Start in Rocky Mountain National Park to see alpine lakes and towering peaks, then continue to Colorado National Monument to see red rock canyons and the ancestral land of the Ute people. Stop in Gunnison National Park to see the 2,000 ft deep sheer walls of the Black Canyon, then head to Great Sand Dunes National Park to climb 700+ ft tall sand dunes.

Highlights

  • Drive scenic roads in Rocky Mountain and Gunnison National Parks
  • Hike in the National Parks and Monuments to see the landscape up close
  • Climb 700+ ft tall sand dunes, the tallest in North America
  • Explore petrified redwoods and thousands of fossils at Florissant Beds

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival and Estes Park Estes Park, CO
Day 2 Rocky Mountain National Park Grand Lake, CO
Day 3 Grand Lake to Grand Junction Fruita, CO
Day 4 Colorado National Monument Fruita, CO
Day 5 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park & Curecanti National Recreation Area Gunnison, CO
Day 6 Great Sand Dunes National Park Salida, CO
Day 7 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Departures from Denver  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and Estes Park

Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Meet your pickup in Denver and drive west to Estes Park, the gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park. Stretch your legs in the afternoon on a short hike and acclimatize to the elevation before relaxing with dinner in town. Remember: you'll be at 7,500 ft (2,300 m) and going higher than that tomorrow, so drink lots of water and get some rest ahead of your adventure. Keep an eye out for elk which frequently wander into the town center. 

Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park

The Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the US
The Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the US

Start off the day with a hike in the park before hitting the road to see the famed Trail Ridge Road, which at 12,183 ft (3,713 m) is the highest continuous highway in America. Stop along the way at the Rocky Mountain Visitor's center for lunch with a view and to learn about the area's history, then continue across the continental divide through the "Roof of the Rockies" to the west side of the park. Spend the afternoon exploring the trails on the west side of the park and keep an eye out for wildlife—bighorn sheep, bears, and marmots call these rugged mountains home. 

Day 3: Grand Lake to Grand Junction

Yellow aspens in the autumn
Yellow aspens in the autumn

Fuel up with breakfast and coffee in town before hitting the road for another scenic drive through the Colorado Rockies. Stop near Frisco for a hike and a lunch break, then continue west through White Mountain National Forest, paralleling the mighty Colorado River for much of the journey. This drive takes you from high alpine passes to the winding Glenwood Springs Canyon. Arrive in Grand Junction in time to relax before dinner near the hotel. 

Day 4: Colorado National Monument

Rugged landscape of Colorado National Monument
The rugged landscape of Colorado National Monument

Spend the day exploring Colorado National Monument, located just to the west of Grand Junction. Head out to see this rugged desert scape on a 23 mile (37 km) drive along Rim Rock Drive, stopping at scenic overlooks along the way. Keep an eye out for local resident bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and jackrabbits. Explore the towering rock monoliths, red canyons, and larger-than-life cliffs of this landscape on a few short hikes to see highlights like Window Rock, the Canyon Rim, and Coke Ovens. If time allows, visit the Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction and the Ute Learning Garden to see tipis and a botanical garden of native plants of the West, before relaxing for the evening. 

Day 5: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park & Curecanti National Recreation Area

Gunnison River in the Black Canyon
Gunnison River in the Black Canyon

Head south Gunnison National Park to see the Black Canyon and the Gunnison River. This park was established in 1999 for its cultural significance and natural beauty. You will see the canyon from many angles today as you head onto a scenic drive on the South Rim before heading deeper into the canyon on the East Portal Road. This far into the close-set walls, some parts of the river only get 33 minutes of direct daily sunlight. As you explore the park, stop and explore the landscape on foot to see a variety of native plant life, from sagebrush to Pinyon Pines. Take a break for a picnic lunch, then follow the Gunnison River in the afternoon through the Curecanti National Recreation Area, with an opportunity to hike to the Dillon Pinnacles in the hazy afternoon sunlight. 

Day 6: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park

In the morning head to the newest of the four National Parks in Colorado–the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Stop and see the tallest sand dunes in North America, set against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Christos Mountains. Head up for a hike into the dunes to get dramatic views of the mountains and endless sand. In the afternoon hit the road for the town of Salida, located on the banks of the Arkansas River. 

Day 7: Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Departures from Denver

Petrified tree stump
Petrified tree stump

Head back to Denver, stopping along the way at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Explore one of the world's richest and most diverse fossil deposits, including petrified redwood stumps and thousands of insect and plant fossils. Continue to Denver International Airport for your evening flight departure.