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Last Updated on February 2, 2024 by Sarah Puckett
Imagine: Seeing Delicate Arch with your own eyes. Exploring the largest Native American archeological site in the US. Driving on one of the highest roads in North America. All of these adventures and more await you on this epic Colorado Utah road trip!
Planning a Colorado to Utah road trip means planning a road trip to one of the most captivating regions of the United States. This 10-day Colorado-Utah road trip itinerary will have you going from alpine lakes to Mars-like desert scapes as you adventure from Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah, and back to Denver, exploring 8 national parks and monuments along the way.
As a Colorado resident and annual southwest snowbird, I know this region of the United States inside and out. I have spent the last several winters based in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, and have driven the route from my home base near Denver, Colorado to Utah, and back again, countless times. This Colorado Utah road trip itinerary reflects the most efficient route for visiting 8 national parks and national monuments throughout Colorado and Utah. I’m also including all sorts of hidden gems and awe-inspiring add-ons along the route. While this itinerary is written with 10 days in mind, I wanted to give you plenty of options for extending your Colorado Utah trip and seeing the most spectacular sites of the US Southwest!
So here it is, the perfect Colorado Utah road trip itinerary!
Colorado Utah Road Trip Itinerary Map
Get this Colorado to Utah itinerary as an interactive map you can access through Google Maps to make planning your road trip a breeze! It contains over 100 locations from this Colorado Utah road trip itinerary. Save the locations, loaded with helpful tips and links, to your own map for easy reference during your trip.
Day-by-Day Colorado Utah Road Trip Itinerary
Note that this is a fast-paced itinerary 10 day itinerary through Colorado and Utah. If you have more time, I recommend spending additional days in Rocky Mountain National Park, Moab, and southern Colorado. I’ll point out the best add-ons throughout this Colorado Utah road trip itinerary!
Day 1: Arrive in Denver
Fly into Denver
Unless you live in Colorado or are road tripping to Colorado from elsewhere, you will most likely be flying into Denver International Airport to start your Colorado Utah trip. You could also fly in and out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and I will provide directions below on how to start and end your road trip in SLC instead of Denver. Flying into Salt Lake City will require longer driving time at the start and end of your tip, so keep fuel cost for the extra miles in mind when deciding which airport will be best for you!
Pick up a rental car
You will need your own vehicle for this road trip, so plan to rent a car at the airport if you are flying in.
Explore Denver (Time Permitting)
If your schedule allows, here are some rewarding things you can do in Denver to get a taste of the city.
Stroll 16th Street Shops and Restaurants
If you only have time for one activity in Denver, make it this one. Walking down the pedestrian-only 16th Street in the heart of downtown Denver is the best way to get a feel for the city. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops lining the street.
Visit the Denver Art Museum
If you are an art enthusiast, don’t miss the Denver Art Museum, which houses a collection of art from around the world. The 7th floor is devoted to southwest art, and you will see many paintings featuring some of the peaks and landscapes you will get to experience for yourself on this road trip! Standard admission for non-resident adults is $19. Discounted tickets are available for residents, students, and seniors over the age of 65. Kids under 18 are free every day! Book your tickets online in advance.
Visit Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
If you want to escape the city right away, head to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. The best way to experience Red Rocks is by going to a concert there, where the unique geology creates an incredible acoustic experience. Check out the concert schedule before your trip to see if any upcoming performances pique your interest.
If a concert isn’t your jam, take a hike in Red Rocks Park or join the locals for a sunset stair run or yoga session.
Drive to Estes Park
From Denver, drive to Estes Park, about 2 hours away. Estes Park (or simply “Estes”) is a small town at the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is the most popular town to stay in when visiting the park given its proximity to Denver and the airport. The second most popular town to stay in is Grand Lake, near the west entrance of the park, and where you’ll stay after tomorrow’s adventures in the park.
Once you get to Estes, check into your hotel and grab a bite at one of the many recommended local restaurants. See my recommendations below!
