Travelers who would rather be on the move than settle into one place for four nights can opt to spend two nights in West Glacier and two nights in East Glacier. In addition to using Airbnb, you can also search Booking.com to find hotels and hostels near Glacier NP. Before making any reservations, however, be sure to read our tips for Booking the Best Hotels at the Best Prices .

Montana Mountain views, Glacier National Park, MT, USA

Home to two mountain ranges, 130 lakes, hundreds of animal species and thousands of different plants, the 1-million-acre Glacier National Park delivers big on nature. All of the best Montana road trips include a stop at GNP.

Most amazing Lake McDonald View, Glacier National Park, Montana

Hikers will delight at the opportunity to trek to hidden Montana waterfalls and lakes – and all visitors can enjoy panoramic views and scenic overlooks along the spectacular Going To The Sun Road.

What To Do at Glacier NP

The WelcomeView of Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park, Montana

After getting checked in to your accommodations, embark on your Glacier National Park road trip. Drive to Avalanche Lake and make the 5-mile roundtrip hike up to the picture-perfect spot surrounded by towering mountains dotted with waterfalls.

BYOB for Lake McDonald Sunset, Glacier National Park, Montana

Then, end your first day at Glacier National Park watching sunset at Lake McDonald – and consider dining at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room at the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Find specific details on what to see and do in Glacier NP – and National Park Service entry fee information – in our 3-Day Glacier National Park Itinerary . 

DAY 5 MAP OF MONTANA

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions to West Glacier and into GNP.

DAY 6 of Your Road Trip to Montana: GLACIER NP EAST – DAY TRIP

Hiking at Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

On Day 6, continue your Montana road trip to Glacier National Park East – but plan to get an early start because it is going to be a long day!

Full Day Trip Exploring East Glacier NP

View from Swiftcurrent Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana

Start by driving through Glacier National Park on Going To The Sun Road from the West Entrance all the way to St. Mary.

East Glacier NP

Lake view from Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Spend the day in East Glacier – both at Many Glacier and Two Medicine. At Many Glacier, take in the views at Swiftcurrent Lake and then complete one of the most beautiful hikes in Glacier NP around the lake. Later in the afternoon, at Two Medicine, hop aboard a historic vessel for a boat ride and history lesson on the region and the people who live there.  

Rather than returning to your accommodations in West Glacier on Going To The Sun Road, use Highway 2, another Glacier National Park scenic drive that marks the southern boundary.

Read specific details about hiking in our article, The Best Easy Hikes in Glacier National Park !

DAY 6 ROAD TRIP MONTANA MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions for exploring Glacier NP. 

DAY 7 of Your Road Trip Through Montana: GLACIER NP NORTH – DAY TRIP

Amazing View Hiking Bowman Lake, Glacier NP, Montana

Some of the best Montana road trips are on unpaved roads, which is what you will negotiate on Day 7 as you head into the northern section of Glacier National Park.

Polebridge, Montana

Must Visit, Polebridge Mercantile, Montana

The route north into the far reaches of GNP is via Camas Road to North Fork Road, which will get you as far as Polebridge. Make a stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for one of the best desserts in the state: Huckleberry Bear Claw. (Consider picking up more than one and save it for breakfast the next day…trust us, you won’t regret it!)

Bowman Lake

Must Eat Montana, Bearclaw at Bowman Lake, Montana

Today’s Montana road trip destination is Bowman Lake – and the only way to get there is by dirt road. Past the Mercantile in Polebridge, re-enter Glacier NP and take the curving, bumpy road up to Bowman Lake. Have a picnic packed for the day (or grab something from The Merc) and spend the entire day lakeside, savoring the awe-inspiring vista, taking hikes and perhaps kayaking or other watersports.

Soak in the amazing View at Lake Bowman, Glacier National Park, Montana

Once back in West Glacier, consider taking a short hike up to Rocky Point or spend the last bit of sunlight on the shoreline of Lake McDonald at Apgar Village.

MONTANA ROAD TRIP DAY 7 MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions to Polebridge and Bowman.

DAY 8 of the Best Montana Road Trip: HUNGRY HORSE RESERVOIR – DAY TRIP

Reflection view of Hungry Horse Reservior, Montana Road Trip

After three full days in Glacier National Park, on the 8th day of your MT road trip, escape the crowds and head for Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Explore Hungry Horse in a Day

Sign on the Hungry Horse Dam, Montana Road Trip

Part of the Flathead National Forest, the 34-mile-long Hungry Horse Reservoir is serene and rugged – and it is located just 15 miles south of West Glacier. Settled in a deep ravine, 25 mountain peaks rise around the 170 miles of Hungry Horse shoreline. The scenery is stunning, which is why we rate it as one of the top Montana things to do. 

Hungry Horse Dam

View looking across Hungry Horse Dam, Montana Road Trip

The South Fork Flathead River was dammed in 1953, creating Hungry Horse Reservoir. Standing at a height of 564 feet, the Hungry Horse Dam ranks as one of the largest dams in the United States. Visitors can join a guided tour and learn more about the Hungry Horse Dam at the visitors’ center.

What To Do at Hungry Horse Reservoir

Top activities at the reservoir are boating, fishing, camping and wildlife watching. There are no services or towns located on the water (only campsites). The road is paved for first 11 miles on the west side of the lake (past the dam)…the rest of the circumference road is gravel. That said, it is possible to drive around the entire Hungry Horse Reservoir, which takes at least 4 hours (but likely longer with stops).

When we visited, after exploring the dam, we drove along the paved portion of the reservoir, relished the quiet surroundings and admired the marvelous landscapes. Travelers interested in fishing at Hungry Horse Reservoir can rent gear and obtain a license from one of the area shops. We also saw several people cycling – and renting a bike would be an exciting way to navigate the unpaved road!

Fun Fact : Hungry Horse got its name in early 1901 when, during the cold winter, two horses strayed off into the wilderness. The pair was found a month later stuck in the snow and nearly starved to death. The horses were rescued and nursed back to health…and a town, mountain, lake and dam all got the name Hungry Horse.

DAY 8 MAP OF HUNGRY HORSE

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions for Hungry Horse Reservoir. 

DAY 9 of Your Montana Trip: MISSOULA via SWAN-SEELEY VALLEY – 1 NIGHT

Gizzly Statue On Campus, Missoula, University of Montana

On Day 9, embark on one of the best scenic drives in Montana through the Swan-Seeley Valley on your way to the hip town of Missoula.

Swan-Seeley Scenic Drive

Highway 83 is a 90-mile north-south route that follows the valley between the Mission Mountains and the Swan Range. Surrounded by Montana wilderness, the road curves past dozens of lakes – the two largest being Swan Lake and Seeley Lake.

At about the halfway point, there is a popular hike to Holland Lake Falls. When the road ends in Clearwater (marked by the giant cow at the gas station), Highway 200 West takes travelers directly into Missoula, which ranks as one of the best places to go in Montana. 

However, road trippers interested in history might want to add a stop at the nearby Garnet Ghost Town to their Montana vacation itinerary. 

Missoula Accommodations – 1 Night

With just one night in Missoula, it is imperative to stay centrally located – and The Residence Inn by Marriot is right in the heart of town. The location is the hotel’s best feature, but fellow guests rave about the cleanliness and modern room designs.

What To See in Missoula

Must Eat Ice Cream, Big Dipper, Missoula, Montana

After dropping your bags in your room, you won’t have to go far to start your exploration of Missoula. Right away, you will probably notice the distinctly different vibe in Missoula, which feels trendier and contemporary compared to other Montana destinations. That said, the city’s history is palpable and there are plenty of interesting places to discover (including amazing ice cream and fun stores!).

Find all the details for what to see and do in our Missoula, Montana travel article, Things To Do in Missoula .

DAY 9 GLACIER TO MISSOULA MAP

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions to Missoula via the Swan-Seely Scenic Drive.

DAY 10 of Your Montana Road Trip: MISSOULA to HOT SPRINGS to KALISPELL

Beautiful Barn, Montana Road Trip

Day 10 marks the last day of your Western Montana road trip – which means you will likely need to make your way back to the Kalispell Airport to catch your flight home. The good news is, there is still some adventure to be had on the final leg of your road trip in Montana!

Morning in Missoula and Back to Kelispell

Before leaving Missoula, go on a brisk walk on the Clark Fork riverside path and then indulge in breakfast at one of the city’s hot spots (like Catalyst Café or the Old Post). Start the drive to Kalispell on Highway 93 – and consider stopping at the Buddha Garden if you missed it or any of the other sights on Day 2. However, rather than continuing north on 93 up to Flathead Lake, take a detour to Highway 28 (via 200 W) to Hot Springs.

The route on Highway 28 may not be touted as a scenic highway, but it certainly has its charm. The road winds through mostly rural landscapes, passing through a few knock-about towns along the way. We heard that Big Horn Sheep are often spotted from the road, but we didn’t see any on this day of our Montana road trip.

Hot Springs, Montana

For a truly authentic Montana experience, stop in the tiny (and a bit quirky) town of Hot Springs. This is a town that doesn’t dress up for visitors but welcomes them with open arms. Really embrace the spirit of the town by soaking in the hot springs pools at the historic Symes Hotel (that dates to the Depression Era of the 1930s). If you have time, pop into one of the dive bars (the Barber Shop Beer Parlor even serves local Montana craft beer).

When you leave Hot Springs, continue driving north on 28 to Elmo, where it will hook up with 93 – and enjoy the last picturesque views over Flathead Lake as you complete your drive to the Kalispell Airport.

Use this link to Google Maps for driving directions from Missoula to Kalispell via Hot Springs.

Additional Montana Road Trip Ideas

If you hit the road at the right time of year you catch Fall Colors, Montana Road Trip

Above, we outlined our ultimate road trip planner for Montana. However, we have more Montana road trip ideas to share. When planning your trip, keep in mind that the best road trips in Montana should lead to the places of most interest to you.

Same Montana Route…With Just a Few Tweaks

Visitors who find it more convenient to fly into Missoula, rather than Kalispell, can still use our outlined Montana itinerary – just shift all the days to start and end in Missoula, rather than Kalispell.

Additionally, rather than working in a clockwise direction, this entire trip plan for Montana can be reversed into a counterclockwise direction (by starting in Kalispell, going to Missoula, then Glacier NP, and so on).

Shorter 5-Day Road Trip Montana

Travelers with less than a week can still design a fantastic road trip in Western Montana!

If we were limited to just 5 days in Montana, we would spend 2 nights in Whitefish (with one day spent traveling to Kootenai Falls) and 3 days in Glacier National Park.

Another way to devise a Montana 5-Day Itinerary would be to spend 2 nights in Missoula (taking a day trip to Flathead on the second day) and 3 days at Glacier NP.

Visitors content with only spending 1 day in Glacier National Park could spend 2 nights in Whitefish (with a day trip to Kootenai Falls), 1 night in Glacier and 2 nights in Missoula.

Montana Road Trip 7 Days

Figuring out how to plan a trip to Montana for 7 days? While you won’t be able to fit everything from our 10-Day Road Trip Montana into your itinerary, you can still plan your best trip to Montana that won’t disappoint.

For an ideal Montana 7-day road trip, we recommend spending the first 2 nights in Whitefish (and spending most of one day exploring Kootenai Falls), then head to Glacier NP for 3 days of hiking and end your trip with 2 days in Missoula. 

Of course, this is just our preference of how to plan a 7 day Montana itinerary. We suggest using our highlighted Montana road trip attractions to determine how best to plan your road trip in Montana.

Other Montana Destinations

On our road trip, we feature top Western Montana destinations – but there are several other places to see in The Treasure State. With more time, visitors could easily add other cities in Montana to their trip plan.

For example, after Missoula, travelers can drive east on I-90 to Butte, a historic Montana mining town. From there, I-15 will take visitors north to the capital of Helena – and north from there to Great Falls.

Alternatively, rather than heading north from Butte, visitors can continue east to Bozeman, which is the home of Montana State University, and then continue on from there to Billings, which has a handful of sights and numerous Montana craft breweries.

Road Trip To Montana: Multi-State Road Trips

Whether you are starting a road trip in Montana or planning a road trip to Montana from another state, we are highlighting a few of the most popular routes for the best trips to Montana.

Road Trip Montana & Wyoming

Planning a Montana-Wyoming Road Trip is a perfect way to see some of the great American landscapes – and some of the USA’s best national parks. Although Wyoming is another massive state, the top attractions are located in the northwest corner near the Montana state line.

Yellowstone National Park (a portion of which is located in Montana) is a must when planning a Montana-Wyoming road trip. Geysers are the top sights to see at the park – and Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are two of the best.

Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole are two other top destinations in Wyoming to include in a Northwest US road trip.

Road Trip South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming

Adding South Dakota to a Montana and Wyoming road trip is a fantastic way to check off a few more iconic American sights. Two top attractions – Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park – are located in Western South Dakota not far from the Wyoming border. Nearby Sturgis, SD is another popular destination (especially for motorcycle enthusiasts) that can easily be added to this road trip.

Denver, Colorado to Montana Road Trip via Wyoming

Travelers with ample time can create an epic Colorado, Wyoming, Montana Road Trip. Spend a few days in Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, then travel north to Wyoming – aiming for the northwest corner to see Grand Teton and Yellowstone. From Yellowstone, drive north on Highway 191 through Big Sky to Bozeman – and then continue west on I-90 to Missoula.

Road Trip: Chicago to Montana

There are several routes travelers can take to get from Chicago to Montana. An epic road trip would be through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and finally driving to Montana. That said, to really be able to appreciate it and make interesting detours, we would recommend at least 2-3 weeks.

Another unique way to get between the two destinations is via the Empire Builder Amtrak Train Line.

Seattle to Montana Road Trip

On a Washington to Montana road trip, travelers can start the trip in Seattle . After spending a few days in Seattle, cross the state of Washington via I-90 to Spokane , then traverse the Idaho Panhandle (stopping in Coeur d’Alene) to Montana. Road trippers can pick up our Montana road trip itinerary from either Missoula or Kalispell.

Pro Tip: We recommend the same route if making a Portland , Oregon to Montana Road Trip (or vice versa, on a Montana to Oregon Road Trip ). Along the north-south route on I-5 between Portland and Seattle, consider making stops in Tacoma, Olympia and Vancouver .

Road Trip to Montana from California

To create the Ultimate Road Trip from California to Montana, we’d begin with a classic American West Coast Road Trip on a California Coastal Drive from LA to SF. Next, continue north on an Oregon Coastal Drive to Portland, then hop in I-5 to Seattle and head east to Montana from Washington.

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Road Trip Montana: Top Travel Tips

Montana Road Trip Autumn

We have covered a ton of information in this article – but we have a few more tips to ensure you have the absolute best road trips in Montana!

Best Time To Go To Montana

Fall Colors along the Going to the sun, Glacier National Park, Montana

We don’t necessarily think there is a bad time to go to Montana. That said, when taking a road trip to Montana, we think it is best to go when the roads are in the best condition for driving – which means summer or fall.

There are pros and cons for Montana trips each season. The summer brings crowds…but it also brings warm enough weather to enjoy swimming in the lakes. If you visit Montana in summer, the state’s best produce – like cherries and huckleberries – are in season, too.

On the other hand, taking road trips in Montana in autumn offers fewer crowds, crisp temperatures (which we think are best for hiking) and the beauty of changing leaves.

Determine which is the best time to visit Montana for your road trip based on your desired activities. 

Montana Road Map

Although we provide online maps above for each day of adventures, we highly recommend purchasing a State of Montana road map. Use the Montana road trip map to outline your trip plan before setting off on your trip.

We had a Montana travel map in our car – and found it to be absolutely invaluable as there is little to no cell service in many areas. Buy your Montana map  before your trip!

Montana Road Conditions

Narrow Bridge on North McDonald Lake Road Bridge, Glacier NP, Montana

We also recommend checking current road conditions in Montana before beginning your road trip. Road work and fires can cause closures that require long detours. Check the official  transportation website for a current State of Montana road condition map. 

Accommodations Tips

McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park, Montana Road Trip

In our itinerary, we outline the best places to visit in Montana – and a specific place to stay in each destination. You may have noticed that we recommend staying in hotels in city destinations and at an Airbnb while visiting Glacier NP.

Although we generally prefer staying in Airbnb vacation rentals, we think hotel stays are better for city destinations on fast-moving trips to Montana, like the one we outlined. And, guests who prefer hotels (and would rather not use Airbnb) have a choice of hotels in and around GNP, too.

All that said, hotels and Airbnb accommodations are not the only options for places to stay in Montana. Camping trips and RV travels are other excellent ways to explore the state.

Although we do not have any specific recommendations for where to stay on a Montana Camping Trip or information on specific RV parks around the state, we can certainly attest to the fact that there are several options.

Checklist for Planning a Road Trip in Montana

You are going to Montana! Use our Montana trip planner checklist to make sure you are ready for your adventure.

#1 Map out your Montana Route

Buy a Montana Road Trip Map (or Atlas !) before your trip. Decide which Montana road trip attractions to include in your itinerary and use a Montana travel planner – like our Printable Planner – to stay on top of all the details. 

#2 Book Accommodations for your Montana Travel Itinerary

Decide where to stay during your Road Trip to Montana Itinerary. Use the recommendations from our Scenic Trip Montana Drive or start your search on Booking.com . The earlier you book places to stay, the better – as the best value hotels get snapped up far in advance. 

#3 Buy Plane Tickets

In our Montana trip itinerary, we recommend flying into Glacier Park International Airport. We use Skyscanner , but read our Cheap Flights Tips before you purchase your flights!

#4 Reserve a Rental Car

Road trips in Montana require a car. We prefer Expedia to search for the best deals; get our advice and top tips to find the best rental car rates !

#5 Read our other Montana Travel Blog Posts

We share heaps of advice that will help you plan a perfect Montana trip! Use our travel guides for sightseeing in Kalispell , what to do in Whitefish , going to Glacier NP and spending a day in Missoula . 

#6 Gather Essentials for Montana Scenic Road Trips

As you begin planning your trip to Montana, start gathering the essentials. For example, you will definitely want to upgrade to a real camera . On our Montana road trip, we used a Canon DSLR with a  Zoom Lens . While planning our Montana vacation itinerary, however, we forgot about Binoculars , and we were crushed that we didn’t have a pair for our trip. 

Of course, comfortable clothing  is required for all Montana road trips – and a good pair of travel shoe s for hitting the trails is essential, too!

#7 Pack Your Bags for Montana

Check out our top Packing Hacks and then use our Packing List to make sure you have everything. Need a checklist for your Montana trip packing list? Get a FREE packing checklist here !

#8 You’re off to Montana!

Enjoy your road trip through Montana! Make all the stops, take all the pictures and enjoy the drive under the big blue Montana sky! 

Start planning your trip to Montana ! Search for the lowest airfares , the best accommodations and fun things to do …then start packing !   Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page !

We Want To Know : Is there anything you would add to our Montana Road Trip Guide? Give us your best tips and advice for Montana scenic drives in the comments below!

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The World Was Here First

The Perfect 5 to 7 Day Montana Itinerary

Last Updated on December 4, 2023

by Duncan McHenry

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.

colorado montana road trip

The “Big Sky Country” of Montana is marked by an abundance of Rocky Mountain peaks and richly forested valleys that stand alongside wide-open prairies and ranchlands. For travelers who are planning a 5 to 7-day Montana itinerary, it’s a good idea to chart a route that will take you through a variety of the different landscape types and towns in the Treasure State.

Like other nearby Rocky Mountain states such as Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, Montana is known as a haven for outdoor adventurers like hunters, anglers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and skiers.

It makes sense to mix in some stops at outdoor attractions such as Yellowstone National Park , Glacier National Park , or Montana’s famed Gallatin River as part of any Montana vacation itinerary, depending on your goals and the time of year.

Table of Contents

How Many Days in Montana?

Figuring out how many days you should devote can be a challenge when planning a trip to Montana—especially since things are spread so far apart and there’s so much ground to cover. It’s generally a good strategy to pick a major interstate, such as I-90, and plot your stops accordingly.

The difference between spending 5 days and 7 days in Montana can be significant, as traveling for a full seven days can give you more opportunity to do something like spend a night camping in Glacier NP during the summertime.

Beautiful Glacier NP in Montana

One advantage of spending 5 days in Montana, on the other hand, is you might dive a bit deeper into exploring a single area if you’re more time-constrained. Skiers visiting Montana in the wintertime might want to focus on a resort like Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, or Whitefish, for example, rather than spending too much time driving.

But if you wanted to have enough time to spend some time in both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, for example, then you might be more likely to opt for a 7-day itinerary.

5 to 7-Day Montana Itinerary

Generally speaking, there’s more to see and do in Montana once you get to the central and western parts of the state, so this 5 to 7-day Montana road trip itinerary will assume you’re driving across eastern Montana on Interstate 94 (if not directly into the western part of the state via the same highway) or from the south by way of interstates 25 and 90.

That being said, regardless of how you get into Montana, this itinerary will give you some good ideas on things to do in some of its most picturesque, activity-rich ecological areas and cities.

If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices for many different car hire companies. Alternatively, you can consider renting an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy if you’re on a long trip to Montana from Denver or other cities such as Seattle.

Mountain Road in Montana

Day 1 – Billings

The yellowstone river.

As you’re coming into the central part of Montana on Interstates 94 and 90, Billings stands between the Bighorn lands surrounding the Yellowstone River and the corridor that eventually leads to the more mountainous areas of Livingston and Bozeman.

The Yellowstone River runs right along the highway around the city of Billings, and convenient access points like the Duck Creek, Bundy Bridge, and Voyagers Rest access areas make for nice rest stops on a road trip.

The Rimrocks

These natural rock formations are a great option for an afternoon hike and offer some of the area’s best views overlooking the city. Locals enjoy coming here for the sunset, but it’s an equally good option for a morning hike before pushing on to the Bozeman area, assuming that’s your next stop.

Yellowstone Cellars & Winery

With some of the best wines you could ever find produced in the Western US, the winery at Yellowstone Cellars is an ideal stop for anyone looking to stay close to the interstate on their trip to Montana. There’s sometimes a live music act on Fridays, as well.

Though the area is known far more for picking wild huckleberries than for cultivating grape vines, you will be surprised my the quality of wines to be found here.

Where to Stay in Billings

Northern Hotel – An excellent option if you’re looking for a bit of luxury during your trip to Montana, this hotel has it all. They offer a range of plush and comfortable rooms, a central location for exploring Billings and its surrounding area as well as an on-site bar and diner for guests to enjoy.

Riversage Billings Inn – This mid-range hotel is a great option in Billings if you’re travelling on a bit of a smaller budget but still want a level of comfort. They have countless lovely rooms available, a fitness centre on-site, a great location and even allow pets.

Private Rental – A private rental is also a great option in Billings. Properties such as this bright 2-bedroom apartment is just one of many options in the city.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Billings hotels!

Hiking around Billings

Day 2 – Bozeman

The museum of the rockies.

Under the umbrella of Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies is a world-class natural history museum with one of America’s most highly prized collections of dinosaur fossils.

This is obviously a great stop for kids, featuring exhibits that explore everything from ancient archaeology to cutting-edge advancements in technology and science. Planetarium shows, educational programs, and a museum store with exhibit-inspired souvenirs all add to the museum’s appeal.

Downtown Bozeman

Anyone who appreciates a quintessential college town will enjoy taking a walk around Bozeman. This is arguably your best chance at experiencing a wide array of different restaurants and bars during your travels in Montana.

If you’re craving a burger and beer combo after a day of hiking or sightseeing, local favorites like Backcountry Burger Bar are a great bet; or if you’re in the mood for something a little less American, try Whistle Pig Korean or Dave’s Sushi.

The Gallatin Canyon

The Gallatin River is among the most famous of the great drainages in the Western US and Montana—up there with the Missouri, the Blackfoot, and the Madison Rivers, among others.

This is a great river for rafting, kayaking, tubing (when the water is lower), or fishing, and road trip travelers who are just passing through can find a lot of easy access points for a hike or a picnic and enjoy the beautiful wilderness.

There are plenty of turnouts as you drive along the steeply winding cliffs that line the Gallatin, and even families with kids and travelers with pets will find easy access points for taking a break by the river.

The Gallatin River in autumn

Where to Stay in Bozeman

RSVP Hotel – If you’re looking for a luxury option in Bozeman, then this hotel is a great choice. They have a range of lovely rooms available, a wonderful location and a number of other amenities available to help make your time in Bozeman memorable.

The LARK – Another great option in Bozeman is this modern boutique hotel. Located in the downtown area close to all the action, there are plenty of great rooms to choose from, they offer valet parking, and they even allow pets if you happen to be traveling with a furry friend.

Private Rental – A private vacation rental is also a great option in Bozeman. Properties like this modern condo and many others are available and there are lots of options to choose from that will suit your travel style and needs.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bozeman hotels!

Day 3 – Helena

State capitol.

Montana’s Capitol building is arguably one of the country’s most stately historic structures, complete with Greek columns, marble accents, painted ceilings, and well-manicured lawns that look out across the valley where this city resides.

