Planning a Colorado Summer Road Trip? Read on for my full itinerary + maps and all the best things to see on a Colorado Road Trip, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Grand Lake, Vail, and more! And don’t forget to check out my Colorado Packing List for Summer!
1 Week Colorado Summer Road Trip Itinerary
Colorado Summer Road Trip Day 1: Drive from Austin, TX to Denver, CO
The drive from Austin, TX to Denver, CO is over 14 hours… It’s a long one! We wanted to make the most of our time, so we opted to leave Austin around 3 AM, that we’d get into Denver around 5 PM. Map of the route below:
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX
Along the way, we stopped at the infamous Cadillac Ranch. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. There was trash and spray cans littered everywhere. If you need a stop to stretch your legs, then go for it, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it.
Art Cartopia Museum, Trinidad, Colorado
This stop, however, I would totally recommend! I randomly found Art Cartopia Museum by looking at the route on Google, and it was such a fun/funky stop!
Entry is free but donations are encouraged. There are so many bizarre and interesting cars here, it is totally worth a stop!
Arrive in Denver
We stayed in Arvada, a little outside of Denver to visit our friends that live in the area. Denver is an awesome place with so much to do, I recommend staying the night and checking out a cool place for dinner.
You could choose to drive straight to Estes Park instead, it would add another hour and a half or so. We decided to stop in Denver because we like the city, wanted to stock up on supplies, and see some friends that live in the area.
Colorado Road Trip Day 2: Denver to Estes Park
Hotel in Estes Park
Check into your hotel (if you can) before heading out for the afternoon! We stayed in The Estes Park Resort. It was fairly nice and looked better than most of the accommodations available in Estes Park.
We stayed in the Lake View Room with a balcony, and the view really was beautiful!
Visit The Stanley Hotel
Drop off your gear and head over to The Stanley Hotel. The Stanley Hotel is a historic hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, and known for being haunted! Believe it or not, it was the inspiration for The Shining!
You are able to explore the grounds and I highly recommend getting a drink at their infamous Whiskey Bar!
Stroll down Estes Park Main Street
Estes Park, like many small towns in Colorado, has a cute, quaint downtown area. Stroll along the streets and check out the different shops, restaurants, and bars! It also has a stream/river that flows through the downtown.
Dinner in Estes Park
Colorado Road Trip Day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake Trail Head
Once in the park, we headed to Bear Lake Trailhead to do the hike to Dream + Emerald Lake.
I had read online that there is very limited parking but thought we’d be early enough at 8 AM… I was wrong. It was totally full when we arrived. The parking gods must have been smiling on us though, we took another pass through and were able to snag a spot! If you aren’t going super early, I recommend parking at the visitor center and taking the shuttle instead.
Hiking to Dream Lake + Emerald Lake
This hike was incredibly beautiful and I highly recommend it! It was fairly easy, but there were some parts that definitely had me huffing and puffing. And I was SUPER sore the next day. But overall, it was so worth it.
Lunch in Estes Park
After the hike, we were pretty tired and opted to go back into Estes Park for lunch/a nap. You could also bring a picnic and enjoy it in the park, there are plenty of places to stop and eat with picnic tables (I wish we had known this and done it)!
Evening Exploring Estes Park
Dinner in Estes Park
Colorado Summer Road Trip Day 4: Estes Park to Grand Lake via Trail Ridge Road
I was SO excited to drive Trail Ridge Road, it is one of the most scenic roads in the state! Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side that day, but it was still beautiful to see. I highly recommend doing it even if you aren’t going to stay in Grand Lake.
NOTE: Trail Ridge Road is only open during the summer months, be sure to check weather conditions beforehand.
Trail Ridge Road
The Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long, with 11 miles of it above the treeline (elevation over 11,000 ft)! It is incredible to see the change in scenery as you rise in elevation so quickly. Luckily there are tons of places for you to pull off, enjoy the view, and snap some pics. These are the top spots/overlooks along the way:
- Hidden Valley
- Many Parks Curve Overlook (pictured below)
- Rainbow Curve Overlook (pictured below)
- Forest Canyon Overlook
- Tundra Communities Trailhead
- Gore Range Overlook (pictured below)
- Alpine Visitor Center
- Medicine Bow Curve
- Milner Pass
- Fairview Curve Viewpoint (pictured below)
- Colorado River Trailhead
- Holzwarth Historic Site
- Bowen/Baker Trailhead
- Coyote Valley Trailhead
We got to see moose along the trail ridge road as well!
Arrive in Grand Lake, Colorado
After Trail Ridge Road, arrive in Grand Lake, CO! We opted to stay the night here at the Grand Lake Lodge and I highly recommend it.
The room itself is nothing to write home about, but the views here are incredible. The lodge sits on top of a hill overlooking Grand Lake below. It’s so beautiful!
Dinner at Huntington Tavern Grand Lake Lodge
At the time I am writing this, they do a pre-fixe dinner menu for $50/person and it was delicious!
Sunset Drinks on the Deer Deck at Grand Lake Lodge
After dinner, grab a drink at the bar and head out to the Deer Deck to watch the sunset over Grand Lake.
Read More: Grand Lake Lodge Review
Summer CO Road Trip Day 5: Grand Lake to Vail
After spending the night in Grand Lake, it’s time to head to Vail, CO!
