Travel + Leisure: The Perfect 5-Day Colorado Vacation Itinerary
We’ve partnered with Travel + Leisure to help you plan the perfect sophisticated Rocky Mountain adventure. The sights along your commute to work have got to be getting old — so how about trading them for the vistas along a route that’s been coined “The Most Beautiful Drive in America”?
Swap out the strangers in your sardine-can-esque train car for a family SUV, your gray cityscape for snow-capped peaks and dark green forests, and your tired eyes for a fresh outlook as you hit the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. On this massive loop taking you through some of Colorado’s most picturesque luxury destinations, you’ll see all the grandeur of the Old West without sacrificing modern comforts — and we’ll even provide the itinerary. Here’s how to make the most of your Skyway visit.
Start your day with some Western fare at Carver’s Brewing in Durango, Colorado’s second-ever brewpub where huevos rancheros are a must-try, served with quintessential Colorado green chili.
On your one-hour drive west from Durango to Cortez, you have optional opportunities to explore the artists’ colony of Mancos or check out Mesa Verde National Park.
Just a quick jaunt north of Cortez is Dolores, which sits on the edge of both San Juan National Forest and is home to McPhee Reservoir, the second-largest body of water in Colorado. Naturally, you have to get in some jet skiing before heading deeper into the wilderness, so zoom around the lake or rent kayaks to explore some of its quieter creek arms.
Head to your home for the evening — swanky Dunton Hot Springs, where you can revel in a post-dinner soak in one of their six natural hot springs.
Dunton Hot Springs provides a full breakfast every morning at its saloon, using a variety of local and regional ingredients. After getting your fill, hit the pavement again and follow the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway northeast to Telluride, a quaint mountain resort town.
Perched on the slopes above Telluride is Mountain Village — a dizzyingly beautiful (free) gondola ride up the cliffs makes for a supremely laid-back way to take in views of the valley.
The 2.5-mile Boulevard Trail traverses both the town and the surrounding landscape and provides new perspectives of mountain life.
Once dusk approaches, make sure to hustle back to the gondola to descend with the sun — as it settles behind the mountains, you’ll settle into a table at La Marmotte in Telluride, where you’ll enjoy French delicacies like coq au vin in an intimate atmosphere.
Whether you’re hiking or taking a guided ATV tour, you’re going to need something to warm your soul as you head up to the eerie ghost town of Tomboy. It’s an 18th-century mining town that still retains free-standing elements of its heyday but was abandoned when the ore beneath the town ran dry.
The route to Tomboy ghost town can be a strenuous and daunting, so if you’re not feeling up to it, there are plenty of other activities in Telluride, like shopping or museums.
Hop back on the scenic byway to make your way to Ridgway, a historic mountain town surrounded by the rugged San Juan Mountains and Cimarron Range that got its start as an 1800s railroad hub.
Partake in one of Colorado’s time-honored leisure activities at Ridgway State Park, where the Uncompahgre River is a favorite spot for hooking hard-fighting rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Grab a cup of joe at Ridgway’s Cimarron Coffee & Books before you hop back on the San Juan Skyway toward Ouray, known as the Switzerland of America.
Ouray Alchemist Museum was pieced together by a lover of pharmacological history and chock full of artifacts from previous eras of medicine — the passion here is evident, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. You can impress your coworkers with your knowledge when you get home.
After touring the Ouray Alchemist Museum, drive from Ouray to Silverton. The canyon-clinging stretch of the San Juan Skyway between the towns is called “The Million Dollar Highway” either because it cost so much to build or the amount of gold ore that remained in the roadway’s fill. Ouray is also close to Yankee Boy Basin, one of the area’s best places for incomparable mountain views. The best (and only) way to get here is to hire an ATV or an off-road vehicle tour. Once there, you’ll see waterfalls, wildlife, and a whole lot of sky.
Trek across the mountains with your furry friends to engage in some interspecies bonding and learn the natural history of the area (not from the llamas, from Mr. Redwood himself).
Unfortunately, the llamas can’t accompany you to dinner afterward at Thee Pitts Again, Silverton’s premier barbecue destination.
Your final day begins with a home-cooked meal away from home, courtesy of Silverton’s Inn of the Rockies. Your hosts are accommodating and skilled, so indulge in some French toast and freshly brewed coffee before you join a horseback ride with Buck's Livery in Durango.
Your lunch is down the road at Harvest Grill & Greens at James Ranch, 10 miles north of Durango, where you can nosh on sandwiches made with organic produce and locally raised meats and cheeses.
Durango is the final stop on your San Juan Skyway loop tour. Once you arrive, stroll the town’s National Historic District, lined with shops, eateries and hotels housed in perfectly restored 19th-century buildings.