It can be fun to tour the inside of the Capitol before wandering down the hill or over toward Helena’s downtown area.

Helena State Capitol

The Montana Historical Society

A stop here makes sense if you’ve decided to visit the Capitol building, as the Montana Historical Society is right next door.

The Society hosts Montana’s Museum, which is home to several permanent exhibits and galleries, including the Charles M. Russell Gallery and its collections detailing Lewis and Clark’s experiences as their expedition passed through Montana.

Last Chance Gulch

Essentially Helena’s historic Main Street area, Last Chance Gulch gives visitors a true sense of the city’s Gold Rush-era origins. This area was the site of the original mining camp upon which Helena was founded, but today it’s also a happening part of town with a great nightlife scene.

Local businesses do very well in the buildings that showcase the sort of Victorian architecture you’ll find in mountain towns all across the American West.

Finally, a nice dinner and an evening on the town in the Last Chance Gulch area is a great way to finish things in Montana’s capital.

Where to Stay in Helena

Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel  – If you’re looking for a great, solid choice in Helena, then this hotel is a fantastic option. There are a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, they have a central location for exploring the Montana capital and there is an on-site bar and swimming pool to enjoy. 

Oddfellow Inn & Farm  – If you’re looking for a unique and quaint stay near Helena, then this traditional inn on a working farm is a great option! They have a number of lovely rooms available and there is even a great restaurant on site! 

Private Rental   – If you’d rather have your own space in the Montana capital, then a private rental – like this comfortable 1-bedroom suite  – is an excellent option. You will find lots of properties available that can suit all kinds of travel styles and needs. 

Not quite what you’re looking for?  Click here to browse more Helena hotels!

Day 4 – Missoula

Downtown missoula.

As the home of “the Griz,” Missoula is where you’ll find Montana’s other main college, the University of Montana. The drive to Missoula from Helena takes you along sections of the Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River before reaching the Bitterroot Valley area.

Downtown Missoula has a unique personality that makes it feel a bit more tight-knit than Bozeman, with funky little music venues including The Wilma, The Badlander, Monk’s Bar, and others.

View of University of Montana in Missoula

The Sapphire Mountains

If you hook directly back to the southeast from Missoula, the mountainous area that spans across to the small town of Philipsburg and the Rock Creek drainage is a beautiful place to sightsee and car camp.

Crowds tend to be almost non-existent in these alpine National Forest areas, even on weekends, and photographers will love the opportunities for bird- and wildlife-watching.

Be mindful that this is grizzly bear country, so it’s best to have any food or non-smell-proof items sealed in a bear-proof container overnight if you’re camping.

The Bitterroot River

While anyone who is walking or wading along the banks might prefer stopping at a smaller river like the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot River—along with the nearby Clark Fork—is a great chance to work some watersports into your itinerary.

You might even consider floating the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork on separate days if you have the time.

The Bitterroot tends to see more crowds, and the Clark Fork is perhaps even more prized for its fly fishing opportunities these days, but both are incredibly scenic and come with sightings of bald eagles soaring overhead and the at-times snowy peaks that line the Bitterroot Valley in the background.

Clark Fork River

Where to Stay in Missoula

C’mon INN Missoula – This hotel is an excellent option if you’re looking for a comfortable and reliable accommodation option Missoula. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available, an indoor swimming pool and fitness center on site and a number of other amenities to make your stay a great one.

Private Rental – Another popular option in Missoula is a private rental, like this plush condo in central Missoula . There are lots of properties to choose from in the city that you’re sure to find something that suits your needs.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Missoula hotels!

Day 5 – Kalispell

Downtown kalispell.

You might choose to set out on a trajectory for Glacier NP after leaving Missoula on a Montana road trip, and the town of Kalispell is worth a stop on the way.

As the largest city in northwest Montana, Kalispell’s downtown area is very pedestrian-friendly and hosts lots of mom-and-pop businesses selling everything from small-batch ice cream to high-end outdoor gear.

Flathead Lake

The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River is nearly 30 miles long and less than a 20-minute drive from Kalispell.

A tribal recreation pass is needed to access the southern half of the lake, but Montana Fish & Wildlife maintains a number of recreation sites on the other half of the lake—some of which allow for tent camping. Visitors tend to go boating, fishing, and swimming, and pontoon boats are available to rent.

On Flathead Lake, you can also visit Wild Horse Island, which is home to – not surprisingly- wild horses along with bighorn sheep and other wildlife. You can also get excellent views around the lake.

For something smaller, consider visiting nearby Swan Lake and, for more iconic wildlife, consider driving a bit further from Flathead Lake to the CSKT Bison Range where you can see bison roaming in the prairie.

Flathead Lake

Whitefish Mountain Resort

If you’re visiting Montana during the winter months, Whitefish Mountain Resort (also known simply as Big Mountain) is renowned for getting some of the best snowfall totals of all the Montana ski resorts.

Eleven chairlifts service the mountain, meaning that the already sparse crowds can disperse, and the glades, groomers, and powder-stashed runs often feel downright secluded. If you’re only planning a 5-day Montana itinerary, this is the best place to end your trip.

Where to Stay Near Kalispell

The Ridge at Glacier – If you’re looking for a rustic but plush place to stay close to Kalispell, Whitefish and Glacier NP, then these luxury cabins are a great option. There are a range of cabins to choose from that can suit all kinds of visitors.

Under Canvas Glacier – Glamping is another great option for your visit, and this place located near Kalispell is a good choice if this is an accommodation that intrigues you. Well located close to all the area has to offer, there are a number of safari-style canvas tents to choose from and plenty of great amenities to ensure you have a great stay.

Private Rental – A private vacation rental is one of the best options in Kalispell or near the national park. You’re sure to find something that suits your travel style and budget and a place like this historic home in Kalispell or this mountain view cabin within the Park are just some of countless options.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Kalispell!

Beautiful Glacier National Park

Day 6 – Butte

World museum of mining.

If you’re not proceeding north from the Missoula area toward Glacier NP, then looping back to Butte after having driven the length of the Bitterroot Valley could be a good option. The World Museum of Mining, known for its witty and informative tour guides, is perfect for anyone looking for a short diversion.

Copper King Mansion

The Copper King can double as an option for lodgings, as there’s a year-round bed & breakfast available, but it’s also worth working into any Montana vacation itinerary simply for its remarkable Victorian-era architecture. If you stay here for a night, be sure to book one of the guided tours to learn about the building’s history that dates back to the early days of Butte.

Day 7 – Glacier National Park

Avalanche lake.

If your final destination on your visit to Montana is the Glacier National Park area, then it’s hard to find a better day hike than the Avalanche Lake Trail.

Other hikes such as the Highline Trail might offer more in the way of views stretching out as far as the eye can see, but Avalanche Lake strikes a nice balance as a moderate hike of about five miles in total. This glacial cirque is full of healthy pines and features some memorable waterfall views.

Avalanche Lake

Logan Pass Visitor Center

Even if you’re not looking to get out of the car and venture into the backcountry, a visit to Glacier isn’t complete without stopping in the Logan Pass Visitor Center, which rests at the highest point of the Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.

You’ll get great information and an opportunity to use facilities here before driving on to other iconic Glacier NP destinations like Wild Goose Island.

Have More Time?

Book a guided float fishing trip.

Montana’s popular angling ideal of “A River Runs Through It” is definitely accurate in its portrayal of fly fishing culture as gospel in the state of Montana.

Rivers like the Blackfoot (featured in the Norman McLean novel and the movie it inspired starring Brad Pitt), the Madison, the Missouri, the Gallatin, and the Bighorn are excellent options for booking a guided float fishing trip.

Lodges and outfitters like renowned angler and fly-tier Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn have experienced guides ready to take clients out in search of wild trout practically year-round.

Head south toward Yellowstone by way of Big Sky

If you’re not planning a trip to Montana that trends toward the northwestern part of the state, then you can always veer south toward the town of Big Sky and Yellowstone National Park.

This area is known for outstanding downhill skiing and mountain biking, so outdoor adventurers will find it worth spending a day here on their way to Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Montana’s many natural areas, its abundance of wildlife, and its classic mountain towns make it another Rocky Mountain state that’s perfect for road-trippers. No matter how you structure your 5 to 7-day Montana itinerary, the Treasure State has something for travelers of all kinds.

Are you planning to visit Montana? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!

colorado montana road trip

Related Posts:

Beautiful Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park

10 Best Stops on a Denver to Montana Road Trip

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

10 Best Stops on a Seattle to Yellowstone Road Trip

Morning Glory Hot Spring in Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone vs Grand Teton: Which National Park to Visit?

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About Duncan McHenry

Duncan is a writer for The World Was Here First. He lives in Colorado and also works as a fly fishing guide and instructor when not editing or writing. He has spent time in Costa Rica and has made numerous trips exploring the Western states of the Rocky Mountains.

Wow, you completely left out a day to visit Kootenai Falls west of Libby, just east of Troy. It’s a 2 hour drive West on Highway 2 from Kalispell. McGregor Lake, Thompson Lakes Upper, Middle and Lower, Happy’s Inn is 1/2 way. Kootenai Falls is where they filmed the waterfall scenes in The River Wild and The Revenant. There is a swinging bridge over the Kootenai River just west of the falls. A trip a few miles south gets you to Bull Lake where the movie Always was filmed and just a couple miles from there are the Ross Creek Cedars. The Kootenai River is a blue ribbon trout fishery with summertime opportunities for paddle boarding or just floating on a tube or Kayak. Seventeen miles north of Libby is Libby Dam which is I believe the 3rd or 4th largest dam in the U.S.A. You can get in all of this within a days time.

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Montana Road Trip: 10-Day Itinerary + Stops to Make

This guide contains affiliate links to trusted partners.

Looking for information for your Montana road trip?

I’m often asked about the best way to see my home state of Montana and what to do on a Montana road trip. As it becomes more and more popular to tourists, I’ve had to think about how to hit all the highlights in the best way possible including the Montana national parks . There’s a lot to see in this state (it’s the fourth-largest), so trying to get it done within a few days can be overwhelming if you aren’t sure the best way to go about it.

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Montana road trip: FAQs

This guide has everything you need in order to enjoy a road trip in Montana!

How do I get to Montana?

There are several ways to get to the Treasure State. Here are the main ways that visitors tend to get to arrive.

Flying to Montana

When flying into Montana, you’ll have a number of options for airports. This Montana road trip itinerary starts in Billings, but you can fly into any airport if you want to change it around a bit and see what works best for you. (You can also complete the itinerary in reverse if you would like.) Many major airlines fly into Montana like United, Delta, Alaska, and more.

Here are some of the major airports in Montana:

  • Billings Logan International Airport
  • Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
  • Missoula International Airport
  • Glacier Park International Airport

Taking Amtrak to Montana

Amtrak operates from one end of the state and offers several stops along the way. The most common line you’ll take is the Empire Builder line, which offers sleeper cars and an observation car–it’s a beautiful way to experience Glacier National Park! Here are some of the main Amtrak train stations in Montana:

  • West Glacier
  • East Glacier
  • Whitefish 

When is the best time to visit Montana?

The weather in Montana is variable, and expect it to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. There is a pretty limited window in which you can visit, and you’ll want to bring a variety of clothing in order to stay warm during the hot summer days and cool nights.

I recommend visiting in late August/early September. Not only will most of the tourists have disappeared, but you can also avoid some of the blazing forest fires that take over the state in the height of summer. Do be warned by late September some of the facilities in the national parks might be closed, but you do get to see some beautiful fall foliage, as well.

Renting a car for a Montana road trip

There’s no question that you will need a car. Renting one is pretty straightforward, and you can do it within a few minutes (or online) at whatever airport you fly into. Depending on your age and what kind of car you choose, you can usually find options for $100 or so a day. 

⭐ BOOK YOUR RENTAL CAR FOR MONTANA HERE ⭐

colorado montana road trip

Where to stay on a road trip through Montana

You’ll also need to factor in whether or not you will need to have hotel rooms or if you are planning on camping. Camping might require booking spots well in advance if you are headed to national parks or state parks during the high season (May to September). KOA Campgrounds usually has some deals for a single car and tent at around $25 or $30 a night.

Staying within the national parks is highly recommended if you can, but you usually need to book almost half a year in advance. You may want to consider camping in Glacier National Park or camping in Yellowstone National Park .

Hotels are a bit more expensive but can be welcome if you are spending hours in the car (which you will be). You can usually find some roadside options for around $160 a night.

Here’s how you can make the most of your Montana road trip. You can also do this road trip in reverse!

colorado montana road trip

Montana road trip itinerary: 10-day itinerary

Here’s everything you need to know when heading out on your Montana road trip and visiting some of the best cities in Montana !

Map of Montana

Day 1: Billings, MT

Billings is the largest “city” in the state, but you’re probably not here for the city life! I recommend taking a day hike to the Rimrocks—formations of limestone that have been eroded by the wind of the prairies.

You might also want to visit Moss Mansion , which has some decadent furnishings from the early 1900s and is one of the best things to do in Billings . It’s a testament to the amount of wealth some families were able to accumulate after the copper and Yogo sapphire boom.

Where to stay in Billings

You usually have two options for places to stay in Billings. You can stay a little outside of town in order to get some better deals, or you stay in the downtown area and have easy access to the restaurants and bars. Either way, it will mostly be based on your budget. The hotels in Billings aren’t that expensive, but they can add up over the course of your trip.

Ledgestone Hotel

4863 King Ave E

+1 406 259 9454

This hotel is clean and offers all the amenities you would expect from a higher-class hotel for a reasonable price. It’s very clean and has a great staff, as well as a location right next to the Yellowstone Art Museum that is worth checking out when you get the chance.

⭐ BOOK LEDGESTONE HOTEL HERE ⭐

Northern Hotel

19 N Broadway

+1 406 867 6767

In Montana, it’s not abnormal to find a four-star hotel for around the price of $160 a night. If you are willing to splurge a little, this hotel is gorgeous and offers easy access to Billings’ downtown area. You get a rustic feel without the pretentious attitude that normally comes with a hotel of this caliber.

⭐ BOOK NORTHERN HOTEL HERE ⭐

Best Western Plus Clocktower Inn

2511 1st Ave N

+1 406 259 5511

It’s rare that you can get around by walking in Montana, but this hotel puts you within easy access to everything there is to see in Billings. You’re also right near most of the best restaurants within the city, and rooms are spacious and beds are soft. You don’t need much more than that!

⭐BOOK BEST WESTERN PLUS CLOCKTOWER INN⭐

Where to eat in Billings

Montana’s food scene is exploding, and Billings is one of the best places to explore it. The downtown area is the best place to pull up a table and get a feel for the area’s changing culinary vibes. The restaurants in Billings are some of the most vibrant in the state.

The Fieldhouse

2601 Minnesota Ave

+1 406 534 2556

As any local where they would recommend you go in order to get a true taste of Montana, and they will tell you to head to The Fieldhouse. It’s hard to pick just one dish worth tasting here, but the king salmon is a crowd-stopper, as well as the burgers.

Bistro Enzo

1502 Rehberg Ln

+1 406 651 0999

Moroccan-inspired food in Montana? That’s right–Bistro Enzo combines multiple flavors along with American classics in order to make up some of its fabulous dishes. It is only available for dinner, but it’s worth waiting the rest of the day for the beer selection and the amazing pasta.

2515 Montana Ave

+1 406 969 4959

Treat yourself at Lilac, Billings’ sustainable and posh restaurant designed to bring a bit of style to rustic Montana. The service is incredible here, as well as the details that go into making your food taste great. The best part? Everything here is made from local farms.

Day 2: Bozeman

Driving time from Billings to Bozeman: 2 hours and 6 minutes

After a two-hour drive, you’ll head west to Bozeman. It’s now a college town and home to a number of cool shops, breweries, and nature. For some culture, check out the highly-rated Museum of the Rockies . It’s home to an amazing dinosaur collection and occasionally gets traveling exhibits from New York and Chicago.

Bozeman is also a haven for nature-lovers, and if you have the time, it’s worth checking out the Palisade Falls. It’s a short hike through Hyalite Canyon that offers some beautiful opportunities for photos.

Where to stay in Bozeman

When in Bozeman, you’re likely going to want to stay downtown in order to experience the lively bar scene and to have a chance to check out some of the local shops. There are plenty of hotels in this area that cater to visitors at any price range. Be warned that Bozeman hotels fill up fast during the summer months, so you’ll want to book pretty far in advance.

The Hampton Inn Bozeman

75 Baxter Ln

+1 406 522 8000

This solid, three-star hotel offers a lot for a reasonable price tag. Located close to the Museum of the Rockies, this spot has large rooms and a friendly staff that’s happy to answer any of your questions. You also have easy access to the main drag of bars and restaurants.

Best Western Plus GranTree Inn

1325 N 7th Ave

+1 406 587 5261

If only all four-star hotels cost around $100! The GranTree Inn has a pool and restaurant worth checking out when you have the time, and you also can get around downtown Bozeman easily. If you’re feeling lazy, the food at the restaurant is also quite good, as well.

Country Inn and Suites by Radisson

5997 E Valley Center Rd

+1 406 586 2230

While you might want something a little closer to the downtown depending on what you are planning on doing in your free time, this hotel also offers plenty of amenities to help you feel at home. A pool, gym, and quality breakfast are all available at the Country Inn.

Where to eat in Bozeman

In Montana, there are three cities where you can really explore the exciting culinary innovations that are going on in the state. Bozeman is one of them. If you’re looking for new twists on old favorites, the Bozeman downtown is the place for you. The restaurants in Bozeman cater to both college students and ski bums, so they also aren’t crazy expensive either.

140 E Main St

+1 406 586 0010

Home to new versions of Italian classics, this spot is one of this small city’s favorite spots. It might even be one of the best places to get wood-fired, classic style pizza in the state. Make sure to call ahead for reservations since they only serve dinner and it can get a bit crowded.

South 9th Bistro

721 S 9th Ave

+1 406 404 1244

Located in a renovated Victorian mansion, South 9th has a number of different items on the menu of note. A few favorites include the Black Truffle Mushroom Risotto and the Steak au Poivre. This is another spot where reservations are highly recommended since it tends to be a favorite for both out-of-towners and locals alike.

Western Cafe

443 E Main St

+1 406 587 0436

If you want to experience Montana-style cooking, then the Western Cafe pares things down to just delicious food and great service. Homestyle dishes and unlimited coffee refills make this a great place to hit before you head out on your next adventure.

montana road trip

Day 3: Yellowstone National Park

Driving time from Bozeman to Yellowstone National Park: 1 hour and 22 minutes

It is possible to see most of Yellowstone in one day, however, if you are making the drive to the park from Bozeman, you will have to get up fairly early to avoid lines and finish the loop around the park. Yellowstone is huge—3,468 square miles, in fact. This is why I recommend staying for two days in order to really appreciate the area.

It costs $35 to enter Yellowstone for seven days, but you can also purchase a National Park Pass at $70 that allows you unlimited access to all of America’s national parks for a year. It’s a much better deal in my opinion!

There are a number of highlights you will want to see, including Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and Artist Point. These are all located pretty far away from one another, and you’ll also want to be able to take time for hiking in Yellowstone National Park .

montana road trip

Start out in West Yellowstone first, then make the drive to some of the geothermal wonders that made it the first national park. Be careful not to step off the boardwalks—you’ll be burned! Check out some of the crowd-favorite paint pots and the Grand Prismatic Spring. There’s also a short hike up the nearby mountain for some amazing snaps.

Then head to Yellowstone Lake, where you can stop by and enjoy a picnic or dip your toes in the water. Old Faithful is just around the corner, and there’s a great visitor center you can check out while waiting for it to blow.

Finally, finish off the day with a trip to the Hayden Valley for a chance to see some bison, elk, and maybe a wolf or grizzly bear.

montana road trip

Day 4: Yellowstone National Park

Start out the day at Artist Point, where you can get a view of the country’s largest undammed river and see why the park has its name. The Canyon is 20 miles long and offers some short hikes that lead to some stunning views.

In the afternoon, head north to Mammoth Springs, where you can see terraces of stone shaped by the calcium in the water. You might also be able to spot some elk—they like to congregate around this area for the warmth.

Where to stay near Yellowstone National Park

Much of where you will want to stay when you are at Yellowstone will depend if you are looking to camp and whether or not you want to be located inside the park itself. These hotels are a few miles away, but if you want some camping options, check out my more comprehensive guide with my Yellowstone National Park itinerary . The best hotels in Yellowstone National Park can be pricey, so staying a little bit away can save you quite a bit of money.

Old Faithful Inn

3200 Old Faithful Inn Rd

+ 307 344 7311

Dating back to 1903, this hotel has plenty of history, a friendly staff, and a great breakfast. Most of all, it allows you easy access to the main parts of the park. When in doubt of places to eat, the restaurant here is great–curl up next to the giant fireplace with a beer in hand.

459 Lake Village Rd

+1 307 344 7311

Built to accommodate the influx of visitors coming to the park in the early part of the 20th century, this hotel is a great option for families located right on Yellowstone Lake. Make sure to book in advance since this place tends to fill up quickly due to its affordable prices and locality.

Park Hotel Yellowstone

107 Main St, Gardiner

+1 406 223 7007

Want to get vintage? This hotel offers rooms featuring Montana’s western heritage. The building itself was built in 1902, and its location in Gardiner gives you more access to food options than other location within the park. If you feel like going full out wild west, this is the spot to do it.

Where to eat near Yellowstone National Park

The dining options you are going to find within the park might not be the absolute best, but they are certainly convenient and make it simple for you to eat heartily before you start exploring Yellowstone again the next day.

Grant Village Lake House Restaurant

1095 Grant Marina Rd

Located right on the water, this spot offers some basic food options with a beautiful view. It can get crowded during the high season so you might want to arrive right around opening hours (5:00 pm) or call for a reservation early in advance.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room

2 Old Faithful Rd

+1 307 3447311

Prices are a little high for what you get at this restaurant, but you are located right in the park itself and have a chance to see some beautiful reviews. It’s also one of the only restaurants in the area that offers vegan dishes. Breakfast portions are large and you can head straight to the park’s attractions from its location.

Day 5: Lewis and Clark Caverns

Heading away from the park, you have a short drive to the Lewis and Clark Caverns . Lewis and Clark didn’t actually visit, but passed right by. These caverns are estimated to be around 365 million years old, and they were developed for tours in the early 1900s. Make sure to bring your sweatshirt—it gets cold inside the caverns! You might also want to check out the 10 miles of hiking trails the park has to offer and absolutely worth putting on your Montana road trip.

Entry costs $6 and it is possible to camp overnight there, though you might want to choose to stay at nearby Whitehall for the night.

Where to stay in Whitehall

There is really only option

Rodeway Inn

515 N Whitehall St

+1 406 287 5588

You really only have one choice when it comes to where you want to stay in Whitehall. However, this spot has surprisingly clean rooms (also, extremely large) and serves as a spot to lay your head after a day of exploring.

colorado montana road trip

Day 6—Butte and Missoula

Driving time from Yellowstone National Park to Butte: 2 hours and 27 minutes

Driving time from Butte to Missoula: 1 hour and 47 minutes

Butte offers some fun history and a giant pit of doom. Once the world’s largest mine for copper, the town now continues to dwindle in size. However, it’s worth a quick stop to check out the Chinatown and eat the local delicacy of the pasty (also featured on Anthony Bourdain). You should only need to spend an afternoon here, but it’s definitely worth taking some time out to see where much of Montana’s history took place and check out some of the best things to do in Butte .

Once you reach “the Zoo,” the best things to do in Missoula is walk around the downtown and get a feel for its quirky vibe from the multitude of breweries and funky restaurants.

Where to eat in Butte

You can’t go to Butte without checking out the infamous pasties on your Montana road trip that took over this area during the mining boom. Surprisingly, you’ll find a mix of options including Italian, Chinese, and all-American. I personally loved spending a little more time in this mining town than some might, and you’d be surprised at the number of restaurants in Butte .

Gamer’s Cafe

15 W Park St

+1 406 723 5453

Located right downtown, this classic diner has everything you need in order to enjoy a hearty meal before you get back on the road. It’s also the ideal place to enjoy Butte’s claim to fame–the pasty. Affordable and with a great staff, you’ve reached Butte, America right here.

Sparky’s Garage

222 E Park St

+1 406 782 2301

You can’t get any more Americana than this diner. Burgers, BBQ, and ice-cold beer is served up Sparky’s along with a Montana smile. If you’re brave, try the cheese curds and commit to some of the fried foods.

After an afternoon in Butte, head to Missoula for the evening. Another college town, there’s a lively brewery scene and some kooky shops for souvenirs. In the summer, you can also find a number of concerts available featuring well-known names.

Where to stay in Missoula

There are a number of decent hotels in Missoula , but keep in mind that it might be a bit more expensive than other Montana cities. Regardless, you can still find some decent hotel options for affordable prices.

Courtyard by Marriott

4559 N Reserve St

+1 406 549 5260

Located by the airport and offering a free shuttle, the Courtyard is a perfectly respectable hotel with clean rooms, a free breakfast, and a pool where you can relax after a long day in the car. It is located a bit from the downtown, which is good to keep in mind if you want to be near the action.

