Denver lies on the edge of the cliffs and is easily accessible by car from dry deserts to snowy peaks and lush forests. Denver is the ideal starting point for any kind of journey you want to make.
If you don’t have much time or don’t want to travel far, take a look at our list of short trips from Denver that you can make in one day. For those who like to travel miles of highways to see the red rocks of Sedona, the buffalo herds of Yellowstone or the lights of Las Vegas, we’ve listed them below.
The best car trips from Denver
Here’s a complete list of the top 20 car trips from Denver, from short trips over Colorado to longer trips at the top of the list.
1. Colorado sources, CO
1 hour 40 minutes from Denver (70 miles)
Rock Formation Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs is a short drive from Denver.
Grey photo Online/Shutterstock.com
The shortest car ride on our list is only 70 miles to Colorado Springs. Depending on where you start in Denver on the I-25, which is usually the quickest route, you have a choice of different routes.
Although many visitors to Colorado Springs do not come to the city itself, but go directly to the sights and entertainment outside the city, there is much to do and see.
Colorado Springs has been the capital of Colorado since 1859, and old Colorado is a great place to stroll, with lots of old shops and local restaurants for lunch.
Just outside the city lies the Garden of the Gods, situated between the Colorado Springs and the imposing Peak Pikes Mountain.
The unusual rock formations are very popular with hikers. A single group of prickly rocks, known as Cathedral Valley, and other unusual rock formations, including a huge balancing rock and a large round hole surrounded by a red rock, form the perfect picture frame.
If you want to climb Pikes Peak, the 19 mile hike to the top is more than worth it. You have to pay a toll to enjoy this privilege, but this is the route of the annual Pikes Peak Challenge, where adrenaline junkies, from classic muscles to modern supercars, climb to the top.
2. Glenwood Sources, CO
2 hours 40 minutes from Denver (157 miles)
Serene Waterfalls Streams in Serene Suspended Lake in the Rocky Mountains in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
From Denver to Glenwood Springs, it takes less than 3 hours to cross the Rocky Mountains and White River National Forest.
As long as you walk through the picturesque villages, it will be difficult to find the best view from door to door as you pass the snowy peaks and make your way through the valleys and ski resorts.
Glenwood Springs is a city known for its largest thermal pool in the world, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. The million litres of water are cooled throughout the year to temperatures between 90 and 93°F (33°C).
For hot water lovers, the water from the Yampa spring is cooled at 50° C to just 40° C in the therapeutic pool – it’s hotter than a hot bath!
The Hanging Lake is one of those perfect paintings in the Rocky Mountains. Just 10 minutes from Glenwood Springs you can park on the road during the winter months, but from May to October a shuttle service will take you there from the city.
Ask permission in advance to sort the floating lake by system. After a short, relatively straight walk you will see the lake and the small, calm waterfalls that feed it.
3. Steam springs, CO
3 hours from Denver (156 miles)
The Strawberry Park Hot Springs at Steam Springs is a great place to relax all year round.
Arina P Habitsch/Shutterstock.com
The Steamboat is a beautiful town on the edge of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, with beautiful mountain scenery.
The city of Steamboat Springs, the Steamboat Ski Resort, the breathtaking Fish Creek Falls and the hot springs of Strawberry Park mean there’s something for everyone to see and do at any time of year.
Steamboating is known for its outdoor lifestyle – there’s a ranch outside the city, a slower pace of life and activities ranging from mountain biking to snowboarding, so you can enjoy the fresh mountain air.
You can reach Fish Creek Falls from Steamboat Springs in a variety of ways, from a leisurely walk along the cobbled path to hours of walking on top of the mountain.
Whichever route you choose, it is essential to go all the way – the waterfall rolls through rocks surrounded by pine forests and puts you in a relaxing trance when you hear the water.
4. Aspen, CO
at 3 hours 20 minutes from Denver (159 miles)
Aspen is one of the most popular winter destinations in the United States.
The world at HDR/Shutterstock.com
It takes just over three hours to get from Denver to Aspen. In summer you can take a shorter route by going south on the I-70 at Copper Mountain. After taking highways 91 and 24 turn right into the Twin Lakes, which will take you to the station.
