It seems like so many Colorado visitors just hit the usual suspects like Denver and Colorado Springs, which are both incredible places and included in this road trip itinerary, but there’s a lot more to Colorado than just big cities.
Whether you go to explore the big cities or visit the mountains in Aspen or Vail to ski, Colorado has a lot to offer, within the San Luis Valley and surrounding areas like Great Sand Dunes National Park. Explore the western side of the state, stopping for plenty of adventures along the way.
Start and End in Denver
With plenty of direct flights available, plan to fly in and out of Colorado’s capital, Denver. Full of historic architecture, art, and amazing food, Denver is the ideal place to begin this loop road trip. Explore the preserved ghost mining town of St. Elmo to discover buildings and homes from the 1800s at an elevation of just under 10,000 feet. After driving through the mountains, head back to the city to check into your boutique accommodations for the evening.
3770 Walnut St. Denver, CO 80205
Catbird Hotel is truly gifted when it comes to making a small space special. Although they have small rooms to work with, they get the most out of the space by elevating the bed and creating storage underneath. Even the windows act as a view into the city life during the day. At night, a projection screen comes down over the window for guests to watch TV and movies. There’s even a little kitchenette area if there’s something guests want to cook for themselves. It’s really the perfect little overnight stay.
Check-in at The Ramble Hotel
1280 25th St, Denver, CO 80205
Another excellent hotel option in Denver is The Ramble Hotel. This property has a ton of charm and is in a great location just down the street from the Denver Market. It even holds one of the most iconic cocktail bars, Death & Co, right in the lobby. I had the most incredible cocktail there called the Jade Wave, made with Novo Fogo Cachaca, Arette Blanco Tequila, Matcha, Calpico, Lime, Nori, and Absinthe. It had a very mild briny flavor which was incredible, so different from anything I’ve ever tried before.
The Source Hotel and Market Hall Before Dinner
3330 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216
Be sure to stop at the Source Hotel and Market. They have a lot of different vendors selling everything from food to retail crafts. Visitors can browse through some of the boutique shops before heading to dinner at Safta, an Israeli restaurant that blew me away with its delicious food. Try the pomegranate lamb shanks and their spreads with extra naan.
Stop by Whole Sol Blend Bar (3605 Walnut St. Denver, CO 80205) in the morning for some organic goodies like a smoothie bowl and a latte, or maybe a fresh cold-pressed green juice to start the morning right. If you’re looking for a not-so-healthy breakfast, head over to Snooze (1701 Wynkoop St. Suite 150, Denver, CO 80202) for some pancake flights and sausage which may not be organic, but it is delicious.
Denver Central Market
2669 Larimer St. Denver, CO 80205
With a variety of vendors selling fresh oysters on the half shell, baked goods, tacos, cocktails, pizza, and all different foods, the Denver Central Market perfect place to meet up with friends, especially if you’re all craving something different. It’s also the prime spot to start if you want to take one of the Denver Graffiti Tours of RiNo. Jana is an incredible guide and the new owner of Graffiti Tours. She’s packed full of knowledge about all these stunning murals that cover the buildings within the RiNo neighborhood.
Don’t forget to stop at Meow Wolf Denver (1338 1st St. Denver, CO 80204) if you love immersive, funky art. The experience has a creative touch to it, leading to a really unique kind of gallery to experience. They pull in local artists, as well as the usual Meow Wolf artists to create different rooms that transport visitors to another world.
While in Colorado, visiting a hot spring has to be a priority and Mount Princeton Hot Spring (15870 Co Rd 162, Nathrop, CO 81236) is one of the best. They have heated pools with the hot mineral water filtering in, or guests can climb down a few large rocks to get into the actual mineral hot springs along the river. It’s truly special to experience and Mount Princeton has incredible views of the mountains in the distance to enjoy while kicking back.
Visitors can stay on the property in one of their luxury cabins, some of which are right across from the entrance to the springs at Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort (15870 Co Rd 162, Nathrop, CO 81236). For a special experience, consider booking a private night swim in the springs.
Mary Murphy Steakhouse
15870 Co Rd 162, Nathrop, CO 81236
Mary Murphy’s has amazing apps like Peach Glazed Tiger Shrimp with a peach BBQ sauce, tomato confit, bacon chip, and pistachio or the Rare Beef Tataki with ponzu, charred scallion cream, Orange Supreme, radish, and Bavette. The Rack of Elk was cooked beautifully with a sweet juniper rub, huckleberry jus, some crispy fingerling potatoes, and cippolini.
Before arriving at the next destination, be sure to visit some of the neighboring small towns like Salida to get breakfast and a coffee at Bunny and Clyde’s Corner Cafe and Market (203 W 1st St. Salida, CO 81211) or Crestone, known for spiritual and religious beliefs coming together in one small town. Don’t forget to explore the roadside attractions like the UFO Watchtower (CO-17, Center, CO 81125) or the Colorado Gators Reptile Park (9162 Ln 9 N, Mosca, CO 81146).
Explore Del Norte and Alamosa
Del Norte has so much charm and character. Everyone seems to know each other well and supports each other’s local businesses. The Mellow Moon Lodge (1160 Grand Ave Del Norte, CO 81132) has transformed the building into a hip and trendy, modern boutique experience, and yes, they were working on this before the hit series Schitt’s Creek came out. It’s the perfect spot to crash for the night with comfortable accommodations, colorful touches, and welcoming staff.
