The Best Colorado Seven Day Road Trip
Normally we like to travel slow but sometimes that’s not an option. On our last trip to Colorado we only had seven days. Nowhere near long enough for this amazing state! But we knew we wouldn’t be back for a while so we wanted to cram as much in as we could. We planned the ultimate Colorado road trip to see as many different parts of the state as possible in those seven days. We had a great time showing Josh’s dad, Vaughan, some of the great things the USA has to offer. Read on for our itinerary and to see some of the character filled places we stayed!
Day one saw us flying into Denver, Colorado bright and early on Monday morning! This was perfect as it allowed us to pick up our hire car with ease and head out of Denver on clear roads as everyone else was heading in the opposite direction to work. We headed East with the goal of an early lunch in Breckenridge. Josh and I had fallen in love with Breckenridge the previous winter and were eager to see it again in the summer, and it definitely didn’t disappoint! The Alpine town was decked out in baskets of flowers hanging from almost every building and after the scorching heat of a Texas summer that cool alpine air was definitely welcome.
We took some time to walk around the village before taking the free gondola that takes you up to the bases of Peaks 7 and 8 for coffee and lunch. We were amazed by the range of activities available on the peaks over summer from hiking and biking through to zip-lining, rafting and horseback riding. We realised we could have easily spent the whole week in Breckenridge! No matter what time of year you’re going if you’re looking for something to do the Go Breck website has you covered with lists of activities, food and accommodation.
We headed back down the mountain and back to the car for another few hours of driving to Palisade. Turning onto Main Street in Palisade you are confronted by the cliffs that rise above the town at the end of the road. They dwarf the buildings in front of it and glow golden as the sun sets behind you, illuminating the stone. For a moment I thought we were back in Texas the air was so hot but the dryness was a new experience, if you’re staying in Palisade you’re going to learn how to use a swamp cooler.
The town is divided by the railroad that runs right through the center of it and you can feel the freight trains running through all night. We settled in to watch the sunlight fade from the cliffs at the Palisade Brewing Company. It’s in an industrial part of the town, like most breweries, but don’t let that put you off. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating at this relaxed brewery and they’ve added a lot of charm with the umbrellas, fairy lights and container gardens. They have a simple but delicious menu featuring a range of starters that are great for sharing and sandwiches that were perfect for dinner and beer.
Don’t leave Palisade without stopping by for a tasty breakfast at the Slice O Life Bakery. I had a chai latte and it was served in the biggest mug I’ve ever seen! The coffee mugs were equally as big if you need a huge caffeine hit first thing. They had a range of delicious pastries and cakes and the staff were very warm and welcoming. The bakery features a separate room to sit and savour your morning pastries that’s decorated in a welcoming country style.
Day two is a short 2.5 hour drive, but do it early to enjoy as much time as you can in Telluride. On the road to Telluride we took a short break at Ridgway State Park. Less than 5 minutes off the highway the Visitors Centre at the park offers clean restrooms and a great hillside walking loop along the Forest Discovery Nature Trail, where you can learn about the history of the Ute People in the area and also see stunning views of the Ridgway Reservoir below. If it’s a nice day and you have the time this is a great place to take a break with a swim in the reservoir.
Telluride is a little off the path of this road trip but is well worth the detour and a night’s stay. If you’re not from a mountainous region yourself prepare to be in absolute awe of the mountains encircling the village on all sides. This mountain village was bustling over summer with people there to enjoy hiking, mountain bike riding, kayaking and even tubing. Take time to explore the antique stores and many restaurants and cafes in town and escape the heat with a stroll along the sunlight dappled paths beside the San Miguel River.
We spent the late afternoon taking the Gondola over the mountain to the Mountain Village station ski resort. The resort oozes luxury with every detail designed to create the feeling of a charming alpine village in Switzerland. We headed to Starbucks to enjoy mint hot chocolates as twilight descended over the village and the twinkling fairy lights began to glow along all it’s streets. Make sure to stop at Station St. Sophia to see Telluride from above and enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains.
Back in Telluride we ate dinner at Siam Telluride, a restaurant offering both traditional and contemporary Thai cuisine as well as delicious cocktails. The restaurant sits inside a converted house, with a Thai style bar tucked inside. We were lucky enough to be entertained with live music on the patio while we waited to be seated.
We headed back for a good night’s sleep at Manitou lodge with the relaxing sounds of the San Miguel flowing past outside.
Breakfast on day three consisted of croissants from the Butcher and Baker Cafe in Telluride and another short walk through the town before heading on to our main activity of the day, the Million Dollar Highway.