Where to Eat:
- Bird & Jim
- Claire’s Restaurant and Bar
- SEASONED – An American Bistro
- Smokin’ Dave (local bbq chain)
Where to Sleep:
- The Historic Crag’s Lodge
- Silver Moon Hotel
- Best Western Plus Silver Saddle Inn
- 4 Seasons Inn on Fall River
- Hotel Estes
Day 1 At a Glance:
- Fly into DIA
- Pick up your rental car
- Time permitting, explore Denver
- Drive to Estes Park and check into your accommodation (2 hours)
Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park
Since you only have one day in Rocky Mountain National Park on this Colorado Utah road trip, you need to make the most of it! That’s why I am including the park’s best hike AND best scenic drive in this itinerary.
Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Information
Between May and October, unless you plan to enter the park before 5 am, you will need to obtain a timed entry reservation for Bear Lake Road (“Park Access+”). You can read more about the timed entry requirements on the official park website here.
During weekends or peak summer days, parking can be very challenging at Bear Lake Trailhead, where today’s hike will begin. Consider reserving a spot on the park shuttle to avoid the hassel of waiting for parking at the trailhead. You can find more information about the Rocky Mountain National Park hiker’s shuttle here.
In addition to your timed entry reservation, you will also need to pay the entrance fee for the park, which is a separate process from the timed entry permit. Because this 10-day Colorado Utah road trip itinerary has you visiting 8 national parks and monuments, I recommend buying a National Park Pass (also called the America the Beautiful Pass or interagency pass). The pass is good for a full year from the time you order it and gives you access at no additional cost to over 10,000 NPS-managed sites across the United States. The pass is $80, so it will pay for itself during this road trip. >> Buy your National Parks Pass on REI here.
Hike the Lake Haiyaha and Emerald Lake Trail
Drive or take the shuttle to the Bear Lake Trailhead. This is where your hike to five (yes, I said FIVE) alpine lakes begins! The Lake Haiyaha and Emerald Lake Loop combines the most popular hike in the park (Emerald Lake) with the park’s most hyped hike (Lake Haiyaha).
What makes the hike to Lake Haiyaha unique is that in summer 2022 a landslide deposited so much silt into the lake that it turned the water a milky green. Now, in 2023, it is a tropical blue hue. I expect in 2024 and beyond, it will continue to return to its normal color (which is similar to that of any of the other alpine lakes on this hike).
During this hike, you will see Bear Lake (directly to your right when you start the hike), Nymph Lake (with its iconic lilypads), Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Lake Haiyaha. Note that accessing Lake Haiyaha will require climbing over large boulders as you near the lake shore. If you are not interested in making the longer hike to Lake Haiyaha, you can stick to the standard out-and-back hike to Emerald Lake and back.
Lake Haiyaha and Emerald Lake Hike
Emerald Lake Hike only
Drive Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake
After your hike, return to your vehicle and drive scenic Trail Ridge Road. This 48-mile road is only open in summer and connects the east and west sides of Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way, there are several scenic overlooks, trailheads, and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Tim and I have driven Trail Ridge Road several times and each time we have seen something new and different. As the highest altitude continuous paved road in North America, you can imagine the views of the surrounding mountains and the continental divide are going to be epic!
By the way, “continuous paved road” means that the road goes up to a high point and down the other side. It can be used to get from point A to point B. The highest paved (non-continuous) road in North America is Mount Evans, which goes from Point A to the top of the mountain and back down to Point A the same way you came.
While I think every overlook on Trail Ridge Road is worth stopping at, here are the ones you should absolutely not miss!
- Forest Canyon Overlook – one of the first VERY BIG views you will come to on Trail Ridge Road
- Gore Range Overlook – one of my favorite views on the road
- Alpine Visitor Center – get lunch at the cafe and hike the short but steep Alpine Ridge Trail
- Medicine Bow – look for elk and marmots in the meadow!
- Milner Pass and the Continental Divide – look for moose by the lakes
- Holzwarth Historic Site – stretch your legs on this short historic walk
Note: This itinerary will only work if Trail Ridge Road is open (summer and early fall). If you are visiting any other time of the year, you will skip Trail Ridge Road and stay a second night in Estes Park. Check Trail Ridge Road open/closed status on the official park website here.
