Recently, I went on a trip to Colorado and since I’ve been back, a lot of people have asked whether or not I would recommend visiting. My answer is that it depends – if you want to go shopping and relax, Colorado is probably not the place for you. But if you’re looking to go rafting, biking, and hiking, then my answer is a resounding YES. Here is my 4 day itinerary for Colorado featuring 8 awesome destinations, which will help you plan your own trip. It features outdoor activities, driving times, restaurant recommendations, and general tips for your stay in Colorado.
8 Incredible Things to Do in Colorado
Before traveling in Colorado, here is some useful information to know:
- Offline maps are key. There are a lot of mountains in Colorado, which means that signal can be spotty. Download a map of Colorado before you go so you can still navigate across the state. This was extremely helpful for us!
- Colorado has a mean elevation of 6,800 feet above sea level, which makes it the state with the highest mean altitude. Be prepared! Drink plenty of water while you’re outdoors and if you start getting a headache or feeling faint, rest. You don’t want to end your trip in the hospital.
- Smoking pot is legal in this state and most of the people who smoke here are smoking pot.
- The easiest way to get around Colorado is definitely driving. We rented our car from Budget at the Denver airport. The Budget employee tried to upsell us on getting an upgrade from our Kia Rio, which we declined. Honestly, the Kia Rio was fine and got us safely to all of our destinations.
- During the summer, there will be random rain but it is typically over in <10 minutes. Umbrella not needed.
- I went on this trip with a friend from Yale, who you may remember from my Peru blog post. Depending on your travel style, this trip would also be fun solo, with your family, or with a group of friends, as there are so many outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer.
Here is a map of the U.S., with Colorado highlighted in red, so you have a general sense of its location.
On Day 1, we flew from SFO to Denver International Airport, which was a 2.5 hour flight. Booking about a month in advance, the cost of the flight was only $95.20 one-way, plus an additional $25 for 1 checked bag. We flew Virgin airlines, which, as usual, was a great flight.
After arriving, we brunched at Snooze. This was our first taste of Colorado hospitality, as free coffee and water was available outside while you wait (which you most likely will because it’s a popular brunch spot, even on a Monday). We tried the pancakes and the corned beef hash, both of which were amazing and also so affordable. Our total ended up being $10 per person for brunch, which is INSANELY cheap when compared to $30 brunch prices in SF. The atmosphere of the restaurant was also super chill and boozy brunch seemed to be a thing.
Next, we headed to the Red Rock Amphitheater (destination 1), a concert venue that is also known for being a popular tourist destination due to its staggering views. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside the amphitheater because there was a Zeds Dead show happening the same day. While there, we learned that if you’re planning on visiting the same day a concert is happening, you can still go inside if you get there by noon. There are also trails around the amphitheater, so you can still explore and check out those views. Red Rock is a 20 minute drive from Denver.
The next stop was Mount Evans (destination 2), which is 1.5 hours from Red Rock. It was our first 14er, aka a mountain with an elevation of over 14,000 feet. Colorado is famous for these and houses a grand total of 53. The drive up Mount Evans was crazy, with lots of twists and turns on narrow roads without guard rails, but the view at the summit (and the cute mountain goats) made it worth it. There are also lots of lakes and scenic viewpoints along the way.
We had dinner in Silverthorne at Dillon Dam Brewery, which was a 1.5 hour drive from Mount Evans. If you come here, I highly recommend the chili or the chicken fried chicken (yes that is a thing).
For lodging, we spent the night at Luxury Inn and Suites, which was close to downtown, affordable at $94.99/night for 1 king bed, and clean. There is also a pool and a jacuzzi.
Day 2 was the day I was the most excited for because we would be driving to Glenwood Springs, where we would go hiking, biking, AND rafting. It was also 4th of July and in my mind, there’s no better way to celebrate America than being outdoors. The drive to Glenwood took about 1.5 hours from Silverthorne and it went by so quickly because it was so scenic. Here is a shot from the drive:
After doing research online, I chose to go with Canyon Bikes/Blue Sky Adventures for biking and rafting because both companies had extremely positive reviews. If you decide to do both activities, you can get a 10% discount.
If you choose to bike, you will get dropped off about 13 miles from the office in Glenwood Canyon. From there, you can bike to the first area, where Hanging Lake (destination 3) is located. It is a 1.2 mile uphill hike to Hanging Lake, and from there you can do a mini-hike to visit Spouting Rock (destination 4) as well. The hike was nice because the trail runs next to a stream and you can see waterfalls and little pools on your way up.
For lunch, the Canyon Bikes employee recommended checking out the Grind for burgers or Slope & Hatch for tacos or hot dogs. We tried the Grind and I got my first taste of buffalo ever with the buffalo burger (which is apparently something Colorado is known for). One of the nice things about Glenwood Springs is that everything is located pretty close together. The Grind was only 5 minutes by car from the bike rental office and Slope & Hatch was right next door!
After lunch, we headed to the Blue Sky Adventure office to prepare for rafting down the whitewater rapids in Colorado River. We were originally supposed to do the Half Day Adventure, but due to a scheduling error, we got signed up for the Double Shoshone. It was SO much fun and the rafting guides do a great job of reviewing the safety guidelines with you. You will also get life vests and there were plenty of people who went who had little, if no, swimming experience.