In winter State Highway 82 is closed because the passes in the snow become too dangerous and you have to drive a longer distance through Vale and Glenwood Springs, although this only gives you about 10 minutes extra driving time.
Aspen is known as one of the best ski resorts in the United States. Whether you love winter sports or just want to spend a few days in the mountains, breathe in fresh air and tobogganing, Aspen is the place for you.
There are 4 different ski areas in Aspen – Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Pakhta – these are smaller mountains closer to the resort. The snow mass is the largest, but you have to travel a few kilometers to get there.
If skiing and snowboarding isn’t your thing, there are snowmobiles, pipes, snowmobiles (that’s one thing!) and ice skating.
In summer the ski slopes change into mountain bike slopes and the hiking trails become a little easier without a few meters of snow on top. At the top of the mountain there are restaurants open every season, and at the Wheeler Opera House you can even enjoy a 19th century concert.
5. Palisade, CO
at 3 o’clock 40 minutes from Denver (232 miles)
Picturesque view of the Colorado River near Palisade, Colorado.
Palisade is a charming town situated between Grand Junction and Grand Mesa National Forest. If you just drop by, you might not think of this relaxed spot at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and you’ll be very much mistaken.
After all, Palisade can offer enormous opportunities to attract visitors from near and far throughout the year.
The city lies along the Colorado River and the rocky plateau of the Great Valley forms a picturesque backdrop. The alluvial soils and the local climate have made this place an ideal place for wine production, and there are 25 wineries that produce truly amazing wines.
Colorado Wine Country, as it is known to locals, holds its annual Colorado Mountain Wine Festival in September to celebrate the harvest, but tickets must be scheduled in advance if the event is sold out every year.
But wine isn’t all there is in Palisade. Local fishing has become a major event and in August the Fisherman’s Festival, where you can take part in a peach tasting competition or learn to appreciate the virtues of different species of peaches.
In addition to these events and many other festivals that take place throughout the year, Palisade has some great local restaurants, art galleries and a brewery that produces hearty wheat beer. There are better places to relax for a few days and enjoy a short holiday from Denver.
Board of Directors: If it’s okay with you, you’re in luck. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway passes south of Palisade and offers breathtaking mountain views, steep curves and little traffic.
6. Grand Dunes de Sable National Park, CO
3 hours and 50 minutes from Denver (239 miles)
Great Sand Dunes National Park in South Colorado has the highest sand dunes in North America.
If you thought Colorado was made up of high mountains, rivers flowing through valleys, plains stretching to the horizon and wild prairies, think again.
The Grote Zandduinen National Park is less than 4 hours from Denver and has sand dunes that are not moved to the Sahara.
In fact, they are the highest sand dunes in North America, with a total surface area of approximately 30 square kilometres (78 square kilometres), above which star-shaped pyramidal dunes are formed.
In addition to walking on the dune ridges, you can also take a horse-drawn sleigh ride (yes!) on the sand and relax at Medano Creek from late spring to early summer when the weather warms up.
The quickest way to get to Great Sand Dunes National Park is via Colorado Springs – it’s a great place to stop, and depending on the time of day you can visit Pike Peak and the Garden of the Gods – see no. 1 above!
to 5 hours and 50 minutes from Denver (392 miles)
Santa Fe is an incredible place to spend a few days in the world of art and pueblo-style architecture.
The first destination on our list outside Colorado is Santa Fe, in northern New Mexico.
The drive from Denver to Santa Fe is incredibly easy. You should head south on the I-25 in downtown Denver and stay on the road for just 400 miles until it passes Santa Fe – a pretty easy route to take!
You can follow the US-285 route, which is more than 30 miles from the route. This is certainly a more picturesque hike through the mountains and along picturesque roads, but it will add half an hour to the trip. I advise you to drive this way to Santa Fe and take the highway back home in the evening if you don’t see a view.
Santa Fe is a unique blend of colonial architecture and pueblo-colonial art. Local traditional Indian art is combined with the South Mexican influence.
The food here is one of the main reasons why you should come. The unique taste of New Mexico combines Mexican culinary styles with local peppers and pine nuts.