Staybridge Suites

120 Expressway

+1 406 830 3900

This suite-based hotel offers reasonable prices and a delicious breakfast in the morning. With comfy beds and a laidback style, it’s a nice place to rest with free parking and a pool. It’s a great spot for families with plenty of space, as well.

Holiday Inn

200 S Pattee St

+1 406 721 8550

Located right downtown, you’re near all the bars, restaurants, and events going on in Missoula. You’ve also get easy parking and a free breakfast. For those looking to check out a concert at the Wilma, you’ve got an easy walk back to your hotel and a soft bed to look forward to.

Where to eat in Missoula

Missoula is Montana’s fastest-growing town and there’s a lot to see and do here in an evening–you can’t miss Missoula on your Montana road trip! The town comes alive at night when the college kids head out to party and bars and Missoula restaurants are open late.

The Shack Cafe

222 W Main St

+1 406 549 9903

Surrounded by delightful antiques and offering some fun food options like huckleberry pancakes, the Shack has been around for decades. You’ll also find plenty of vegan and veggies dishes, along with great service and a fun environment. Prices are reasonable, as well.

Paul’s Pancake Parlor

2305 Brooks St

+1 406 728 9071

Paul’s has been a favorite for college students for years. Cheap, delicious, and unpretentious, you’ve got everything you need to start your day (or afternoon–lunch is served here too) right. Arrive early in order to beat the rush of hungover students on weekends.

Laughing Grizzly

2300 W Broadway St

+1 (406) 926-3375

For a Southwest vibe in a northern state, you can’t beat Laughing Grizzly. Burgers and American staples are the best things to order here, along with a healthy side of fries. Whether you are looking for a cheap meal or a spot that makes you feel like home, you’ve got it here.

Day 7—Polson and Whitefish

Driving time from Missoula to Polson: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Driving time from Polson to Whitefish: 1 hour and 14 minutes

With an early start, you’ll enjoy a drive near the Mission Mountains (my favorite mountain range in Montana and a great thing to pass on your Montana road trip) and Flathead Lake. It’s the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, and it offers a boater’s and water enthusiast’s heaven–it’s no question that it’s one of the best lakes in Montana . My family has a lake house there, and some of my fondest memories are sitting on the dock and boating.

Polson is a charming village where you can grab some lunch and enjoy some lake views on your way to Whitefish. Once you arrive, make the trip downtown for some amazing food options and plenty of local brewhouses.

Where to eat in Polson

Polson is a small, quaint little town on the water, but it does have a number of good spots to offer lunch on your way into the Flathead Valley.

Lake City Bakery and Eatery

49493 US-93

+1 406 883 5667

Fast service and homestyle food make this the perfect place to stop on your way around the lake. If you can, stop on a Friday to order one of their famous bread bowl soups–it’s a local favorite. Other items on the menu are perfectly tasty too.

Cove Deli and Pizza

11 3rd Ave W

+1 406 883 0434

This nautical-themed pizza joint is worth stopping for just for the atmosphere. Inside, you’ll find hand-tossed pies and delicious ice cream available for dessert. If you’re toting your kids along for the ride, this is one place that they won’t stop talking about long after you’ve left.

Where to stay in Whitefish

Whitefish is one of the poshest areas of Montana, so it seems only right that their hotels are equally as snazzy. Be prepared to spend a little more here than you might in other towns. Places to stay in Whitefish can book fast so make sure to get it settled as soon as you can.

650 E 3rd St

+1 406 863 1900

This brand-new hotel located in the heart of Whitefish boasts some beautiful rooms and access to the best restaurants in the area. They also have a great restaurant for small plates and a large wine selection, meaning you don’t have to journey far in order to have a great culinary experience, as well.

Grouse Mountain Lodge

2 Fairway Dr

+1 406 862 3000

While a little bit fancier than most millennials will go for, Grouse Mountain is worth considering for its spectacular decor and rustic appeal. Breakfast is hearty and the grounds are perfect for an afternoon or evening stroll in the summer. Make sure you book early since this spot fills up fast.

The Pine Lodge

920 Spokane Ave

+1 (406) 204-4519

This perfectly respectable, newly-renovated two-star hotel is great for its access to downtown Whitefish. It also has an excellent outdoor pool and is plenty affordable for those who are trying to save a little cash on their road trip.

Where to eat in Whitefish

Where to eat in Whitefish? That is the question. This small town has ballooned with amazing restaurants and choosing which one to sit down at can be a challenge. Hopefully these narrow down your Whitefish restaurants options a bit.

Latitude 48

147 Central Ave

+1 406 863 2323

Nothing is cheap in Whitefish, but Latitude 48 balances fine dining with reasonable prices. When in doubt, order a number of different appetizers for a variety of flavors. That way, you get to sample this delicious Mediterranean fare without having to settle on one item.

Craggy Range Bar and Grill

10 Central Ave

+1 406 862 7550

Located in the heart of Whitefish, this spot comes alive at night with live music, great brews, and mouth-watering dishes. Make sure to call for a reservation in advance since it tends to be a busy spot in the summer months for tourists and locals alike. Hint: any of their meat dishes are worth a bite.

Day 8—Whitefish

Whitefish is a popular destination choice for celebrities, and it’s easy to see why. I recommend heading up to the Whitefish Mountain Resort for some fun activities, including zip lining, mountain biking, and more. You can also take the ski lift or gondola up to the top of Big Mountain to see into Glacier National Park.

In the summer, Whitefish also offers a lively theater scene. You might look into getting tickets for a show performed by former Broadway stars.

montana road trip

Day 9—Glacier National Park

Driving time from Whitefish to Glacier National Park: 34 minutes

Glacier National Park requires reservations for the 2023 season. To find out more, head to my guide on  Glacier National Park reservations  so you know how to get them and you’re prepared before you go!

Of course, my favorite area of Montana is “the Park.” There’s no way you can miss it on a Montana road trip! Growing up there was amazing, and it fueled my sense of adventure that would follow me into adulthood. You could spend a lifetime there and still miss something, but if you are short on time, you can still see the highlights in a day on a truncated Glacier National Park itinerary .

The cost to enter Glacier National Park is the same as Yellowstone at $35. Again, this is why I recommend the park pass! You’ll also want to get up fairly early to avoid lines at the entrance and to get parking spaces at some of the more popular hiking trails.

montana road trip

For some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park , I recommend either Avalanche Lake trail or the Highline. Both offer great rewards for an easy walk, and they also allow you to explore the rest of the park on the same day. Hurry up to Logan Pass if you would like to find a parking spot for the Highline.

You also can’t miss the stunning Going-to-the-Sun Road and it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park . Built by workers commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt for his New Deal, it’s still an impressive work of infrastructure. It’s also a little harrowing—so hopefully you aren’t afraid of heights!

Where to stay near Glacier National Park

If you can, it’s always great to stay in a national park. Whether you choose to camp or book a room, you’ll want to make sure that you do so far enough in advance so you get the permit or the lodging you want. While I loved staying at Under Canvas Glacier , there are several other places worth taking a look at if you’re looking at places to stay near Glacier National Park .

Granite Park Chalet

+1 855 733 4522

You know you’re out in the middle of nowhere when your hotel doesn’t have a proper address. You’ll have to go backcountry to get to this spot, so don your hiking boots and get ready to work for your room and board. The views are incredible, and if you can land a stay at this hotel, you’re in for a treat.

Rising Sun Motor Inn

Going-to-the-Sun Road

For those who want to stay in the park for a few days, the Rising Sun Motor Inn offers clean sheets and a place to relax when you are over on the east side of the park. This is another spot you’ll want to book far enough in advance since it tends to be a favorite among hikers.

Lake McDonald Lodge

288 Lake McDonald Lodge Loop

Another spot that is nice if you can get it is the historic Lake McDonald Lodge . Built in the first days of the park in the 1930s, you have access to Lake McDonald , a place to dine, and a rustic feel. Its best perk is the roaring fireplace where you can sit and relax after a long day of exploring Montana’s nature.

Where to eat near Glacier National Park

You have some limited options inside the park itself, but there are a few West Glacier restaurants that serve good, homestyle food.

West Glacier Village

190 Going-to-the-Sun Rd

+1 406 888 5359

This is one of the few restaurants within the park worth checking out. You have very basic dishes here, but it serves as a good way to eat up before your hike. The bar is also a favorite among locals and they have a number of beers on tap for you to try after a day of sightseeing.

Belton Grill

+1 406 888 5000

Hidden away from the main drag is the Belton Chalet, where you can find some fine dining right outside the park. This historic lodge (built in 1910) was one of the first structures to house tourists traveling on the Great Northern Railway. Now, it has a restaurant created to honor that past.

Been on a Montana road trip? Have any tips for those headed there this summer?

Like this post? Save it for later!

montana road trip

Want more information on Montana? Check out these articles:

  • The Ultimate Glacier National Park Itinerary
  • The Ultimate 3-Day Yellowstone National Park Itinerary
  • Camping in Montana: Staying at Under Canvas Glacier

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Alex is the founder of Alex on the Map, a site devoted to national park guides, hiking, climbing, and enjoying your outdoor adventures. After growing up near Glacier National Park in Montana, Alex now spends summers in the American West hitting up the trail with her husband and dog.

Her work has been featured in Fodor's, the Huffington Post, Bustle, and many more. She has also been featured in publications such as The Washington Post, CNN, and USA Today.

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Montana Wyoming road trip – 6 day travel guide

colorado montana road trip

We packed our bags, loaded up the kid, the pup, and started our Montana Wyoming road trip early on Friday this past Labor Day weekend.

From Colorado, we drove through Wyoming, then visited Glacier National Park in Montana. On our way back, we drove through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And concluded the trip at home in Colorado.

Here is our 6-day road trip guide for your next Montana family vacations, including our suggestions for what to see in Montana, and in Wyoming. And where we stayed (mixed hotel and camping spots), and picture guide for each location.

colorado montana road trip

On map above:

  • A – Hotel for the night 1 – Townplace Suites Billings (Billings, Montana)
  • B – Camp site for night 2 – Big Larch Campground in Montana
  • C – Camp site for night 3 – Lost Johnny Point Campground in Montana
  • D – Glacier National Park in Montana – Logan Pass
  • E – Hotel for night 4 – SpringHill Suites By Marriot Island Park Yellowstone (Island Park, Idaho). Where my location was, at the time I took the screenshot of the route
  • F – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • G – Home – Denver, Colorado

Our 6-day Montana and Wyoming road trip timeline from Colorado

There are so many ways to explore Montana, and Wyoming, specifically Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. This is one way that we did, starting from Denver, Colorado.

Day 1 – Driving 8.5h from Denver, CO to Billings, MT

We started driving from Denver, Colorado around noon on Friday.

We made it to Billings, Montana late evening. It’s about an 8.5h drive from Denver. We stayed at Townplace Suites Billings for the night.

Day 2 – Driving 5h and setting up camp near Seeley Lake, MT

We had breakfast at the hotel, and did some shopping in Billings in the morning. Then we started heading towards the north-western part of Montana.

If you decide to go camping in Montana (or anywhere), I recommend finding a campground and setting up camp in the afternoon as soon as the check-in time allows. This gives you plenty of time to set up, pay the fee, find firewood, and get all your camping gear situated. Ideally, you want to do all of this before the sun goes down and the temperature drops. We were in a little bit of a rush trying to find an available campsite, but luckily were able to get set up before there was no more sunlight.

Day 3 – Glacier National Park and camping in Hungry Horse, MT

We packed up in the morning, and headed back to Seeley Lake town for coffee and breakfast. It’s just a quick drive back into town and I needed before the big day, so it’s worth the detour! We started driving north again towards West Glacier National Park for the day.

Before hitting the actual Glacier National Park, we wanted to find a spot for camping and set up the tent first, so we could just come “home” to a nicely set up tent in the evening.

If you can find a camp site inside of Glacier National Park, some suggested campgrounds are Apgar Village and Two Medicine . However, we knew to not even try during the busy holiday weekend.

We decided to find something close by instead. So we ended up passing Hungry Horse Dam, and found our spot at Lost Johnny Point Campground .

Now that our “home” for the night is set up and situated, we headed for West Glacier National Park at around 430pm, perfect timing to hit all the scenic spots at sunset. The rest of the evening was spent in Glacier National Park, sight seeing and exploring the park.

Day 4 – Driving 6h from Hungry Horse, MT to Island Park, ID

We are now on the second half of our trip, but we have big plans to hit one more national park to visit before heading back home. And you guessed it, we’re heading south towards Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. But the hotel we booked was in Island Park, ID. So most of day 4 was spent driving to from Hungry Horse to the next hotel in Island Park, ID.

We stayed at Springhill Suites By Marriot . A hot shower at the hotel after 2 nights camping was in order. We had dinner at Cafe Sabor just across the river from the hotel and it was such a lovely evening.

D ay 5 – Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton National Park

Today is the big day for visiting the national parks in Wyoming! Driving from Island Park, ID, we headed to West Yellowstone. We drove by West Thumb, and decided to stop to see the Old Faithful Geyser. We took our time driving through the park, snapped pictures, and stopped to see buffalos crossing the street.

After that, we drove into Grand Teton National Park. Here, not too many pictures were taken because the view was obstructed by smoke from the forest fires on the day we visited. I could somewhat make out the mountain views, but on camera, it doesn’t show.

After the Teton range, we visited Jackson Hole, WY for a quick lunch. My husband also wanted to stop at a spot just outside of the town to visit with a friend and go fishing.

Our last hotel on this trip was in Green River, Wyoming. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Green River for the night.

Day 6 – Driving 5.5h home from Green River, WY to Denver, CO

The title says it all. We took some time on our last day to wake up, have breakfast at the hotel. And headed home.

We got to Denver at a decent hour in the afternoon. I still had time to unpack, do laundry and prepare to settle back into our usual routine.

And that concludes our 6-day road trip.

What to see in Montana – locations that you can get to by car

We were able to visit the below Montana vacation spots by car. We had limited amount of time spent here, so we drove through these places and stopped for pictures or very short sight-seeing hikes. If we have an opportunity to come back, there are tons of other fun activities for the whole family that we’d like to do. Maybe that’s for another trip (and another blog post) later.

Glacier National Park paper map, visitor guide

These are some of the must see in Montana. We highly recommend if you visit to check out:

Lake Alva, Montana and other lakes along highway US-83

There are multiple lakes along highway US-83. I recommend checking out Seeley Lake, Lake Inez, and Lake Alva. These photos below were taken at Lake Alva.

If you have a state park pass, or would like to check out Salmon State Park for the day, that’s another beautiful option along this highway just right after the turn from Highway US-200.

Lake Alva, Montana

Lake McDonald – Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald is inside Glacier National Park. It’s the first thing you will see after you enter the park via the West Entrance Station. The lake is huge, you can walk down to the shore, go for a stroll, and take in the breath taking views.

If you keep driving up the road a little, you will see many water falls, as well as cascades. We stopped at Sacred Dancing Cascade, for sure one of the popular spots. Pictures to follow below.

Lake McDonald Glacier National Park

Going-to-the-Sun Rd

I highly recommend going through Glacier National Park via this scenic drive. The road is called Going-to-the-Sun Rd. This path takes you to the entrance of Glacier National Park, and to Lake McDonald. If you follow the road, you will also see some of the most beautiful mountain and valley views you’ve ever seen. There are many pull-outs on the sides of the road for you to park, come out and enjoy the views. Be sure to safely pull over, look both ways before crossing the road, and respect park rules and other park patrons.

Here are various photos along Going-to-the-Sun Rd in Glacier National Park (I changed outfits for blog outfit photoshoots, but this was all in one drive):

colorado montana road trip

Logan Pass – Glacier National Park

We made it to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Unfortunately we were reaching the end of the day by the time we made it here, so we turned around after this. The view here was spectacular. We wish we could have kept going further up into Glacier National Park. Maybe next time!

Some photos of Logan Pass:

Logan Pass - Glacier National Park

What to see in western Wyoming on a road trip

Old faithful geyser – yellowstone national park.

This is one of the most famous attractions known to Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful is one geyser (of the nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone) that erupts hot water from the ground into the air. The name Old Faithful is because it has not been common to be able to predict the eruption schedule of a geyser, but this one has lived up to its name.

When we were there, park rangers predicted the time of eruption time down to the minute, and we were able to catch a seat and watch the whole thing. It’s such a cool experience, and highly recommended.

Old Faithful Geyser sign

Lewis Lake – Yellowstone National Park

Heading south on Highway US-191, passed Old Faithful Geyser you will see Lewis Lake and its river running alongside the road.

Lewis lake, Wyoming

Our hotel and camping spots recommendations

We stayed a total of 5 nights on the trip, with a mix of hotels and camp spots located in various spots of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Night 1 – Townplace Suites Billings (Billings, Montana)

There are tons of hotels in Billings to pick from. Townplace Suites Billings is pet-friendly with a pet fee of $50 and there’s no pet weight restrictions. Their check out time is 12PM, amazing should we need to check out late. They also offer complimentary breakfast up till 10AM which is convenient when you’re on the road and need to get going quickly, so we went with this hotel.

Night 2 – Big Larch Campground (near Seeley Lake, Montana)

Big Larch Campground is about 5.5h driving from Billings, MT. Site fee was $20/night.

We actually weren’t sure where we were going to set up camp, we just know in the general direction, more north and more west from where we were of the state.

We asked a local what they’d suggest a good camping spot. Clearwater, Montana was the recommended spot. Once we got to Clearwater, we took US-83 North.

There are various camp grounds along the highway right after the turn. We were not able to find any vacancy due to busy Labor Day weekend here. But luckily Big Larch Campground further up the road, right after we passed Seeley Lake, had a few vacant camp sites.

This campground is close enough to the town, I had cell service while in my tent. It’s not a bad idea when you want to send friends and family beautiful pics of your trip. The campsite fee was $20 here (the fees may change, so this is meant to be a reference, not an exact number).

Big Larch Campground near Seeley Lake, Montana

  • Nearby suggestions for campgrounds: Salmon Lake State Park Campground
  • Nearby suggestions for hotels: The Lodges on Seeley Lake , Double Arrow Lodge , and further distance but beautiful luxury resort The Resort at Paws Up

Night 3 – Lost Johnny Point Campground.

This campground Lost Johnny Point is only a 2h drive from Big Larch Campground. Site fee was $18 here.

From Highway US-2, take a turn onto West Side Road / NF-895. There are several campgrounds along this road. Lost Johnny Point Campground was ~20 minutes (10 miles) from the turn.

Photos of our camp setup at Lost Johnny Point:

colorado montana road trip

  • Nearby suggestions for similar campgrounds: Doris Creek Campground , Lost Johnny Campground (to be different from Lost Johnny Point Campground where we stayed, they’re close by each other)
  • Nearby suggestions for hotels: Silverwolf Log Chalets Resort (no pet), Under Canvas Glacier (Safari-style tents)

Night 4 – SpringHill Suites By Marriot Island Park Yellowstone (Island Park, Idaho)

This hotel is a 6.5h drive from our previous night’s campground. It is pet-friendly, and offers complimentary breakfast. They only offer suites here (no room), and the suites are so spacious with a nice size walk-in closet. Pet fee is $75 per pet, and check out time is 11AM.

SpringHill Suites by Marriot Island Park, Idaho

Night 5 – Hampton Inn & Suites Green River (Green River, Wyoming)

The Hampton Inn & Suites Green River is a 5h drive from Island Park, and perfect mid-way point before home. Also pet friendly, with a pet fee of only $25. And it also offers complimentary breakfast.

I also suggest staying at Rock Springs, WY which is another town nearby. Some hotels great for travelers include Hampton Inn Rock Springs , and Holiday Inn Rock Springs .

And that is our Montana road trip guide, with a detour through Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. And by no means that I’m saying this is the only way (or the best way) for anyone to do Montana Wyoming road trips. I wanted to give you a reference guide on how we did it. But feel free to make as many changes as you need to suit your trip and family. If we (a family of four including a young child and a dog) could have this Montana Wyoming road trip, and had so much fun doing it, then anyone could do it! I encourage you to go out there and explore America, the beautiful. Hope I get to see you on your next trip, tag me on Instagram if you visit one of these spots I suggested!

Note : suggested time to visit is July-August. Actual time of visit was early September during Labor Day weekend.

Other trips we took:

  • Spring Break in Colorado with the Ritz-Carlton hotels
  • Colorado, Utah, and Arizona 5-day road trip in the winter
  • New Mexico and Taos family trip with Toyota Tacoma

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The World on my Necklace

The World on my Necklace

A Travel Blog by Katie Chavez

Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary to See the Best of the State

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Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Colorado is a land of epic mountains, abundant wildlife, historic mountain towns , natural hot springs, striking red rocks, more sunny days than Florida, and the BEST beer.

I always knew I would love Colorado , and it is no surprise that it is now one of my favorite places in the world, and a place that I am very lucky to call home – well, part of the time at least #nomadlife .

Hiking in the mountains - part of any good Colorado Road Trip

Since I first arrived in Colorado four years ago, I have been all over the state, crisscrossing road trips through the desert and over gravel mountain passes, up 14’ers, soaking in hot springs , to numerous charming mountain towns and haunting ghost towns, on beautiful and challenging hiking trails, and to more breweries than I can count.

There is so much to explore in Colorado that you could travel the state for a year and still not experience everything. It is an outdoor lovers’ dream that I just can’t get enough of, and there is so much Wild West history here too.

Visiting Alta Ghost Town near Telluride

It is also a state that is best explored with your own set of wheels, you simply won’t see the best of Colorado without a vehicle. It is one of the best US Road Trips you can do, in a country that is made for road-tripping.

I have been wanting to put together a Colorado road trip itinerary for the longest time, an epic Colorado itinerary that will take at least three weeks to do, but would be better suited for a month or more of travel.

Spotting moose on a Colorado road trip

This ain’t no Denver /Vail/Colorado Springs jobbie, this is the real deal, super detailed, massive circular (kinda) road trip route that will take you to the best of the state, including hot springs, breweries, mountain towns, ghost towns, scenic drives, and awesome hiking trails – amongst other things.

Visit Telluride in southern Coloado on a Colorado road trip

It includes my favorite places to eat, the best drinking holes in town, and a handful of accommodation options per place, including budget hostel or camping options, vacation rentals, and a nicer lodge or hotel option, focusing on independent businesses that are historic or charming, rather than chain hotels. 

We have done a lot of incredible housesits all over Colorado, and this is an excellent way to travel as you get free accommodation and get to stay in someone’s home, which I think is so much nicer than staying in a hotel.

There are always loads of Colorado housesits on Trusted Housesitters. Sign up through my link to get 25% off your first year of membership – you can search for housesits before signing up.

Van Life on a Colorado Road Trip

Because it includes hiking trails and mountain passes that are only open from June/July till September/October, this road trip is designed for the summer and fall months.

This is the road trip that will make you fall head over heels for Colorado, and I warn you – once you have followed this Colorado road trip itinerary – you may just end up moving there.

So here it is, my super-duper, gigantic Colorado itinerary for an epic summer or fall road trip!

Crested Butte hiking on a Colorado Road Trip

Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Colorado road trip route.

Colorado Road Trip Map

Check out my Colorado road trip interactive map here.

Here is my Colorado road trip route, with every overnight stop included as well as places to visit along the drive. As most people will be flying in and starting from Denver, this is where my Colorado itinerary starts and ends.

Denver – Boulder – Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park – Grand Lake – Hot Sulphur Springs – Steamboat Springs – Glenwood Springs and Hanging Lake – Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument – Montrose and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Crested Butte – Telluride – Ouray – Silverton – Durango and Mesa Verde National Park – Pagosa Springs – Great Sand Dunes National Park – Valley View Hot Springs – Salida – St Elmo Ghost Town – Buena Vista – Aspen and Maroon Bells – Leadville – Vail – Frisco – Breckenridge – Georgetown – Idaho Springs and St Mary’s Glacier – Denver

Camping in Colorado National Monument is part of my Colorado road trip itinerary

There are a few places that I really love in Colorado that I wasn’t able to fit into this route without a lot of backtracking, but check out my other Colorado posts to find out more.

This is the perfect route in my eyes, but everyone is different and likes different things. You can pick and choose from this Colorado itinerary and cut some things and add others to make it the perfect Colorado road trip for you.

I know not everyone has weeks to explore Colorado, so if you have less time and are looking for the best road trips from Denver for one week or even less, get in touch – I would love to help you out and give you some suggestions for the amount of time you have.

Telluride view on a Colorado Road Trip

My Perfect Colorado Itinerary for 3 + Weeks

Denver 2-3 days.

Even if you aren’t a fan of big cities, I recommend spending at least two days in the city and surrounds of Denver.

The Greater Denver area is home to nearly half the population of the whole state, and I think to get a good understanding of Colorado you need to experience where so many Coloradans live.

Union Station in Denver, Colorado

I already have a detailed post about how to spend three days in Denver , so go and check that out for more details on places to go, where to stay, and where to eat in the city. Also, check out my Denver suburbs guide with a more in-depth look at what to do, eat, and drink in Denver’s best neighborhoods.

