Got the urge to roam? Follow along on these three epic road trips in Colorado, the Southwest and Wyoming this summer And heed these tips from road warriors on how to make the most of the drive.
The road trip is an art form. It’s live theater, improv. Hop in, hit the gas and watch it all unfold. But it does require a bit of planning. To that end, we have created these itineraries for three of our favorite road trips starting in Denver. Here’s our best beta on where to play, beer up and car camp. Use it as a rough guide. No matter what, be prepared to wander off course, too, and go wherever adventure takes you.
# 1 THE CLASSIC COLORADO LOOP
Pack the bikes, the slackline and the beer. You don’t have to go very far to find adventure here.
Distance from Denver: 80 miles; one hour, 30 minutes
Play Time: Most may know it for its ski slopes, but Breck is mountain bike central. Take a spin on any one of the stages of the Breck Epic (breckepic.com) for a little sampler.
Beer: Or, take it up a notch for whiskey at the Breckenridge Distillery (breckenridgedistillery.com). Be sure to take a tour, too.
Pull Up: Right on the Colorado Trail, Tiger Run Resort (tigerrunresort.com) is open to RVs (is that #vanlife for old people?) and has chalets for rent, as well as a pool and hot tubs. Or look for dispersed camping off the Tiger Mountain and North Fork roads.
Distance from Denver: 127 miles; two hours, 15 minutes
Play Time: Good thing you brought your bikes. Eagle, which we have covered extensively here at EO, has made a concerted effort to be MTB central. It’s working. Head to mountainbikeeagle.com for beta. Be sure to give Haymaker, site of the Colorado High School Cycling League State Championships, a spin.
Beer: Bonfire (bonfirebrewing.com) is the spot for a cold one here.
Pull Up: Head for the shores of Sylvan Lake State Park (cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/sylvanlake), where you will find 46 campsites as well as cabins and three yurt rentals.
Distance from Denver: 170 miles; three hours
Play Time: Carbondale is still holding onto its soul. And there’s nowhere you will see that more on display than the grounds of True Nature (truenaturehealingarts.com), a spiritual retreat center/spa/tea room/yoga facility that embodies what all of those things should really be (make sure to walk the reflexology path). Then, head down the Crystal River Valley for fly fishing and climbing.
Beer: Ok, again, it’s vodka here, not beer, but we love the Marble Distilling Co. (marbledistilling.com), where you can rent a room at the inn and wake up to the best Bloody Mary of your short, young life.
Pull Up: Head to Bogen Flats right along the Crystal River or you can seek out a dispersed spot on the Thompson Creek Road.
GUNNISON / CRESTED BUTTE
Distance from Denver: 200 miles; three hours, 45 minutes
Play Time: Mountain biking has become a theme here and this is the epicenter of all things MTB. The 401 trail is a classic of course, but it can be choked with Texans come summer. Try something different like the 18-mile Fossil Ridge Half Loop. Or get off your saddle and hike a peak: We suggest the 13,208-foot Teocalli Mountain (which you can approach via a bike ride if you want).
Beer: Why not head to the Butte in September for the foliage and the Chili and Beer Festival (cbchamber.com)? Or stop by High Alpine Brewing Co. down in Gunnison.
Pull Up: There’s lots of dispersed camping on the Cement Creek Road, and some damn fine riding, too.
Distance from Denver: 142 miles; two hours, 45 minutes
Play Time: The Monarch Crest Trail is the big draw, of course, but we also like to spin our wheels on the Methodist Mountain trail system a little closer to town. The flowy singletrack is ideal for all ability levels, but it can get hot.
Beer: Elevation Beer Company (elevationbeerco.com) is a longtime EO reader favorite in our beer poll.
Pull Up: Find a camp spot along Forest Road 252 and get an early start on hiking 14,232-foot Shavano.
# 2 THE SOUTHWEST SAMPLER
The vast red rock desert is the ultimate spot for hiking, canyoneering and simply getting off the grid and chilling out.
Distance from Denver: 365 miles; six hours
Play Time: There are two classic options in this choose-your-own-adventure of a national park. The first is The Maze. As its name implies, it’s a warren of slot canyons that require canyoneering route finding skills (and the occasional leap of faith) to navigate. The second is the famed White Rim, one of the few backcountry trails in a national park that you can ride on your bike.