Santa Fe was the capital of New Mexico until it became an American state in 1912. It has retained its unique cuisine and culture, making it one of the best hidden gems to visit from Denver.
READ MORE – Driving from Denver to Santa Fe
6 hours from Denver (362 miles)
The beautiful town of Telluride in the San Juan Mountains is a great place for sunshine or snowfall.
Telluride is the perfect place for Denver travellers. The journey here leads through mountain ranges and various national forests – just for that it is worthwhile to come here.
But when you arrive in Telluride, you’ll find yourself on the San Juan Skyway – a 233 mile loop through the San Juan Mountains which is one of the most scenic rides in the state.
With a 12 hour drive from Telluride and a day trip through the curves of the Skyway, you might want to relax a bit, and that’s exactly what Telluride has to offer in large numbers.
For those who like active leisure activities, in winter – skiing and tobogganing, and in summer – hiking and white-water rafting.
If you want to relax and unwind, visit the cafes and restaurants of Mountain Village or visit the city’s amazing array of art galleries.
Don’t forget to visit the Wedding Valley Falls, which you can reach by entering the valley from Telluride. This beautiful waterfall freezes completely in winter and the climb becomes a bit dangerous, so be careful.
READ MORE – Driving from Denver to Telluride
9. Thermopolis, WY and Hot Springs State Park
6 hours from Denver (408 miles)
Hot water and mineral deposits in Thermopolis Hot Springs National Park, Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Thermopolis is a small town in Wyoming about 7 hours away, with a lunch break on the way. The main reason to visit Thermopolis is the Hot Springs State Park, a small reserve where the warm thermal waters of the Big Horn River flow.
Water comes out of the ground at a temperature of 57°C (135°F), so try not to soak your toes – it’s very hot and you can get burned.
For those who want to take a bath, the park has a special bathing pavilion where the water can be cooled down to 40° C, which is even warmer than a typical hot bath. You can use the facilities free of charge, but a small fee will be charged for towels.
The water flowing through the rocks into the soil is full of salts and minerals that precipitate like a coloured compound called travertine, creating limestone formations that are very similar to water.
To help you bypass the park there are roads and paths and a suspension bridge across the river. You can drive around to find the small stadium of the state bison that live in the park, but be careful not to get out of the car or get near the bison when you see them – they are wild animals and can be dangerous.
6 hours from Denver (367 miles)
The faces of 4 American presidents on Mount Rushmore are less than 6 hours away from Denver.
Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock.com
Most Americans are familiar with Mount Rushmore – the giant 18-foot faces of the four most famous American presidents are one of the country’s most iconic attractions.
However, few Americans will be able to determine the location of Mount Rushmore on the map, and the answer is less than 6 hours north of Denver.
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills, a mountain range in the southwest corner of South Dakota, a few miles from the Wyoming border. In these mountains are the National Park of the Black Hill Country and the Wind Caves, which are worth a visit during a road trip.
The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were originally designed as large sculptures falling on the waist of each president, but when the money ran out in 1941, Lincoln drew straws to finish the smallest part of his head.
The road to Mount Rushmore will be very flat, with a few exceptions. You will walk close to the Pawnee and Thunder Basin National Prairies, which are worth a visit if you have the time. Both are wide, flat areas covered with grass as far as the eye can see, ideal for relaxing with a beer as the sun slowly sets on the horizon.
Read more – Denver on the Mount Rushmore Expressway
7 hours 30 minutes from Denver (438 miles)
Moab can be a popular place, and at the height of the tourist season it can get even busier, but there’s a good reason for that: it’s an incredible place to visit!
If there’s a long way to go from Denver, this could be it! There are great national parks with ravines, unusual rock formations and a crazy animal world. Then there are the small local towns that make you feel like you’ve arrived on another planet, not to mention the next state.
Trading the hustle and bustle of the big city for endless surrealistic landscapes is worthwhile, and 5 hours drive to Moab is not that much. I have increased the time above to 7:30 minutes because you want to drive to Canyonlands and Arch National Parks, and that will increase the distance a bit.