Denver highlights include soaking up 19th-century history in Larimer Square and LoDo, having an out-of-this-world experience at Meow Wolf, brewery and restaurant hopping in the Highlands, biking the riverside trails around the city, street art hunting in RiNo, hiking or catching a show at Red Rocks, hiking in Golden and tubing the river, and exercising and picnicking in expansive Washington Park.

Denver is the starting point of my Colorado road trip itinerary

Where to Stay in Denver: For budget options, Hostel Fish or Ember Hostel and The Brown Palace Hotel and Spa  or The Crawford Hotel for refined luxury. If you prefer vacation rentals, then check out  RiNo Luxury Flat ,  City Park One Bedroom , and Urban Refuge Carriage House.

Where to Eat in Denver: So many places! Go to Snooze or Sassafras for brunch, sample some creative small plates at Root Down where the focus is eating local, grab a burrito bowl at Illegal Pete’s, eat at a former mortuary turned eatuary – Linger, try delicious Native American fare at Tocabe, and make sure to check out a few of the food halls that Denver is known for including Avanti, The Denver Central Market, Zeppelin Station and Denver Milk Market to name a few.

Where to Drink in Denver: Again, so many places! Have pickle shots at the Retro Room, amazing craft beer at Denver Beer Company, Little Machine, Ratio Beerworks, New Terrain in Golden, Strange Craft, and Goed Zuur – a sour and wild beer-only bar, libations in the sun on the roof terrace at Avanti, and giant frozen margaritas on the patio at Rio Grande. And don’t miss one of the best speakeasies in the country – Williams and Graham.

Larimer Square in Denver

Boulder 1-2 Days

Drive Time to Boulder: 30 minutes/27 miles

Boulder is both a mountain town and a college town and is a liberal place that is a great stop for eating and hiking, and a must on any Colorado Itinerary.

Pearl Street in Boulder

If you are short on time I recommend spending at least one day there, checking out the shops and buskers on pedestrian Pearl Street, wandering along pretty Boulder Creek, eating at one or two of the excellent restaurants in town, grabbing a beer at a local brewery, and doing a hike – Royal Arch in Chautauqua Park and the Mount Sanitas Loop are my favorites.

Go hiking in Boulder on a Colorado Road Trip

Where to Stay in Boulder: Boulder Adventure Lodge, Basecamp Boulder , or Hotel Boulderado. For vacation rentals, check out this Cabin on Boulder Creek , or this South Boulder Studio .

Where to Eat in Boulder: The beautiful, hand-painted Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse which was gifted by Tajikistan offers delicious teas and food from around the world, the Avanti food hall which has an awesome roof terrace with mountain views and various restaurants including a pizza place, Korean, and pupusas, and try the best pizza in Boulder at Pizzeria Locale.

Where to Drink in Boulder: There are tons of great breweries in Boulder, I would recommend Sanitas Brewing Co., VisionQuest, and Twisted Pine. Also make sure to check out the awesome Rayback Collective which has a cafe, bar, food trucks, and live music on site – it’s a great place to get a couple of hours of work done before knocking off for some beers.

Visit Boulder on a Colorado Road Trip

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park 2-4 Days

Drive Time to Estes Park: 50 minutes/37 miles

After stopping for a look around and a drink at Oskar Blues in the cute town of Lyons , you will arrive in touristy but very pretty Estes Park – the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park . 

You can either explore Estes Park for a couple of hours and then head into Rocky Mountain National Park to camp, or you can base yourself in Estes Park – it’s up to you and they are both good choices.

Downtown Estes Park, one of the best mountain towns in Colorado

Pro Tip: If you are planning to visit the four National Parks in Colorado as well as Colorado National Monument – they are all in this itinerary – then get the America the Beautiful Annual National Parks pass.

The pass lasts for one year, covers your vehicle and anyone in it, and costs $80. It will save you $35 in entry fees compared to purchasing passes to each park separately, and you can use it for one year at National Park sites all over the U.S. Buy it at the entrance gate to Rocky Mountain National Park.

In Estes Park, make sure to visit the infamous Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for The Shining, and reputed to be haunted. To avoid the entrance fee, park your car in town and walk up there to look around for free.

Visit the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park on a Colorado road trip

Estes Park is a great place to get your Colorado souvenirs, and if it is a rainy day, catch a movie at the historic Park Theatre, the oldest theater west of the Mississippi.

Rocky Mountain National Park

There is so much to see in Rocky Mountain National Park that you could spend weeks hiking the different trails. For a short visit of only a couple of days, I recommend doing the Gem Lake trail, which is in a section of the park very close to Estes Park, then heading into the park via the Beaver Meadows Entrance.

The most trafficked part of Rocky Mountain National Park is the area around Bear Lake, and you need to go as early as possible if you want to get a park there, otherwise, you can park at the park and ride and take the free bus.

Visit Rocky Mountain National Park on a Colorado Road Trip

Spend at least a day in the Bear Lake area, making sure to do the hike to Emerald Lake via Dream Lake, the short Bear Lake trail, and the longer trail to Sky Pond if you have time – my favorite trail in the park.

On your last day in Rocky Mountain National Park, spend a day driving Trail Ridge Road, stopping at viewpoints, the Alpine Visitor Center, and doing the short Alpine Ridge trail and Tundra Communities Trail.

For a longer hike, the Ute trail is very worth it, even if you just do a section of it.

Hiking off Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

On the other side of Trail Ridge Road, stop to do the short but interesting hike to the Holzwarth Historic Site, and perhaps a longer hike on the western side of the park – I have hiked to Cascade Falls on the North Inlet Trail and it is a beautiful hike. 

If you want to spend a couple of extra days in Rocky Mountain National Park, consider visiting the lesser-known Wild Basin area of the park. To get to Wild Basin, you need to take State Highway 7 from Estes Park towards Allenspark, before turning off to get to the entrance station.

One of the top hikes in the Wild Basin area is to Ouzel Falls, if you are hot after your hike make sure to take a shower under the falls. I have heard great things about the Chasm Lake hike too. Stop in Allenspark for a beer and pizza at Rock Creek Tavern and Pizzeria before heading back to Estes Park.

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park on a Colorado road trip

Where to Stay in Estes Park: Estes Park Adventure Hostel offers dorm accommodation and a communal kitchen right by town. Hotel options are Murphy’s River Lodge , Blue Door Inn , or The Stanley Hotel . For vacation rentals, stay in this charming rustic studio cabin , or this cozy downtown one-bedroom loft .

Alternatively, camp at one of the campgrounds on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park – Moraine Park or Glacier Basin. It is best to book these online in advance as they are full most nights in summer, especially weekends. 

Where to Eat in Estes Park: For good BBQ, try Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew, have a massive breakfast at Big Horn Restaurant, and have some beers and pub grub at The Wapiti Colorado Pub.

Where to Drink in Estes Park: After a day of hiking, try some local beers at Rockcut Brewing Co., Avant Garde Aleworks, and Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co.

Grand Lake 1-2 Days

Drive Time to Grand Lake: 1 hour 40 minutes/46.5 miles

Grand Lake is the gateway to the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and is a bit more rustic and less touristy than Estes Park.

Grand Lake in Colorado

The town isn’t large so a couple of hours looking at the shops, checking out the lake, and eating at one of the restaurants there should suffice, although if you get in late after driving Trail Ridge Road, it’s a good overnight stop.

Stay longer if you want to base yourself there to do some of the trails on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park – the East Inlet trail is meant to be a stunner.

Add Grand Lake to your Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Where to Stay in Grand Lake: Shawdowcliff Mountain Hostel or Grand Lake Lodge . For vacation rentals, stay at this affordable Grand Lake condo , or this dog-friendly lakefront rental . If you want to camp, Elk Creek Campground and RV Resort is right by town. 

Where to Eat in Grand Lake: Sagebrush BBQ and Grill for great BBQ in a rustic setting, Grand Pizza for a massive range of specialty pizzas.

Where to Drink in Grand Lake: The Worlds End Brewpub has the best selection of craft beers on tap in town, and a nice patio to enjoy them in the sun.

Aspen trees in autumn

Hot Sulphur Springs – Half day

Drive Time to Hot Sulphur Springs: 30 minutes/25 miles

If you are a hot springs junkie like I am, make sure to stop at the small town of Hot Sulphur Springs on the way to Steamboat Springs for a few hours, to take a dip in the pool complex of the same name. This is one of my favorite hidden gems in Colorado .

There are 22 pools and private baths, all of different temperatures, and it is a relaxing and unassuming place that doesn’t get a load of tourism. But don’t expect anything fancy.

Hot Sulphur Springs should be part of your Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

You can stay at the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort as an alternative to Grand Lake, and you get unlimited access to the pools from check-in to check-out. The Canyon Motel in town is also a great option.

For vacation rentals, stay at this Modern-Rustic Luxury Rock House , or this Hot Sulphur Springs Cottage .

Steamboat Springs 1-3 Days

Drive Time to Steamboat Springs: 1 hour 20 minutes/70 miles

Beautiful Steamboat Springs gets missed off many a summer Colorado Itinerary and that is such a shame, because it is one of the most beautiful mountain towns in the state, and it’s home to one of the best hot springs: Strawberry Hot Springs.

Visit Strawberry Hot Springs on your Colorado Road Trip

I recommend spending at least one night in Steamboat Springs, to look around town, grab a beer at one of the brewpubs or breweries, eat a meal at one of the excellent restaurants, and hit the hot springs – evening is best.

Stay even longer and you can check out some of the hiking trails near town too – Fish Creek Falls is probably the most famous. This winter resort town is just as good in summer.

Add Steamboat Springs to your Colorado Itinerary

Where to Stay in Steamboat Springs: Stay at the Chalet Val d’Isere Bed & Breakfast , or  The Steamboat Grand . For vacation rentals, stay in this  quaint and luxurious studio , or this  downtown condo with balcony . Alternatively, stay at Strawberry Hot Springs in a caboose, a cabin, or camping. 

Where to Eat in Steamboat Springs: Winona’s for giant cinnamon rolls and big breakfasts, and Creekside Cafe and Grill for their very reasonable happy hour menu for snacks and drinks, and their garden patio overlooking a creek.

Where to Drink in Steamboat Springs: Mountain Tap Brewery for great local beer and wood-fired pizza, Storm Peak Brewing Company for eclectic craft beer, and The Barley Tap and Tavern for locally sourced beer and spirits.

Steamboat Springs in Colorado

Glenwood Springs 1-3 Days

Drive Time to Glenwood Springs: 2 hours 15 minutes/115 miles

Glenwood Springs is a historic town that is famous for its hot springs. My favorite part of town is the riverfront and Grand Avenue near the river.

Grab some food from one of the restaurants in this area, and if you love eclectic fashion, then check out the awesome Elizabeth Dean Boutique .

Glenwood Springs downtown in Colorado

Skip the main Glenwood Springs Hot Springs and go to Iron Mountain Hot Springs instead, located on a hillside overlooking the river. These peaceful hot springs pools are absolute heaven and you should spend an afternoon and evening soaking here.

Calming music plays, and you can hop around the different pools of different temperatures.

Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs at night

Another big Glenwood Springs attraction is the hike to Hanging Lake, arguably the most famous hike in Colorado. Check here for up-to-date information about prices and reservations.

Hanging Lake is part of any good Colorado itinerary

There are lots of other hikes in the area too, including the short hike to Doc Holliday’s grave, and the Roaring Fork River trail – both of which you can begin right in town.

Where to Stay in Glenwood Springs: Ami’s Acres Campround close to town, Hotel Denver , or Starlight Lodge . For vacation rentals, stay at Casa Del Sol with mountain views, or this modern one-bedroom in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Where to Eat in Glenwood Springs: Smoke Modern BBQ for delicious BBQ and mac and cheese, Grind for a wide range of burgers, beers and boozy shakes , and 19th Street Diner for a classic American Diner experience.

Where to Drink in Glenwood Springs: Casey Brewing Taproom for excellent craft beer – especially the sours, Glenwood Canyon Brewpub is a cozy spot for a local craft beer, and Doc Holliday’s Saloon is a historic western-themed tavern with drinks and pub grub.

Visit Glenwood Canyon on a Colorado Road Trip

Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument 2-3 Days

Drive Time to Grand Junction: 1 hour 20 minutes/87 miles

Grand Junction is the most populous city on Colorado’s Western slope and is the gateway to Colorado’s wine region.

Although Grand Junction is a pleasant city in itself and a great place to wander around and explore, the main reason people visit this college city is because of its proximity to Colorado National Monument . 

Visit Grand Junction as part of a Colorado road trip itinerary

Spend at least a day hiking and driving the scenic roads through the red rock desert of underrated Colorado National Monument – my favorite hike was the Monument Canyon and Wedding Canyon loop trail.

Visit Colorado National Monument on a Colorado Road Trip

Also, make sure to visit pretty Palisade, home to some of the best peaches in the country and surrounded by wineries, farm stands, breweries, and even a distillery – visit the best by following the self-drive Fruit and Wine Byway routes.

Where to Stay in Grand Junction: Camp at Saddlehorn Campground in Colorado National Monument or stay at Hotel Maverick or the Grand Vista Hotel . For vacation rentals, stay at this affordable suite near downtown, or the charming Sweet Apple Cottage .

Where to Eat in Grand Junction: The Goat and Clover Tavern for English pub food, Pablo’s Pizza for inventive pizzas.

Where to Drink in Grand Junction: Edgewater Brewery and The Rockslide Brew Pub for local craft beer, and The Feisty Pint for generous happy hours and Colorado beer, cider, and spirits.

Add Colorado National Monument to your Colorado Itinerary

Montrose & Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park 1-2 Days

Drive Time to Montrose: 1 hour/61 miles

Montrose itself is not terribly exciting, but it is the gateway to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and has a handful of good restaurants and breweries.

There is also an excellent living history museum – Museum of the Mountain West – that includes a number of 19th-century buildings, and all kinds of stuff from the past 150 years that the owner has painstakingly collected over his lifetime.

The entry fee includes a two-hour tour of some of the restored buildings and it was fascinating.

Museum of the Mountain West in Montrose, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the U.S. and comprises a very deep canyon of distinctive black rock.

It is a small park at only 231 acres, but there is enough to keep you busy for a day or two – from various viewpoints to hiking trails.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Where to Stay in Montrose: South Rim Campground in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In Montrose, stay at Old School Lodge or Double G Ranch & Guestlodge . For vacation rentals, stay at this rustic mountain cabin , the beautiful Black Canyon Cottage on a private ranch, or this unique rustic treehouse .

Where to Eat in Montrose: Crash Burger for simple but delicious burgers, and Colorado Boy for inventive and delicious pizza.

Where to Drink in Montrose: Horsefly Brewing Company for local craft beer, burger and wings on their sunny patio, and Phelanies for top-rate cocktails.

Crested Butte 2-3 days

Drive Time to Montrose: 1 hour 45 minutes/92 miles

Crested Butte is my second favorite mountain town in Colorado – only just edged out by Telluride, and if you have the time then you should definitely add Crested Butte to your Colorado Itinerary, despite it being a big detour to get there.

Crested Butte is a vibrant and pretty mountain town that is surrounded by some of the most scenic wilderness in the U.S., with Maroon Bells right on its doorstep.

Crested Butte in Colorado

In the fall, drive Kebler Pass, Ohio Pass, or Cottonwood Pass for breathtaking fall colors, and hike Gothic Mountain for a summit hike with epic views and wildflowers.

Nearby Gothic Ghost Town is worth checking out, originally a silver mining town it now has a second life as a facility for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

Hike in Crested Butte on a Colorado Road Trip

Where to Stay in Crested Butte: Crested Butte Hostel , Cristiana Guesthaus , or Nordic Inn. For vacation rentals, stay at this private guesthouse on Elk  or The Alley House , both in downtown Crested Butte.

Where to Eat in Crested Butte: McGill’s for their hearty breakfasts, awesome pitas at a great price from Pitas in Paradise, upscale pub grub at Irwin Brewing Company’s Public House, Sherpa Cafe for your Indian fix, awesome bagels from Butte Bagels, Secret Stash for perfect pizza.

Where to Drink in Crested Butte: Camp 4 Coffee for great coffee and breakfast burritos, The Dogwood for incredible craft cocktails, and local beer at The Eldo Brewery.

Butte Bagels in Crested Butte

Telluride 2-4 Days

Drive Time to Telluride: 3 hours/157 miles

Telluride is one of my absolute favorite mountain towns in Colorado, and although it is a bit out of the way, you should definitely have Telluride on your Colorado Itinerary. This town is so dang gorgeous and has a vibrant and active community.

Visit Telluride on a Colorado road trip

Telluride is also home to a number of festivals in summer, with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival being one of the biggest. If you want to visit during a festival, make sure to plan your tickets and accommodation in advance.

There are tons of things to do in Telluride and you should definitely hit up some hiking trails, take the gondola up to Telluride Ski Resort from town, and visit the nearby Alta Ghost Town.

Check out this post I wrote for more details about what to see and do in Telluride.

Downtown Telluride in Colorado

Where to Stay in Telluride: The Bivvi is an excellent affordable option with dorm and private rooms. Town Park Campground for camping right in town, Inn at Lost Creek in Mountain Village, or   the New Sheridan Hotel. For free camping, stay at beautiful Priest Lake. If you want a vacation rental, this bright one-bedroom with a patio overlooking the river and this cute studio are both great choices and both are right downtown.

Where to Eat in Telluride: Award-winning Brown Dog Pizza for delicious Detroit-style pizzas, Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery for a range of craft beers and pub-style food, and Baked in Telluride is the best budget option in town and had excellent pastries, soups, and sandwiches. If you are in Telluride on a Friday, don’t miss the weekly Farmer’s Market.

Where to Drink in Telluride: Telluride Brewing Company for inventive beer, Stronghouse Brewpub for craft beer, and rustic Last Dollar Saloon for its massive range of beers and awesome margaritas. 

colorado montana road trip

Ouray 1-2 days

Drive Time to Ouray: 1 hour/50 miles

Rivaling Telluride in beauty, Ouray is another gorgeous historic mountain town that is absolutely picture-perfect and has a number of hiking trails nearby. It is a must-add to a Colorado Road Trip!

Visit Ouray on a Colorado Road Trip

Other than just wandering around the town and swooning at the colorful flower boxes and historic buildings, I highly recommend you visit the Wiesbaden Hot Springs and Vapor Cave for a relaxing experience at a great price. This is one of the most unique hot springs in Colorado .

Visit downtown Ouray on your Colorado Road Trip

Wiesbaden is actually a lodge but you don’t have to stay there to visit the pools. There is a hot pool outside, and then under the lodge there is a small natural hot pool inside a cave with a waterfall – so cool!

Alternatively, Orvis Hot Springs is another great local hot spring set in a beautiful garden with a few outdoor pools, as well as private indoor pools which are included in the price. It is clothing optional.

A popular and very beautiful trail nearby is the Blue Lakes trail near the town of Ridgway to the north. This eight-mile out-and-back hike is moderate to difficult but so worth it to see these gorgeous lakes! For shorter hikes in town, hike along the river or do the Ouray Perimeter Trail.

Hike to Blue Lakes near Ouray, Colorado

Where to Stay in Ouray: Amphitheater Campground , Wiesbaden Hot Springs and Lodgings , Imogene Lodge , or Timber Ridge Lodge. For vacation rentals, this renovated historic home in the heart of downtown, and this modern studio apartment on the river.

Where to Eat in Ouray: Brickhouse 737 for eclectic American cuisine and cocktails – this is one of my favorite restaurants in Colorado!, Colorado Boy Southwest Pub for killer artisan pizza and Southwestern cuisine.

Where to Drink in Ouray: Ouray Brewery for award-winning beers on their rooftop with mountain views, or enjoy beers at Mr Grumpy Pants Brewing (also known as Ourayle House Brewery).

Ouray downtown in Colorado

Silverton 1-2 days

Drive Time to Silverton: 45 minutes/24 miles

The drive from Ouray to Silverton on the Million Dollar Highway is one of the most beautiful in the country, especially in mid to late September when the fall colors are at their peak.

Drive the Million Dollar Highway on a Colorado Road Trip

Silverton is a real wild west mountain town that is not polished like Telluride or Ouray, and in that lies its charm.

With unpaved streets and more historic buildings than you can shake a stick at, a walk around Silverton will make you feel like you have stepped back in time to the Gold Rush days.

This is another favorite Colorado road trip stop.

Visit Silverton on a Colorado Itinerary in summer

The best place to learn about the storied history of Silverton is at the San Juan County Historical Museum, which has loads of info about the founding of the town and mining history in the area, and it incorporates the old county jail.

Like most mountain towns in Colorado, there are a number of hiking trails nearby and it’s a great base if you want to get into the wilderness. I am dying to do the Ice Lake Basin trail myself.

Visit the Silverton Historical Society Museum on your Colorado Road Trip

Where to Stay in Silverton: Teller House or the   Grand Imperial Hotel. For camping, stay at Molas Lake Campground or Silverton Lakes RV Resort. For vacation rentals, stay at Stellar House in downtown Silverton, or this unique tiny house that is also downtown.

Where to Eat in Silverton: Rocky Mountain Funnel Cake Factory for decadent funnel cakes, The Bent Elbow for excellent American dishes, Handlebars Food and Saloon for their extensive menu and western decor, Eureka Station for pasties.

Where to Drink in Silverton: Golden Block Brewery for local brews, The Bent Elbow for their old-timey bar.

Visit Silverton on a Colorado Road Trip

Durango and Mesa Verde National Park 2-3 days

Drive Time to Durango: 1 hour/48 miles

Durango will feel like the big smoke compared to the mountain towns you have been visiting, but it’s still a lovely small city with beautifully restored historic buildings and a lively student population.

Durango is an awesome stop on a Colorado Road Trip

Mesa Verde National Park is only a 40-minute drive away so unless you are wanting to camp in the park, Durango is a great base as there are a number of good restaurants, breweries, and bars in town.

Mesa Verde National Park is one of the highlights of this whole Colorado road trip itinerary, especially if you are into history like me. The cliff dwellings here are simply spectacular, and are some of the best-preserved archeological sites on the whole continent!

Add Mesa Verde to your Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Along with doing some hiking and visiting the viewpoints over the different cliff dwellings, you absolutely have to visit at least one of the cliff dwellings up close and personal. I highly recommend taking tours of Balcony House, Long House, and/or Cliff Palace and doing the self-guided tour of Step House.

For hikes in Mesa Verde National Park, I enjoyed the Spruce Canyon Trail, the Point Lookout Trail, and the Soda Canyon Trail.

Hiking in Mesa Verde National Park

Along with visiting Mesa Verde National Park, another popular attraction in Durango and one of the most beautiful train journeys in the country is between Durango and Silverton – the Narrow Gauge Railway.

I am yet to do this myself but I have heard great things! You can do the return train journey with two hours spent in Silverton in one nine-hour day trip.

Riding the Durango Silverton Railroad

Make sure to save an afternoon and evening to soak at the excellent Durango Hot Springs which has over 20 different pools to choose from and a restaurant onsite.

Where to Stay in Durango: Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde National Park, or stay at The Strater Hotel or the General Palmer Hotel in Durango. For vacation rentals, stay at this cozy treehouse condo or this urban homestead in downtown Durango.

Where to Eat in Durango: Grab sliders, pizza, or tacos from one of the eateries at 11th Street Station which also has a bar and live music. Neopolitan pizza from Fired Up Pizzeria. 

Where to Drink in Durango: Awesome craft beer at Ska Brewing Co or Steamworks Brewing Company. Cocktails at the Old West-style Diamond Belle Saloon where the wait staff dress in period clothing.

Pagosa Springs 1-2 days

Drive Time to Pagosa Springs: 1 hour 10 minutes/60 miles

Pagosa Springs is a pleasant town set on the San Juan River and is most famous for its hot springs. There are a couple of different options in town, and if you love hot springs and want to try more than one.

Stop at Pagosa Springs on your Colorado Road Trip

I recommend the relaxing Overlook Hot Springs with various pools over three levels, and The Springs Resort and Spa which has pools sitting right on the river and is the premier hot springs complex in town (the price certainly reflects this).

If you want to stay longer, there are plenty of activities in the area like hiking, tubing, kayaking, fishing, and mountain biking to keep you busy.

Add Pagosa Springs to your Colorado Itinerary

Where to Stay in Pagosa Springs: Pagosa Riverside Campground , The Springs Resort and Spa , Fireside Cabins , or Healing Waters Resort & Spa . For vacation rentals, stay at this charming studio with mountain views, or this cozy downtown studio .

Where to Eat in Pagosa Springs: The Peak Deli for delicious breakfasts and sandwiches (the best breakfast burrito in Colorado!), Mountain Pizza and Taproom for pizzas and pour-your-own beer taps, Root House for coffee drinks and cafe fare.

Where to Drink in Pagosa Springs: Riff Raff Brewing Company for craft beer in a Victorian house.

