A week is barely enough time to scratch the surface of everything Colorado has to offer, but this family road-trip itinerary through the western part of the state gives you a seven-day survey of the incredible diversity available, including stops at several national parks and monuments.
Start your tour in Glenwood Springs, a three-hour drive from the travel hub of Denver and home to the world’s largest hot springs pool, the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Choose to stay at the lodge (in winter, inquire about ski, swim and stay packages) or just take a dip in the pool any time of year. The town is also home to plenty of outdoor adventures, like fishing, rafting, hiking and horseback riding, as well as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which offers a unique caving experience and an amusement park.
From Glenwood Springs, head west to Grand Junction, the largest city on Colorado’s Western Slope. Nearby, the beautiful Colorado National Monument offers astonishing red-rock formations, steep cliffs and breathtaking vistas, many of which are visible from the 23-mile Rimrock Drive. Don’t pass up the many fruit and produce stands you may see along the side of the road — they offer a taste of Colorado at its best. You might even choose to tour a local orchard or pick your own fruit.
Head southeast through Montrose to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Words can barely describe the awe you’ll feel looking down into the narrow, sheer depths of black rock that make up the canyon. Hike around a little on your own or opt for a ranger-led tour. Camping is available or choose to stay nearby in picturesque Ouray or Ridgway.
Continue south to Durango and Mesa Verde National Park, one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States. Take a ranger-guided tour of some of the most spectacular cliff dwellings in the park, then hike on your own to take in petroglyphs, ancient dwellings and the natural surroundings. If trains make your family’s hearts go clicker-clack, take a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
From Mesa Verde, head east and then north toward Alamosa and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Mountains of pristine sand bump up against the mountains here, creating a mini-Sahara in the heart of Colorado. In the spring, flowing Medano Creek creates Colorado’s most unique beach, and year-round visitors love to hike up and then ski, sled or snowboard down the dunes.
From Alamosa, head north and then east to Cañon City. The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park has one of the world’s longest and highest suspension bridges. The park offers rides, a wildlife park and other entertainment and attractions. Take lunch or dinner aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad through the bottom of the canyon for a completely different perspective. Find a little luxury staying in Colorado Springs for the night, and if there’s time, make a stop at the Cave of the Winds, Garden of the Gods or Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Finish your trip exploring Denver with the family. You might choose to visit a museum, such as the Children’s Museum of Denver, the Denver Art Museum or the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The city offers oodles of other family-friendly attractions as well, including the Downtown Aquarium, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, and the 16th Street Mall, just to name a few. Pick your favorites and customize your itinerary to match your family’s personality.
Photo: A tour of Mesa Verde National Park.