The Million Dollar Highway offers both spectacular views and charming towns. Make sure to stop in Ouray for lunch. Nestled amongst the San Juan mountains this small town is often referred to as the “Switzerland of America”. It offers a great base camp for 4x4 adventures, fishing and to go visit the ghost towns, remnants of it’s mining history that rise above it. If you’re there at midday be prepared for the siren that announces that it’s noon. No need to evacuate, it’s just saying it’s time for lunch!
For a great lunch spot check out the rooftop of the Ouray Brewery. The brewery offers pub style American food and a range of craft beers brewed on site. They offer several IPA’s, pale ale and even a summer saison.
We stopped again in Silverton for an early dinner and to get some groceries for the night as our accommodation was a fair way out of town. The town has an excellent weaving supply store, historic train carriages and is another popular 4x4 base camp. For excellent homestyle cooking and very friendly hospitality check out the Kendall Mountain Cafe.
We wrapped up day three on a small family owned property near Mancos. Although it seems a little bit in the middle of nowhere the property offers an amazing Yurt to stay in for the night and the chance to experience permaculture farming if you’re interested. The farm was home to friendly cats, alpaca and goats and the shaggiest dog I’d ever seen. The dog was super friendly but it was her job to scare away mountain lions and bears during the night. From the amount of barking she did through the night there must have been a few out there!
Day four saw us heading into the town of Mancos. It’s a small town, not all the streets are paved, but it offers a lot in the way of art. Mancos has a creative district that featured an art school with lessons for kids and adults, as well as murals and a number of art galleries featuring blacksmiths, sculptures, jewellery, mosaics and more. Grab your breakfast pastries from Absolute Bakery and Cafe and coffee from Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters.
Day four was another big driving day as we set our sites on Salida. There were plenty of places to stop along the way though. One site not to be missed is the Mesa Verde National Park. Break up the driving with hikes to the lookout points to see the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people. The dwellings were mind boggling to us and are still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. We ate our lunch while looking at the dwellings and puzzling over how they were built. Make sure to bring plenty of water as it’s very hot here away from the cool mountains of the trip so far.
The end of day four took us to my favourite accommodation of the trip. This wonderful AirBnB is right in the center of Salida and has been fashioned to look like a 1930’s speakeasy. The apartment features plenty of local history and antiques but was also very comfortable and welcoming.
There were many options for dinner in Salida but we opted for the Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub. This place was packed but after tasting how delicious their pizza was it was easy to see why! The wait to get in was comfortable too with a large gas fire pit out front to keep yourself warm and to have a few drinks while you wait.
Take some time in the morning to enjoy wandering around the stores of Salida and if you have time maybe raft or tube down the Arkansas River. Salida also has a number of great local art galleries and specialty stores. We particularly enjoyed The Maverick Potter and YoSpun (Previously known as Fringe) where I picked up some beautiful hand dyed yarn and some sweet Japanese die cut stickers.
Day five saw us driving back to Denver and checking in to our hotel in the city. We were lucky enough to be there for the First Friday Art walk, which you guessed it is one the first Friday of each month. The walk takes place in the Arts district of Santa Fe with local artists throwing open the doors to their studios and gallery spaces for the public to enjoy. You’ll also find a number of local bars and restaurants as well as food trucks and even art trucks for you to enjoy.
The main street of Santa Fe Drive is completely closed to traffic so you can wander safely between galleries and enjoy the festival like atmosphere. If you’re traveling with kids definitely visit Re-Creative Studios which features a kids Maker Space where for $5 your kids can use any of the craft supplies present and craft to their heart’s content. This is also a great place to pick up some pre-loved craft supplies if you still have space in your suitcase.
Day six was for exploring all that Denver City had to offer. After a sleep in we headed out to brunch at Syrup for a dose of pancakes. We then headed to Downtown Denver and wandered up and down the 16th Street Mall. This outdoor mall is really long, but don’t worry, if you get tired it has a handy hop on hop off tram that runs through the whole strip. This is a great place to see live music and shop and is also the starting and finishing point for most tours of Denver and the surrounding areas including the increasingly popular cannabis tours.
We took our time enjoying some great pasta, craft beers and flavoured popcorn before heading back for cocktails and more craft beers at our hotel.
Day Seven was a half day for us as we were flying back out to Austin. But with a morning to spare we were able to enjoy the Denver Zoo. The enclosures at the zoo are really nice and the elephant show is well worth watching.
Denver itself is a great city but to make the most of Colorado you really need to get out and see what the countryside has to offer. We hope this guide to the ultimate Colorado road trip gives you some ideas of places to visit when you head to Colorado.