Great Sand Dunes National Park 1-2 days

Drive Time to Great Sand Dunes National Park: 2 hours 10 minutes/108 miles

Great Sand Dunes National Park will make you feel like you are on the planet Tatooine, but without Luke Skywalker. You probably wouldn’t expect to see so much sand when you are so far from the ocean, but there it is. This is definitely one of the more unique stops on this Colorado Road Trip Itinerary!

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

This offbeat National Park is home to the tallest sand dune in North America, and you can hike up it. But if you don’t have nine hours, then hike up the highest dune on the first ridge instead, and then slide back down if you have something to slide on.

Along with all that sand, Great Sand Dunes National Park is also home to wetlands, grasslands, alpine forests, and tundra, and there are numerous hiking trails that will allow you to explore the diverse landscapes in the park.

In spring and early summer, cool off in Medrano Creek – it is only flowing during this short window each year.

Visit Great Sand Dunes National Park on my Colorado trip itinerary

Where to Stay for Great Sand Dunes National Park: For camping, Piñon Flats Campground in the park or Great Sand Dunes Oasis RV Park just outside the park. Nearby hotels are Great Sand Dunes Lodge or The Sunet Inn in Alamosa. For a vacation home, stay at this artsy Southwest house in Alamosa.

Where to Eat & Drink in Great Sand Dunes National Park: The only place to eat within 25 miles of the park is the Great Sand Dunes Oasis Restaurant. It’s best to bring your own food for your visit.

Valley View Hot Springs 1-2 days

Drive Time to Valley View Hot Springs: 1 hour 10 minutes/66 miles

If you manage to book a slot to visit or stay a night, you should definitely add the remote Valley View Hot Springs to your Colorado itinerary.

These rustic, clothing-optional hot springs are managed by a land trust, and you have to make sure you book in advance because only a certain number of people are allowed in each day.

Ring a week in advance to book and make sure you will be there on the day you say because the cancellation fee is hefty.

But believe me, this special place is worth the hassle. I met the most friendly and interesting people soaking in the various natural pools and the views are incredible down over the San Luis Valley.

Bring your own food because there are no restaurants or stores nearby. Be warned – if you are not comfortable around nudity then it is probably not the place for you, although it is perfectly acceptable to wear a bathing suit if you feel more comfortable.

Salida 1-2 days

Drive Time to Salida: 45 minutes/38 miles

Another day, another beautiful and historic mountain town – there really are so many in Colorado! Salida is home to Colorado’s largest National Historic District with 136 preserved buildings that have a wild west past.

You can either drop in for a short visit to Salida to check out the pretty main street and go for a stroll by the river or stay longer to do some hiking, mountain biking, or world-class white water rafting.

Kayakers on the river in Salida, one of the best mountain towns in Colorado

If it’s hot, you can swim in the river right in town, then grab a local beer at one of the town’s breweries.

Where to Stay in Salida: The Salida Inn and Hostel , American Classic Inn , or Silver Ridge Lodge. For vacation rentals, stay at cute Tenderfoot Cottage or turn-of-the-century Dvora’s Guest House , both downtown.

Downtown Salida, Colorado

Where to Eat in Salida: Amicas Pizza Microbrew for wood-fired pizzas and beer brewed onsite, Tacos El Tapatio for authentic Mexican food. Brown Dog Coffee Company for good coffee and breakfast burritos in cozy surroundings.

Where to Drink in Salida: Try local craft beer at Soulcraft Brewing, Tres Litros Beer Company, and Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub. The Biker & The Baker is a great choice for wine and cocktails, and Benson’s Tavern and Beer Garden for drinks and live music.

Hike to Ptarmigan Lake near Salida on a Colorado Road Trip

St Elmo Ghost Town – Half Day

Drive Time to St Elmo Ghost Town: 50 minutes/32 miles

My favorite ghost town in Colorado, St Elmo is also one of the best-preserved in the American West. It is absolutely worth going a little out of your way to visit, whether you love history, photography, hummingbirds, or just exploring beautiful places.

Visit St Elmo on your Colorado Road Trip

On arrival, grab a pamphlet to take a self-guided walk of this late 19th Century historic town, where 43 buildings remain, including a saloon, a courthouse/jail, mercantile, and private homes.

Summer is an excellent time to visit if you love hummingbirds because there are dozens of them buzzing around the various feeders by the General Store in town.

There are also lots of chipmunks, I love those little cuties! In fall, the gold of the aspens surrounding the town is absolutely spectacular.

Hummingbirds in St Elmo

Another couple of ghost towns that are definitely worth visiting in the area are Vicksburg and Winfield.

Located in Clear Creek Canyon just north of Buena Vista, these two ghost towns are great for a wander and there is dispersed camping all along the gravel road. You can easily do this drive in a 2WD.

Winfield Ghost Town in Colorado

If you want to stay at St Elmo, you can camp at Iron City Campground right by it.

Buena Vista 1-3 days

Drive Time to Buena Vista: 40 minutes/20 miles

Buena Vista is another one of my favorite mountain towns, and I love the friendly locals, the cute downtown, and the proximity to hot springs, hiking trails, and other outdoor adventures.

I don’t see Buena Vista on many a Colorado Itinerary, but I think it should be on them all.

Visit Buena Vista on my Colorado Itinerary in summer

My favorite things to do in Buena Vista are to hang out around town looking at the boutiques and people-watching at a bar or cafe, walking along the river in fall to admire the fall colors, hiking alpine trails in the stunning Collegiate Peaks – like the popular Ptarmigan Lake, and soaking at one of the hot springs nearby – I love Cottonwood Hot Springs, but Mount Princeton Hot Springs is another popular option.

Like Salida down the road, Buena Vista is one of the best places in the country to go white water rafting so if that is something you are interested in, you should get on a rafting trip here.

Hanging out in Buena Vista on a Colorado summer itinerary

I did a rafting trip through Browns Canyon National Monument and absolutely loved it!

Whether you are only passing through or you decide to stay a few days, you are going to love Buena Vista – we are even thinking of buying land here we love it so much.

Hiking around Buena Vista is part of my Colorado summer itinerary

Where to Stay in Buena Vista: Cottonwood Hot Springs Lodging for rooms, cabins, dorms and camping, Five Peaks , or Surf Hotel & Chateau. For vacation rentals, stay in this cute one-bedroom in the trendy South Main district, or this sweet cabin in the heart of BV.

Where to Eat in Buena Vista: The Buena Viking Food Truck is very popular with locals and visitors for their amazing burgers and sides, or try the pizza at Elkhorn Pizzeria.

Where to Drink in Buena Vista: Eddyline Brewery for local brews, The Lariat for cocktails and live music, art-filled local hot spot Buena Vista Roastery Cafe for craft coffee and tea drinks and baked goods.

Aspen, Maroon Bells and Independence Pass 2-5 Days

Drive Time to Aspen: 3 hours 15 minutes/162 miles

This is another big detour in this Colorado road trip itinerary. I have tried to take you on a mostly circular route but you shouldn’t miss Aspen and Maroon Bells – it’s worth the detour, I promise.

Aspen is a must visit on a Colorado Road Trip

Take at least half a day to drive over scenic Independence Pass, the highest paved pass in North America which is only open in summer and fall.

Stop for photos or hike the Interlaken trail at Twin Lakes to the remains of a once luxurious resort, enjoy epic views at the Continental Divide Viewpoint, and learn about mining history at beautiful Independence Ghost Town .

Explore Independence Ghost town on a Colorado road trip

This is also one of the best fall color drives in Colorado, and once you start the descent from the Continental Divide into Aspen, the golden display of aspen trees covering the mountains on both sides of the road will knock your socks off.

Aspen is a former mining town, turned hedonistic counter-culture town, turned ritzy mountain resort with some of the most expensive real estate in the country.

Aspen pedestrian street

Unfortunately only the rich can afford to live in Aspen now but it is still a beautiful place to visit, with the gorgeous historical buildings and colorful flower baskets that you see in a lot of mountain towns in Colorado.

There is also a lot to do around Aspen with some incredible mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing.

No matter what, spend at least half a day in nearby Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness , which is one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the whole country. There are a number of hiking trails from short strolls to multi-day adventures.

Downtown Aspen, Colorado

Where to Stay in Aspen: Difficult Camping Ground , The Gant , or Tyrolean Lodge. For vacation rentals, stay at this newly remodeled studio condo or this similar studio – both in the heart of Aspen.

Where to Eat in Aspen: White House Tavern for premium sandwiches, snacks, and craft cocktails in a 19th Century Miner’s cottage, Grateful Deli for lovers of sandwiches and The Grateful Dead.

Where to Drink in Aspen: Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar for elevated cocktails, Aspen Brewing Co for local craft beer and pizza.

Optional: Backpacking Trip in Maroon Bells 2-3 days

If you are looking to add a multi-day hike to your Colorado road trip itinerary, I highly recommend doing one in Maroon Bells.

Two of the most popular hikes are the Four Pass Loop which takes three or four days to complete, and the two-day return hike to remote Conundrum Hot Springs.

Conundrum Hot Springs in Colorado

But I recommend doing the Aspen to Crested Butte hike over West Maroon Pass and back on East Maroon Pass with a night in Crested Butte. If you do this you could cut the big detour to Crested Butte earlier in the road trip out.  

Hiking in Maroon Bells on a Colorado summer itinerary

This was one of the best hikes I have ever done with incredible mountain scenery, wildflowers and wild berries everywhere, and you get to spend an afternoon and evening exploring the beautiful Crested Butte.

I wrote a detailed guide to this hike here . You can do this in two days or take your time as we did.

Hike in Maroon Bells on a Colorado Road Trip

Leadville 1-2 days

Drive Time to Leadville: 2 hours 40 minutes/129miles

At this point of your Colorado road trip, you have been to a lot of mountain towns that were former mining towns and are full of history – but Leadville is one of the best.

Like Silverton, the buildings in Leadville’s historic downtown have been somewhat restored, but it still retains a real Wild West vibe and has a rough and readiness to it that I love.

Downtown Leadville in Colorado

Leadville sits at over 10,000 feet and the winters here are especially harsh, this attracts a special type of person and there sure are some colorful characters that call Leadville home.

If you are a fan of spending hours browsing through cavernous antique stores with old stuff piled everywhere (who doesn’t?!) then don’t miss Western Hardware Antiques, and the Old West memorabilia at the Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon has to be seen to be believed.

If you are interested in the history of Leadville, make sure to visit the Matchless Mine and Baby Doe’s cabin, do a tour of the Healy House Museum and Dexter Cabin, and visit the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame.

Visit the Matchless Mine in Leadville as part of your Colorado Itinerary

The second-highest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mount Elbert, is right by Leadville too so if you want to bag a 14’er this one is a great choice. 

Where to Stay in Leadville: For camping, stay at the Molly Brown Campground by Turquoise Lake, or Elbert Creek Campground if you are looking at summiting Mount Elbert. Another great budget option is to rent an ensuite room at The Mountain Hideaway Lodge , this is where we stay when we are in Leadville and we love the jacuzzi and sauna, the shared kitchen, and how close it is to town.

Hotel options include Inn the Clouds Hostel & Inn  and The Abbey. For vacation rentals, stay in one of Leadville’s tiny houses – my top picks are this one , this one , and this one . 

Where to Eat in Leadville: Treeline Kitchen for classic American plates done really, really well, and inventive cocktails. High Mountain Pies for great pizza.

Where to Drink in Leadville: The Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon for drinks in an Old West watering hole, and Two Mile Brewing Company for local brews.

Add Leadville to your Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

Vail 1-2 days

Drive Time to Vail: 1 hour/38 miles

Drive Highway 24 via the cute town of Minturn to perhaps the most famous Ski Resort in the U.S. – Vail.

Enjoy Vail in summer

Vail is picture-perfect, but really – it’s more a ski resort than a real town. It doesn’t have the mining history of so many of Colorado’s mountain towns, and it shows. Rather than being full of historic buildings, it has been modeled to look like Switzerland or Austria, and although it is pretty, it’s all a bit fake if you ask me.

But – it’s still worth visiting as the setting is STUNNING and there are some great hiking and biking trails, including a lovely easy path that follows the river.

Visit Vail in summer on a Colorado road trip

If you have ever wanted to hike with alpacas, you can do that in Vail, as well as horse riding, climbing, tubing, zip-lining, and riding an alpine coaster. And don’t miss the pretty Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

Betty Ford Alpine Garden

Where to Stay in Vail: The Bunkhouse Hostel in Minturn, or Gravity Haus Vail or Tivoli Lodge in Vail. For vacation rentals, stay in the Birch luxury studio , or the Streamside Douglas one-bedroom villa .

Where to Eat in Vail: Up the Creek for relaxed dining by the river, Yeti’s Grind for coffee and breakfast burritos, Swiss Chalet Restaurant for fondue and Swiss eats.

Where to Drink in Vail: Vail Brewing Company and 7 Hermits Brewing Company for local craft beer, Shakedown Bar for drinks served with live music.

Explore Vail in summer

Frisco – Half Day

Drive Time to Frisco: 30 minutes/26 miles

On the way between Vail and Breckenridge, stop for a look around the lovely town of Frisco with its historic Main Street.

If you are into history, check out the free self-guided Frisco Historic Park and Museum which includes the Old Schoolhouse and Jail.

There are a number of hiking trails that start right in town, so stretch your legs on one of these before hitting the road again.

Downtown Frisco Colorado

Where to Stay in Frisco: If you do decide to stay in Frisco, the Snowshoe Motel or Frisco Lodge are great choices. For vacation rentals, stay at Cedars Lodge studio condo , or this chic duplex – both downtown.

Where to Eat in Frisco: Butterhorn Bakery for the best breakfast in town, 5th Avenue Grille for delicious New American cuisine, Ein Prosit for German beer and sausages. The Mint Steakhouse in nearby Silverthorne is also a great choice – you cook your own protein and it is in the oldest building in Summit County.

Where to Drink in Frisco: Outer Range Brewing Company and Highside Brewing for great local craft beer.

Breckenridge 1-2 days

Drive Time to Breckenridge: 20 minutes/10 miles

Breckenridge is one of the big ski resorts in winter, but in summer it is host to a whole lot of fun warm-weather activities like world-class mountain biking, hiking, scenic drives, summer dog sledding, zip-lining, paddle-boarding, and river rafting, to name a few.

Visit Breckenridge in summer on a Colorado road trip

If you are looking for a party, then Breckenridge is great for that too. With over 100 restaurants and bars in Breckenridge and a young and lively population, Breck knows how to party.

And like Vail, Breckenridge is also home to a large number of festivals throughout the year – there is always something going on.

If you are visiting in the fall, don’t miss driving at least some of Boreas Pass, and do some of the fall hikes in the area including Aspen Alley for golden aspens and mining history.

And whatever time of year you are visiting, make sure to add a visit to the Breckenridge troll  to your Colorado road trip!

A visit to the Breckenridge troll is a must for any Colorado Road Trip

Where to Stay in Breckenridge: The Bivvi Boutique Hostel , Gravity Haus , or Mountain Thunder Lodge . For vacation rentals, stay at Peak 9 studio condo or this cute studio – both in downtown Breck.

Where to Eat in Breckenridge: Amazing Grace for killer breakfasts in a homey environment, American comfort food on the sun-soaked patio at The Canteen Tap House & Tavern.

Where to Drink in Breckenridge: Breckenridge Brewery & Pub for inventive beer and pub food, Broken Compass Brewery for their inventive and delicious craft beers – try their Ginger Pale Ale and Coconut Porter, and The Absinthe Bar for a wide selection of absinthe.

Fall colors on a hike near Breckenridge, one of the best Colorado Mountain Towns

Georgetown 1-2 Days

Drive Time to Georgetown: 45 minutes/37 miles

Georgetown is a cute little town right off the I-70 near Idaho Springs, and is definitely worth a visit if you are into mining history or want to hike the closest 14’er to Denver – Mount Bierstadt.

Hike Mt Bierstadt from Georgetown on your Colorado road trip

The main street of Georgetown is full of historic buildings, and if you are interested in mining history – there are tours of the historic Capital Prize Gold Mine.

Drive the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway for stunning fall colors in September and gorgeous views all year round, and ride the Georgetown loop railroad on an old steam engine past several gold and silver mines from the past.

Add Georgetown to your Colorado Road Trip

Where to Stay in Georgetown: Rose Street Bed & Breakfast or Georgetown Mountain Inn . For vacation rentals, stay at this cozy cottage downtown , or in this super affordable and cozy one-bedroom condo .

Where to Eat & Drink in Georgetown: Cooper’s on the Creek for elevated Colorado fare,   Guanella Pass Brewing Company for awesome local brews.

Downtown Georgetown in Colorado

Idaho Springs – Half Day

Drive Time to Idaho Springs: 15 minutes/13 miles

Idaho Springs is yet another lovely historic mountain town and was founded during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1859. It is also one of the closest mountain towns to Denver .

As well as visiting the town itself, don’t miss hiking to nearby St Mary’s Glacier, and take a historic gold mine tour at Phoenix Gold Mine.

Downtown Idaho Springs in Colorado

You can also drive to the summit of 14,270ft Mount Evans from Idaho Springs on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.

Make sure to time your visit to have lunch at the excellent BeauJo’s for Colorado-style pizza. What is Colorado-style pizza you ask? You should find out for yourself, but I will say that it involves honey. Wash it down with a beer from popular Tommy Knocker Brewery.

Hike to St Mary's Glacier in Idaho Springs on a Colorado Road Trip

And then from Idaho Springs, it is only half an hour back to Denver!

Phew, so that’s it for now! I still haven’t been everywhere in Colorado so the more places I go, the more I can add on to this giant Colorado Itinerary.

I hope this helps in planning your own Colorado road trip Itinerary, and that you come away loving Colorado just as much as I do.

Hiking in Colorado

If you liked this – check out some of my other Colorado posts:

  • 15 Best Colorado Mountain Towns to Visit Any Time
  • 15 Best Colorado Hot Springs For True Hot Springs Enthusiasts
  • 10 Best Hidden Gems in Colorado
  • Fun Things To Do in Buena Vista, CO: One of My Favorite Mountain Towns
  • The Perfect 3 Days in Denver Itinerary
  • 14 Best Denver Suburbs To Visit and What to Do, Eat, and See There
  • 11 Best Mountain Towns Near Denver (1 Hour or Less)
  • Absolute Best Hikes in Golden To Work Up a Sweat
  • Visit Telluride: The Best Mountain Town in Colorado
  • Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte: The Best Hike in Colorado
  • 15 Fun Things To Do in Golden CO That Won’t Break the Bank
  • Experiencing Cannabis Culture in Denver with a Cannabis Tour

The Best Colorado road trip itinerary to see the best of the state | The World on my Necklace

59 Comments on Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary to See the Best of the State

This is an excellent itinerary! We’re planning to travel to Colorado this summer with my 14 and 17 year old for 9 days. We’d like to tour some of the colleges in the state. Do you have an itinerary for 9 days with teens? Thank you.

Hi Kate, I’m happy to put together a quick itinerary if you email me at [email protected] . Let me know dates and interests. Thanks.

I loved your information. We’re a group of 5 seniors going to Colorado for 2 weeks in September. We would like your help in making an itinerary for the trip. Given our ages we may not be able to do a lot of hiking

Hi Toni, I most offline hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal for the next 2.5 weeks but send me an email at [email protected] letting me know what you like doing, places you definitely don’t want to miss and any other info and I can help you with an itinerary when I’m back on the grid properly.

Gosh, I’m so lucky that I have found your posts. It’s absolutely the best. Thank you so much for your great efforts! ❤️

Wonderful article with great suggestions for things to do/see in Colorado. I also really appreciate your dining/drinking recommendations. My husband & I will be visiting for the first time later this month. What would be your plan for a 6-day tour starting & ending in Denver? We love scenic drives, history, short hikes and good eats. Thanks!

Hi Dawn, it depends on how much driving you want to do. If you don’t mind a lot of driving, I would head straight down to the southwest corner of Colorado and visit Telluride, Silverton, Ouray, Durango, Pagosa Springs and Mesa Verde National Park. Visit Leadville on the way down and Great Sand Dunes National Park on the way back up.

This itinerary is so amazing, it’s so well-written along with your amazing pictures as well. enjoyed alot while reading this!

Thank you! I put a lot of time into it so I’m glad you enjoyed it

The mountain looks very amazing, all photos are so amazing! thanks for sharing your itinerary

No problem Toba 🙂

Coming from the view of a 31 year resident of Colorado I was a bit disappointed by the fact that this is a trip to tourist spots. I was hoping for a more off the beaten path trip. I live with the Colorado National Monument basically in my front yard. It is awesome to see,however, there are so many other great places to see when you get outside of the city.

These may be tourist spots for Coloradans but a lot of them aren’t as well known to people who aren’t from the state. I have written a hidden gems post about some of the less well-known spots.

I did a lot of research on my own, after driving around my first trip to CO in 2020. I planned a tour to go back, then discovered your article. I can tell you that it was very informative. I did have many of the stops that you described, but you gave names of places I didn’t know about and some of the smaller towns like Leadville, etc were interesting to read about. I am going again in Sept and want to do a lot of this but only in 10 days, so I will have to cut out some of the places I added to mine… too bad Steamboat Springs is up and out of the way, because I’d love to check it out. I was also thinking of going into Utah to see Arches National Park. I think I am always way too ambitious with my road trips! Thanks for sharing your journeys with us all!

Thanks for your feedback Crystal. I saw your email too and will reply in the next couple of days.

I am obsessed with this itinerary! Any ideas to shorten to 10 days for a summer trip with kids aged 9 and 13?

Thanks Marci! It depends on how much you want to drive and pack in. Send me an email at [email protected] with more details of what you are looking for and I would be happy to help.

Hello! Amazing post! Love all the hot spring you described! We are planning a trip to Colorado from California to meet up with family from Chicago. We have about 2 weeks together. Do you have suggestions as to what are the 3-4 places we should stay and have the greatest reach to nature, and activities? Thank you!!

Hi Siaumin – if you want to spend time in three places I would highly recommend basing yourself in Telluride, Crested Butte, Aspen/Carbondale and either Salida or Buena Vista. There is tons to do in these areas and they are my favorite places in Colorado.

Dear Katie!

I can’t believe you actually reply! THANK YOU!

Of course – I’m happy to help. Let me know if you have any more questions.

Wow! Great information here. I am planning a 9 day family trip starting in June 20 from Denver. Possibly, Denver, Estes Park, Rocky Mountains, Grand Lake, Vail, Aspen and C Butte to Denver. I know there are lots to see and do but any specific recommendations on my route? Am I missing another close by place to visit ?

Thanks Ed, sounds like a great trip! I would add Buena Vista/Salida as they are on the way back to Denver to Crested Butte, there are a couple of great hot springs here as well as one of the best ghost towns in the west (St Elmo). Enjoy!

Need advice on the best 4 day road trip starting & ending in Denver. Know Denver well So don’t need to spend much time in Denver.

Hi Pat, you could do a road trip to Denver – Boulder – Rocky Mountain National Park – Frisco – Leadville – Buena Vista – Manitou Springs/Colorado Springs – Denver over four action-packed days.

Thanks for the marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you might be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back someday. I want to encourage you continue your great job, have a nice day!

I’m coming into Colorado for just a week and want to see as much as possible!! Could you help me out? Flying into Denver!!

Hi Bethany, send me an email at [email protected] with places with your current travel plans/ideas for Colorado and I would love to give you suggestions and help you to plan a route.

What a great Guide to beautiful Colorado! I live in Pagosa Springs and your guide makes me want to start a 3-6 week road trip! Thank you for including Pagosa Springs and Mountain Pizza & Taproom!!

Thanks so much Bob! It means so much more coming from a Coloradan. Can’t wait till next time I can grab pizza at Mountain Pizza and Taproom again 🙂

This is a great post! My husband and I are both Colorado natives and we agree that this list absolutely nails it. You even mentioned the restaurant I work at 😉

Thanks so much, that means a lot! What restaurant do you work at?

Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

Sure, feel free to share it 🙂

Yay! I roadtripped through Colorado last summer and it’s definitely one of my favorite states! <3! I'd love to go back to explore more!

Glad you loved it too Farrah! There is always more to see – I have a big bucket list of new places in Colorado to explore this year (and lots of favorites to go back to!)

I love how detailed and informative it is! I definitely miss going on road trips and this one looks so much fun 🙂

Colorado is one of my favorite places in the world to road trip – I love a good road trip too

This post really spoke to me because I had to cancel my road trip through Colorado. I planned to go to a concert at Red Rocks. I will make a trip when things open up, though, and I’ll put your stops on my list! Thanks for this!

No problem, glad it is helpful

Such a great post and very helpful especially as I find myself waiting out current events in the state. I’ve been trying to find places to hike but it’s always difficult as I get altitude sickness at 9k. But, thanks to this post, I’ve found some places that I can’t wait to explore! Thanks

Happy to help! Enjoy

This is the ultimate guide! It makes we want to go there right now! I’ve booked for August, but is is looking less likely by the day. When I do – I’m headed straight for the giant sand dunes! Thank you for all the information I will need!