Since it was the 4th, the small town was having a celebratory festival at Two Rivers Park. It was cute and felt so classically American with a cover band playing outside, kids running around with red, white and blue tattoos, all with the mountain ranges in the background.
For dinner, we went to the Italian Underground based on a local’s recommendation. We met a cool bartender who gave us recs on what to do for the rest of our trip. We also met a man who had just retired and who encouraged us to live every moment to the fullest – it’s so cliche but hearing it again really hit home on how lucky we are to be traveling and exploring, with no real responsibilities or worries. It reminded me to appreciate every little thing, be grateful for my health, and thankful to my parents who always encouraged my love of adventure.
From dinner, we drove 30 minutes to Carbondale and slept at this Airbnb. I chose it based on its numerous positive reviews and so was surprised to enter into the residence and find a weird smell and general feeling of uncleanliness. This was confirmed when my friend found earwigs roaming around downstairs. Yikes! The hosts were friendly and it was affordable at $70/night, but if cleanliness is important to you, I would not recommend it.
For our last full day, we left Carbondale and headed to Aspen, which was 45 minutes away. In Aspen, we discovered SF prices again, where it was $5.15 for a mocha. Guess you can’t win em all.
The whole point of going to Aspen was to visit Maroon Bells (destination 5), one of the few places I’ve seen on TripAdvisor with 5 stars. It was so beautiful and I highly, highly recommend visiting if you are even slightly inclined towards nature.
Here is some advice on how to get there: If you arrive to Maroon Bells after 8am, you will not have access to the parking lot. You have the option of going to the Four Mountain Sports at the base of Aspen Highlands to buy a bus ticket up to Maroon Bells. The bus is $8 and well worth it, as the driver will talk about the history of the area and if you’re lucky, you may even see a moose along the way! You can park your car at the village lot, which will be $5. I recommend coming to the parking lot early as it gets full by 10am.
After hiking through Maroon Bells, we took the bus back to the village lot. From Aspen, we started the 4.5 hour drive towards Colorado Springs to visit Pikes Peak (destination 7) aka America’s Mountain. During this drive, I’m pretty sure we drove through more national forests in a day than I have in the past couple of years (aka it was beautifullll. I know I’ve used that word so many times in this post, but it’s true).
This is the view from Pikes Peak, another 14er. To be honest, I thought it was okay. Maybe we were mountained out by this point or had already seen too many amazing views and were no longer impressed. To access Pikes Peak, you will have to pay a toll of $15 pp.
For dinner, we checked out Phantom Canyon in downtown Colorado Springs, which had great customer service and decent food.
We spent the night at Econo Lodge, which was clean, cheap, and had HBO (in case you’re traveling with Game of Thrones fans). It was $75/night for two double beds. They have free breakfast, but it was pretty light with only cereal and English muffins, so I’d recommend planning for a second breakfast or early lunch (in case you can’t tell, I am always thinking about food).
For our last scenic stop of the trip, we drove 20 minutes towards the Garden of the Gods (destination 8). It is a public park that features huge red rock formations that are randomly strewn about, almost as if a giant was playing and haphazardly tossing them in every which direction. It also featured the fanciest visitors center we visited thus far, complete with exhibits, viewpoints, and a cafe.
At the park, we did mini-hikes. We got there around 8am on a Thursday and no one was there, which was awesome. It was far more crowded by the time we left at 11am so if you want photos without people, go early!
After exploring the park, we ate lunch at The Public House, which like most of Colorado, had super friendly customer service. The food was pretty good, but if I’m being honest, the food in the Bay Area has spoiled me and I still think it’s better.
The Public House bartender provided recs on what else to do in the area. We didn’t have the time because we had to catch our flight, but if you do, she recommended visiting Helen Hunt Falls and Bristol Brewery.
After lunch, we headed to the Colorado Springs Airport. We flew Frontier back to SFO, which was a 2.5 hour flight. The ticket cost $129.98 including 1 checked bag ($35) and seat selection ($6). My experience with Frontier was meh, especially because the seats didn’t recline and you had to pay for every little thing. But since it was a short flight, it didn’t really matter too much.
I had a freaking blast in Colorado and a huge part of that was due to the scenic drives, beautiful vistas, and all of the fun outdoor activities. The people are all genuinely so nice – pretty much everyone you meet while hiking will say “Hi”, “Excuse me”, “How’re you doing?” and everyone holds the door for everyone in Colorado, even if they’re holding a baby and you’re 10 feet away. Everyone we met out here seemed to love their lifestyle and have a strong appreciation of the outdoors.
Colorado is definitely super affordable. Including flights, housing, rental car, food, my total for this trip came out to around $750 for 4 days, which is pretty comparable to one international flight.
Have you been to Colorado? If so, what’d you like doing? Share in the comments below!
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3. How I went to Death Valley National Park, Alabama Hills, Kern River, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Mono Lake, and Convict Lake in 5 Days where you can take full advantage of the outdoors in Southern California.