Colorado Summer Road Trip – 7 Day Itinerary + Map

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

Map of Colorado Summer Road Trip

Before heading out on a road trip, I highly recommend you check out these posts as well (they’ll open in a new tab, read after):

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:

Colorado Summer Road Trip - Austin to Denver Map

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! 

Art Cartopia Colorado Road Trip stop

Entry is free but donations are encouraged. There are so many bizarre and interesting cars here, it is totally worth a stop!

Art Cartopia Tooth Car
eyeball car at Art Cartopia

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

Make the 1.5-hour drive from Denver to Estes Park. It’s a beautiful drive through the mountains, and Estes Park is gorgeous to see coming down! The temperature changes too, be prepared, check out my packing list for this trip.

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!

The Stanley Hotel

You are able to explore the grounds and I highly recommend getting a drink at their infamous Whiskey Bar!

The Stanley Hotel 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.

Theater in Estes Park CO
River in estes park CO

Dinner in Estes Park

We had dinner at The Grubsteak. It was pretty good, but there are tons of great restaurants in Estes Park to check out too.

See this post for more Estes Park recs!

Colorado Road Trip Day 3: Rocky Mountain National Park

Wake up bright and early and head into Rocky Mountain National Park! At the time I am writing this, you are required to get a reservation to enter the park. I HIGHLY recommend you do that far in advance, the early slots sell out quickly! You can get reservations online here.

Entrance into 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

Roads in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Emerald Lake Trail in Colorado
Dream Lake RMNP
Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Stream along the Emerald Lake Trail

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

After napping, we headed out to the main street in Estes Park to explore and get a drink. The Barrel is a cool outdoor beer garden that’s definitely worth checking out. We also went to The Slab, but The Barrel was cooler.

The Barrel Estes Park

Dinner in Estes Park

We had dinner at Bird & Jim upon the recommendation from several hikers we met on the trail. It was a little pricey but really good!

Related Post: Best Things To Do, See, and Eat 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)
Gore Range Overlook
  • 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! 

Moose rocky mountain national park

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. 

Grand Lake Lodge

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! 

Grand Lake Lodge pool
Grand Lake Lodge Deer Deck
Grand Lake Lodge Overlook in Colorado

Dinner at Huntington Tavern Grand Lake Lodge

Have dinner at Huntington House Tavern at Grand Lake Lodge, and be sure to book seating on “the porch” — just look at that view for dinner!! Reservations are recommended far in advance, book here.

Huntington House Tavern at Grand Lake Lodge

At the time I am writing this, they do a pre-fixe dinner menu for $50/person and it was delicious!

Pre Fixe Menu Huntington House Tavern

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.

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.

Blue Water Bakery in Grand Lake CO

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.

Lake in Grand Lake Colorado

Drive to Vail

Then it’s off to Vail, CO! We opted to take a little longer route through Winter Park, CO (read this post for everything you need to know about Winter Park).

The drive again was just incredible. SO many switchbacks through the mountains with views for miles!

Stop at Georgetown, CO

We stopped in Georgetown, CO with the hopes of riding the Historic Georgetown Loop Railroad (another reason we chose this route), but unfortunately, the tickets were all sold out.

Colorado Summer Road trip stop: Georgetown Loop Railroad

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! 

Four Seasons Vail - Colorado Summer Road Trip

We were able to check right in and get settled in our gorgeous Mountain Premier Room! See my room tour on Instagram:

After a welcome drink, freshen up and head into Vail Village.

Explore Vail Village

Head into Vail Village and see just how cute and quaint it is! It reminds me of a European town and I loved it!

Visiting Vail Village Colorado

There are tons of shops, galleries, and restaurants to explore. For all the best shopping in Vail Village, click here.

Shops in Vail Village Colorado

Likes Estes Park, Vail has a beautiful stream/river running through it too!

Stream in Vail Village in Summer

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!

Summer Cocktail menu Sweet Basil Vail
Sweet Basil Vail, Colorado

These are also highly rated/recommend restaurants in Vail to check out:

Drinks at The Remedy Bar in the Four Seasons

Even if you don’t stay at the Four Seasons, you should definitely head over and get a drink in The Remedy Bar! They are known for their cocktails and have a great outdoor patio that overlooks the pool and mountains!

Remedy Bar Four Seasons Vail
Four Seasons Vail Remedy Bar Patio

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.

Vail Stables Horseback Riding

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.

Vail Stables Horseback Riding

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!

Vail Stables Horseback Ride - Gore Range Overlook
Summer Horseback Riding in Vail Colorado

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

One of the perks of staying at the Four Seasons Vail is guests get to use their Mercedes-Benz G Wagon! Driving out to Piney Lake was highly recommend to us, but you have to drive on really rough (basically off-roading roads) so we took the G Wagon!

Four Seasons Vail G Wagon

To get out to Piney Lake, you take to drive on almost 9 miles of rough, rocky, roads (it doesn’t look like it, but trust me). It takes about 40 minutes to get out there. I was very thankful to have a vehicle that could handle the rough road. 

Check out the video here.

Road to Piney Lake Colorado - Summer

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

Pool at the Four Seasons Vail

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.

Room Service at Four Seasons Vail

Other Things to do in Vail

Had we had more time, these are some other things we would have loved to check out in Vail:

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.

Colorado Summer Road Trip route from Vail to Texas

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:

Leadville, CO

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.

Colorado Summer Road Trip stop in Leadville Colorado

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:

Colorado Summer Road Trip - 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.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - road trip stop
Rio Grande Gorge New Mexico

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.

driving through Carson National Forest road trip

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.

summer colorado road trip mountains

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!

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xx Chels

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