The arches are a much smaller park with short, easy paths that allow you to walk from your car to a large stone or arch and back before you start sweating. It’s also much closer to Moab, so most people go there.
If you want to see more nature and fewer people, take your time in the Canyonlands, which are more than four times bigger and attract half the visitors.
Each park costs $30 per entrance (and you really have to visit both if you come from so far away!). So you need to buy the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which gives you unlimited access to the national parks across the country for $80. The pass is valid for one car and is not limited to persons.
If at the end of the year you take another drive to Yellowstone, or if you go south to the Valley of Monuments or the Gusenets State Park (if you think the answer is YES – you should!), then the pass is definitely worth it!
8 hours from Denver (518 miles)
Salt Lake City is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains and the larger Salt Lake City area.
Salt Lake City is different from most other cities in the United States that you may have visited. Surrounded on all sides by mountains and a lake, the view from the city is breathtaking and a walk through several important sights is fascinating.
Although Salt Lake City is a special place on our list because it is definitely worth going there, I strongly recommend combining it with other places to visit along the way.
The journey from Denver to Salt Lake City takes about 8 hours, whether you follow the I-70 through the mountains and over Grand Junction or the I-80 from Larami.
If you follow the I-70, Moab and the incredible national parks are already on their way, so it makes sense to include them in your itinerary. Palisade (#5 above) and Glenwood Springs (#2) are also on their way, and Aspen is just a short detour from the route.
If you’re going through Wyoming, Cheyenne is a good place to stop like the Medicine Row-Boutt National Forest, but from there it’s a six hour drive to Salt Lake, with no other good option on the way.
The salt lake is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the Mormons make up less than half of the population, the church owns most of the land around the city, and the Salt Lake Temple, Tabernacle, and other buildings built by the Mormons stand out as you make your way through the city.
Unfortunately the temple and most other buildings are closed for visitors (and are being restored), but you can get an idea of the location in the tabernacle and in a mill around the temple square.
Excursion Denver – Salt Lake City Road
8 hours 20 minutes from Denver (506 miles)
Incredible red rock formations Monument Valley is something to see.
In this list there are several contenders for the title of most amazing national park – Yellowstone is just below, Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park are all phenomenal, as are the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Grand Canyon and Red Rock National Park near Sedona.
But the Valley of Monuments, located on the border between Arizona-Utah, has something truly exceptional, and the most amazing thing is not a national park or a monument. Because it is located in the Navajo National Reserve, it is only part of the Navajo Tribal Park.
The Valley of Monuments is famous for its enormous red rocks that rise up to 300 m above the bottom of the valley. Numerous films, television shows and commercials have taken advantage of the outward appearance of the trio West Mitten Butt, East Mitten Butt and Merrick Butt.
If you’re so far from Denver, consider adding Glen Canyon and Guzenex State Park to your itinerary. Especially the caterpillars are an incredible sight, because the meanders of the San Juan River have carved a unique, deep and winding gorge in the landscape.
If the weather is on your side, you can continue your hike and see the Grand Canyon and the red rocks in the public parks near Sedona, further south in Arizona. Combine that with the Moab from Denver and you’ll have a really great trip!
8 hours 20 minutes from Denver (509 miles)
A bison herd, geysers, and rivers are just some of the things you can see in Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is one of the most famous national parks in the United States and only an 8 hour drive from Denver, it is the perfect place to relax.
There are two main roads that take you either south or east. I advise you to go through the south or west entrance – the climb is more scenic, and if you approach Yellowstone you can go through Grand Teton National Park.
Yellowstone lies on top of a huge volcano. It rests and erupts only every few thousand years, but signs of geothermal activity are everywhere.
Half of the world’s geysers are in Yellowstone, where you’ll find hot springs, steam circulating through the earth and an amazingly rich wildlife ecosystem.
Wolves, buffaloes, moose, deer and grizzly bears are just a few of the hundreds of different species found in the park.
Within the park there are different types of accommodation, 2000 campsites and 12 large campsites. There are several small towns where you can also get supplies.
