There’s nothing quite like hitting the open road during the beautiful summer months. Denverites looking to gain a new perspective can head out in any direction and be in a new state within a day. Those looking to keep it local can plan an exciting day or weekend getaway to places such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado Springs without crossing the border. Denver is the perfect jumping-off point for your next road trip, providing travelers with striking views no matter which route they choose.
Summer Road Trips from Denver
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Distance from Denver: 392 miles / 6 hours
Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico and it makes for the perfect road trip destination from Denver. Most road trippers can get there in a day by following I-25 to NM-466. The trip can be broken up into a couple of days for a more leisurely drive with an overnight stop near the border of Colorado and New Mexico. The city of Santa Fe is beloved for its unique Pueblo architecture and bustling art culture. Visitors will want to head to the plaza, which acts as the beating heart of the city and is also where a majority of the best restaurants, shopping, galleries, and nightlife are located.
As you’re perusing the streets of the city, you’ll likely come across some of the turquoise jewelry that the city is known for. Not only does this make for a thoughtful gift, but it also provides a remembrance of your summer road trip. Pack up your bags and hit the road on your exciting Southwest adventure. Trade in the Rocky Mountains for the desert landscape, which provides Coloradoans with a beautiful change of scenery.
Things to See
- Palace of the Governors
- Loretto Chapel
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
- Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
- New Mexico Museum of Art
- Santa Fe Opera
PRO Tip: Don’t forget to watch a Santa Fe sunset to soak up the fantastic hues that adorn the skyline as the sun goes down.
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Distance from Denver: 368 miles / 6 hours
Mount Rushmore is an iconic landmark in the United States, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The national monument presents the heads of the four most famous presidents carved into natural stone — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The trip from Denver can easily be done in a day of full driving, with the majority of the route following I-25 North, US-85 North, and US-18 East to SD-89 North. The drive will take road trippers through the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Collins, and the capital of Wyoming – Cheyenne.
Once you’ve reached South Dakota, many travelers opt to set up a base camp in Rapid City or Custer. Both locations provide convenient access to Mount Rushmore and other landmarks in the vicinity. Keystone is another great option and provides a charming town ambiance with a multitude of restaurants and galleries to enjoy in the evening. There are multiple national parks and forests in the area, providing plenty of outdoor recreation.
Things to See
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Badlands National Park
- Custer State Park
- Black Hills National Forest
- Wind Cave National Park
PRO Tip: Those who don’t already have one may consider an America the Beautiful annual national park pass, which will also provide entrance into the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Distance from Denver: 355 miles / 5.5 hours
Moab is a popular road trip destination and for good reason. There are several amazing national park opportunities in the area that boast views of stunning canyons, unique rock formations, and abundant wildlife roaming the expansive area. Trade the hustle and bustle of Denver for the serene landscapes of Utah. Starting from the Mile High City, follow I-70 West to US-191 South for the most direct route into Moab. The road features steep climbs and winding mountain roads, so drivers and passengers alike should be prepared for the trip. Enjoy majestic scenery and lookout points along the way, as well as hidden gems that are waiting to be explored.
Once in Moab, vacationers have access to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Arches National Park tends to attract more visitors per year, so expect to embrace the crowds during the busy summer months. Canyonlands National Park encompasses a larger area and often sees fewer people, making it worth the extra mileage. Either way, you’ll find Instagrammable photo opportunities in both of the parks and the chance to admire some of the most unique landscapes that the country has to offer. Moab is also a gathering place for mountain bikers due to the extensive trail network, so bring your wheels along if you have them.
Things to See
PRO Tip: Consider extending your trip to Moab by making a few stops along the way. From Denver, the route will take drivers through Vail and Grand Junction, Colorado.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Distance from Denver: 525 miles / 8.5 hours
Salt Lake City is 230 miles from Moab, which adds an additional 4 hours for ambitious road-trippers who want to do both in one trip. Salt Lake City has enough to do and see that it makes for the perfect summer road trip destination all on its own. There is beautiful scenery to be admired from Colorado to Utah, especially for those who opt to take the scenic route over the Rocky Mountains along I-70. The fastest option is following I-80 through Wyoming but after all, road trips are all about the journey.
Salt Lake City is home to the largest saltwater lake in the United States. Visiting the Great Salt Lake is a prime opportunity for viewing incredible wildlife and enjoying the expansive outdoors. The city has an impressive dining scene, as well as a variety of live entertainment and sports games. During the winter months, even native Coloradoans will be impressed with the world-class skiing that calls the region home. To get the most out of your Salt Lake City trip, plan to spend several days exploring.