Arrive at Grand Lake
Your drive on Trail Ridge Road will end in the isolated mountain town of Grand Lake, Colorado. Check into your accommodation, grab a bite to eat, and stroll the charming downtown street before resting up for tomorrow. You’ll be starting the day with a longer drive, so get some sleep!
Where to Eat
Where to Sleep
Day 2 At a Glance:
- Hike Lake Haiyaha and Emerald Lake
- Drive Trail Ridge Road
- Check into your accommodation in Grand Lake
Day 3: Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Fuel up (both your car and yourself) before departing Grand Lake this morning. It’s 5.5 hours of driving to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the deepest (2,722 feet), narrowest (40 feet), and steepest canyons in the United States. The views are wildly dramatic as a result of the extreme geological forces of the fast-flowing Gunnison River which carved out this foreboding canyon. Here are some more fun facts about Black Canyon to get you stoked for this portion of your Colorado Utah road trip.
Drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (5.5 hours)
The drive from Grand Lake to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison traverses some spectacularly scenic landscapes through the Rocky Mountains. Buckle up and enjoy the views. Next stop, Black Canyon!
Drive the South Rim Scenic Drive
When you arrive at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, you will need to pay the entrance fee ($30 per vehicle, or use your National Park Pass).
Here are all of the scenic overlooks and viewpoints on the South Rim of Black Canyon. There is an asterisk (*) indicating the ones I recommend most! But, if you have time, they are all worthwhile! Read more details about the South Rim drive here. Note that the South Rim Drive past the Visitor Center is closed during the winter.
- Tomichi Point
- Gunnison Point (Visitor Center)*
- Pulpit Rock Overlook*
- Cross Fissures View
- Rock Point
- Devil’s Lookout
- Chasm View (South Rim)
- Painted Wall View*
- Cedar Point
- Dragon Point
- Sunset View*
- High Point
Drive to Grand Junction (1.5 hours)
After you’ve had your fill of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, it’s time to drive just 1.5 hours more to Grand Junction. I know, I know, this day has been a long driving day (7 hours total!), but trust me, it’ll all be worth it! And you can’t be mad about the views from the road, either.
Once you arrive in Grand Junction, grab a bite to eat and settle in for the night. My recommendations below!
Where to Eat in Grand Junction
Where to Sleep in Grand Junction
- Hotel Maverick
- Grand Junction Palomino Inn (adults only)
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Grand Junction Downtown/Historic Main St.
- Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott Grand Junction Downtown
- Days Inn by Wyndham Grand Junction
Day 3 At a Glance
- Drive from Grand Lake to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (5.5 hours)
- Drive the South Rim scenic drive
- Drive to Grand Junction (1.5 hours)
Day 4: Colorado National Monument
Today you will explore Colorado National Monument before crossing the state line from Colorado into Utah on your way to Moab! Colorado National Monument is a red-rocks paradise of unique geology and astounding cliff views. You’ll notice this part of Colorado is much more desert-like than higher up in the mountains.
With just a day at Colorado National Monument, you can see a lot of the highlights, and even fit in a short hike.
As with the other national parks and monuments on this itinerary, you will need to pay the entrance fee to Colorado National Monument, which is $25 per vehicle, or you can, of course, use your National Park Pass.
Drive the scenic route through Colorado National Monument
Start your visit by driving Rim Rock Drive. If you don’t mind an early wake-up, we recommend catching the sunrise at Grand View and then doubling back on Rim Rock Drive to start the scenic route from the beginning once the sun is up. Yes, this means you’re backtracking, but it’s not a long detour, and we think sunrise is worth it!
Here are the noteworthy stops I recommend seeing on Rim Rock Drive:
- Balanced Rock Overlook
- Fruita Canyon Overlook
- Window Rock Trail (0.5-mile round trip from the parking area)
- Otto’s Trail (1-mile round trip from the parking area)
- Independence Monument View
- Coke Ovens Trail (1-mile round trip from the parking area)
- Fallen Rock Overlook
- Ute Canyon Overlook
Hike the Devils Kitchen Trail
One of the last parking areas on Rim Rock Drive is the trailhead for Devils Kitchen. This 2-mile round trip hike explores No Thoroughfare Canyon before arriving at a unique cluster of tall boulders known as the Kitchen. The trail can be tricky to follow, even with the AllTrails map downloaded, so be sure to check out our detailed blog post about the Devils Kitchen Trail so you don’t get lost!