Thanks, I hope you make it there – if not this year then next.

Wow! What a thorough guide! Colorado has so many gems but the National Sand Dunes NP is my favorite. Such a random thing to find there. Now I have new spots to check out – thank you!

I went there for the first time last year and couldn’t believe I hadn’t been there before – so cool!

This makes me want to get off my ass and start hiking! You’re so lucky to live in such a wonderful state, thank you for sharing.

Thanks Rachael, I am very lucky!

This guide is so informative and comprehensive! Can’t wait to do a road trip in the US – looks like I need to consider Colorado as well 🙂

You definitely should! I have been to 42 states and Colorado is my favorite (of the lower 48 at least)

Wow Colorado is in my bucketlist and this guide is the best way to cover all the lovely places thanks so much for sharing

No problem! I hope you make it there

Love this! All of my best friends live in Denver so will have to check some of these places out when I go to visit!

You definitely should Kelli! Even if you only have time to do day trips from Denver – there are still so many options

This looks like an amazing road trip. One I definitely want to be a part of. I’ve been to Denver a couple times now and got out of the city too to explore Golden and some mountain towns on the way to a friend’s cabin. But I really love this state and can’t wait to go back and visit again. You’ve just given me some great ideas

Thanks Emma, there is so much to see in Colorado and you can easily make a shorter road trip using some of these places.

That is a very informative post and some areas are just mindblowing.

Wow this guide is massive! I can see how much work went into this, so thank you! I think my favorite would be Mesa Verde National Park, the cliff dwellings are so cool! But also, a ghost town!

Thanks, it was definitely a lot of work but I enjoyed it! Mesa Verde is amazing and so underrated

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She Saves She Travels

Perfect Colorado Road Trip Itinerary: 22 Stops You Need to See

Posted on Published: June 21, 2023  - Last updated: January 5, 2024

The state of Colorado is a little bit magical. From the stunning Rocky Mountains, alpine lakes, adorable mountain towns and adventure around every corner, this state is unlike any other! Here’s an ultimate Colorado road trip guide that takes you to the top places to see and things to do in Colorado.

colorado road trip itinerary picture of large lake with mountains and trees on partly cloudy day

This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, see my  disclosures .

Colorado trip planning is no easy task – there’s so much to see and do – how do you even begin to start?!

Including all the best places to vacation in Colorado, this guide is perfect if you’re looking for a Colorado road trip. You can customize your trip based on the length of your vacation. Pick and choose from the activities and road trip stops below.

To see it all, you’d need a minimum of 3 weeks, which would be an amazing Colorado road trip! This Colorado itinerary starts and ends in cities, but let’s be honest – a visit to Colorado is meant to be explored outdoors! With some activities for winter and others for summer, spring and fall, this itinerary will work in any season.

Colorado road trip map

If you choose to do all 22 stops on this Colorado itinerary, here’s the best route to take. Depending on where you’re traveling from, you can join the loop at any point. 🙂

This Colorado road trip route starts in Boulder and ends in Denver. But if you’re flying into Colorado, it’s best to rent a car in Denver and then drive to Boulder to start your journey.

By the way, I recommend searching for a rental car with Discover Cars . It’s a free search tool that finds the best rate from all the major rental companies. I typically save 10-30% using Discover Cars !

Road trip Colorado: what to pack

view of the Rocky Mountains with field trees and snow capped mountain peaks

Here are some road trip essentials you might want to take into consideration as you plan a trip to Colorado…

  • Collapsible cooler. Perfect for traveling this cooler folds down and pops up when you need to keep food and beverages cold.
  • Sunscreen and layers . No matter what time of year you visit Colorado, you’ll want to add or peel off layers as you adventure around these amazing destinations. And at this high of elevation, you’ll need sunscreen to protect your skin.
  • GoPro. Take beautiful action photos and videos from your car, while hiking or sightseeing with a GoPro camera . It’s perfect for smooth videos, but also allows you to save your phone battery.
  • Satellite communicator. Driving through the mountains and more remote parts of Colorado, you’ll run into a lot of the state that’s not within cell phone range. This satellite communicator allows for 2-way communication in the case of an emergency. Use it on a hiking trail, in a national park or road where there’s no cell phone service.
  • Hiking gear. If you’re even thinking about stepping foot on a trail, come prepared! Proper hiking boots and moisture-wicking hiking socks , trekking poles and hiking backpack will go a long way in ensuring you’re comfortable while hiking and are adequately prepared.
  • First aid kit. Keep it in your car or hiking backpack for just-in-case situations. You just never know!

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Ultimate Colorado itinerary and road trip stops

Are you ready to see the best places to vacation in Colorado and an awesome route that takes you through the state? There’s truly so many things to see and do in Colorado!

Let’s dive in!

Start in Boulder, Colorado

road trip colorado with rock slab mountains with trees and field in foreground

Recommended time: 1 day

From Denver, hop in a car and head straight to Boulder – just 45 minutes away. Boulder is known as a food scene, the place to be for cold brews, and a gateway to the mountains, Boulder is a good time.

It’s got a cute and lively downtown that seems to be busy year-round, too!

Best things to do in Boulder

  • Visit Pearl Street Mall. Watch street performers, shop cute boutique stores, grab some ice cream or people watch on one of the best downtown spots in all of Colorado.
  • Do a tasting at a brewery or microbrewery. Boulder has more breweries per capita than any other city in the US, so you’ll likely find a good one. 🙂 Here’s some Boulder Breweries to check out.
  • Hike or climb the Flatirons. A sight to see in real life, these giant tilted rock slabs are beyond impressive. The Mesa Trail is 13 miles and will take you past the best flatirons.
  • Visit Eldorado Canyon State Park. View really cool landscapes and a great spot for a picnic, hike, climb, kayaking or paddle boarding. Note: check the official website for timed entry reservation days.
  • Food! With over 300 restaurants, there’s plenty to choose from! We decided on tacos on a rooftop bar after a day exploring the area…perfection!

Speaking of food, the best road trips have great snacks! Check out the 101 Road Trip Food Ideas: Best Fun and Healthy Snacks You’ll Love

Estes Park (road trip Colorado: gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park)

colorado road trip sign on rock that reads Estes Park

Estes Park, Colorado is a fun mountain town best known for y ear-round outdoor activities. From snowshoeing to skiing, hiking and zip lining, Estes Park has something for everyone.

Since Estes Park is neighbors to Rocky Mountain National Park, the scenery is pretty incredible.

If you’e up for a thrill, head over to the the Stanley Hotel. It’s one of America’s most haunted hotels and was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining . (I honestly wasn’t brave enough for this adventure during my time in Estes Park!)

Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge Road (a Colorado itinerary favorite)

colorado trip planning view of road and Rocky Mountains with jagged peaks and trees

Recommended time: 1-3 days

It’s the kind of place that takes your breath away. Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful beyond measure , and a place that you could spend a week exploring without getting bored.

But since this is a Colorado road trip itinerary, let’s keep it to 1-3 days, okay?

From Estes Park to the next destination in Grand Lake, you’ll take Highway 34 right through the Park, also called Trail Ridge Road. And it’s got to be one of the most beautiful drives in the state!

So popular, that the National Park Service is now requiring timed entry reservations for a majority of the time the road is open (it’s closed during winter). This will take a bit more planning in advance, so be sure to factor this in with your Colorado trip planning.

colorado road trip itinerary view of river and trees in Rocky Mountain national park

Top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hiking! There’s over 350 miles of hiking trails in the park – just pack your bear spray !
  • Visit – or swim in – a gorgeous lake. Bear Lake, Adams Falls, or Sprague Lake are really beautiful.
  • Witness the alpine tundra at the Alpine Visitor Center. We visited the park in late June and found many, many feet of snow still packed on the mountainside at the visitor center. While you’re there, make sure to hike the Alpine Ridge Trail to see the summit at 12,000 feet!

Pro tip: pack layers for Rocky Mountain National Park (my favorite travel pieces, merino wool , is perfect for this). Even if you’re just driving through for the day, at over 11,000 feet in elevation, getting out of your car is cold even in the hottest parts of summer.

Visit the quaint town of Grand Lake, during your Colorado road trip

colorado itinerary 5 days view of woman and small child kayaking with bridge and mountains in distance

Recommended time: 1-2 days

This picturesque town in Colorado is often overlooked by tourists – which is part of the appeal in my opinion! Grand Lake offers gorgeous lake and mountain views (it’s neighbors to Rocky Mountain National Park, after all) and is a quiet little village.

Walk the main street for little shops and restaurants. Or buy a souvenir to remember this amazing Colorado road trip adventure you’re on! Oh, and the ice cream shop in town is to die for so make sure you grab a cone while you’re there.

My favorite thing to do on Grand Lake is spend time on the water! Kayak the lakes and canals – it might just be the highlight of your trip!

Pro tip: rent kayaks, paddle boards, pedal boats or even motor boats in advance as they sell out quickly in such a small town. Grand Lake water rentals here.

Colorado road trip continued – Central Colorado

Ok, so this adventure has explored some fun parts of northern Colorado – if you choose to add them to your Colorado itinerary! More scenic spots ahead!

Hit the slopes in Keystone, CO

road trip Colorado view of skier on snowy mountainside slope

Get your skis or board ready to experience some of the best skiing in the country! If you love being on the snow, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado is the place to do it.

For the purposes of this article I chose Keystone, but there’s a ton of spots to ski right off I-70. Breckenridge, Aspen and Vail are popular ski resorts, too. Just make sure to rent equipment and make reservations well in advance during peak ski season.

My first (and only) snowboarding experience was in the Rocky Mountains, and I’d highly recommend it!

Beautiful Colorado road trip spot: Dillon Reservoir

Recommended time: 1/2 to 1 day

If you like water activities, Dillon Reservoir is the place to be. A huge lake with the perfect mountain backdrop, Dillon Lake is gorgeous.

Kayaking or boating, hiking or bike riding, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. I highly recommend renting bikes and riding the trails around the lake for a unique Colorado experience!

colorado road trip itinerary view of lake through trees on sunny day

One of the coolest things to do in Dillon is hike the Sapphire Point Overlook Trail. It’s more of a walk than a hike, and offers beautiful views of the lake. Best time to go is the middle of a sunny day with the sun overhead for truly sapphire colored water.

Be sure to head out to one of the local breweries in town for some brews, pizza or burgers to wind down the day. Such an amazing stop during this road trip Colorado!

Year-round adventure in Frisco, Colorado

colorado itinerary with view of lake at sunset

Head to Frisco for all things adventure in Colorado! Of course there’s skiing, but there’s also tubing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, a dirt bike track, disc golfing, kayaking and hiking.

So basically, if you like being outdoors you’ll love Frisco! With plenty of options for accommodations and dining, this is a perfect one-day stop on an epic Colorado road trip.

Frisco is especially known as a winter destination for tubing and cross-country skiing in the winter. It’s the perfect stop for Colorado trip planning in the wintertime.

Experience Vail, Colorado

building with wood shutters and water fountain in foreground with people near

Vail, Colorado is the largest ski mountain in Colorado and it’s one of the bigger tourist spots on this list . Aside from mountain adventures, this town hosts lots of annual events and festivals, so there’s always something to do in Vail.

Vail is an excellent spot to enjoy a more luxurious side of Colorado. Find your zen at a yoga class or spa. Stay at one of the nicest resorts in all of Colorado, overlooking the gorgeous Rockies.

plan a trip to Colorado with woman standing in front of colorful butterfly mural

Head on over to Vail Village to experience for dining and shopping. Grab an ice cream cone at Sundae and walk the village.

Oh, and hit the slopes in over 5200 acres of terrain. If you’re into snowboarding or skiing, Vail is a great spot for it!

Sylvan Lake State Park (another favorite place to vacation in Colorado)

colorado road trip with blue lake green trees and mountains

Okay, okay. This might be one of the most beautiful places in Colorado! I got the pleasure of spending a week exploring Sylvan Lake State Park a few years ago and honestly, I loved every minute of it.

If you’re looking for a more rustic vacation, try one of the cabins, yurts or campsites. Then rent kayaks or paddle boards on the lake and soak in the views!

Try the Sylvan Lake Trail or Sneve Gulch Trail for the best views of Sylvan Lake! Hiking through trails of Aspen trees is super fun, too. Just remember to pack your bear spray , hiking shoes and plenty of water.

Pro tip: if you’re planning to do any hiking in Colorado, be prepared with the right gear. These hiking shoes are my favorite and super grippy with ankle support. And trekking poles will definitely help you with those steep inclines, plus they’re compact too.

Perfect Colorado itinerary – heading west

As you transition from the jagged Rocky Mountains to the fun western part of the state, the landscape begins to change. With generally warmer weather, these destinations and activities will have you Colorado trip planning allll the places you can fit into your timeline!

Cross Hanging Lake off your bucket list

7 day colorado road trip itinerary with waterfalls down slope into teal lake

Recommended time: 1/2 day

I’ve already covered some beautiful places, and yet there’s more! Hanging Lake is one of the most uniquely gorgeous lakes in all of Colorado, and is extremely popular. Because of the beautiful lake’s allure, it’s accessible by permit only.

Schedule your hike weeks in advance during the summer months as it fills up fast. This trail is 2.4 miles round trip and it’s got a steep incline. You’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of this geologic gem! It’s so beautiful and such a unique experience, you’ll have fun crossing it off your Colorado bucket list .

Make reservations for Hanging Lake here .

Go hiking in Glenwood Canyon

colorado road trip view of river through canyon on sunny day

Recommended time: 1/2 day to 1 day

The Glenwood Canyon area is one of my favorite spots in all of Colorado. Interstate 70 west of Denver runs along the Colorado River and both cut right through the canyon. And while the drive through the canyon is beautiful, seeing it while hiking is even better .

Best Glenwood Canyon hiking trails

  • Glenwood Canyon Overlook Trail, 3.2 miles
  • Glenwood Springs Boy Scout Trail, 6.2 miles
  • Glenwood Canyon Trail, 14.3 miles
  • Grizzly Creek Trail, 7.9 miles
  • Wulfsohn Trail, 2.9 miles
  • Jess Weaver Trail, 9 miles
  • Doc Holiday Grave Trail, .7 miles
  • Babbish Gulch, 3.2 miles
  • Lookout Mountain Trail, 11 miles

Colorado itinerary continues: get hot in Glenwood Springs

large hot spring pool in mountain scene with red buildings nearby

The biggest thing that brings tourists to Glenwood Springs is the natural hot springs. Visit the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, which is the largest mineral hot springs in the world!

I’ve visited the hot springs in both winter and summer, and both seasons are fun. Make sure to get there early during summer and weekends, as the pool fills up quickly. Find out more about the Hot Springs Pool here .

Colorado itinerary view of downtown buildings with umbrellas for eating under on sunny day

While you’re in Glenwood Springs, make sure you check out the downtown historic district . It’s a great spot for street performers and to grab a bite to eat.

Speaking of which, I had the best tacos of my entire life at Slope and Hatch. They’ve received accolades from Travel & Leisure and Insider as one of the top taco places in the US. More on that here .

Colorado road trip with kids? Visit Fruita!

two dinosaurs on large boxes with sign that reads dinosaur journey

Recommended time: up to 1/2 day

The town of Fruita is relatively small, but for kids it’s an adventure land! One of the main attractions is Dinosaur Journey Museum.

It’s an interactive museum showcasing over 15,000 fossils, a dig site where kids can search for bones, visit a real paleontology lab, see robotic dinosaurs and more. My favorite is the Triceratops skull, which is possibly the largest ever found on earth.

Check out the Dinosaur Journey Museum’s Facebook page for the latest discoveries and event information.

Visit an icon: Colorado National Monument (must-do on this Colorado road trip itinerary)

rocky structures and canyon with cloudy sky above

By the time you drive to Colorado National Monument, Colorado, you’re no longer in the mountains – you’re in the desert! In fact, it’s one of the best stops on a Denver to Moab road trip as well!

Located near Grand Junction, on the western edge of the state, Colorado National Monument is the 2nd nationally protected on this list.

You could probably spend days exploring Colorado National Monument, but to see the highlights, make sure to take the scenic road – Rim Rock Drive . With 19 viewpoints in just 23 miles, it offers some of the best views in Colorado!

Other things to do Colorado National Monument

  • Catch views of Monument Canyon
  • Hike Devil’s Kitchen, 1.5 miles
  • Window Rock
  • Balanced Rock
  • Independence Monument View
  • Cold Shivers Point
  • Hike the Canyon Rim Trail, 1.8 miles

Road trip Colorado – southern part of the state

While there’s simply too many good spots in Colorado to cover them all, here are the highlights of the southern part of the state. And the perfect way to loop back around to the starting point, with plenty of adventures along the way.

Let’s keep going!

Next Colorado road trip stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Colorado road trip view of black canyon of the gunnison with flat top deep canyon with black sides

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a huge park split up into 3 sections – South Rim, North Rim and East Portal. For the purposes of this Colorado itinerary, we’re going to focus on the South Rim section.

This national park is jaw-dropping beautiful, and to be honest, not for those afraid of heights! Many hiking trails and even the road is right beside steep drop offs, so use caution in this park.

One of my favorite parts of this park is the fact that it’s one of the least visited parks in Colorado. So it’s not packed with people, even during peak season! Making this park one of the best places to vacation in Colorado .

Top sights and things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  • Take the 7-mile South Rim Drive
  • Painted Wall Overlook
  • Hike Rim Rock Nature Trail, 1 mile
  • Devil’s Lookout
  • Pulpit Rock Overlook
  • Hike Oak Flat Loop Trail, 1.3 miles
  • Stay until dark and stargaze – it’s an international dark sky park!

Pro tip: if you’re planning to visit all the national parks on this list, be sure to get an annual pass – America the Beautiful pass – through the National Park Service. It allows you access to all National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands for 12 months, which is a bargain if you plan to visit 3 or more.

I’ve used mine all across Colorado, but also while hiking Avalanche Lake Trail in Glacier National Park, while visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and underrated national monuments like Petroglyph and Bandelier in New Mexico.

Drive the Million Dollar Highway: Ouray to Silverton

colorado itinerary 7 days view of road through colorful fall trees and mountain in distance

Recommended time: 1 hour

If you’re looking for a scenic drive in Colorado , this is it! Highway 550 from Ouray to Silverton is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and if you’re on the best Colorado road trip ever, this needs to be part of the journey!

You’ll experience hairpin turns, jagged cliffs, fun lookouts that will leave you breathless. And all in less than 25 miles of road!

Bonus if you take this road in the fall with the gorgeous changing leaves. It’s truly one of the best scenic drives in all of the U.S.!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (underrated stop on this Colorado itinerary)

wavy sand dunes and puffs of green bushes

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, this place is beyond impressive! And let me tell ya, if you have some adventure in you, this is a great stop for your Colorado road trip itinerary!

One of the best things to do at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is sand sledding and sand boarding! Specifically designed to help you fly down sand hills, make sure you rent the right gear! Here’s more info for renting sand sleds and such .

More adventurous things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • Go off-roading up the scenic Medano Pass Primitive Road (4-wheel drive necessary!)
  • Camp with the best view of the stars!
  • Hike to Zapata Falls, 0.9 miles

This is such an underrated stop on this Colorado road trip, but a fun adventure for all ages!

White water rafting down the Arkansas River

colorado road trip in Canon City CO with suspension bridge and mountains in distance

One of my first trips I took with girlfriends was a white-water rafting adventure trip in Colorado. The Arkansas River is powerful and impressive!

There are many great options for white-water rafting in Colorado . Perhaps one of the coolest spots is taking a trip down the Arkansas River under the Royal Gorge Bridge near Canon City, Colorado.

Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the U.S. Seeing it from underneath is a whole new perspective, too! More on the bridge, here .

Back to rafting…you can take a half or whole day rafting trip . Whole day trips include lunch and typically let you experience more views of the canyon, wildlife and of course the river.

Pro tip: most rafting companies only operate May 1st – September 30th, so make sure your trip is in this window if you’re wanting to raft down a river.

More on this Colorado road trip itinerary

The last stretch of this Colorado road trip is just as fun as the rest of it! With mountain views, city activities and a few more surprises, this beautiful is continuing to steal our hearts during this epic Colorado vacation!

Hang out with giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

young giraffe with orange spots and green trees behind

Ranked one of the top 10 zoos in the country , the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo does not disappoint! I’ve visited the zoo multiple times and the animal interactions are unique and fun. Feeding the giraffes is a must-do in this zoo!

The zoo is open year-round and has indoor and outdoor exhibits, perfect for even a winter Colorado road trip! Just a note though – there’s lots of hills so be prepared for a good walk when visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

You can enjoy as little as an hour visiting this zoo, or spend 1/2 day or more. It’s a fun spot for all ages on this road trip Colorado.

Visit Garden of the Gods (classic stop on this Colorado road trip itinerary)

stacked red rocks at Garden of the Gods CO Springs

No Colorado road trip is complete without a visit to Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs ! You could spend a day (or more) hiking the trails and checking out the scenery, but for this Colorado itinerary let’s keep it to a day.

For a simple hike with tons of scenery, I’d recommend the Perkins Central Garden Trail. It’ relatively flat and is about 1.5 miles. The best way to see the park is though the walking trails so plan to spend some time here checking out the scenery.

If you have a bit more time, you can hike the Siamese Twins Garden of the Gods . This scenic trail has fun views of funky rock formations, and overlooks the park and Pikes Peak.

Bonus: Garden of the Gods is free!

Colorado Springs is one of the best places to visit in August , so if you happen to be planning your adventure in late summer, you’re going to love it!

Epic views at Pikes Peak (a Colorado itinerary must-see)

curvy mountain road with snow and red rock above tree line

Nicknamed America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak is a must-do on a trip to Colorado. With an elevation of over 14,000 feet, if you choose to drive you’ll have quite the climb!

Many people take a car up to the view point and visitor center. If you’re maybe not quite comfortable ascending 8,000 feet up from Colorado Springs, you can opt to take a guided tour .

Oh, and expect the viewpoints to be crowded. Nearly 6 million people visit Pikes Peak each year. Starting your route early in the morning may help to beat the crowds!

Pro tip: pack your layers here. I visited in the middle of summer and wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. Learn from my mistake, okay?

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Colorado road trip – Denver

downtown denver buildings with clock tower

Alright so no Colorado road trip itinerary is complete without some time in Denver. There’s about a million things to do in Denver, so it can be hard to choose what to do!

Each time I’ve vacationed in Denver, I made a visit to the 16th Street Mall in downtown. It’s the perfect spot for dining, bar-hopping, shopping and people watching. An outdoor pedestrian mall, 16th street is a mile long that offers a free shuttle, stopping at every block. So hop on and off as you please.

denver street with cafes and flags overhead

More things to do in Denver

  • Denver Botanical Gardens
  • Union Station
  • Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
  • Enjoy a brewery or microbrewery
  • Art District on Santa Fe

As you finish your time in Denver, you can loop back up to Boulder, drive home or back to the airport to fly out. What an amazing adventure, right?!

Colorado itinerary: where will you go on your road trip?

lake and mountains reflecting in water at sunset

Okay so now that you’ve seen all 22 Colorado road trip stops, which do you like best? I mean, with all the stuff to do in Colorado, you really can’t go wrong! I hope you have an amazing road trip with plenty of scenic drives too. 🙂

Comment below on which spots you think you’ll hit – I’m dying to know!

Don’t forget, if you’re planning to rent a car for this epic Colorado road trip, check out the cheap rates on Discover Cars . I typically save 10-30%, which can really add up! They search top car carriers to find the best deal, at no extra cost to you. Check rental car rates here

Related: Summer in Breckenridge: 30 Amazing Things to Do (Plus What to Know Before You Go) 26 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Dillon, CO Breckenridge Troll in Colorado: Everything You Need to Know Denver to Moab: 16 Scenic Stops You Gotta See to Believe 101 Road Trip Snack Ideas You’ll Love 15 Essentials to Pack on a Road Trip with Kids

Find this article helpful? Save it for later or share it on social media!

ultimate guide Colorado road trip 22 amazing places to visit with mountain photos, rock structure and ice cream cone

Sunday 25th of June 2023

I did a cross country national park road trip before the pandemic and Rocky Mountain National Park was one of my favorite parks (I made it to 22 of em' so it's saying something! :P ). I loved my time in Colorado and hope to go back again someday to visit!! Saving this for when I do!

Monday 26th of June 2023

Oh awesome Farra! Yes, RMNP is amazing. And wow what an adventure that sounded like. Hope you make it back soon!

Sunday 7th of August 2022

I have a trip coming up. 6 days to spend and a lot to cover. This list definitely helps. I have most of the spots from this list in my itinerary.

Tuesday 9th of August 2022

Oh I'm so glad to hear that Akash! I hope you have a fabulous time touring Colorado. It's such an incredible state.

Friday 23rd of July 2021

I'm going on a solo Road Trip to Colorado for 2 weeks in September. I'm so excited. Your article has given me a lot of places that I plan to hit now. I swim EVERY day, so I'm hoping to find places to swim each day of my trip. I hope that will not be hard to do. I'm an ice swimmer so if it's cold that's not an issue. Ha ha. I even plan to stay a night at The Stanley Hotel.

