Photo: Jamie Gilluly / Unsplash
Contributor James Ross shares details of a fun five-day Denver Colorado Road Trip that starts and finishes in the ‘Mile-high City’
Updated April 24, 2023 / Commissions may be earned from our affiliate partner links
If you are visiting Denver Colorado and want to get out on a road trip and into the Rocky Mountains, may I suggest this easy five-day circle trip that will take you through some of the state’s most spectacular scenery on a trip filled with some wonderful experiences.
Whether you are looking for an historic hotel, culinary getaway, craft beer heaven, some hiking, horseback riding, fabulous fishing, or just a little love, this Denver Colorado road trip has something for everyone. You can move at your own pace, keep things as self-contained as you wish in your own vehicle and avoid the crowds. In fact, the biggest gathering you see might be a herd of elk on the steep alpine slopes of Rocky Mountain Park.
To learn more about one of the top road trips from Denver, be sure to read through our Denver-to-Denver Colorado road trip article for ideas and inspiration.
Enjoy A Denver-to-Denver Colorado Road Trip
Day One – Drive West from Denver into Grand County
We start our Colorado itinerary in Denver on an early September afternoon, driving westward over the scenic mountain passes to Winter Park, 65 miles away. By late afternoon we were tromping around the alpine slopes getting used to the elevation.
Winter Park is a pretty little resort town, much like a young Aspen or Vail. We hopped on the gondola to explore the high country and then hiked back down the mountain to the village as the sun was setting.
Riley Recommends: Our suggested stay for this first leg of your Denver-to-Denver Colorado road trip is Zephyr Mountain Lodge. For the latest reviews, rates, and reservations, visit Zephyr Mountain Lodge.
Day 2 – At Home on the Range
Grand County lays claim to the title of ‘Colorado’s Dude Ranch Capital’. A short drive west of Winter Park is Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa, a year-round, eco-luxury and award-winning 6,500-acre guest ranch.
The ranch buildings are first class, built to fit into an amazing setting, with great attention given to every detail. The ranch’s culinary programs include ranch-raised Wagyu beef and organic honey. Outdoors, 34 miles of trails are available for hiking and mountain biking in summer and over 74 miles for cross country skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
We played cowpokes for the day with the resort’s working cattle ranch program on a relaxed ride that has me and my stout horse, Colonel, moving cattle from one pasture to another. I think I’m ready for an old-fashioned cattle drive, but unlike the cowboys of yester-year, I head back to our comfortable room afterwards and then book a massage to tend to my saddle-sore muscles.
The next morning we are up early to wade into the magical world of fly fishing, including casting lessons at the ranch’s private trout-stocked pond. The Devil’s Thumb Ranch is also an Orvis Endorsed Lodge, which simply means that they are at the top of the game if your goal is to experience some great fly fishing. The resort offers a broad range of flyfishing gear and equipment, talented guides, and a sustainable approach to fishing the ranch’s private waters.
Riley Recommends: Check out the full story on Devil’s Thumb Ranch.
Day 3 – A Beautiful Rocky Mountain Park
The charming village of Grand Lake at the entrance to Rocky Mountain Park is our next stop, the perfect launching point for exploring the rugged, less-crowded western destinations within the park.
After checking into the historic Grand Lake Lodge, our plan is to do the short and popular 1.5-mile hike to see Adams Falls, one of the park’s prettiest waterfalls. But the trails beyond the falls lure us up the valley and then up the mountain for beautiful vistas on the East Inlet Trail. Our short hike ends up being 16 miles, and we have to quicken our pace homeward as the sun drops behind the craggy ridges to the west.
Riley Recommends: Check out our preferred accommodations partner for the latest reviews, rates, and reservations at Grand Lake Lodge.
Day 4 – Of Beer and Love
We circle back to Denver with stops at Fort Collins and Loveland. The drive eastward through Rocky Mountain Park along the Trail Ridge Road on our return trip towards Denver is both spectacular… and a little terrifying.
This route, the highest continuous paved highway in the United States, had been closed the night before because of icy conditions. This morning as I drive on the outside of steep switchbacks, I am thankful that the early sun has warmed the asphalt. The highway meanders north and east through pine forests and alpine tundra, past craggy peaks and crystal lakes. Herds of elk graze on the mountain slopes, but at my wife’s insistence, I keep my eyes on the road.
Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, is a vibrant town full of great eateries, pubs, eclectic shops and boutique hotels. Its picturesque Old Town inspired many of the buildings on Main Street USA in Disneyland. This town also lays claim to ‘Craft Beer Capital of Colorado’, producing a whopping 70% of Colorado’s craft beer. We jump on a private bike tour and sample as many of the local brews as possible.
Loveland is the city of love, Sweetheart City USA, and the Valentine Capital of the world. Besides being full of hearts and cupids, the otherwise charming town also boasts the wonderful Benson Sculpture Garden, with more than 170 bronze sculptures pleasantly arranged throughout its 10-acre green space.
We wander around the park taking in the beautiful and innovative bronzes, and then we head over to the nearby Art Castings of Colorado foundry for a delightful tour of the facilities and a fascinating look behind the scenes into how these sculptures are created.
Afterwards, in the spirit of ‘When in Loveland’, my wife and I complete our romantic visit by hiking along the Devil’s Backbone to its famous keyhole (perfect for that Instagram selfie with your honey). Then we head off to the Sweetheart Winery for a tasting before completing the evening with a sunset horseback ride at the sprawling Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.
Riley recommends: Our suggested place to stay is The Armstrong Hotel in Fort Collins, one of the best luxurious boutique hotels in the Denver area. Check out our preferred accommodations provider at The Armstrong Hotel.
Day 5 – Back to Your Denver Base
From Loveland it is a short drive back to Denver, a charming city with plenty of fun things to do that’s certainly worth a few days on its own. The Colorado circle trip is over too quickly, a week’s journey full of great experiences – adventure, culture, great cuisine, art, beer and a tiny bit of love.
Why Do a Circular Denver-to-Denver Colorado Road Trip?
The daily drive time on this road trip was not long, (our longest travel day was 90 miles from Denver to Winter Park), leaving more time for exploring. This fun drive route allows travellers to mix the outdoors and nature (wildlife, great hiking, and picturesque views) with small town culture (great restaurants, boutique hotels, eclectic shops, and craft beer). And they make good beer in Colorado.
A couple of things to be careful of during your drive:
- One: The mountain pass through Rocky Mountain Park can be tricky in inclement weather so keep an eye on the forecast and keep your eyes on the road.
- Two,: If in a relationship, take care in Loveland – your partner might get amorous ideas!
If You Go
Check out these visitor centers for further information, inspiration, and ideas
Read More on LuxuryDenver
Check these articles on LuxuryDenver for other great Colorado travel ideas:
- The Top Luxury Hotels in Denver
- Cozy, Classy, Chic: Boutique Hotels in Denver
- Top 10 Things to do in Downtown Denver
- Home on the Range: Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa
Contributor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at www.thejamesross.ca.
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