The Historic Windsor Hotel Dining Room
605 Grand Avenue Del Norte, CO 81132
While in town, don’t forget to visit the Windsor Hotel for the most incredible dinner. They have the best pork chops, among other amazing options, appetizers to share, and Aperol spritzers. Nearby is 1874 Distilling (645 Grand Ave, Del Norte, CO 81132) where they use local vegetables and fruits to create cocktail concoctions and bring some fun craft spirits to the area.
While staying in Del Norte, don’t forget to drive out to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Every year around springtime, the snow starts to melt, running down the mountains to the dunes. This creates a seasonal natural river, making a beach environment in the dunes where locals can come to float and relax. Boards and sleds are available to rent to use on the dunes. Be sure to always have socks on hand because the sand can become very hot in the afternoon. Also, many people don’t consider the elevation here, but it’s the high desert. Have plenty of water with you to stay hydrated.
After sandboarding, swing by Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant (400 Main Street, Alamosa CO 81101) for a bite. If you’re looking to try the famous green chili sauce the SLV and nearby New Mexico are known for, head to Nino’s Del Sol (326 Main St, Alamosa, CO 81101) for an order with their fresh tortillas for dunking. San Luis Valley Brewing Company (631 Main St, Alamosa, CO 81101) even has a green chile beer, which was surprisingly delicious. Don’t leave Del Norte without grabbing fresh bread or a baked good from Raisin Rye Bakery (675 Grand Ave, Del Norte, CO 81132).
Check Out Cañon City
The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park (4218 Co Rd 3A, Cañon City, CO 81212) area is absolutely beautiful, with steep canyons and plenty of bighorn sheep scooting around. Guests can stay right on the property at Royal Gorge Cabins (45054 West U.S. Highway 50, Canon City, CO 81212), which really are not cabins at all, but more like beautiful houses with amazing mountain views. In Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, visitors can really test their fear of heights by riding the gondola across the gorge, experiencing Colorado’s number one Bucket List Zip Line, venturing across America’s highest suspension bridge, and experiencing the World’s Scariest Skycoaster that sends riders soaring over the deep gorge.
After a day of thrilling adventures at the gorge, calm the nerves before heading to bed with a lovely meal at Le Petit Chablis (512 Royal Gorge Blvd, Cañon City, CO 81212). This lovely French cafe has incredible escargots de Bourgogne swimming in garlic parsley butter in the shell, flavorful French onion soup and a New Zealand rack of lamb with garlic sauce, among other dishes.
Uncover Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs
The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway (515 Ruxton Ave, Manitou Springs, CO 80829) was truly an experience, taking guests up to the tip of Pikes Peak Summit. On top of the mountain, there’s a new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center, featuring a little café, a gift shop, bathrooms, and some information about Pikes Peak. Visitors can spot bighorn sheep on the mountains and take in incredible views. Just be prepared for the change in elevation (14,115 feet at the summit). The train heads up the mountain at a fairly quick speed, getting all the way to the top in about an hour. Have plenty of water and take a minute to acclimate once at the top.
After Pikes Peak, check in at the Garden of the Gods Club and Resort (3320 Mesa Road Colorado Springs, CO 80904), where guests are immediately greeted by the stunning views of the park in the backdrop of the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling bay windows. Most of the rooms have a private view of the park, as well, making the experience that much more special. There’s nothing like throwing open the blinds and seeing the sun beam onto the structures in the morning, creating a bright orange hue on the rock formations. Absolutely stunning.
Enjoy the in-house gym and infinity pool with incredible views. Book an appointment at STRATA, the in-house spa, for a treatment like the cleansing Mystic Inka Ritual with Haley. This was essentially a full body exfoliation and skin treatment, leaving the skin feeling amazing and so smooth. Take a moment to learn about their incredible Women’s Wellness Lifestyle program where they work individually with women on their personal health and wellness goals. Have dinner on-site at their in-house restaurant, Kissing Camels or Grand View on-site for a convenient and tasty option with incredible views of the mountains and the Garden of the Gods.
Nearby, Academy Riding Stables (4 El Paso Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80904) offers horseback riding through the Garden of the Gods. They’ll pair guests with a gentle horse that’s great with strangers and take the group out for a one or two-hour tour, riding through the park.
Explore Downtown Colorado Springs
Discover some local boutiques and shops along Old Colorado City and throughout Downtown Colorado Springs before grabbing an evening cocktail at The Rabbit Hole (101 N Tejon St, Colorado Springs, CO 80903). The concept is so unique. The building used to be the city morgue and just looks like a randomly placed door in the middle of the sidewalk that leads underground into an Alice in Wonderland-themed bar.
Stop into Crystal Park Cantina (178 Crystal Park Rd, Manitou Springs, CO 80829) for delicious Mexican food like their crispy fish tacos and freshly made guacamole with crispy chips. For a quick, but satisfying, bite, this is a great stop.
Before heading back to Denver to fly out, stop at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park to try the Pterodactyl. It’s similar to a canyon swing that drops riders, freefalling into the 200-foot deep Williams Canyon at 100 mph before swinging back and forth in the canyon. It’s so thrilling, better than coffee in the morning. Just give it a try, I’m sure you won’t regret it. Just note that the wind cannot be more than 10 mph and the weather has to cooperate for the Pterodactyl to be running. If there is a chance of bad weather, call and confirm first.
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