Devils Kitchen Trail
Drive to Moab, Utah
After you’ve thoroughly explored Colorado National Monument, it’s time to drive just 2 hours more to Moab, Utah! YES – we are entering the Utah portion of this Colorado Utah road trip! Woo!
Once you arrive in Moab, pick up dinner at one of the local restaurants and settle into your accommodation.
Where to Eat
Where to Sleep
- Field Station Moab
- Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa
- Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton
- Radcliff Moab
- Sun Outdoors Moab Downtown
Day 4 At a Glance
- Sunrise at Grand View in Colorado National Monument
- Drive Rim Rock Drive
- Hike Devils Kitchen
- Drive to Moab (2 hours)
Day 5: Arches National Park
With one day in Arches National Park, you can explore all of the best hiking trails to unique arch formations, and catch a bucket-list-worthy sunrise and sunset. Make sure you have a timed entry permit if you are visiting during peak season and if you plan to enter the park after 7 am. As of 2023, timed entry permits are not required for entering Arches National Park before 7 am. All visitors must pay the $30 per vehicle entrance fee OR have a National Park Pass.
Sunrise Hike to Delicate Arch
Kick off your visit to Arches National Park with a hike to the iconic Delicate Arch! Sunrise here is worth the early wake-up call. Plus, if you enter the park before 7 am, you don’t need a timed-entry reservation. By hiking to Delicate Arch for sunrise, you can beat the crowds (a little bit) and avoid having to have a timed entry permit!
If sunrise isn’t an option for you, make your timed entry reservation here.
Delicate Arch Trail
- 3.2 miles
- 629 feet elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Hike to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch
After sunrise, drive back onto the Arches Scenic Drive and head to Sand Dune Arch trailhead. There are three arches you can see here, all on a short hike!
Broken Arch Trail
- 1.7 miles
- 165 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Hike Devil’s Garden
Devil’s Garden is a very arch-dense area of the park where you can see several arches of various shapes and sizes! This is one of the best low-effort/high-reward hikes in the park, because you can hike as far as you’d like all the way to Double O Arch, or explore the arches closer to the trailhead like Tunnel Arch or Pine Tree Arch.
Devil’s Garden Loop
- 7.9 miles
- 1085 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Walk the Windows Trail
The arches on Windows Trail are particularly photogenic and worth the short walk!
- 1.2 miles
- 154 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Hike to Double Arch
Your last arch hike in Arches National Park is to Double Arch. This impressive and unique two-banded arch is a must-see in the park.
Double Arch Trail
- 0.6 mile
- 95 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Visit the Park Avenue Viewpoint
Cap off your visit to Arches National Park with sunset at Park Avenue. Enjoy the view from the viewpoint, or hike down along the rock formations.
Park Avenue Trail
- 1.8 miles
- 298 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Day 5 At a Glance
- Sunrise Hike to Delicate Arch
- Hike to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch
- Hike Devil’s Garden
- Walk the Windows Trail
- Hike to Double Arch
- Visit the Park Avenue Viewpoint
Day 6: Canyonlands National Park
One day is plenty of time to see the main highlights of Canyonlands National Park. We recommend three short hikes, that each provide a different experience and perspective over the canyon. The Entrance Fee for Canyonlands National Park is $30 per vehicle, or free with your National Park Pass.
Sunrise at Mesa Arch
Start your Canyonlands National Park visit with sunrise at Mesa Arch. It will likely be crowded (yes, even at sunrise), but when the light’s rays hit the canyon below it will all be worth it. It is just a short walk from the parking area to Mesa Arch.
Mesa Arch Trail
- 0.7 mile
- 98 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Grand View Point
After sunrise, drive to Grand View Point and then walk the short trail to the Overlook. We absolutely cannot get over this view over the canyon because you can see a lot of the ridges and crevasses which highlight how dramatic this landscape is!
