5-Day Colorado Road Trip for First Timers

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Advisor - Amanda Elshiekh
Curated By

Amanda Elshiekh

  • Colorado

  • Nature Escapes

  • Active Travel

  • Sightseeing

  • Outdoors

  • Entertainment

View of a valley with mountains and a river in Colorado.
Curator’s statement

If you're looking for an unforgettable adventure, Colorado is the place to be. With its breathtaking mountains, stunning canyons and vibrant towns like Boulder, Manitou Springs and Denver, there's something for everyone. Imagine exploring the local culture, indulging in delicious food, and immersing yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. The best way to experience all that Colorado has to offer is through a road trip. By hitting the road, you can explore numerous different places, from the charming small towns to the majestic national parks. Trust me, once you embark on a Colorado road trip, you'll be creating memories that will last a lifetime!

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Day 1: Explore Boulder, Colorado

Rocky mountain national park

Welcome to Colorado! Kick off the trip and start your morning with coffee and pastries from Boxcar Coffee Roasters on Pearl Street. Stroll the town with your treats while popping into some of the boutiques and shops. For music lovers, check out Paradise Found Records & Music.

Take a ride out to Chautauqua Park for stunning views of the Flat Irons and a scenic drive up to Sugarloaf Mountain.

If you're lucky enough to catch a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater, don't miss out! But if there's nothing going on during your trip, you can still go up and check out the theater.

Head back into Boulder town in the late afternoon. If you're hungry, stop by Avanti F & B. Who doesn't love a food hall? With so many options, you can try everything from Taiwanese pork buns to Chicken Shawarma or a Turmeric Latte. If you're a book lover, Boulder Book Store is a must! It's three-levels of books, stationery, souvenirs and so much more.

End your day with dinner at Centro Mexican Kitchen - their nachos and taco boards are not to be missed.

Foodie Tip: While exploring what Boulder's downtown has to offer, be sure to stop at Chiri's Momo Delights - a Himalayan dumpling truck, for the perfect little snack!

Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park


Head out early for your hour-long ride to Estes Park, a picturesque town nestled right at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. As you approach the town, don’t forget to make a stop at Coffee on the Rocks, a charming café located along a tranquil river. With your latte and breakfast sandwich in hand, find a spot next to the serene duck pond.

Once you drive into town, you'll enter the breathtaking realm of Rocky Mountain National Park. Visit the National Park Service visitors center to get insights on attractions and trails for the day. They can suggest the best routes, ensuring you make the most of your adventure. Whether you choose a long hike through the wilderness or a peaceful drive with scenic views, the possibilities are endless. Keep an eye out for elk traversing the base of the mountains; you may even spot them in town!

After immersing yourself in nature, take a leisurely stroll through the charming town of Estes Park. Discover adorable shops, bookstores, coffee shops and parks against the backdrop of the mountains. The views are unmatched and will leave you in awe.

Estes Park offers an unforgettable escape into nature's embrace, leaving you with lasting memories of a remarkable adventure. Head back to Boulder to get some rest for another big day tomorrow.

Foodie Tip: For a culinary adventure, stop at Penelope's Old Time Burgers in Estes Park and try an Elk hot dog or a Buffalo burger!

Day 3: Garden of the Gods & Manitou Springs

Gardens of the Gods

Check out of your hotel and make a quick stop at the charming Flat Iron Coffee, a delightful mom-and-pop coffee shop. Treat yourself to a delicious coffee and pastry and savor them while sitting outside, enjoying the last views of the Rockies from Boulder.

Embark on an hour and a half ride to the mesmerizing Garden of the Gods. Don't forget to visit the visitor and nature center, which offers informative trail maps, exhibits and even a captivating movie experience to delve into the history. Choose from self-guided audio tours through the striking red rocks or opt for trolley, Segway, bike or off-road jeep tours. Spend the morning exploring, immersing yourself in the unique sights and hiking the scenic trails.

After an exciting morning of exploration, take a ride to the nearby town of Manitou Springs. This charming town awaits with its array of delightful stores, candy and ice cream shops and inviting restaurants. Treat yourself to a refreshing cool drink and a snack as you unwind and enjoy the ambiance.

Now, why not embark on a thrilling journey up to Pikes Peak? With its towering summit standing at 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak is affectionately known as "America's Mountain". Accessing Pikes Peak is a breeze, as visitors have the option to reach the summit by car, train, bike or even on foot. For a swift and scenic experience, there's also a delightful highway route available.

After an exhilarating day in the mountains, make your way to Denver to settle into your hotel.

Day 4: Denver Botanic Gardens and more

Tasty Momos

Start your day by waking up early and heading to Jelly Cafe for a mouthwatering diner-style breakfast. After that, spend the morning exploring the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens. It's one of the top five botanic gardens in the nation and definitely shouldn't be missed. With a wide range of gardens showcasing different horticultural climates and international plants, it's a perfect way to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy a relaxing morning.

If you're craving more nature, take a leisurely drive through the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and marvel at the ducks, beavers, muskrats and cranes. However, be forewarned that you may encounter some stubborn buffalo on the road, unbothered by your afternoon agenda.

In the afternoon, head back downtown to explore some of Denver's vibrant neighborhoods like RiNo (River North) and LoDo (Lower Downtown). With trendy restaurants, galleries, bars, breweries, shops and much more - you're guaranteed a fun day out.

If you're looking for some night entertainment, make sure to check out a comedy show at The Denver Improv or Comedy Works - the perfect way to end your fun-filled day in Colorado.

Once you've had your last laugh, head back to your hotel and rest up for another great day tomorrow.

Foodie Tip: In the city, you'll find a variety of food halls, perfect for those moments when decision-fatigue hits and you and your travel buddy are wondering what to have for lunch. Craving tacos while they want pizza? Don't worry, because in these culinary havens, you'll find something to please both of your taste buds.

Day 5: Denver

Denver station

With your final day in Denver, explore more of the city. Find your way to Larimer Square. This iconic historic district of downtown is filled with indie boutiques, unique restaurants, lively bars and outdoor cafes.

As you wander around, make sure to stop at the Denver Union Station - an architectural gem from 1914. Inside and outside the station, you'll find a variety of charming restaurants, shops and bars all in one place. Don't forget to grab some souvenirs for your friends and family at Tattered Cover Book Store.

If you're in town for a sports game, you've got the Colorado Rockies, Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche or the Denver Nuggets — all waiting for you to cheer them on!

Make your final evening in Denver special and reserve a table at one of the city's excellent restaurants. Cholon Modern Asian is a great option, serving up Asian-influenced flavors for the ultimate foodie experience.

After dinner, take in the illuminated skyline of downtown from one of the many rooftop bars, like 54thirty. Enjoy a nightcap and watch the sunset over the mountains as you toast to an unforgettable adventure in Colorado.

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out Alyson Krapfl's guide, The Best of Denver Guide.

Advisor - Amanda Elshiekh

Travel Advisor

Amanda Elshiekh

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Colorado.