Beer: Utah is not Colorado, but you will find some fine suds—and, um, gelato—at the Moab Brewery (themoabbrewery.com).
Pull Up: There are only two campgrounds in the park, Squaw Flat Campground at The Needles and Willow Flat Campground at Island in the Sky. You can find spots along Highway 128 outside of Moab, too.
Distance from Denver: 437 miles; seven hours, 10 minutes
Play Time: Capitol Reef is Utah’s forgotten national park, but it’s ripe for exploration. The Burro Wash slot is an excellent canyon for pretty much anyone and the Navajo Knobs Trail is an ideal break from a long drive if you don’t plan on staying here.
Beer: Ha! No. But if you come at the right time of year you are allowed to glean fruit from the orchards at the Fruita Campground in the park.
Pull Up: That Fruita Campground is one of our all-time favorites, with the Fremont River running through and orchards planted here by the first settlers still maintained by the park.
Distance from Denver: 680 miles; 11 hours, 30 minutes (South Rim)
Play Time: The ultimate canyon is all too often ignored by those seeking adventure. We blow off the rim as a tourist boondoggle and simply wait for the chance to go on a river trip here. That’s a mistake. Adventure in the canyon is a big endeavor (see Timmy O’Neill’s story on page 46) but you can bite off smaller big adventures such as a rim-to-rim-to-rim bucket list run or hike from the crowded South Rim, or tick off a technical slot such as the classic Deer Creek Narrows with its stunning waterfall (just be experienced).
Beer: Flagstaff, Arizona, is the closest spot for the spoils of civilization. Head to the Mother Road Brewing Company (motherroadbeer.com) for refreshment.
Pull Up: Do you like that shot on the cover of this magazine? That’s the view from Toroweap, a short walk from the most amazing campground in the U.S.—Tuweep, where the services “are non-existent.” You’ll need four-wheel drive to get there.
Distance from Denver: 265 miles; five hours
Play Time: Colorado has some canyons of its own and the Black, with its vertiginous drop is just as stunning (if not as big) as the Grand, and the rock climbing is actually better. The five-pitch, 5.9- Maiden Voyage is the one climb here most can accomplish, and the level of difficulty just goes up from there.
Beer: Drive to Montrose for suds and food at the Colorado Boy Brewery (coloradoboy.com).
Pull Up: The North Rim Campground is ideal for views.
#3 WYOMING ROCKS
You have to play big in the Cowboy State. Bring your harness, your dog and prepare to climb like the locals.
Distance from Denver: 129 miles; two hours, 10 minutes
Play Time: It’s just a short trip from Colorado’s Front Range to Curt Gowdy State Park (wyoparks.state.wy.us), with its camping, fishing and an outstanding mountain bike trail system. That makes for a perfect weekend road trip, even.
Beer: Try the Saison du Ruby at Coal Creek Tap (coalcreektap.com).
Pull Up: Curt Gowdy has plenty of places to pitch a tent or park a van—or stay at the historic Hynds Lodge.
Distance from Denver: 423 miles; six hours, 40 minutes
Play Time: The big draw here is the nearby Cloud Creek Wilderness Area, where you can backpack a 23-mile round trip to 13,167-foot Cloud Peak.
Beer: Point it to the Blacktooth Brewing Company (blacktooth
Pull Up: There’s plenty of dispersed camping on the Red Grade Road
Distance from Denver: 452 miles; seven hours, 20 minutes
Play Time: Ten Sleep’s limestone has become a beacon for climbers who live out of their cars (wait, isn’t that all climbers?). Happiness in Slavery (5.12b) is one of the most popular routes here (and the first bolted) but be sure to take a spin on Bikini Girls with Machine Guns (5.11a/b) and everyone’s favorite, Beer Bong (5.10b).
Beer: Party with cowboys and dirtbags at Ten Sleep Brewing Company (tensleepbrewingco.com).
Pull Up: Pretty much anywhere on the dirt road along Ten Sleep Canyon.
Distance from Denver: 350 miles; five hours, 45 minutes
Play Time: The Wind Rivers offer endless climbing. Talk to the folks at Wild Iris Mountain Sports for inspiration (wildirisclimbing.com).
Beer: Hit up Cowfish (cowfishlander.com) for beer and classy food.
Pull Up: You’ll find your kind at the Hugh Otte Camping Area.