BEST OF COLORADO:
Top Things To Do That AREN’T Skiing
Ahhhh…. Colorful Colorado- a favorite among our camper van guests! We can’t blame them. While the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Colorado is probably mountains and skiing, this state has everything- hot springs, glacier lakes, red rocks, sand dunes, canyons, and of course, great beer.
This Colorado road trip itinerary makes a zig-zag through the state, connecting 5 cluster areas that highlight all the amazing places in Colorado that AREN’T ski resorts. Everything on this itinerary is dog-friendly unless otherwise noted.
ROAD TRIP HIGHLIGHTS
Garden of the Gods
Rocky Mountain National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park
St Mary’s Glacier
DAY 1: Estes Park
Starting in Denver? Grab brunch on the patio of any Snooze An AM Eatery restaurant. For something different, try their Funky Monkey French Toast or Habenero Pork Belly Benny.
Make your way northwest from Denver to Estes Park- the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park- for some epic hiking and breweries. Grab lunch and a beer at Rock Cut Brewing Company. They have a dog-friendly patio and typically have food trucks on-site. They also share their patio with China Garden. For more beer variety, try the outdoor beer garden at The Barrel. Check their food truck schedule here. After lunch, explore Estes Park trails.
ESTES PARK AREA TRAIL RECOMMENDATIONS:
Lake Estes Trail (3.8 mi; 206 ft elevation)
Kruger Rock (4 mi, 977 ft elevation)
Sullivan Gulch (2 mi; 984 ft elevation)
Lily Mountain (4 mi; 1246 ft elevation) Save this one for sunset!
After your hike, check into a campsite or cabin for the night at Estes Park KOA Holiday. If you aren’t traveling in our pimped-out Camper Van, this KOA also has dog-friendly Deluxe Cabins for rent with full bathrooms. Cook dinner at the campground or grab a bite at Rock Inn Mountain Tavern. Enjoy sunset on the lake or drive a few minutes to Lily Mountain Summit and take a sunset hike.
Rather stay at a hotel? Try Murphy’s Resort (~$200/night). They have great reviews, a pool & hot tub, offer free bicycle rentals, and are dog-friendly ($20/dog, up to 2 per room).
DAY 1 TIMELINE:
1000-1200: Drive to Estes Park
1730-1800: Check in to Estes Park KOA
1800-1930: Dinner Rock Inn Mountain Tavern
1930- sunset: Lily Mountain
Night: S’mores at camp
DAY 2: Rocky Mountain National Park
Today, you’ll explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Be sure to book your Timed-Entry reservation for travel May through October. Before you head out, grab breakfast to-go from The Egg of Estes, or sit on the dog-friendly patio at Mountain Home Cafe.
Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on any trails within this National Park. Dogs can be on established roads, parking lots, campgrounds, and picnic areas. If you brought your dog, check out these trails outside the park to take your dog before heading on a scenic drive through the Rocky Mountains. If you are in our campervan, we do provide a Waggle temperature monitor so you can leave them briefly, parked in the shade with the camper’s air conditioning on for human-only outings. Get 50% off your own Waggle monitor.
Whether you brought a dog or not, we recommend taking the scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road, starting from Fall River Visitor Center and ending at Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the southwest corner of the park, just north of Grand Lake. The drive takes about 4 hours to complete. If you’re able to enjoy hiking at the park, bring a sack lunch and enjoy a few of these trail recommendations:
ROCKY MOUNTAIN TRAIL RECOMMENDATIONS:
Toll Memorial via Tundra Communities Trail (1.1 mi; 154 ft elevation)
Alpine Ridge Trail (0.7 mi; 147 ft elevation)
Gem Lake Trail (3.1 mi, 994 ft elevation)
Four Lakes Loop (6.1 mi; 1456 ft elevation)*
*not on Trail Ridge Road- south of Estes on Bear Lake Rd
Stay just north of Grand Lake at Winding River Resort. In addition to campsites, they rent cabins and lodging rooms. Dogs are allowed in select cabins. The resort offers horse trail rides, hay or sleigh rides, and snowmobile or ATV rentals to explore 130 miles of trails on their resort.
You can also camp inside Rocky Mountain National Park but there are no sites with electrical hook ups, and campsites are usually booked up far in advance. If you do camp within the park, you will not need a Time-Entry reservation.
DAY 2 TIMELINE:
0930-1800: Hike inside RMNP and scenic drive through the park to Grand Lake; sack lunch
0930-1200: Hike outside RMNP
1200-1300: lunch at Trailhead Restaurant
1300-1800: Scenic drive through RMNP
Night: To campsite
DAY 3: St Mary’s Glacier, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, & Garden of the Gods
Grab brunch in town to-go from Jump Start and head to St Mary’s Glacier in Idaho Springs, Colorado. You’ll need $5 cash for parking and good hiking boots. If the weather is warm, you might also wear a bathing suit to get in the lake. This is a moderately strenuous, uphill hike with an elevation gain of about 1000 ft. Dogs are welcome on leash. Bring water and a sack lunch- but please haul out all of your trash and food scraps!
On your way to Colorado Springs, take a brief pitstop at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and get your blood pumping as you explore one of the most breath-taking venues in the world. Red Rocks is open to the public for free on non-event days and until lunch (usually) on event days.
Continue on to Colorado Springs, grabbing dinner on the patio at Pizzeria Rustica. If you’re ready to try another Colorado brewery, head to Cerberus Brewing Company instead. Pair a brew with one of their unique dishes, such as the Poached Pear Salad or Saffron Gnocchi Etoufee. Spend the rest of the evening at Garden of the Gods. This beautiful park is studded with red rock spire formations, popular with rock climbers. Don’t miss getting a sunset photo with Balanced Rock. Dogs are allowed on all trails within the park on a 6-foot leash.
For the evening, set up camp at the Cheyenne Mountain State Park Campground. Full RV hook-ups are $41/night, and they have coin-operated showers and laundry facilities. This is a popular campground that fills up quickly. If you weren’t able to secure a campsite here, or you prefer a dog-friendly cabin with a full bathroom, book a site at Colorado Springs KOA Holiday.
Prefer a hotel? The Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Fountain North just south of Colorado Springs is dog-friendly (only $25/pet), reasonably priced (about $115/night), and has exceptional reviews.
DAY 3 TIMELINE:
1000-1200: Drive to Saint Mary’s Glacier (grab snacks/lunch for your hike on the way!)
1200-1400: Saint Mary’s Glacier
1415-1500: Drive to Red Rocks
1600-1730: Drive to Colorado Springs
1830-sunset: Garden of the Gods
Night: Campground or Hotel
DAY 4: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
(under construction- check back soon for the rest of this itinerary!)
DAY 5: Great Sand Dunes National Park
DAY 6: Mesa Verde National Park
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