Things to See
- Temple Square
- Natural History Museum of Utah
- Hogle Zoo
- Bonneville Salt Flats
- Utah State Capitol
- Great Salt Lake
PRO Tip: On the way back to Denver, opt for US-40 for a change of scenery.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Distance from Denver: 510 miles / 9 hours
From Denver, take I-25 North to the oldest national park, as well as one of the most popular, Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is known for its location on top of a dormant volcano and its spectacular geyser activity. Due to the rich mineral deposits, the park is also a great place to see wildlife. No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a viewing of Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world. Eruptions occur every half hour to two hours, meaning that if you’re patient — you’re just about guaranteed to see one.
Unless you want to spend an entire day in a car, plan to stop for the night somewhere between Denver and Yellowstone. Many of the small Wyoming towns make for a quaint rest stop to recharge, enjoy a hot shower, and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the road again. Two of the best options for an overnight stop are Rawlins and Casper. Jackson and Cody are closer to the park, meaning a longer first day of driving which allows an earlier morning in the park before the crowds descend.
Things to See
- Old Faithful
- Thumb Geyser
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Grand Teton National Park
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
PRO Tip: While there is plenty of scenery that can be enjoyed from the comfort of a vehicle, make plans to do some hiking once you reach the park. This is one of the best ways to experience all that Yellowstone has to offer.
Taos, New Mexico
Distance from Denver: 287 miles / 5 hours
Along with Santa Fe, Taos is one of New Mexico’s top tourist destinations. The drive from Santa Fe to Taos or vice versa is approximately 70 miles, which takes around an hour and a half. These two destinations could be combined or enjoyed separately on different trips. Both have a unique offering that’s sure to keep Denver travelers well-entertained. Adobe walls and exquisitely designed handcrafted furniture are both fundamental to the Taos experience and create a truly unique experience for those who have never witnessed it.
The drive from Denver to Taos can be accomplished in a single day, which saves on hotel expenses and doesn’t burn up an additional day of travel for those who can’t take an extended vacation. Leaving Denver, drivers should follow I-25 South and take exit 52 before following US-160 West. There are several companies with guides that take tourists on scenic river floating tours, as well as tours of the various cultural landmarks in and around the city. There are many hiking trails, rock climbing adventures, and even horseback rides to enjoy during your time in Taos.
Things to See
- Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
- Black Rock Hot Springs
- Taos Pueblo
- Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
- Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
PRO Tip: While in Taos, indulge yourself in green chile stew, enchiladas, tamales, and sopaipillas to get the full New Mexican southwestern dining experience.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Distance from Denver: 680 miles / 11.5 hours
Nothing says summer road trip quite like a drive to the Grand Canyon. The national park is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island and the canyon measures a mile deep. Situated in northern Arizona, the canyon is something that everybody should see at least once in their lifetime. Its expansive nature is nothing short of breathtaking and there’s tons of outdoor recreation to be had in the area, including white water rafting, hiking, and camping.
From Denver, begin on I-70 West, then follow US-191 South and US-160 West to AZ-64. Once you’re near the park, there are lodges, hotels, and campgrounds to choose from. You won’t want to spend too much time sitting in a room, however, when there’s so much natural wonder to be explored. To enter the park, visitors will either need an America the Beautiful pass or a park-specific entry ticket.
Things to See
PRO Tip: The canyon is full of unique activities to participate in and sign up for. Check out the website before your trip to ensure that you can plan your visit around your preferences and priorities.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Distance from Denver: 1,012 miles / 16.5 hours
For those seeking a more ambitious summer road trip from Denver, Lake Tahoe might just be what you’re looking for. Spanning over 1,000 miles, the road trip requires multiple days. If you have two weeks to take off, you can easily fill the time with additional stops along the way in places such as Breckenridge, Grand Junction, Moab, and Reno. The route follows I-70 West to US-50 West into Douglas County.
Lake Tahoe is a popular vacation spot and it’s not hard to see why. The blue water, scenic views, and amazing recreation opportunities have been keeping families coming back for decades. Whether you’re into hiking, boating, fishing, swimming, or simply lounging and sunbathing — there’s something for everybody. Luxury resorts abound, though there are also camping spots for those more attuned to the great outdoors. In the winter, the south side of Lake Tahoe is home to popular ski resorts and vibrant nightlife. During the summer, nothing beats grabbing a tube and floating along the water before barbecuing with friends and family to cap off the evening.
Things to See
PRO Tip: If possible, plan your Lake Tahoe road trip for early to mid-May. This is before the largest groups of tourists travel into town and will provide a calmer, more laid-back environment in comparison to June and July.