Colorado Road Trips

Road Trip Through the Rockies

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The state of Colorado has it all: majestic mountains, flat plains, verdant vineyards, roaring rivers and just about everything in between, including tons of archaeology. We've pulled together 4 popular road trips through various portions of the state: Southeast, Southwest, the Rockies and the High Desert. Weather changes quickly in Colorado so be prepared. Also, be sure to carry lots of water --both for you and your car.

Boulder to Rocky Mountain National Park
75 miles
4-5 hours
Stay: In Estes Park, crash at the Georgian-style Stanley Hotel, which dates back to 1909. Be sure to take the $15 guided tour to learn about how the property played a critical role in Stephen King's creation of "The Shining."
Do: Start the journey in Boulder, arguably the quirkiest city in the West. There's always some sort of cultural activity going on here, but highlights include the Aerial Dance Festival every August and the Boulder International Film Festival every February. For a more laid-back experience, grab afternoon tea at the Tajikistan-inspired Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. On Day 2 in Estes, explore Rocky Mountain National Park. The most popular hike here is the 14-mile round-trip climb to the top of 14,259-foot Longs Peak, but hikers must leave at 3 a.m. to be off the mountain by the time thunderstorms move in later in the day. As an alternative, head out MacGregor Avenue toward McGraw Ranch for an easy 3-mile round-trip hike that follows Cow Creek to Bridal Veil Falls.
Eat: As far as greasy spoons go, the Big Horn Restaurant in Estes is, well, huge.

Trinidad to La Veta
110 miles
6-7 hours
Stay: Dating back to 1876, the 17-room La Veta Inn mixes history with comfort in kick-back, Old-West style.
Do: For a primer on local archaeology, visit the Louden-Henritze Archeology Museumin Trinidad. The museum has artifacts from nearby Trinchera Cave. For information about more modern times, check out the Santa Fe Trail Museum and some of the city's historic homes. Later, on State Route 12 at Cucharas Pass, look for incredible views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Dikes, yellow-colored rock walls that were formed by volcanic forces inside the Earth more than 400 million years ago. In La Veta, check out the adobe buildings of Fort Francisco, which dates back to 1863 and today boasts a museum with artifacts from the 1700s.
Eat: Cap a day of learning with a homemade cinnamon roll at the Ryus Avenue Bakery, the best (and only!) bake shop in La Veta.

Mesa Verde to Hovenweep
480 miles
3-4 days
Stay: Saddle up and spend a while at the Circle K Ranch in Dolores. Here, comfortable accommodations and horseback-riding equal quintessential Old-West relaxation.
Do: Begin this archaeological adventure at Mesa Verde National Park, home to 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 dwellings carved into the cliffs. The best-known (and most frequently photographed) rock home is Cliff Palace, a 150-room site with an estimated community of more than 100 Anasazi residents. From here, head south on 160 toward the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation, where modern-day members of the tribe provide guided tours through ruins located inside Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Finally, just east of the Utah border, Hovenweep National Monument protects 6 Pueblo-era villages with stone towers that have stood for more than 1,000 years. Four of these villages are in Colorado, 2 are in Utah. For information on all of them, check out the Anasazi Heritage Center in downtown Dolores.
Eat: There aren't many services in Southeastern Colorado, which makes the handcrafted porter at Main Street Brewery in Cortez even more refreshing.

Palisade to Eckert
200 miles
2-3 days
Stay: Vineyards surround the Wine Country Inn in Palisade a perfect introductory view to Colorado's most popular winegrowing region.
Do: Start your trip along I-70 in Palisade and head west. Along the way, sample sweet wines from Carlson Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in the state. The Gewurztraminer here is particularly delectable. Winemaker Parker Carlson also makes wine from local fruit such as peach and cherry. On Day 2, in Olathe, visit Cottonwood Cellars, then double-back to Delta to explore the Gunnison Valley. For a different kind of tasting, visit the Peak Spirits Distillery in Hotchkiss to try organic gin. Before heading home, stop in Eckert at Surface Creek Winery, which makes full-bodied merlot and features an impressive gallery of watercolor paintings from artist Dale Russell Smith.
Eat: The open-air patio at the Asian-inspired Inaris Bistro in Palisade provides a great setting for a romantic dinner under the stars.