Grand View Point Overlook Trail
- 0.1 mile
- 3 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
White Rim Overlook Trailhead
For another short but highly rewarding hike in Canyonlands National Park, check out the White Rim Overlook trail. This trail provides a different view and perspective over the canyon that the others you have seen so far today.
White Rim Overlook Trail
- 1.8 miles
- 160 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park
For sunset, visit Dead Horse Point State Park for one of Utah’s most iconic views.
The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle. Note that National Parks Passes do NOT work at Dead Horse Point State Park (or any other state park). State parks are not part of the National Park Service and are not covered by the America the Beautiful Pass.
Day 6 At a Glance
- Sunrise at Mesa Arch
- Hike Grand View Point
- Hike White Rim Overlook
- Sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park
Day 7: Hovenweep National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument protects 6 pueblo communities, the remains of homes, ceremonial kivas, and mysterious towers whose functions are still unknown to archaeologists. It’s a 2-hour drive from Moab, Utah to Hovenweep. If you have a National Park Pass, you can enter for free, otherwise, it’s $20 per vehicle.
Named after the Ute word “Hovenweep,” meaning “deserted valley,” the monument is renowned for its remarkable prehistoric Puebloan ruins. The ancestral Puebloans settled in this area around 800 AD and flourished for several centuries, creating a network of multi-story towers, pueblos, and cliff dwellings. These structures, showcasing exceptional stone masonry and architectural prowess, served both as living spaces and defensive fortifications. By the late 1200s, the ancestral Puebloans abandoned Hovenweep for reasons still debated by archaeologists. In 1923, Hovenweep was designated as a national monument, preserving its enigmatic past and allowing modern-day visitors to marvel at the ingenuity and cultural heritage of the ancient Puebloans.
If the crowds in Moab overwhelm you, you’ll be especially appreciative of the relative solitude you’ll experience while exploring Hovenweep.
Visit the Square Tower Group
A two-mile paved path along the rim of Little Ruin Canyon reveals the largest collection of ancestral Pueboloan buildings in all of Hovenweep National Monument. The highlights of the group are the three-story Square Tower and Hovenweep Castle.
Optional: Explore more of Hovenweep’s Pueblos
Enquire at the visitors center about road conditions to the other pueblos at Hovenweep. They are accessed by dirt roads and primitive hiking trails, so conditions can vary. Make sure you have plenty of water (with electrolytes!) to stay hydrated if you decide on a hike.
Drive to Cortez, Colorado
After you visit Hovenweep National Monument, drive 3 hours east, crossing the Utah-Colorado border, to Cortez. This will be your base for exploring Mesa Verde National Park tomorrow!
Where to Eat in Cortez
Where to Sleep in Cortez
- Retro Inn (where we stayed!)
- Holiday Inn Express Mesa Verde-Cortez, an IHG Hotel
- Hampton Inn Mesa Verde/Cortez CO
Day 7 At a Glance
- Drive to Hovenweep National Monument
- Visit the Square Tower Group
- Drive to Cortez
Day 8: Mesa Verde National Park
Today you will explore Mesa Verde National Park, the largest Native American archaeological site in the United States. Like the other national parks in this Colorado-Utah itinerary, Mesa Verde charges an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle. Of course, you can also use your National Park Pass and I strongly recommend that you do!
Inhabited by ancestral Puebloans for over 700 years, Mesa Verde National Park showcases some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in North America. These ancient people first settled in the region around 550 AD, constructing remarkable stone structures atop the mesa’s cliffs to protect themselves and their resources. The peak of their civilization occurred between 1200 and 1300 AD, when the cliff dwellings flourished. However, by the late 13th century, the ancestral Puebloans mysteriously abandoned the area, leaving behind a complex network of dwellings and artifacts that would later captivate the world. In 1906, recognizing its historical significance, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Mesa Verde as the first national park of its kind, preserving its cultural treasures and offering visitors a glimpse into the rich heritage of the region’s ancient inhabitants.