Don’t forget that Yellowstone is closed to cars during the winter months. You can stay outside and drive snowmobiles in the park, but because of the heavy snowfall and the long distances you won’t get far.
Read more – From Denver to Yellowstone Road.
15. White Sand National Monument, NM
8 hours 40 minutes from Denver (564 miles)
It may be a long walk from Denver, but the National Monument White Sand Dunes is worth it.
White Sands National Monument is located in White Sands National Park about 55 miles north of Las Cruzes in southern New Mexico.
It’s a long walk, but 275 square kilometres of white dunes are a great sight, and above all, despite its name, it’s not even sand!
The dunes here are made of fine gypsum crystals, a material used in the production of chalk and gypsum. The park is quite small and you don’t want to spend more than a day or two working on it. The road to the park is only 8 miles from the highway, making it easy to get there and go back.
There’s nowhere to spend the night in the park itself – it’s full of dunes. There is a choice of hotels in Alamogordo, the nearest city, or in Las Cruces if you want to travel a little further afield.
Remember, the park is near the White Sands Missile Range. This means that the park can be closed for a few hours in a very short time and working hours are strictly adhered to. You must leave the park before 6pm in winter and before 9pm in summer.
If you want to interrupt your trip, there are several possibilities. Colorado Springs is on its way, but very close to Denver. Santa Fe (see #7 above) is an excellent stopover, as are some of the stations in Carson National Forest if you decide to sabotage.
10 hours and 50 minutes from Denver (644 miles)
Unique amphitheatre at Bryce Canyon Sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
If there are not enough other national parks or if you have already visited them all and want to see more, the parks in the southwest of Utah are a great option for road trips.
Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are close to each other, but they are very different.
Bryce Canyon is a small park situated on a very high hill. You will find large rock amphitheatres in which pointed rock formations resemble people sitting in the hall. It’s an incredible place, but it doesn’t take more than a day to see it, and Zion is the best place to walk.
Zion National Park is a beautiful green canyon, mountains and red rocks that seem to merge perfectly. There are many hiking possibilities – Zion Canyon is the highest point of the park, and you can go from a quiet 30-minute hike to a hike that requires 12 hours of intensive climbing.
National Monument The Grand Escalante Staircase starts just outside Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and represents a huge pet shop that was only declared a National Monument in 1996.
This part of Utah was the last American territory on the map, and so far little has changed, from miles to miles of uninterrupted nature. You can see some of them if you take the I-70 on route 24 and then on route 12, which eventually leads to Bryce Canyon, but not before you’ve seen much of the desert around you.
11 hours from Denver (749 miles)
Everyone should visit Las Vegas at least once!
When we get into the realm of long car rides, I can already hear those voices, but of course it is much easier to fly than to drive from Denver to Las Vegas at 11 o’clock.
In the first place, I personally would prefer the ability to drive to fly when there is a reasonable comparison. I’m not a fan of anything I want to take with me in a small shiny suitcase, then take a suitcase in buses that go through airports, take a laptop and come back, take off shoes and belts and so on.
Apart from the fact that car rides are simply much more relaxed without a fixed time when you need to get to certain places, you also overestimate the time difference. The flight to Vegas takes two hours without delay. You must spend at least one hour at the airport, on either side of the airport, go through security, check in baggage and wait in line.
Add half an hour on both sides to get on and off, and the inevitable hour is the waste of your rental car, and suddenly your two-hour flight actually takes 6 hours, and you’re still spending most of the day getting there. Throw your stuff in the car and leave at 7:00 in the morning. You’ll be in Sin City in time to freshen up for dinner if you want to go there right away.
Las Vegas needs no introduction to explain why you should go there – the casinos never close, the restaurants are incredible and there are fantastic shows every night. I prefer to stay in one of the hotels at the newest end of the street – the Cosmopolitan is good because there is no vibrant casino downstairs and you can get good deals in Aria.
The road from Denver to Las Vegas passes through a number of places listed below so you can easily interrupt your trip and make stops along the way – White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs, Palisade, the incredible Utah National Parks and the Grand Canyon.
You can come to Vegas in a day if you don’t stop too often, but you can easily take a week or two, depending on how much you want to see!
