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5 Summer Road Trips Through Colorado History

This summer, don’t settle for just traveling to another place, seek to travel to another time. These road trips are sure to inspire wonder for anyone looking to explore both.

Pick one or more of the five trips described here based on the time you have to travel or the places you wish to visit!

Ten Day Grand Tour of the American Southwest

Want to venture beyond our state for a larger perspective on the history of the West? This extended trip begins with a drive from Denver to Chimney Rock National Monument, then to the Southern Ute Cultural Center before a night’s stay at the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio. On day two, continue to Durango for a visit to the Center of Southwest Studies on the Fort Lewis College campus (if possible, arrange a special tour of the museum with Dr. Andrew Gulliford), the Toh-Atin Gallery to learn about Navajo rugs and weaving, and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad museum, then stay the night at the historic Strater Hotel. 

Drive from Durango to Mesa Verde National Park on day three, learning about the ancestral Puebloans and staying overnight at the park’s Farview Lodge. The next stop is Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where you can explore the remnant kivas and buildings of an ancient society. Stay the night in Farmington, New Mexico, where you can visit the Aztec Ruins National Monument the next day before continuing to the Navajo Code Talkers exhibit at a Burger King in Kayenta, Arizona, and Four Corners Monument, ending the day at Lake Powell. 

On the sixth day, drive to Navajo National Monument and then to Bluff, Utah, to stay the night at the Desert Rose (be sure to stop by the Twin Rocks Trading Post). Visit the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding on day seven, then Canyons of the Ancients National Monument; stay the night in Cortez. Continue to Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center (formerly the Anasazi Heritage Center) in Dolores and end the day by soaking in the hot springs in Ouray. The next day, drive to History Colorado’s Ute Indian Museum in Montrose. You can stop in Gunnison and Salida or continue back to Denver. If you choose, stay one last night in Salida and visit the South Park National Heritage Center in Fairplay before you return.

A Week of History in Northern Colorado

If you have a week to explore a part of our state, we recommend the Northern area. Start your trip with visits to Fort Vasquez, Fort St. Vrain, and Fort Lupton, then check out the Greeley History Museum before staying the night in town. The following day, drive to Fort Collins, where you can stroll through Colorado State University’s historic campus, tour New Belgium brewery (be sure to schedule a tour in advance), and explore the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Stay the night at the historic Armstrong Hotel in Old Town. Drive up Highway 14 on day three, through the Cache la Poudre River Canyon. Stop at the North Park Pioneer Museum in Walden before driving to Steamboat Springs to stay the night at the Rabbit Ears Motel, where you can take a dip in the hot springs across the street and enjoy the sounds of the river from your balcony. 

On day four, visit the history museums in Hayden and Meeker, where you can also walk through downtown before retiring at the historic Meeker Hotel. Dinosaur National Monument is the key attraction on day five. Go through the Quarry Visitor Center north of Jensen, Utah, and take the shuttle to the Dinosaur Quarry, where you’ll be awed by the many fossils sticking out of the Morrison Formation. If it isn’t too hot, hike back to the visitor center and see more fossils. 

Then drive to Rangely and visit the Rangely Outdoor Museum, where you’ll learn about the local coal and oil industries. On day six, drive through Cañon Pintado, stopping at roadside pull-offs to learn about the petroglyphs and pictographs in the area. Then continue through Fruita to downtown Rifle for lunch, eventually ending your day in historic downtown Glenwood Springs. On the last day, check out the Frisco History Park and Museum.

Romantic Getaway on the Western Slope

Want to spend a few unforgettable days with your beloved? Start your trip by driving to the luxurious Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa just south of Grand Junction. Rent a Lamborghini, reserve a helicopter tour, or go horseback riding on the ranch.

Don’t miss the Hanging Flume, an open water chute built over the Dolores River Canyon in the 1880s to facilitate gold mining (its preservation was partially funded by a grant from our State Historical Fund). 

Spend a day in Grand Junction, home of the Museum of Western Colorado. Take your sweetheart on a self-guided or guided tour of local wineries. Before you leave for home, stop by Palisade, where you can visit peach orchards and tour an alpaca farm.

Family Vacation near Pikes Peak

Take a few days for some fun with the family. On day one, drive to Colorado Springs and visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the only mountain zoo in the U.S. and one that also boasts an antique carousel listed in the State Register of Historic Properties. Tour the historic Broadmoor hotel and dine along the banks of Seven Falls at Restaurant 1858, where you can look at photos from the gold rush as you enjoy dishes inspired by the immigrants who traveled west. 

On day two, travel to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, where you can see one of the world’s best fossil deposits, including petrified redwood stumps up to 14 feet wide. Spend the night in Cañon City, where you can spend your last day at the Royal Gorge riding in a gondola, zip lining, and rock shopping to your heart’s content. At the visitor’s center, don’t miss the water clock—a replica of a real clock that kept time for 30 years before the Royal Gorge fire. 

Hotel Colorado in 1900

Hotel Colorado in 1900 (Photo by William Henry Jackson)

Weekend Warrior Trip to the Mountains

Only have time for a quick trip? Spend the night in Glenwood Springs. You can take your pick of wonderful activities, including shopping in the historic downtown and a relaxing dip in the local hot springs.

Stay at the historic Hotel Colorado (if you don’t mind that there’s no air conditioning) or rent a cabin near the Colorado River.

Be sure you don’t miss the Frying Pan Kilns built in 1884 for refining charcoal; it’s a historic site along the Basalt Historical Walking Tour in nearby Basalt.

 

If you’re looking for adventure and learning, be sure to check out our Tours and Treks. Join one of our exciting, one-of-a-kind trips and create memories that last a lifetime!