Take a Ranger-Guided Tour of the Mesa Verde Ruins
The highlight of a visit to Mesa Verde National Park is a ranger-led tour of the ruins. There are three tour options available: Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House. Pick the one that best aligns with your interests and timeline for the day, but be sure to book in advance! Tour tickets go on sale 2 weeks prior to the tour date.
Pro Tip: It’s possible to tour both the Cliff Palace and the Balcony House on the same day as long as you allot two hours between each tour’s start time!
Hike the Petroglyph Point Trail
If you only do one of the guided tours, you will have time for other activities in the park, like the self-guided Petroglyph Point Trail. This 2.4-mile walk leads to one of Mesa Verde National Park’s largest petroglyph panels, 12 feet wide! This is the ONLY trail in Mesa Verde from which you can see petroglyphs.
Petroglyph Point Trail
- 2.4 miles
- 328 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Drive the Mesa Top Loop and Chapin Mesa Roads
End your explorations of Mesa Verde National Park with two short scenic drives. Start with the Mesa Top Loop Road for overlooks to the Square Tower House and Cliff Palace. Then, drive the Chapin Mesa Road to see the self-guided Far View Sites complex and Cedar Tree Tower and Kiva. Note: you will have already driven Cliff Palace Loop if you toured Cliff Palace and/or Balcony House.
Drive to Alamosa
After thoroughly exploring Mesa Verde National Park, drive 4 hours east to Alamosa, Colorado, which will be your launching point for exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park tomorrow!
Where to Eat
- The Friar’s Fork & Sanctuary (our favorite! a delicious Italian restaurant and cafe inside a historic church)
- Woody’s Q Shack BBQ
- The Rubi Slipper
Where to Sleep
Day 8 At a Glance
- Take a ranger-led tour at Mesa Verde
- Hike the Petroglyph Point Trail
- Drive the Mesa Top and Chapin Road drives
- Drive to Alamosa
Day 9: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Watch the Sunrise Over the Dune Field
Once again I’m making you get up for sunrise, this time over the tallest sand dunes in North America, right here in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Trust me, it will be worth it!
The best way to watch the sunrise at Great Sand Dunes National Park is by getting out onto the dune field itself. This means hiking up the dunes a bit, which, I should warn you, can be quite exhausting. You know how sand moves out from under your feet whenever you step on it? Well imagine that happening but as you are going uphill. The result is that you slide back a bit with every step. It’s literally two steps forward and one step back. Keep this in mind but don’t feel discouraged if hiking up the dunes makes you huffy!
If you’re feeling ambitious and energetic, hike all the way to High Dune (3 miles round trip), or just hike until you find a view you like, and enjoy as the sun illuminates the landscape around you.
High Dune Trail
- 3 miles
- 629 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Splash in Medano Creek
In late May and early June every year, Medano Creek reaches its peak flow. Medano Creek is the water force that basically allows the dunes to exist, depositing sand into the dune field after its annual journey down the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.
Most people park at the Great Sand Dunes Parking area down Medano Creek Road and walk out into Medano Creek from there. If you have a 4×4 high clearance vehicle, however, we recommend going to the Sand Pit Picnic Area instead and following the short sandy trail into the creek from there. The crowds are far fewer and you’re more likely to see the creek’s iconic “waves” here where the creek’s width varies.
Hike Zapata Falls
One of my personal favorite stops, whenever I am in the Great Sand Dunes area, is Zapata Falls. This short, but challenging, trail leads to a beautiful waterfall inside a cave. You do have to get wet on this hike because you literally will need wade into the cave at the end of the trail to see the falls. The water is icy cold, so I don’t recommend lingering too long in the water, but it’s an exhilarating and beautiful adventure if you’re up for it!
Zapata Falls Trail
- 0.9 mile
- 213 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Drive to Colorado Springs
In the afternoon, drive to Colorado Springs 2.5 hours away. Check into your accommodation, and then get ready for a sunset hiking excursion!