Breakfast in Grand Lake, CO
Head down to the cute “downtown” main street in Grand Lake for breakfast. We first tried breakfast burritos at The Hub because it had rave reviews, but it was the worst breakfast burrito I’ve ever had. It was obviously a frozen burrito heated up.
We ditched those and headed to Blue Water Bakery instead.
After grabbing a coffee and pastry, walk down to the lake to enjoy your breakfast. There are plenty of benches you can sit on and enjoy the lake views.
Drive to Vail
The drive again was just incredible. SO many switchbacks through the mountains with views for miles!
Stop at Georgetown, CO
It looks awesome though (you get to ride in an open air train through the mountains) and I would highly recommend checking it out – just be sure to book tickets in advance!
Arrive in Vail + Check in to The Four Seasons Hotel
We stayed at the Four Seasons in Vail and I cannot recommend them enough! The Four Seasons was gracious enough to host us for two nights, but all comments are my honest opinion!
After a welcome drink, freshen up and head into Vail Village.
Explore Vail Village
There are tons of shops, galleries, and restaurants to explore. For all the best shopping in Vail Village, click here.
Likes Estes Park, Vail has a beautiful stream/river running through it too!
Dinner in Vail Village
We had dinner at Sweet Basil the first night and it was wonderful! It, like most of the restaurants in Vail, are very popular, so I highly recommend making a reservation no matter where you go!
For more amazing Vail restaurant and bar recs, click here (Vail in Summer guide).
Drinks at The Remedy Bar in the Four Seasons
Colorado Summer Road Trip Day 6: Vail, CO
Spend a full day exploring Vail! There is so much to do in Vail in the Summer that I honestly would recommend another day. I didn’t feel like two days was enough.
Room Service Breakfast
We ordered room service for breakfast, it was nice to have a slow wake up before a big day!
Trail Ride at Vail Stables
There are tons of outdoor activities to do in Vail, we opted for a trail ride with Vail Stables! It was an awesome ride and I would totally recommend it.
We did the 1.5-hour Bear Hollow Trail ride and it was plenty. If you’re not used to riding (like myself), 2 hours would probably be too much. I was sore for days after.
The trail takes you through Aspen lined trails up the mountain. The forest is so beautiful and peaceful.
On the way down, you get incredibly scenic views of Gore Range, Vail Ski Slopes, and Beaver Creek!
Lunch at Four Seasons
After a trail ride, refuel with some lunch. We opted for the Four Seasons because it was easy and we were leaving from here for our next activity, but there are tons of lunch spots in Vail Village to check out!
Adventure out to Piney Lake
But let me tell you, once you get out to Piney Lake, the views are SO worth it! LIKE WOW:
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Vail, CO Must-Do: Piney Lake HOW TO GET THERE: To get to #PineyLake from Vail, you have drive about 8 miles on a bumpy, rocky, gravely road (basically off-roading). It takes 40+ min to get there and it’s a rough ride, but the views are worth it 😍 We saw several sedans on the road but I wouldn’t recommend it, you need an SUV/Truck in my opinion. WHAT TO DO THERE: One you arrive at Piney Lake, you can hike the trails around the lake, rent a boat, or have lunch at the Piney Lake Ranch! SAVE this post for future Vail, CO trips! #pineylakecolorado #vailcolorado #visitvail #visitvailvalley
Once out there, you can hike the trails around the lake, rent a boat, or check out the Piney Lake Ranch. They have a restaurant and gift shop.
Pool at Four Seasons Vail
After returning from Piney Lake, relax a little before dinner at the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort pool!
Dinner in Vail
We originally wanted to have dinner at Mountain Standard but unfortunately weren’t able to get a reservation. So we opted for room service again because we were exhausted and had a huge day or driving ahead of us the next day.
Other Things to do in Vail
For a full guide on what to do, see, and eat in Vail, Colorado during the summer, check out this post!
Colorado Summer Road Trip Day 7: Drive from Vail, CO to Austin, TX
We had a 17-hour drive back to Texas ahead of us, so we were up early and hit the road. We took the longer route through Taos, New Mexico to visit some family.
Here are some interesting stops along the way on a Colorado Summer Road Trip that are worth checking out if you need a driving break:
We drove through Leadville, CO and it is such a cute little town! Had it been later in the day, we totally would have stopped to look around.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
I would have LOVED to stop here, but we were already on a time crunch and it would’ve added another 2 hours. If you’re breaking up the drive, I’d totally recommend making a stop at Great Sand Dunes National Park:
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Just outside Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge is definitely worth a stop. The rest stop has fairly clean bathrooms, and the bridge really is incredible to see.
Taos, New Mexico
If you have time to stop in Taos, it’s a great little city with lots of art and culture! We stopped for lunch here.
Carson National Forest
After Taos, our GPS took us through Carson National Forest. It was a slower drive but absolutely beautiful through the mountains and along creeks.
After that, it’s pretty flat and boring through Texas.
A word of warning, check the weather ahead of time… we found ourselves in one of the worth thunderstorms we’ve ever had to drive through. Ended up delaying us even more… it did however give us some awesome lightning shots.
So there you have it, an awesome 1-week Colorado Summer Road Trip Itinerary! If you have any questions or want to connect, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a DM on Instagram!
- Summer Colorado Packing List
- The Best Road Trip Apps to Download
- How to Get Your Car Ready For a Road Trip + What to Bring
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