Colorado map & itineraries

Itís go go go in Colorado. That may sound like a cheesy strapline but in fact it is true. This isnít the state for lounging around by the pool really and our Colorado vacation highlights are very much about living life on a high. Getting up to the peaks or trying things you havenít dared before, all the time being energised by the omnipresent sunshine or the infectious enthusiasm that Coloradans have for outdoor living. When the snows melt, for example, you can almost feel the state shed a skin, with people everywhere just getting out there. And then when the snow falls again, they welcome it with open arms, ready to embrace the winter adventures.

There is a natural and tangible symbiosis between people and landscape in Colorado which is unlike many other regions of the US. Every other car on the highway seems to be draped with skis or kayaks, season depending. The trails are buzzing with friendly hikers, from babies in backpacks to octogenarians taking their monthly constitutional, and the roads and ridges are like the Tour de France has lost its way. However, you donít have to be a signed up member of the high octane club to visit Colorado. There are plenty of ways to do things at your pace, with short trails, electric bikes, cable cars to carry you up the mountain so that you can choose your method of transport to come down and copious hot springs to chill out in, night and day. Oh and they party too, with microbreweries, distilleries and wineries popping up in just about every town.

1. Aspen

Revived from mining to mindful town in the 1940ís, when industrialist Walter Paepcke started a movement to create a place that Ďnurtures mind, body and spirití. This ĎAspen Ideaí is still at its core. It is a world leader in ski sustainability, is festival and arts central, is home to the pioneering Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and hiking trails that go on forever. As will Aspen.

2. Boulder

Gateway to the Rocky Mountain, Boulder has many Ďfirstsí to its name. It was the first home of the Native Americans, first city in Colorado to ban smokings, first city in US to levy a carbon tax and first to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Itís de-liberal, itís de-lightful and with a fab local food scene, itís de-licious.
Colorado National Monument

3. Colorado National Monument

Do this at dawn. Because there is not just one monument here, but a collection of naturally eroded sculptures in the typical Colorado red basalt, all igniting one by one as the sunlight spreads across the landscape. Climb up onto arid plateaus past juniper trees and bighorn sheep, or hike down into the canyons to marvel at these monoliths from below.
Colorado Springs

4. Colorado Springs

The name evokes a small town vibe but it is the stateís second largest city. Surrounded by mountains, with Pikes Peak being its highest point, it also has one of the worldís finest (and free) city parks: The Garden of the Gods, where giant red sandstone monoliths stand in contrast with the cityís concrete skyline. For accommodation, you can find everything from urban chic to peak retreats.
Crested Butte

5. Crested Butte

From coal mining to ski town, Crested Butte is said to have been the summer residence of the Native Ute Indians, and it still feels like a mountain idyll. Go mountain biking and hiking trails in summer and hit the ski trails in winter. The main mountain is called Crested Butte, of course, and it was saved from fresh mining exploitation in the 1970ís. Because the Butte is beaut.

6. Durango

Donít let the fact that itís a narrow gauge steam railway dominating Durango put you off. In Europe this suggests grannyís day out, but this is on a whole other scale. Heading up along the narrow cliffs of the San Juan canyon to the small mining town of Silverton, over the gushing Animas River is, as the Americans would say Ďjust a tripí. And with roaring waters comes rafting of course. Or amazing ziplining at Soaring.
Estes Park

7. Estes Park

Gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, it was hit by the severe floods, a national disaster, of 2013. The community rallied and is ready to show its beauty off to the world again including mountains on three sides and the Roosevelt National Forest on the other as well as riverwalks, local wineries and cafes with views of the mountains.
Fort Collins

8. Fort Collins

Just an hourís drive north of Denver, it is a university town with a very young feel. Super cycle friendly it was designated as a Platinum Level Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists, with many trails including the restored Poudre River front which runs through the town. This Poudre Valley is just a land of dudes really, with mountain bikers and rafters at every turn.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

9. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

This should be a natural wonder of the world, not just a national park. Sandwiched (pun intended) between the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range are the highest sand dunes in North America, about 230 metres from the San Luis valley floor. Far from the sea, it was picked up millennia ago from the Rio Grande River. Itís like Lawrence of Arabia meets John Wayne. Western, wild and wondrous.
Mesa Verde National Park

