Thanksgiving weekend trip to Colorado
November 19, 2012 10:45 PM   Subscribe

First timers to Colorado, I am excited. Flying in to Denver on Wednesday morning, staying until Sunday morning, renting a car. Thats 4 whole days. Please suggest places at this time of the year. Looking for scenic drive, outdoor tour etc Is driving from Denver to Aspen, to Boulder feasible? How about a road trip to Grand Canyon? Don't want to be out in Cold so much due to old age at the same time would like see the scenic places accessible and safe this time of the year. Appreciate your help.
posted by daveg02 to Travel & Transportation around Colorado (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is my reccomended driving tour.


Grand Canyon....ummm, it's over 600 miles away.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:59 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Denver > Aspen > Boulder... sure. Grand Canyon? Not so much.

The weather is looking like it's going to be pretty pleasant in Denver, but up in the mountains it'll be colder. Keep that in mind as you plan your driving trip.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:02 PM on November 19, 2012

You can reach Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park near Moab, Utah in about a day's drive from Denver. There is sure to be some stunning scenery there which may scratch your desert canyon itch. The drive along I-70 through Colorado is beautiful, too. Don't know much about feasibility of travel in winter, though. Definitely be well prepared in case you get stuck in a remote area.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:14 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It should be in the 50s and 60sF this week; drive south from Denver for an hour and a half on I-25 to Colorado Springs - scenic driving tour to include:

Garden of the Gods (free) and the Garden of the Visitor and Nature Center (free)
Pikes Peak (drive to the top - although it will be cold at the top, and at over 14,000 ft, be prepared for thin air! Small fee)
North Cheyenne Canon - (free) including Helen Hunt Falls (free) and the Starsmore Discovery Center - (free). Or Seven Falls (pay to enter)
West, if you have time, to the town of Manitou Springs

All beautiful spots to visit via car, with interesting places to get out to look around or to take photos if you feel like it.
posted by faineant at 12:34 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of the best things about Colorado is the amazing scenic drives. The only real downside is that there's a lot of "there and back" retreads. For instance, Denver to Aspen along I-70 is a pretty decent four-hour trip, but when you turn around and drive the same route back, the bloom falls off the rose a bit.

Also, keep in mind that I-70 West will possibly see major traffic jams on Wednesday and Friday and then East on Sunday. That four-hour trip can easily become eight do to ski traffic.

If you are looking for a day trip, Confess, Fletch's route above is awesome. The Peak to Peak Highway is beautiful.

If you are looking for something longer, I'd suggest 285 North between Taos, NM and Buena Vista, CO. It is one of the best drives I've ever been on. You get to watch the birth of the Rockies as the landscape changes from endless fields to something straight out of The Sound of Music. The only real downside is initially getting to Taos. Four to five hours south on I-25 isn't stellar (interstate driving just ain't fun), but if it's your first time in Colorado, even that drive is pretty spectaular.

My suggested route for Those Who Love Driving and want to see a ton of what Colorado has to offer:
Wednesday: Denver to Taos
Thursday: Taos to Aspen (if 82 is closed, just go to Vail instead)
Friday: Aspen/Vail to Boulder, via the Peak to Peak
Saturday: Head back to Denver at your leisure.

Here's the map:
posted by bpm140 at 12:43 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

For an indoors thing in Boulder, you might enjoy the Celestial Seasonings factory tour. It's worth it for the peppermint room, alone. Also, prairie dogs.
posted by jvilter at 4:28 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How about adding driving to Moab, Utah?

Although can't hike all the way to Delicate Arch, would it be a good drive to there?

That way get a feeling of Grand Canyons not the same but almost?

What is the day sunlight like should I start early or wait for sunrise?

Thanks for all the input my friends!
posted by daveg02 at 6:29 AM on November 20, 2012

Provided that the weather is good (especially! for the Durango to Montrose stretch and the Montrose to Gunnison stretch) this route would be a great trip. You will be in the car quite a bit but driving through scenic areas. You will also see the Black Canyon which is cooler than the grand canyon in some ways. It also allows you to take a couple of routes through Colorado.

Now some words from the wise: The passes between Durango and Montrose can be quite clear, or completely closed. Talk to someone locally before you leave for this part.

Also, this is a ton of driving for four days. You will see much of Colorado but you will also be watching it as you drive past. If you are in for a more relaxed trip, I agree with confess, fletch on the peak-to-peak. You can get into the mountains, go to Estes Park for a little further journey, and get some nice time in Denver/Boulder.

Have fun!