Sunday 25th of July 2021

Thanks so much for your comment - I'm so glad you found the post helpful! I love that you booked a night in the Stanley Hotel - such an iconic spot! I hope you have a wonderful time in Colorado!

Valerie Giacoma Wolenberg

Tuesday 22nd of June 2021

Planning a trip for August! Thanks for all the tips! Staying in Winter Park as our base.

Very cool, Valerie! You'll love Winter Park...and the rest of Colorado! Glad you found this post helpful :)

Wednesday 9th of December 2020

I've been pleased to learn about your journey with this blog post. I loved the photos that you have shared. And I am feeling fly to Colorado as soon as possible.

Friday 11th of December 2020

That's so great, Elisa. I hope you get to make it to Colorado soon :)

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The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

From hiking in national parks to exploring charming towns, here's what to see and do on a road trip through Colorado.

colorado montana road trip

To experience the best of the U.S. via the great open road, look to Colorado. This picturesque state straddling the Rocky Mountains is home to some of the most astounding stretches of highway in the country, connecting mountain resorts and artists' colonies to pioneer towns. In short, it's the perfect place for the ultimate road trip. With that in mind, we've devised a route that hits plenty of spots that make the Centennial State so special.

Our itinerary takes you through three spectacular national parks: Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Great Sand Dunes. While the last one doesn't require an admission fee, the first two do ($30 per car, including entry for all passengers, for one day or $35 per car for seven days of access). As of May 24, 2024, you must reserve a timed pass to enter Rocky Mountain National Park. If you're interested in purchasing an America the Beautiful annual pass, which gets you into all U.S. national parks and federal recreational lands, check each park's website below for more information about discounts for seniors, military members, and those with permanent disabilities.

Without further ado, here's our handy guide to everything you should do on a Colorado road trip.

iStockphoto / Getty Images

Colorado's capital and biggest city is inevitably where any road trip should start. Not only is Denver home to the state's largest and busiest airport, and therefore where most travelers arrive, it also acts as a gateway from the plains in the east into the Rocky Mountains. There's plenty to do here before you start your journey: Grab some green chiles at El Taco de Mexico, explore historic Larimer Square, go to one of the city's great museums — the Denver Art Museum and Denver Museum of Nature & Science are great places to start — and perhaps buy yourself a pair of cowboy boots. Whatever you do, make sure your last activity is getting in your car and driving northwest.

Denver's smaller, more free-spirited sibling Boulder is home to the University of Colorado's main campus, which means you can expect a whole lot of restaurants and businesses catering to college students. You'll also find some sublime hiking on and around the Flatirons , an iconic formation formed by dramatic, diagonally tilted slabs of rock.

Tanya Nikolic / Travel + Leisure

Your journey northwest continues to Estes Park, the first destination on this route wholly within the Rocky Mountains. This quaint town has become a popular tourist stop, due to its proximity to some of the region's best rock climbing and mountain trails. Estes Park is also considered the jumping-off point for much of Rocky Mountain National Park , where you can easily spend several days exploring backwoods trails, finding waterfalls, and spotting wildlife. This part of the itinerary is optional, but definitely encouraged if you have the time.

Trail Ridge Road

If you're road-tripping between May and October, you're in luck. The next portion of the route contains what is considered to be one of the most beautiful drives in America: Trail Ridge Road , a switchback-saturated stretch of U.S. Highway 34 that crosses over the Continental Divide and is closed during the fall and winter. In the spring and summer, you can pass through some of the region's highest mountains. Witness the sun glinting off glaciers as you weave through dramatic passes and drive along impossibly blue ponds until you reach Grand Lake. Refuel, then it's onto the next oasis.

Glenwood Springs

The aptly named Glenwood Springs is the hot spring capital of the area, with huge natural hot springs bubbling up from the earth. It's just what you want to see after a long drive from Grand Lake, and a particularly scenic remedy for driving-related cramps. The town is located right where the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers meet, in a valley cradled by steep mountain faces.

Telluride and Ouray

Gallo Images / Getty Images

Drive a few hours from Glenwood Springs and you'll enter gold rush territory. Sure, you can try panning in the Uncompahgre or San Miguel Rivers — it's a good way to cool off, but maybe not to get rich — though the real draw in Telluride and Ouray is the history. These little mountain villages are chock-full of relics from the area's Wild West days, from museums like the Ouray Alchemist Pharmacy Museum to mining tours in Telluride. They're also both tucked away in furtive, but gorgeous, canyons. You can hit Telluride, which is larger, more bustling, and artsier (it's also home to the Telluride Film Festival ), or Ouray, which is smaller and more rustic. Either way, we're venturing south.

Mesa Verde National Park

Continuing south, you'll trade the gold rush era for more ancient times at Mesa Verde National Park . These lands in Montezuma County were once inhabited by the cliff-dwelling ancestors of the Pueblo people, who constructed homes out of the sandstone from the cliffs and mesas on which they were built. The result is extraordinarily dramatic and incredibly enlightening. While there are hundreds of these sites throughout the park, the most impressive is Cliff Palace, pictured above, which lies in the shadow of a magnificent rock arch. Check out its elaborate rooms and the decorative plasters, all of which have withstood erosion and time.

Michael Snell / Robert Harding World Imagery / Getty Images

Beginning our turn east, Durango is the first major town on the map after leaving Mesa Verde. It's a great place to stop and rest for a while, combining the laid-back charm of small-town America with a rich history rooted in its importance as a railroad hub. It has also served as the backdrop in many Hollywood Western films , and you can visit several shooting locations from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Visuals Unlimited / Getty Images

Drive three hours down Route 160 and you'll arrive in a place that feels so otherworldly, you'll feel like you're on another planet. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve seems totally incongruous with the landscape around it, but that's what makes it so enticing — towering, ivory-colored dunes up to 750 feet tall are an echo of the nearby mountains. Camping here is the move, as the effect of the clear night sky over the dunes is a popular astronomical phenomenon that must be seen to be believed.

There's no better place in Colorado to witness the awe-inspiring force of water than Cañon City, so named for the steep cliffs carved by the Arkansas River. Whether you're looking for a gentle, comfortable sightseeing experience like the Royal Gorge Route Railroad or a more extreme method like rafting, you'll find it here, in addition to plenty of wineries and restaurants where you can luxuriate after feasting your eyes.

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is the last stop on your vehicular journey, and it's a bit of a doozy. Not only is this the second-largest city in the state, it's also a stone's throw from two of Colorado's most impressive natural landmarks: Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods . The first can be easily ascended by car via Pikes Peak Highway, and the views from its 14,115-foot summit are truly magnificent — they actually inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write " America the Beautiful ." The second, Garden of the Gods, is a gorgeous public park that combines strikingly red rocks with lush forest scenery.

After indulging in your outdoor activity of choice, end your trip with green chiles at King's Chef Diner and bask in the success of a road trip well spent. If you're returning to Denver to fly home, it's just an hour's drive or so north to reach the airport.

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rancers sitting on fence in wyoming

Road Trip: Rocky Mountains, Colorado & Wyoming

Drive from the snowcapped peaks of northern Colorado to the endless high plains of Wyoming.

Driving from the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado to the high plains of southeastern Wyoming is an immersion in a world of snowcapped peaks, scenic lakes, geological curiosities, and cowboys on horseback riding the endless range.

This 390-mile (630-kilometer) road trip begins in Denver, Colorado, crosses through Rocky Mountain National Park, and continues north into Wyoming, where a world of sagebrush and enormous skies are punctuated by the occasional cluster of civilization. Gas stations can be far apart. Cattle are abundant, outnumbering people, as is wildlife—keep an eye out for roaming pronghorn, elk, and moose. Circling through the mountains and along the prairie's edge, this drive is stunning in any season, but parts of it are impassable in the winter, when snow buries the roads.

First Stop: Boulder

From Denver, follow Highway 36 northwest, stopping to absorb the city of Boulder's funky vibe on pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, where incense wafts from open doors and street musicians puff into didgeridoos. At the Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery ( www.boulderartsandcrafts.com ), check out the efforts of local artists, including elk-antler jewelry, hand-carved cherrywood spoons, and giant saguaros made of metal.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Highway 36 continues, winding and climbing, then winding and descending, into Estes Park ( www.estes-park.com ), where the sprawling, reputedly haunted Stanley Hotel ( www.stanleyhotel.com ), inspiration for Stephen King's novel, The Shining , gleams from a hilltop. Once a rustic mountain town, today Estes Park is the bustling T-shirt-store-lined gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park ( www.nps.gov/romo ). Traverse the park on the stretch of Highway 34 known as Trail Ridge Road. Ponderosa pines tower over the road, then part to reveal valleys far below and sheer mountainsides above. It's the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S., topping out at 12,183 feet (3,713 meters). Above the timberline (11,500 feet/3,500 meters), it winds through a wind-whipped moonscape dotted with alpine plants clinging to the tundra. In the winter, snowdrifts can reach 35 feet (11 meters), and the road closes.

Once through the park, head north on Highway 125. Trees, sagebrush, and vast ranches—evidenced by split-rail fences and the occasional log building—provide the scenery until Walden, the self-proclaimed moose-viewing capital of Colorado. At the River Rock Café ( www.waldenriverrock.com ), patrons, some still wearing their spurs, tuck into hearty chicken-fried steaks and plates of fried Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles).

Signs for the Wyoming border appear less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) farther up the road, which becomes Highway 230. It's another 50 miles (80 kilometers) of sagebrush, tall cottonwood trees rustling in Wyoming's ever present wind, and pronghorn gazing over wire fences, to the Saratoga Resort and Spa ( www.saratogainn.com ). Outside, the low-slung building surrounds steaming thermal pools fed by natural hot springs. Inside, rawhide lampshades, leather-upholstered furniture, and barn wood walls decorate the lobby. On the North Platte River, which passes through the town of Saratoga, you can cast into 65 miles (105 kilometers) of blue-ribbon trout fishing, or just float the river alongside the fish.

Backtrack 8 miles (13 kilometers) and follow 130 east, entering the Medicine Bow National Forest, named for the Native American tradition of carving bows out of mountain mahogany from these valleys. Stop at the observation point for a view of the craggy 12,013-foot (3,662-meter) Medicine Bow Peak. The few buildings of Centennial, population 100, huddle against the east side of the Snowy Range mountains. At the Trading Post Dinner House and Saloon ( www.centennial-tradingpost.com ), try the Centennial Steak, but be prepared to share the 21-pound, placemat-size slab of sirloin.

With the blue, snow-tipped mountains receding behind and the High Plains stretching ahead, continue east on 130. At Laramie, turn left on Snowy Range Road, which passes the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Built in 1872, it's one of the few prisons of its kind still standing, the only one now a museum. Enormous mug shots accompany stories of prisoners, Butch Cassidy among them; he served his only prison time here. "You can't put history into perspective until you visit places like this," says superintendent Tom Lindmier. "It's the bad history. We need that as well as the good history." Laramie harbors the leafy campus of the state's lone four-year university, as well as an assortment of buzzing coffee shops and bars. The walls of its best-known watering hole, the Buckhorn (114 East Ivinson), display a collection of mounted heads (including a jackalope and a two-headed horse), as well as a decades-old bullet hole, the consequence of two patrons' romantic rivalry.

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Ten miles (16 kilometers) east of Laramie on I-80, Abraham Lincoln's face looms over traffic. His 12.5-foot (3.8-meter) head, perched on a 30-foot (9-meter) pedestal, marks the highest point on the road, which parallels the path of the first transcontinental railroad. At Vedauwoo (pronounced "vee-da-voo," meaning "earth-born" in Arapaho), eerie, gargantuan hoodoos and rocky outcrops of 1.43-billion-year-old Sherman granite rise up against the sky. Take exit 329 to get a closer look from Turtle Rock Trail, a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) loop winding through the formations.

Eastward, the landscape flattens into beige grassy folds, virtually uninterrupted until Cheyenne, 30 miles (50 kilometers) away. Low brick buildings face the wide streets of the state capital, home to the world's largest outdoor rodeo every summer. Look for the wooden horse galloping above the red-painted brick Wrangler (1518 Capitol Ave.). Inside, amid 13,000 square feet (1,200 square meters) of Western duds, might be the perfect pair of cowboy boots to begin breaking in on the way back home.

Though most of this route—with the notable exception of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park—stays open year round, your safest bet for smooth driving is to plan your trip for midsummer. Expect crowds in Estes Park, with less congestion on the Grand Lake, or western, side of the national park. Check current park conditions at www.nps.gov/romo .

—Text by Suzanne Bopp, adapted from National Geographic Traveler

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Best Midwest & Dakotas Road Trip Itinerary: Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South and North Dakota

Best Midwest & Dakotas Road Trip Itinerary & Travel Guide

This unforgettable road trip into the “Wild West” weaves you north from Denver, Colorado upwards into Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Across this ~1,200-mile road trip, you will drive through flat and barren land, rugged terrain with diverse and dramatic rock structures, small towns with populations of less than 500 people, mountains, national monuments and parks, and miles upon miles of unsettled wilderness. Seemingly countless bison, deer, elk, prairie dogs and other wildlife roam freely. You may even see badgers, bighorn sheep and wild horses.

IN THIS MIDWEST ROAD TRIP ITINERARY:

  • Travel Tips
  • 1st Stop: Cheyenne
  • 2nd Stop: Scott’s Bluff
  • 3rd Stop: Chimney Rock
  • 4th Stop: Wind Cave
  • 5th Stop: Crazy Horse
  • 6th Stop: Badlands National Park
  • 7th Stop: Devil’s Tower
  • 8th Stop: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Final Stops
  • …and more

Midwest Road Trip Itinerary and Travel Guide

Travel Tips and Practicalities

Flying into the Denver International Airport (DEN) might be your best option as it is easily accessible from many cities and is just over 90 minutes from Cheyenne. Fly home from Fargo, North Dakota’s Hector International Airport (FAR) . Fargo may be harder to find direct flights, but you can also search other nearby airports, or continue onward to Minneapolis and fly home from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) . Check for the best current flight deals, airports and timing options right here depending on your location.

Renting a car to navigate this journey will be the most efficient (unless you’re a local or driving long distance), but be prepared for a probable one-way fee. The driving is part of this trip. Enjoy it. Take your time and be swept away by the vast changing landscapes.

Many restaurants and hotels located in the path of this itinerary are seasonal. If you travel during the off-season, there may be limited hotel and/or restaurant options, but you may enjoy the sites without a crowd.

This itinerary suggests a minimum of 11 nights, but could easily be spread out over 3 weeks. This is a beautiful part of the United States. If you have more time, extend your stay at these stops and/or add more national parks and nearby outdoorsy adventures.

Winetraveler Tip : With the constantly changing COVID-19 travel restrictions and ordinances, check the current status of closures and restrictions that may apply along with CDC guidelines before embarking. Book fully refundable accommodations  and/or fares whenever possible.

1st Stop: Cheyenne, WY (1 Night)

Cheyenne, the capital and most populous city of Wyoming exudes a quaint old western town charm. The city, founded in 1867, was initially populated by many employees of the Union Pacific Railroad busily constructing the railroad that would bridge together the east and the west. Despite obstacles caused by the dramatic and steep Rocky Mountains, the railroad connected with the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 forming the first transcontinental railroad in the US.

History lovers and those fascinated by trains should head over to the Cheyenne Depot Museum , the Old West Museum , and then the small Holliday Park to see the historic Big Boy Steam Engine, No. 4004 . There is a nice peaceful lake and a playground. The Big Boy Steam Engines, the world’s largest steam locomotive, was designed to pull heavy-loaded trains over the sharply angled ground between Cheyenne and Ogden. 

While in Cheyenne, you’re sure to spot at least a few eight-foot-tall artsy cowboy boots painted by local artists. You could go on a boot-scavenger hunt and look for them all. Here is a brochure map to help. Looking for a place to stay? Here are some great hotel recommendations in Cheyenne .

Drive ~1 hour 40 minutes to Scotts Bluff. 

Midwest Road Trip Itinerary - Scott's Bluff

2nd Stop: Scott’s Bluff National Monument, NE (1 Night)

Scott’s Bluff , in Gering, Nebraska, is immediately recognizable due to its height, size, and dominance popping 800 feet above the surrounding flat countryside. You can drive right up the bluff, through 3 tunnels, and then follow a short trail to a lookout spot with expansive views of the countryside. If you’re itching for more, peruse more trails on the park’s website .

Historically, Scott’s Bluff was used by Sioux Indians to chase and hunt buffalo. It served as an important landmark for many emigrants traveling through the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and the Pony Express Trail from 1843 to 1869. There are pioneer wheeled wagons on display with Scott’s Bluff in the background giving you the Oregon Trail vibe.

Take a look here for accommodation suggestions near Scott’s Bluff .

Drive ~30 minutes to Chimney Rock.

RELATED: Epic 4 Day Yellowstone Itinerary: Everything You Need To Know

3rd Stop: Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE

Chimney Rock , in Bayard, Nebraska, is an iconic landmark of Nebraska and the American West. It is a giant pillar of rock protruding upward from the flat surface like a giant chimney. It’s believed to have been the most mentioned and recognizable landmark from the many emigrants along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. It was a symbol of westward expansion. Search here for accommodation options near Chimney Rock .

Drive ~2.5 hours to Wind Cave National Park.

On the way to Wind Cave, consider stopping at the Mammoth Site , an indoor paleontologist site/museum where many mammoths have been unearthed.

Visiting Wind Cave National Park on a Midwest United States Road Trip

4th Stop: Wind Cave National Park, SD

At Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, countless wildlife roam the expansive 28,000 acres of scattered hills. Bison, deer, and elk are plentiful. The prairie dogs are so numerous, in some areas, it looks like the earth is moving as they scurry around. Be on the lookout for badgers. Enjoy the scenic drive of the beautiful terrain and pick the hiking trails that most interest you.

Below this extraordinary land is a vast cave. Tours of the cave range from 1 hour to 90 minutes and involve walking up and down quite a few stairs. The cave tours are presently suspended due to elevator repairs, but check back on the park’s website because hopefully, the caves will reopen by the time you get there. Here is a list of hotel recommendations near Wind Cave .

Drive ~40 minutes to Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore. Consider taking a slightly longer route and driving through Custer State Park (or stay there for a while).

Road Trip to Mount Rushmore Travel Guide

5th Stop: Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore, SD (2 Nights)

Discover colossal art carved into mountains by visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial  and Mount Rushmore National Memorial . Both are located in the Black Hills regions of South Dakota and are only ~17 miles apart. Hotel recommendations are found here , and you can schedule a privately guided tour of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park.

The construction of the Crazy House Memorial, depicting an Oglala Lakota leader and war hero, Crazy Horse, started in 1948. The carving is far from finished. The face towers 87 feet. To put this size in perspective, the carved faces at Mount Rushmore are ~60 feet long. Once completed, it will be the world’s largest mountain carving.

Mount Rushmore, built between 1927 and 1941, is a well-known larger-than-life sculpture carved into the mountain depicting the faces of four US presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. As you approach the monument, state flags stand proud on tall columns with the date the state joined the union. Take the 0.6 mile-long trail with 422 steps to get a closer glimpse of the sculpture.

Winetraveler Tip : Return to Mount Rushmore at night to admire the faces illuminated in the darkness.

Drive ~90 minutes to Badlands.

Ultimate Midwest & Dakotas Road Trip Itinerary & Travel Guide | Badlands National Park

6th Stop: Badlands National Park, SD (2 Nights)

The Badlands , spanning 244,000 acres, is home to semi-desert scenery, grasslands, multi-colored layered rock formations, valleys, steep canyons, and plentiful wildlife. The Badlands formed by soft sedimentary rock being eroded by the dry climate. Numerous bison, deer, and antelope graze. Prairie dogs scurry in and out of their underground holes, seemingly by the thousands. You may even see a herd of bighorn sheep and rams.

As you make the 31-mile loop along the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, there are plenty of overlooks and trails to choose from to stretch your legs and be closer to the natural rugged beauty. Driving along the winding roads is remarkable. Each stone structure is unique. The surrounding barren plains make the incredible buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires appear even more impressive.

Hiking, biking, and horseback riding will keep outdoorsy spirits engaged. Admire the change in colors of the rock formations by catching it during sunrise and sunset. Make sure to look up in the sky to admire the starry nights. Check all things to do on the park’s website here . Take a look at hotel options in The Badlands here .

If you stay in Wall, stop at the Wall Drug Store. It’s a neat place that has grown quite a bit since its beginning in 1931. It takes up a whole block and has a drug store, café, and a small mall with various shops.

Drive ~2.5 hours to Devil’s Tower

7th Stop: Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY (1 Night)

Devil’s Tower is a giant rock tower soaring ~867 feet high from summit to base in Wyoming. It’s a sacred site to many Native Americans, and the first national monument in the US established in 1906. Follow the 1.3-mile loop trail around the tower and gain an appreciation of the tower’s width. Native American prayer clothes are attached to trees along the trail. Keep your eyes out for deer and prairie dogs. The National Park Service’s website lists and describes four more hiking trails. Here are some hotel options to consider near the park .

Drive ~3.5 hours to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Midwest, North Dakota and South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary and Travel Guide | Theodore Roosevelt National Park

8th Stop: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND (2 Nights)

North Dakota, an underrated state, has more to offer than just flat empty fields, and even the expanse of those are beautiful. Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park  and discover why Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with this state. The rolling grasslands, jagged canyons, buttes, open plains, and multi-colored badlands in all directions appear endless. The vast unsettled wilderness is awe-inspiring. This rugged landscape inspired Theodore Roosevelt to focus his policies on conservation after becoming America’s 26th president.

While the park is fairly remote, it’s an easy park to visit once you’re there, even if you spend no time charting out what you want to do ahead of time. Driving along the winding scenic path through the park while stopping at many lookout spots is fabulous. Drive carefully as wildlife is abundant. Herds of bison, wild horses, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, countless prairie dogs, and many more animals make their home here. Pack a picnic basket, pick your favorite overlook spot, and have a picnic while soaking in views capable of taking your breath away.

Plentiful hiking trails from easy to strenuous levels await and are listed and described on the park’s website . Biking, horseback riding, and fishing (with a license) are all possible. Click here for our recommendations on the best hotels near the park .

Winetraveler Tip : While bison may appear gentle and passive, they are extremely dangerous to humans. Always be aware of your surroundings. Walk slowly around any bends with blind corners and maintain a safe distance.

Final Stops (2-5 Nights)

Appreciate the grand openness of North Dakota’s landscapes by driving eastward across the length of the state. Stop, rest, and explore with overnight visits in the cities of Bismarck and then Fargo . Check here for hotel options in Bismarck as well as Fargo . 

Consider extending your trip and driving an additional ~3.5 hours (250 miles) to Minneapolis, Minnesota. As you drive diagonally down the state, you will soon realize that its nickname, “Land of 10,000+ lakes” must be accurate. It feels like there’s a lake everywhere you turn the entire drive.

For those traveling with kids, take them to the Mall of America , featuring a large indoor theme park. There’s zip-lining, large slides, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, shops too, and so much more. If you’re looking for somewhere fun and outdoorsy during your stay in Minneapolis, check out the 193-acre Minnehaha Park and admire the beautiful 53-foot Minnehaha Falls .

If you’re looking for more things to do throughout the U.S., be sure to browse these other travel guides or check out our other top recommended road trips in the US you can take right now.

MORE ROAD TRIP & NATIONAL PARK ITINERARIES:

Here’s an Epic 4 Day Zion National Park Itinerary

Red River Gorge Kentucky Itinerary: Private Cabin Retreat

22 Best North Carolina Wineries & Vineyards To Visit

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Best Road Trips in the Northern Rockies: Montana, Wyoming and Idaho

Updated : April 19, 2023

AAA Travel Editor, Katie Broome

colorado montana road trip

Bkamprath/iStockphoto.com

Best Montana Road Trips

The scenery in Montana is as impressive as it is varied. Thick forests, towering mountains, deep valleys and pristine lakes characterize the western part of the state, which includes the northern Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. It’s the topography of Montana’s west that inspired the name montaña, the Spanish word for “mountain” or “mountainous region.” Of all Montana road trips, this one is perhaps the most popular (and is sometimes referred to as Glacier National Park’s “Road to the Sun”). The 50-mile route cuts across Glacier National Park at an elevation of 6,646 feet and is open seasonally, so you’ll want to plan accordingly. To include the road as part of a longer trip, consider AAA’s , a 374-mile journey that starts in Kalispell, Montana, and ends in the capital city of Helena. (AAA members can take advantage of exclusive member benefits with car rentals from Hertz .)