10. Mesa Verde National Park

The only US National Park designated because of Ďthe works of maní, with over 4000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancient Pueblo people, carved in between canyons and overhangs. You can see them guided or unguided, although the former gets you right into the dwellings. At over 200 km 2, stay overnight at the Parkís Far View Lodge. Great restaurant here too.
Ouray and Ridgway

11. Ouray and Ridgway

Just sixteen kilometers apart, this was once the territory of gold prospectors. Now people come here for natural hot springs, the San Juan Mountains, historic buildings and outdoor living. Ouray is the ice climbing capital of the US, for example, with frozen waterfalls in the Uncompahgre Gorge providing the necessary challenges. And, in contrast, Ridgway has the Orvis Hot Springs, a clothing optional, let-it-all-hang-out little bit of paradise.

12. Palisade

As well as being a gateway for The National Monument, this town is wrapped in vineyards and wineries all nestled into the dramatic slopes of the Grand Mesa plateau. Take a cycling route around them, go for free sample sessions or grab a bottle and head to the Colorado River for a picnic. Raft on the Colorado River, or just chill beside it with a glass of Palisade Pinot.

13. Paonia

It sounds like a flower, and it certainly is a blossoming place off the usual tourist trail. Located in the North Fork River Valley, it is fecund with fruit and omnipresent orchards. And vineyards, often by people who have given up Ďreal lifeí for one that smells and tastes a lot sweeter. Great stop for exploring the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park too.
Rocky Mountain National Park

14. Rocky Mountain National Park

With over 70 high peaks, itís ironic that they only describe it as one. Donít be overwhelmed though, as there are 600 kms of trails for all levels. Split by the Continental Divide you can see Coloradoís differing landscapes in one here, with arid rocky peaks on one side and forests, meadows and mountain moraines on the other. Donít miss the Trail Ridge Road although it is closed November-May depending on snowfall.

15. Salida

You can feel the artsy vibe the minute you pull into town. You can also feel the water, with the Arkansas River cutting through its heart. This is a town where you can paddle and pootle, with river kayaking and rafting for all levels, no less than twenty artist-owned galleries, riverside cafes and a general chill by the creek feel about it. Cool laid backed ski scene here too.

16. Telluride

This town sits like a pearl in the most pretty of oyster shells. The shell being the San Juan Mountains with a giant waterfall gushing through its core. Another regenerated gold to green mining town, there is a free solar powered cable car for hikers, bikers and skiers, hut to hut accommodation, world renowned film festivals and a San Fran in the snow sort of vibe.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Colorado or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Colorado sample itineraries

14 day highlights Denver
Boulder > Estes Park > Rocky Mountain National Park > Aspen > Ridgway > Telluride > Mesa Verde National Park > Durango > Great Sand Dunes National Park > Salida > Colorado Springs > Denver

8 day National Parks highlights
Denver > Rocky Mountain National Park > Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park > Mesa Verde National Park > Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve > Denver

Travel times in Colorado

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Colorado.

    Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park: 1 hour 45 minutes by car Durango to Silverton by narrow gauge train: 3.5 hours Denver to Glenwood Springs by Amtrak train: 5 hours 48 mins Denver to Aspen by air: 50 minutes San Juan Skyway by car: 6 hours Durango to Alamosa by car: 3 hours Denver to Durango: 6.5 hours

Responsible Travel would like to thank the Colorado Tourism Office for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jasen Miller] [Aspen : © Jeremy Swanson / Colorado tourist office] [Boulder : © Colorado tourist office] [Colorado National Monument: NPGallery] [Colorado Springs: Mick Haupt] [Crested Butte: Angel Leon] [Durango: © Colorado tourist office] [Estes Park: © Colorado tourist office] [Fort Collins: Citycommunications] [Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve: © Matt Inden / Colorado tourist office] [Mesa Verde National Park: © Colorado tourist office] [Ouray and Ridgway: Larry Lamsa] [Palisade : Don Graham] [Paonia : Alan Levine] [Rocky Mountain National Park: Kelsey Wiedel] [Salida: Larry Lamsa] [Telluride: © Colorado tourist office] [Travel times: Holly Mandarich] [Rocky mountains in Colorado: Ivan Zhirnov] [Colorado's National Parks: Rationalobserver]