P.S. Higway 145 to 62 to 550 is the alternative, less scary, route from Durango to Montrose.
posted by occidental at 8:19 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Denver to Moab is about 5-6 hours, almost all of it on the interstate. If you're looking for red-rock desert, you can see it in Colorado, a little closer to Moab, at Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction (a 3.5 to 4 hour drive from Denver). It's kind of a hidden gem (note: I grew up near it, so this is not necessarily an objective viewpoint): nearly as scenic as Arches, and the big sights there are more accessible than in Arches or Canyonlands.
posted by heurtebise at 8:24 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll second the route that occidental provided as a really fabulous and scenic road trip. I agree that you should go see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (in Colorado) rather than the Grand Canyon, because the latter is a LOOOONG drive whereas the Black Canyon is smack in the middle of a very scenic drive. That section of Highway 550 (called the Million Dollar Highway) between Montrose and Durango is probably the most scenic drive in all of Colorado.

Unless you have some particular reason for going to Aspen, I'd actually recommend skipping it; compared to other ski towns (Vail, Beaver Creek, Crested Butte, Telluride) it's not very pretty and it's quite a haul to get there. I was actually pretty underwhelmed when I visited Aspen on a driving trip around Colorado and wished I had just gone straight to Crested Butte and stayed there for another couple of days.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:55 AM on November 20, 2012

Response by poster: Some of the Google search on Million Dollar Highway drive appears scary...I mean the reviews say it is wonderful but the drive is scary.

Should I be worried for safety, plannning to get a full size car, is SUV better?

Given sunset at 5pm, just wondering at this time of the year.
posted by daveg02 at 10:11 AM on November 20, 2012

Highway 550 is dry right now, so an SUV or anything else with 4-wheel drive wouldn't make a huge difference. (You can check road conditions for Highway 550 (or any other roads in the state) here -- scroll down to see conditions for Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain Passes.)

550 is scary mainly because it's very narrow in stretches (particularly the stretch in/out of Ouray), with little shoulder and no guard rails. A bigger car might make things worse for you there.
posted by heurtebise at 11:13 AM on November 20, 2012

Response by poster: I have been driving for 10 years, never in Colorado kinda roads.

It should be doable right? Last thing I want is to realize this course is for expert drivers only and back off.

Appreciate your awesome insights.
posted by daveg02 at 11:18 AM on November 20, 2012

Fort Collins has the New Belgium Brewery and associated tour. I've been through that part of the world 3 times and I've done the tour every time. There are other brewery tours in Denver that are good, but not as good, as well. Coors, for the mega-brewery look, and Great Divide both come to mind.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:09 PM on November 20, 2012

I think it would be helpful to know how much driving you want to do per day and what other things besides scenic drives you want to do. I wouldn't recommend driving to Moab or even Aspen with only a few days in Colorado. You could do a couple of shorter trips through Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Salida, Valley View Hot Springs, etc. then another drive to see Boulder, Nederland, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Lyons.
posted by fieldtrip at 12:44 PM on November 20, 2012

There are also other previous good threads on touring Colorado that may help
posted by fieldtrip at 12:46 PM on November 20, 2012

I wouldn't go totally nuts on your first trip. Denver to Colorado Springs (and visiting Pikes Peak while in that neck of the woods) would give you plenty to see and do. Much will really depend on whether it's snowing at high altitudes or not.

Make sure you have bottled water with you everywhere you go. Not optional.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:26 PM on November 20, 2012

Don't worry, you're not going to drive off the mountain. The roads get narrow at the tops of the passes, but otherwise they're just like roads anywhere else. Just don't get a big fat ginormous SUV, take it slow (not too slow), and you will be fine. The unofficial state car of CO is the Subaru (for the AWD) so rent one of those if you can. They make mountain roads more fun.

There is plenty to see in Colorado, so I'd leave the Grand Canyon and Utah sights for another trip unless you want to spend all your time driving. Distances are really big out here in the west. fieldtrip, above, has wise words - see the stuff on the Front Range and the mountain locations closer to Denver. Estes Park is lovely.

You might want to give yourself a day and a night in Denver to acclimate to the altitude before you head into the mountains. Altitude sickness is Not Fun. Denver has lots to see - there are a couple of beautiful old hotels downtown, the Brown Palace and the Oxford. You could tour the US Mint, take a self-guided brewpub tour in LoDo, or head down to CO Springs as suggested above, or spend the day in Fort Collins or Boulder.
posted by caryatid at 4:43 PM on November 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks! Happy Holidays and Thanksgiving everyone!
posted by daveg02 at 5:31 AM on November 22, 2012

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