Where to Eat in Colorado Springs
Where to Sleep in Colorado Springs
- The Broadmoor
- The Academy Hotel
- The Mining Exchange, A Wyndham Grand Hotel & Spa
- Mel Haven Motel
- Buffalo Lodge
- Mecca Motel
Visit Garden of the Gods for Sunset
For sunset, drive to the Garden of the Gods, a free public park renowned for its red rock formations. I recommend a short and scenic trail like the Siamese Twins, which beautifully frames a view of Pike’s Peak.
Siamese Twins Loop Trail
- 0.5 mile
- 104 feet of elevation gain
- AllTrails Link
Day 9 At a Glance
- Sunrise over the sand dunes
- Splash in Medano Creek
- Hike Zapata Falls
- Drive to Colorado Springs
- Sunset at Garden of the Gods
Day 10: Return to Denver
Today your Colorado Utah road trip comes to an end, but if you have time this morning, consider driving or taking the cog train to the summit of Pikes Peak, to cap off your road trip from the top of the world. Don’t miss the world’s highest altitude donuts in the Visitor’s Center at the top!
It’s a 1.5 hours drive back to the Denver International Airport from Colorado Springs.
Day 10 At a Glance
- Drive or take the train to the Pikes Peak summit
- Return to Denver
Alternative Colorado Utah Road Trip Route Starting and Ending in Salt Lake City
If you find better flight options in and out of Salt Lake City instead of Denver, here is an alternative sequence for this itinerary that covers all the same locations!
- Day 1: Salt Lake City
- Day 2: Arches
- Day 3: Canyonlands
- Day 4: Hovenweep National Monument
- Day 5: Mesa Verde National Park
- Day 6: Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Day 7: Rocky Mountain National Park
- Day 8: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Day 9: Colorado National Monument
- Day 10: Return to Salt Lake City
Colorado Utah Road Trip FAQs
What is the distance from Colorado to Utah?
From Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah is about 6 hours of driving straight through on I-70. However, this itinerary deviates from this path in order to show you the best national parks and monuments in Colorado and Utah! The total mileage and driving time from town to town for this itinerary is 1,180 miles and 21.5 hours. This averages to about 2 hours of driving per day, but some days will be longer drives than others.
When is the best time for this Colorado Utah road trip?
This itinerary works best during the summer months, but can be done any time of the year! Note that some of the items on this itinerary are only available in the summer, such as tours of Mesa Verde, most of the scenic drive in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain. However, most of the activities are great year-round!
Summer is of course the hottest time of the year to visit the desert, and many of these national parks are known for being summer scorchers. That’s why we designed the itinerary with an emphasis on sunrise and sunset experiences, as well as light, easier hikes.
Is this Colorado Utah road trip pet friendly?
Because this Colorado Utah road trip itinerary has a heavy emphasis on national parks and monuments, I don’t consider this to be a particularly pet-friendly trip. Pets are not generally allowed on trails in national parks, so unless you can leave your fur baby in your hotel every day (and keep in mind check-in/check-out times!), we recommend leaving your pet at home for this trip.
What kind of vehicle do I need for this Colorado Utah road trip?
Any vehicle is suitable for this road trip! If you can rent at an airport car rental, it can make this road trip. You do not need high-clearance or 4×4 for the basic activities in this itinerary. Of course, this is Utah and Colorado we’re talking about, however, so while not necessary, you do have a lot of exciting off-road and dirt-road options in a 4×4!
Final Thoughts on Colorado Utah Road Trip Itinerary
There you have it! In 10 days, you have explored 8 incredible national parks and national monuments throughout Utah and Colorado!
This Colorado Utah road trip is one of my favorite routes through the iconic Southwest USA, and I hope now you see why!
Don’t forget that this road trip is available as an interactive Google Map. You can buy the Colorado Utah Road Trip map to access all of the info presented in this blog post, and more. This map features over 100 hand-picked locations to make your trip perfect!
What do you think of this itinerary? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to reach out with any questions!
Exploring more of the US Southwest? Check out these additional guides:
- Best Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
- Ultimate Guide to Cathedral Valley
- Hiking the Wave in Arizona
- Unique Things to do in Sedona
- Sedona Hiking Itinerary
- Easy Sedona Hikes
- Ultimate Guide to Havasu Falls
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