READ MORE – Driving from Denver to Las Vegas
11 hours and 30 minutes from Denver (706 miles)
There are amazing red rock formations in the desert in Red Rock State Park near Sedona.
Sedona, Arizona attracts visitors from all over the world because of the unique landscape around the city. The Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock State Park and other nearby attractions are located in the middle of the desert and are full of unique red rock formations.
The road to Sedona is a perfect trip if you have time to stop. You will first cross the Rocky Mountains and then travel through Vale, Glenwood Springs and Palisade.
If you go south on 191 U.S. Street, you will pass through Moab and the area around Canyonlands and Arch. Further south the road runs near Glen Canyon and crosses the Valley of Monuments before crossing the Navajo Nature Reserve to reach Flagstaff and Sedona.
For two weeks you can make an easy trip and see only a few great places along the way!
There are three major sights you really should see when you come to Sedona. Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock are right on Route 179 – the views from the road are breathtaking, and we strongly recommend you do a few dozen ups and downs to take it all with you.
You can also park in different places to take advantage of the footpaths that bring you closer to the rocks. Most of them are relatively easy walks and not particularly stressful.
The Devil’s Bridge is a little further north and requires longer walks to get there, but it’s definitely worth getting up to see it!
11 hours 40 minutes from Denver (740 miles)
. The horseshoe bend is one of the attractions of the Grand Canyon.
Another natural wonder of Northern Arizona, and again the route takes you through some other great places further down the list. So if you’re not ready to drive 12 hours a day (which really isn’t a good idea), don’t forget to add some stops along the way.
The Grand Canyon is a very popular destination for visitors from all over the world. Tourists from Las Vegas come here every hour to see the canyon and take some pictures.
Very few people see anything other than the Grand Canyon village, and the advantage of this trip is that you can see much more.
Start with a horseshoe bend south of Wahweap. You can see the Colorado River flowing through the U-turn (see picture above), and it’s a great place to start your journey.
After crossing the river at Marble Canyon, you can visit the Vermillion Rock National Monument – make sure you get online permission to visit Coyote Butte, as it can be difficult to get there in a day.
You can descend the north slope – the view from here may even be better than the south slope, but from Vegas it’s much more, so there are far fewer people here.
If you are a hiker, you can walk down the gorge and cross the suspension bridge at the dock-bab to the south. From here there are hiking trails up and down the river or on the other side of the canyon – if you have time, there are better ways to spend the day!
If you don’t want to drive kilometers, you can just drive to the south side of Grand Canyon Village. As you get closer, you can climb towers or other vantage points to get a good view of the gorge.
READ MORE – Driving from Denver to the Grand Canyon
20. Big Bend National Park, TX
13 hours from Denver (824 miles)
Big Bend National Park in Texas is a great place to experience real wildlife.
The last entry in our list could be real – the journey from Denver to Big Bend is over 800 miles and takes over 13 hours. Add a few stops for gas, a few more for food and comfortable breaks, and you get at least 15 hours of driving time, even if you’re fast.
The two best places to stay to interrupt your trip are Santa Fe, which is about halfway (see number 7 above), or Carlsbad, New Mexico. Karlovy Vary, a small town known for its caves, has a large number of caves where you can enter and learn the difference between stalactites and stalagmites.
Calsbad is about 9 hours drive from Denver to the bus stop, but it can be done in almost a day – you can visit the caves in the morning and then get off at Big Bend.
There are several other interesting places to visit as you approach Big Bend. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, on the border with Texas, offers a fairly unusual landscape, and the small alpine town just before Big Bend is a great stopover.
The Alps seem to belong to a western movie, and there is no sign of civilization in their area, mile after mile. Visit Fort Davis National Historic Site to learn more about local history.
Big Bend National Park is on the border with Mexico. In fact, you can literally stand on the edge of reality – the Rio Grande is located in the park and you can kayak or hike in the valley.
Don’t forget your passport: the area is guarded by the border patrol and you can be checked when you disembark in a kayak!
The park is huge and offers several fantastic hiking trails. Because of its location away from any big city, it needs few visitors, which is ideal if you want nature all to yourself!