8 Perfect Days in Colorado

Colorado is a beautiful state with a lot of amazing scenery to enjoy. You could easily spend a month here. This itinerary is a giant clock-wise loop starting and ending in Denver. It focuses on two of Colorado’s national parks – Rocky Mountain and Black Canyon of the Gunnison – with the classic mountain resorts of Aspen and Vail sprinkled in-between. There is a precarious drive to a 14-er in there, too. Here’s an overview of the itinerary with links to the blog posts for each day, as well as where I stayed overnight. Read on for more details on each day!

Day ItineraryOvernight
Day 1Denver to MontroseHampton Inn Montrose
Day 2Black Canyon on the GunnisonHampton Inn Montrose
Day 3Black Canyon of the Gunnison, drive to AspenHotel Aspen
Day 4Aspen, drive to VailHighline Hilton Vail
Day 5Vail and Mt Evans, drive to Estes ParkStonebrook Resort Estes Park
Day 6Rocky Mountain NP (Emerald Lake)Stonebrook Resort Estes Park
Day 7Rocky Mountain NP (Sky Pond)Stonebrook Resort Estes Park
Day 8Rocky Mountain NP (Trail Ridge Rd)Stonebrook Resort Estes Park
Day 1 – Travel to Denver and drive to Montrose, CO

Avoid I-70 and take the scenic drive instead. Put in the town of Gunnison, CO, as a stop between Denver and Montrose to force your navigation app to take you this way. You will pass through Pike and San Isabel National Forest and the Curecari National Recreation area on the way.

Curecari National Recreation Area
Day 2 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison South Rim and Million Dollar Highway

Spend the morning exploring the South Rim. Start by popping into the visitor center. From there, combine the Oak Flat, Upland and Rim Rock trails for a 3.1 mile loop. Finally, drive the length of the park road and make sure you stop at the overlook for Painted Wall.

Painted Wall

In the afternoon, visit the Ute Museum in Montrose, then drive the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton.

Million Dollar Highway
Day 3 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison North Rim and drive to Aspen

On the way to Aspen, visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s much less trafficked North Rim. Hike to Exclamation Point or all the way to Green mountain. In the evening, enjoy bougie Aspen and its many wonderful restaurants. We had a little too much fun at Catch Steak.

Day 4 – Aspen gondola and hike, then scenic drive to Vail

Take the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain and enjoy the sundeck! Stretch your legs along Richmond Ridge Trail, then continue to Vail via the scenic route (enter Independence Pass in your navigation app to force it to take you this way instead of back on I-70).

View from Independence Pass
Day 5 – Vail gondolas and hike, summit Mt Evans and drive to Estes Park, CO

Start your day with breakfast at The Last Diner and definitely order the Dutch Baby! Vail has two gondolas because it’s a bigger mountain than Aspen. Ride the Eagle Bahn gondola to the top, then hike less than 1.5 miles to the other, Gondola One.

On the way to Estes Park, drive the scenic road to the top of Mt Evans. This requires advance reservations but its worth it! It’s one of only two 14-ers in Colorado you can summit by car. The other one is Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs.

Day 6 – Emerald Lake Trail and Bear Lake, in Rocky Mountain NP

Hike 3.6 miles to Emerald Lake. Don’t miss Bear Lake, from the same trailhead and very close to the parking lot. Always check the weather before you hike, as thunderstorms are common in summer. We found out the hard way. 🙂

Emerald Lake right before it started raining and then hailing
Day 7 – Sky Pond Trail in Rocky Mountain NP

Hike the classic RMNP trail to Sky Pond. There are 3 other lakes on the way and a waterfall scramble. Wear good shoes and bring your adventurous spirit because that class 3 scramble on the side of the 100-ft-tall Timberline Falls is no joke.

Day 8 – Scenic drive through Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain NP

Spend the day driving this fabulous road with its many pullouts and scenic views. I ran a half-marathon that day so only had time for about half of it. This is a great way to end this amazing itinerary, and even without a half-marathon your legs will probably need a break by now.

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