A drive through the eastern portion of Montana will have you wondering, “Why is the sky so big in Montana?” It’s the prairie grasslands and wide-open vistas of the east that gave Montana the nickname “Big Sky Country.” To see these expansive, impossibly blue skies, consider the following road trips:

• Big Sky Country Road Trip : A scenic 425-mile journey that starts and ends in Billings, Montana, looping through southern Montana and a small section of northern Wyoming. You’ll see the cowboy town of Cody, snow-capped mountains and hairpin turns along Beartooth Scenic Highway , and important sites in Native American history like Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

• Big Sky Back Country Scenic Byway : Farther east in Montana’s Great Plains region, this 111-mile journey takes you through badlands, buttes and rolling prairies.

For Montana drives under one hour, consider these additional trips:

• Flathead Lake West Shore Scenic Highway : Follows the shore of glacially formed Flathead Lake, said to be the largest natural body of freshwater west of the Mississippi River

• Bitterroot Valley Scenic Highway : Begins in rustic Darby, a filming location for the TV series “Yellowstone”

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Road Trips Around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Established in 1872, was the first national park in the U.S. and continues to be one of its most-visited, with approximately 4 million visitors each year. If you want to be among those visitors and experience one of the best places for road trips in the U.S., here are a few things to know about Yellowstone:

• The park is big — very big. Based on total land area, Yellowstone is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

• The vast majority of Yellowstone’s 3,472 square miles lie in northwestern Wyoming, but its boundaries also extend into Idaho and Montana. (Three of the five park entrances are in Montana.)

• Wildlife sightings are common from park roadways, so drive with caution; you may see grizzlies, black bears, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and bison.

• Most park roads are open May through October (weather permitting), but check the Yellowstone road status website for the most current information.

To see Yellowstone’s dramatic river canyons, geysers, geothermal pools and waterfalls in all their glory, take the road trip, a 400-mile journey from Bozeman, Montana, to Jackson, Wyoming, with plenty of national park stops along the way. You’ll enter through the park’s west entrance (in West Yellowstone, Montana) before making a scenic loop that includes the popular Yellowstone Grand Loop in the heart of the park. This Yellowstone drive includes a trip through Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, with magnificent views of Jenny Lake, the Teton Range and the valley of Jackson Hole.

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What Else to See on a Wyoming Road Trip (Besides Yellowstone)

Once you’ve done the scenic drives around Yellowstone National Park, what else should you see in Wyoming?Just outside Yellowstone’s northeast entrance is , a two-lane road that’s been called one of the most scenic American road trips. It rises to an elevation of almost 11,000 feet, with plenty of overlooks where you can stop for a photo. (If you’re starting from Cody, Wyoming, take the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway to reach Beartooth Scenic Highway; it offers more views of snow-capped mountains and deep canyons.)South of Yellowstone, you can explore the ski resorts and mountains around Jackson Hole and Star Valley. The Star Valley to Yellowstone Scenic Highway will take you from Yellowstone’s south entrance into Grand Teton National Park and then through Jackson Hole and a handful of small towns near the Idaho border. This trip is a good jumping off point for visiting Snow King Mountain and the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming.North-central Wyoming near the Montana border offers many scenic drives and small towns worth exploring. From I-90 just south of the Montana–Wyoming border, you’ll have your pick of two scenic drives that start on US 14: the is a roughly 200-mile route across the Bighorn and Shoshone national forests on the way to Cody, while the Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Highway heads toward Bighorn Lake on US 14A.The follows SR 120 past the vast prairies of Bighorn Basin to Thermopolis, Wyoming, a town known for its hot springs. Continue south on the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway to Shoshoni for more views of canyons, rock formations and the Bighorn River.

colorado montana road trip

Best Idaho Road Trips

Breathtaking mountain scenery, diverse wildlife, raging river rapids and a ski town that rivals Aspen — it’s easy to see why the state of Idaho makes a great road trip destination.The west region of Idaho boasts the , a 90-minute drive that snakes along the Payette River, with frequent pull-offs to admire the view.Scenic drives in Idaho’s central region will acquaint you with the state’s remote wilderness and craggy granite peaks. The follows SR 75 through Sawtooth National Recreation Area, passing the popular resort towns of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley along the way. You may see wildlife like pronghorn antelope, deer, elk and wolves in this area.Another must-do road trip in the central region of Idaho is the , which follows the Salmon River (also known as the River of No Return, due to its strong current) past waterfalls and spectacular areas for whitewater rafting. As you near the Montana border, you can put yourself in the shoes of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who traveled through these mountain passes in 1805 on their journey west.In northern Idaho’s panhandle is a portion of the only International Scenic Byway in North America: . This 88-mile section of the Selkirk Loop offers great river scenery and wildlife watching opportunities around the Selkirk Mountains. (Make the full international loop — bring your passport! — by adding on Washington’s International Selkirk Scenic Loop to the west and British Columbia’s International Scenic Loop to the north.)Nearby is the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway , a two-lane road that follows the Clark Fork of the Columbia River from the Idaho–Montana border to Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-ah-RAY), one of the largest freshwater lakes in the Pacific Northwest.

colorado montana road trip

Best Time of Year for a Northern Rockies Road Trip

June to September is the best time of year for a Northern Rockies road trip, with the best chances of sunny skies and mild temperatures occurring in summer. July is the hottest month on average in these states.

Given the ideal driving conditions in June, July and August, expect plenty of crowds when road-tripping through tourist-heavy areas like Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton national parks in summer months.

If you plan to visit Yellowstone National Park in the fall or spring, keep in mind that roads may close for winter conditions as early as October and remain closed until mid-April. In Glacier National Park, roads at higher elevations (such as the alpine portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road) can close in October and remain closed until late June or early July.

Some roads in Grand Teton National Park may close from November through April or mid-May for winter recreational use.

Winters are particularly harsh in the Northern Rockies, and driving in winter months can be dangerous due to slush, frost, snow, ice and white-out conditions.

No matter the season, always be prepared for dramatic temperature changes and unpredictable weather in the Northern Rockies, especially at higher elevations.

colorado montana road trip

Start Your Next Road Trip with AAA

AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers — from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip and locate AAA Diamond designated hotels and restaurants with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner , or browse pre-planned itineraries on AAA.com/RoadTrips . Estimating fuel costs for your trip is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator , and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved auto repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair . For printed maps, AAA TourBook guides and trip planning advice, contact your local AAA office .

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Seven of the Most Beautiful Roads in the United States

From Alaska to Florida, these serene and exhilarating stretches beg you to take the scenic route

Teddy Brokaw

A bridge on Highway 101 along the beach in Del Mar, California

“SEE AMERICA FIRST,” proclaimed an April 1, 1906, headline in the New York Times , encouraging American tourists to expand their vacation horizons beyond Europe. The slogan, debuted by Utah boosters a few months earlier to promote westward travel, received the Times ’ enthusiastic endorsement: “In a fortnight the Far Easterner can really go Far West and see things worth seeing, see many scenic wonders by the way.”

Today, affordable flights to far-flung destinations abound, and it’s easy for the American traveler to again lose sight of how much beauty and diversity exists in their own backyard. The great American road trip has long offered a cure for such complacency, and this summer should be no different: About 75 percent of Americans are expected to travel by car.

Seeking inspiration for your own road trip? These roads are more than just pathways to some of the nation’s most compelling destinations—they’re unforgettable in their own right. With scenic vistas, roadside attractions and historic curiosities aplenty, these routes call to mind another bygone travel slogan: Getting there is half the fun!

Alaska Highway, Alaska

sign for the entrance of the Alaska Highway

In the early days of World War II, fears of a potential attack on the Territory of Alaska spurred military officials to create the Alaska Highway . In just nine months, more than 10,000 members of the Army Corps of Engineers completed over 1,500 miles of roadway, a pace no doubt motivated by a healthy dose of competition. Take the 95th Regiment: an under-equipped unit of Black engineers who staked their paychecks on a bet with their white counterparts that they could finish a bridge in five days. It only took them three and a half, and not because of slapdash workmanship—the Sikanni Chief River Bridge was the first permanent structure on the highway and stood for half a century before arson destroyed it in 1992.

On the way to the permafrost of the Alaskan tundra, eagle-eyed motorists may spot caribou, moose and grizzly bears along the road. Those keen on eyeing bald eagles should plan a stop near the Canadian border at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge . Its wetlands serve as a pit stop for 180 species of migratory birds , including America’s national bird, on their springtime journey towards the ice fields and glaciers at the road’s northernmost reaches. Drivers who opt to follow their wingbeats north can check out a very different type of air travel at Mukluk Land in Tok, Alaska. The junkyard-turned-amusement park is home to “Santa’s Rocket Ship” (a futuristically styled bus straight out of “The Jetsons”) as well as Skee-Ball, miniature golf and— what else?—the world’s largest mukluk (a sealskin boot).

Highway 101, California

Sign going North on the 101 highway in California

“The 101” is a drivable California postcard, taking motorists past the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and even through a redwood tree way up north in Klamath. (That last one requires a quick turn off on Exit 769.) The route offers a chance to not only see some of the best that California has to offer, but also smell and taste it, when the road cuts through the heart of Sonoma’s wine country. Over 400 different wineries produce varietals from chardonnay to cabernet, which can be sampled in fetching estates nestled among the stunning vineyards. Just be sure to bring a designated driver.

Weary road trippers looking to break up the journey don’t need to stray far from the highway to find accommodations as unique as the sights along the way. Consider a stop at Oceano Dunes in Pismo Beach, where drivers can pull directly onto the sand and camp overnight at the water’s edge. Those less keen on roughing it can head up the road a few dozen miles to the iconic Madonna Inn . This relic of 1950s maximalism boasts 110 rooms, each sporting a unique theme, ranging from “Caveman” to “Swiss Chalet” and even “Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Hana Highway, Hawaii

an aerial view of Hana Highway in Hawaii

The earliest incarnation of the Hana Highway dates to the 16th century, when Native Hawaiians first paved the road with lava blocks. Today, the route is one of Maui’s greatest tourist draws, with its 617 switchbacks hiding some of the island’s best attractions. A trek through a bamboo forest leads hikers to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls , while the natural pools formed by waterfalls at Waikamoi Stream are a swimmer’s dream. The highway even boasts its very own “ Garden of Eden ,” a botanical garden and arboretum offering nature trails and glimpses of peacocks.

The overwhelming popularity of the Road to Hana has brought changes both positive and negative to the area. “In the past 20 years or so, lots of local businesses have popped up and are thriving along the highway,” says Viola Gaskell , a photojournalist born and raised in Hana. “Places like Ono Farms in Kipahulu, which has all sorts of exotic fruit and trees, give people the opportunity to try local things along the road.” But increased tourism makes it more important than ever to “travel pono ”—that is, respectfully and responsibly. Part of that effort is remembering that the Hana Highway isn’t just a stunningly scenic drive, but also a vital artery for the real people who live and work in East Maui every day. “It’s super important for people to only go to places where they're welcome,” Gaskell adds. Locals may be driving much faster, “so if you see a local person driving behind you, you should pull over as soon as you can.”

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana

a red tour bus next to tourist looking at a mountainous view

Millions of years ago, the area around Montana’s Glacier National Park was submerged under ice a mile deep. Movement and melt carved the landscape over the course of millennia, leaving behind the craggy peaks and frigid lakes that dot the area. But the most striking reminders of the region’s prehistoric origins are the 25 glaciers that give the park its name. A few of the 7,000-year-old behemoths are visible directly from Going-to-the-Sun Road , including Jackson Glacier, which has its own scenic overlook along the route. A mere 50 years ago, Jackson Glacier was nearly twice as large , serving as a constant reminder of a broader story in the park: the glaciers have been shrinking for decades, and more than 50 have disappeared entirely since the mid-1800s.

Visitors may be flocking to Glacier to see these natural wonders before they vanish, but the fascination with glaciers was just as strong a century ago, when the federal government first began considering a permanent route to accommodate sightseers. Surveyors from the Bureau of Public Roads rappelled over cliffsides and faced down bears as they plotted the route, and the work was so grueling that labor turnover topped 300 percent. Today, the journey is not so treacherous—in fact, you can even let someone else do the driving. The park’s historic Red Jammers , a fleet of 1930s ragtop tour buses, allow visitors to take in stunning mountain, lake and waterfall views from the road. Meanwhile, those bringing their own vehicles should take heed: Reservations are necessary for the road during peak hours. “Glacier has steadily grown in popularity over the last 20 years to the point where heavy traffic has caused unsafe conditions,” says Gina Icenoggle, public information officer for Glacier National Park. “As a result, Glacier has implemented a vehicle reservation system.” To avoid disappointment, Icenoggle recommends visiting recreation.gov when planning a visit to obtain a reservation beforehand.

Trail of the Ancients, Arizona/Colorado/New Mexico/Utah

a road going toward Ship Rock mountain

Pairing natural beauty with Indigenous history, the Trail of the Ancients winds its way around the sun-drenched Four Corners region where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah converge. Though connected by a shared history, each state’s portion of the route offers something different. In Arizona, visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument , one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the United States, to see fifth-century C.E. pictographs painted onto canyon walls that rise as high as 1,000 feet. Crane your neck as you take in Shiprock , a Navajo sacred site central to their creation story, which rises abruptly from the New Mexican desert floor to a height taller than the Willis Tower. And in Utah, stretch your legs at Forrest Gump Point , a lonely stretch of U.S. Route 163 in Monument Valley where the film’s hero decides to finally stop running.

Perhaps most spectacular along the trail is Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park . Home to an ancient cliffside metropolis built by Ancestral Puebloans around the 13th [5] century, Mesa Verde was the first national park dedicated to “preserve the works of man.” Its most striking site is surely the Cliff Palace , a 150-room building that was once home to roughly 100 people. National Park Service ranger and Laguna Pueblo woman T.J. Atsye once reflected about the Cliff Palace: “Even though we physically moved away, the spirits of my ancestors are still here. If you stop for a minute and listen, you can hear the children laughing and the women talking. You can hear the dogs barking and the turkeys gobbling. You can hear and feel the beat of the drums and the singing. You can smell the cooking fires. You can feel their presence, their warmth, their sense of community.”

Mount Washington Auto Road, New Hampshire

a wooden sign on Mt. Washington Summit

“THIS CAR CLIMBED MT. WASHINGTON,” proclaims a bumper sticker ubiquitous throughout New England. It’s a sign that the vehicle has summited the Northeast’s tallest mountain, an ascent of 4,600 vertical feet that climbs through the clouds and into blue sky, revealing panoramic views from the White Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. Even during the winter months, when the road is closed to public traffic, aspiring automotive mountaineers can still enjoy a ride to the summit in the SnowCoach (a van with tracks for wheels), and Nordic ski or snowshoe down. But be sure to bundle up—last year, Mount Washington recorded the coldest wind chill in U.S. history of minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

The auto road is billed as “America’s oldest manmade attraction,” and its storied history is as much a draw as its natural beauty. Construction began on the road during the presidency of Franklin Pierce, with work completed during Lincoln’s first term. Over the years, the route developed a reputation as an automotive proving ground. The first timed journey to the summit saw an 1899 Stanley Locomobile post a then-blistering time of just over two hours, a record modern weekend warriors shatter on a daily basis in family minivans. Still, that initial time trial inspired one of the oldest auto races in America, the Mount Washington Hillclimb , which has been sporadically held along the road since 1904. But wannabe racers may have their work cut out for them: The current record time of 5 minutes and 28.67 seconds may be slightly harder to beat than the 1899 original.

Overseas Highway, Florida

an aerial view of Overseas Highway in Florida

In 1905, oil tycoon Henry Flagler announced his plans to build a railroad connecting Key West to the Florida mainland . When the line opened seven years later, the project once lampooned as “Flagler’s Folly” was hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” But the triumph would be short-lived. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane struck with an intensity that would be unparalleled for the next half-century, washing away 40 miles of track and dooming the railway for good. The misfortune for train travelers nonetheless proved a boon for motorists: Florida purchased what was left of the infrastructure and repurposed it to create the Overseas Highway .

Today, the southernmost highway in the continental United States carries U.S. Route 1 over the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys via 42 low-slung bridges. Beneath the underpasses, the Lower 48’s largest coral reef offers some of the country’s best snorkeling, but be warned: Sightings of crocodiles and alligators may be better enjoyed from the driver’s seat. Those craving a wildlife adventure may want to seek out the Turtle Hospital , located at Mile Marker 48.5 on the Overseas Highway. Since its founding in 1986, the hospital has helped nurse over 3,000 sea turtles back to health, and the public is welcomed daily for guided educational tours .

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Teddy Brokaw | READ MORE

Teddy Brokaw is a law student and freelance writer based in New Haven, Connecticut.

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COMMENTS

  1. 10 Best Stops on a Denver to Montana Road Trip

    A Denver to Montana road trip is a great option for anyone departing from Colorado since it's easily doable in a day, depending on where you're going in Montana, and the drive north and west will take you past all kinds of attractions and diverse Western US landscapes.. Unless you opt for a much longer scenic route from Denver to Yellowstone National Park and the Bridger-Teton National ...

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    National Bison Range: Another great road trip stop on a Montana, Wyoming and Colorado route is the National Bison Range in Charlo, MT. (It will take a little less than two hours to drive from Kalispell and over two hours to drive from Whitefish to the National Bison Range.) It will cost $5 USD per standard car to get into the National Bison Range.

  3. The Ultimate Montana Road Trip: Detailed 10-Day Itinerary

    Glacier National Park. Driving time to West Glacier: About 30 minutes. Ahh, Glacier National Park. Crown jewel of Montana. This stunning park is the highlight of any Montana road trip! Psst: For more information about this leg of your trip, check out our 2-day Glacier National Park Itinerary.

  4. The Ultimate 2 Week National Park Road Trip: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming

    Denver is the ideal spot to kick start this adventure. You'll fly into Denver International Airport and take the quick 20-minute uber ride (approx. $20) to the Denver VanCraft depot.The office opens at 9am making it easy to get a morning flight in and pick up your VanCraft van just in time for a late breakfast in Denver (check out Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen in Five Points near I-25 ...

  5. The Only Rocky Mountain Road Trip Route You Need (2-Week Itinerary)

    Day 1: Fly Into Denver, then Drive to Boulder, Colorado. While you can certainly stay in Denver, we actually recommend starting your Rocky Mountain road trip adventure in Boulder, Colorado. Here, there are endless opportunities for hiking and exploring, and even more options for unique restaurants and shopping.

  6. The Ultimate Montana Road Trip

    Denver, Colorado to Montana Road Trip via Wyoming. Travelers with ample time can create an epic Colorado, Wyoming, Montana Road Trip. Spend a few days in Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park, then travel north to Wyoming - aiming for the northwest corner to see Grand Teton and Yellowstone. From Yellowstone, drive north on Highway 191 ...

  7. The Perfect 5 to 7 Day Montana Itinerary

    Like other nearby Rocky Mountain states such as Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, Montana is known as a haven for outdoor adventurers like hunters, anglers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and skiers. ... so this 5 to 7-day Montana road trip itinerary will assume you're driving across eastern Montana on Interstate 94 (if not directly into the ...

  8. Rocky Mountain Road Trip: 10-Day Itinerary

    Day 3: Drive to Gardiner, Montana. Day 4: Explore the Southern Loop of Yellowstone. Day 5: Explore the Northern Loop of Yellowstone. Day 6: Drive to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Day 7: Explore Grand Teton National Park. Day 8: Drive to Estes Park, Colorado. Day 9: Explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Day 10: Explore Denver or Head Back Home.

  9. Montana Road Trip: 10-Day Itinerary

    Western Cafe. 443 E Main St. +1 406 587 0436. If you want to experience Montana-style cooking, then the Western Cafe pares things down to just delicious food and great service. Homestyle dishes and unlimited coffee refills make this a great place to hit before you head out on your next adventure.

  10. Montana Wyoming road trip

    And where we stayed (mixed hotel and camping spots), and picture guide for each location. Our Montana Wyoming road trip from Colorado. On map above: A - Hotel for the night 1 - Townplace Suites Billings (Billings, Montana) B - Camp site for night 2 - Big Larch Campground in Montana. C - Camp site for night 3 - Lost Johnny Point ...

  11. The Perfect 10 Day Montana Road Trip Itinerary (+ Optional Wyoming

    Day 3-4 of your Montana Road Trip: Bozeman. Day 4-6 of Your Montana Road Trip: Big Sky & Yellowstone. Day 7 of Your Montana Road Trip: Missoula. Day 8-10 of Your Montana Road Trip: Whitefish & Glacier National Park. Ending Your Montana Road Trip Itinerary: Kalispell or Back to Billings.

  12. Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

    This ain't no Denver/Vail/Colorado Springs jobbie, this is the real deal, super detailed, massive circular (kinda) road trip route that will take you to the best of the state, including hot springs, breweries, mountain towns, ghost towns, scenic drives, and awesome hiking trails - amongst other things.. It includes my favorite places to eat, the best drinking holes in town, and a handful ...

  13. Perfect Colorado Road Trip Itinerary: 22 Stops You Need to See

    Next Colorado road trip stop: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Views from the Chasm View Trail at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Recommended time: 1-2 days. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a huge park split up into 3 sections - South Rim, North Rim and East Portal.

  14. Road Trip Itinerary: Across Big Sky Country From Montana to Idaho and

    Sun Valley to Jackson, Wyoming. Sun Valley. 4 h 30 m. 241 mi. Jackson. Route: Drive along the volcanic moonscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument and westward through southern Idaho until ...

  15. The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary

    This 90-minute Road Trip Is One of the World's Most Beautiful Coastal Drives What My Family Learned on a Literary Road Trip Through New England 25 Must-see Spots in North America According to a ...

  16. The ULTIMATE Colorado Road Trip (+ 26 Scenic Byways)

    Colorado Road Trips almost plan themselves with so many options. With 26 scenic byways, 13 of which are nationally recognized as America's Byways, coupled with 10 National Forest Scenic Byways and two backcountry byways, you'll find roads from easy to epic. At the same time, Colorado has major interstates going in all directions.

  17. Road Trip: Rocky Mountains, Colorado & Wyoming

    Overview. This 390-mile (630-kilometer) road trip begins in Denver, Colorado, crosses through Rocky Mountain National Park, and continues north into Wyoming, where a world of sagebrush and ...

  18. 12-Day Road Trip Itinerary for Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas

    Highlights of this Montana, Wyoming, and Dakotas road trip route include: Falls Park in Sioux Falls. Badlands National Park. A stop at Wall Drug. Custer State Park. Mount Rushmore and/or the Crazy Horse Memorial. Wind Cave National Park. Devils Tower National Monument. Grand Teton National Park.

  19. Best Midwest & Dakotas Road Trip Itinerary and Travel Guide

    This unforgettable Midwest road trip into the "Wild West" weaves you north from Denver, Colorado upwards into Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota & North Dakota. Across this ~1,200-mile road trip, you will drive through flat and barren land, rugged terrain with diverse and dramatic rock structures, small towns with populations of less than 500 people, mountains, national monuments and parks ...

  20. How to Plan a National Parks Road Trip in Montana and Wyoming

    7-day Itinerary. The more time, the merrier at the National Parks, so we recommend spending a week at least if you hope to hit all three parks. Day 1: Arrive in Jackson, Wyoming. No matter how you are getting there, start your 3-park journey in Jackson and begin at Grand Teton National Park.

  21. Best Road Trips in the Northern Rockies: Montana, Wyoming and Idaho

    Of all Montana road trips, this one is perhaps the most popular (and is sometimes referred to as Glacier National Park's "Road to the Sun"). The 50-mile route cuts across Glacier National Park at an elevation of 6,646 feet and is open seasonally, so you'll want to plan accordingly. To include the road as part of a longer trip, consider ...

  22. 10-Day Road Trip Itinerary: Idaho, Montana & Wyoming

    Our itinerary took us through the iconic national parks with a number of must-see stops on the way to Idaho, Montana and Wyoming! Day 1: Travel to Riggins, Idaho by way of Boise. We started our Idaho road trip from Boise to Glacier National Park in Montana with a stop in Riggins, Idaho. Boise was actually the only place we could find a rental car.

  23. Seven of the Most Beautiful Roads in the United States

    Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana. Glacier National Park's historic Red Jammers, a fleet of 1930s ragtop tour buses, allow visitors to take in stunning mountain, lake and waterfall views from the ...

  24. July Road trip ideas

    Montana Summer 2024. July 16-23. Tuesday July 16- Fly to Spokane (GEG) Drive to Post Falls Idaho short look around. Drive to Coeur d'Alene. Lunch. Hike Tubbs Hill (2 mile loop trail takes about 50min) Take Hwy 95 to Sandpoint. Look for farmland around Athol before Sandpoint.

  25. The Incredible Flower Road Trip Through Montana Is The Ultimate ...

    1. Apikuni Falls Trail, Glacier National Park. The Apikuni Falls Trail in Glacier National Park is a 1.8-mile out-and-back hidden gem for wildflower enthusiasts. This picturesque trail, with its ...

  26. CO road trip

    2. Re: CO road trip. May 13, 2024, 4:24 PM. That time of the year, being south or west are best for hiking. If you hit CO Springs/ Manitou Springs your first night in CO, then you could hike at Garden of Gods and visit Pikes Peak. You could hit Salida next and enjoy some of the lower elevation hikes in the area.

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