An Epic Guide to the Best Road Trip Stops in Colorado

The best part about planning a Colorado road trip is choosing the stops along the way! You won't want to miss out on any of these must-stop spots along Colorado highways.

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Wilson Peak and the San Juan Mountains, Colorado
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What are the best things to do in the Colorado mountains?

You’ll find something for everyone on a road trip through the Rockies, from enjoying classic Colorado recipes at top-rated restaurants in Denver to hitting the hot springs, exploring ghost towns and visiting Colorado’s many National Parks. These are our favorite picks for the ultimate Colorado road trip.

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August 9, 2017 Interstate Highway 70 sign while driving from one National Park to the other
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What are the best restaurants along I-70 Colorado?

Soaking in the views isn’t the only way to enjoy your I-70 road trip! Stop off along the way at some of our favorite restaurants. Grab a bite and craft beer from Westbound & Down Brewery in Idaho Springs, a coffee or cocktail from Bread Bar in Silver Plume, a few tasty treats at Butterhorn Bakery in Frisco, an upscale meal at Sweet Basil in Vail and some of the best Mexican food in the state from Taqueria El Nopal in Glenwood Springs.

But that’s not all! Here are the other stops that will make for an epic Colorado road trip, city by city.

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Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake - A wide-angle autumn midday view of snow coated Maroon Bells reflecting in crystal clear Maroon Lake, Aspen, Colorado
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Aspen: Ski, Hike or Fish

In the winter, Aspen Mountain is a great place to hit the slopes, but we love the area in the summertime, too. Hit up Colorado’s most photographed mountains with a hike into Maroon Bells, or bring the fishing poles and look for trout along the Roaring Fork River. (Here’s how to cook your catch.)

While you’re there, enjoy dinner at a local’s favorite Meat & Cheese and consider yourself lucky if you see the region’s famous Palisade peaches or Olathe sweet corn on the menu. Head downstairs before dinner to their craft cocktail bar, where you can also enjoy CBD-infused drinks.

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BOULDER, CO -10 MAY 2019- View of the Pearl Street Mall, a landmark pedestrian area in downtown Boulder, Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains.; Shutterstock ID 1396028375; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Colorado Road Trip

Boulder: Walk the Pearl Street Mall

Downtown Boulder has some of the best shopping and restaurants in the state. Take a stroll through the historic heart of the city along the four-block Pearl Street Mall. When you get hungry, stop at Post Brewing Co. for Colorado craft beer and some seriously good fried chicken.

If you have time for a day trip, head out to Morrison and visit Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. While you’re there, you may as well stop in at Willy’s Wings to try Colorado’s strangest local delicacy: Rocky Mountain Oysters.

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Garden of the Gods
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Colorado Springs: Rock Formations & Trails

A visit to the Springs isn’t complete without soaking in the views of Pikes Peak, the mountain that inspired the song “America, the Beautiful.” If you’re not up for climbing the 14,000-plus-foot mountain, explore the spectacular rock formations at the nearby Garden of the Gods (shown above).

Either way, work up enough of an appetite to visit the recurring Top Chef contestant’s restaurant, Four by Brother Luck. The menu is filled with Colorado food inspired by the hunter, the gatherer, the fisherman and the farmer.

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Restored steam train of Durango

Durango: Ride a Historic Coal-Powered Train

Nestled in the Southwest corner of the state is a hidden gem: Durango, a historic 1800s mining town. Take an unforgettable ride on an old-school coal train with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train. While you’re in town, drive out to Mesa Verde National Park to see some spectacular Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.

Durango has a vibrant culinary scene given its small population. Hit up a historic saloon like El Moro Spirits and Tavern, or ask the locals for the password to gain access to an authentic speakeasy experience at The Bookcase & Barber.

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Estes Park: Stay In a Haunted Hotel

You’ve never seen views like you’ll experience in Rocky Mountain National Park! Explore more than 350 miles of hiking trails nestled in the park’s 77 mountains. Then, stay at the Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Steven King’s The Shining.

When it comes to eats, Estes Park has some of the best wild game options in the state. Check out the Grubsteak Restaurant for elk, buffalo and yak. (Haven’t tried wild game? Here’s why you should.)

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Downtown of Fort Collins, Colorado at cold winter dawn - aerial view with holiday lights and Rocky Mountains in background.

Fort Collins: Schedule a Brewery Tour

North of Denver, you’ll find Fort Collins, home to almost 20 craft breweries. Schedule a brewery tour of the country’s fourth-largest brewer, New Belgium Brewing, or embark on a bicycle tour of a few more local favorites: Odell Brewing Company, Equinox Brewing and Funkwerks. (Find out our pick for the best craft beer in Colorado—and every other state.)

If you head out to Jessup Farm Barrel House, make sure to get one of their giant Bavarian pretzels or swing by the nearby Farmhouse for dinner.

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Grand Junction: Fruit, Vineyards and a Headless Chicken Statue

You won’t be sorry you took the trek out to Grand Junction. Nestled between the mountains and the Colorado River, it’s also home to a wide variety of orchards, lavender farms and vineyards (including Two Rivers Winery & Chateau). If you happen to be there in late May, you can also attend one of the state’s wackiest festivals: Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. (Don’t worry if you missed it; you can visit the statue by Circle Park anytime.)

While you’re in Grand Junction, stop in at Bin 707 Foodbar to get your fill of seasonal Colorado cuisine, including Colorado lamb.

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Mountain Goat in the clouds at 14,000 feet above sea level
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Idaho Springs: Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Just 60 miles west of Denver is the highest paved road in North America: 14,130 feet above sea level to Mount Evans. You’ll have plenty of photo ops along the way, including mountain goat and bighorn sheep sightings. Just plan to do this drive between Memorial Day and Labor Day, because the road is closed due to snow for most of the year!

On your way back down, stop in at Idaho Springs for lunch or dinner. Grab a beer at Westbound & Down Brewing Company or stop in for killer ‘cue at Smokin Yard’s BBQ.

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Steamboat Springs Colorado Aerial View

Steamboat Springs: Apres Ski and Hot Springs

You can find ski mountains all over Colorado, but few are as picturesque as Steamboat Springs. Plus, Steamboat has one of the best culinary scenes around! Apres ski at T-Bar, located at the base of the mountain, enjoy a twist on classic Mexican food at Salt & Lime or grab a craft beer at The Barley.

Before leaving, soak your weary bones in the 104-degree mineral water of Strawberry Park Hot Springs. You’ll find lodging and spa services at the springs, too.

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Telluride: Ride the Gondola

There are countless things to do in the beautiful mountain town of Telluride, but you should definitely take a ride on the free public gondola. You’ll get a 365-degree view of the San Juan mountains on your way up to the 10,540 foot summit, where you can dine at Allred’s Restaurant or stay the night at the Mountain Lodge. Or, head back into town and stay nestled amongst the mountains at the historic New Sheridan.

While it might seem like a weird place to get Detroit-style pizza (yep, that’s a thing), you won’t be sorry if you stop in for a pie at Brown Dog Pizza before you head home.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.