By Stefanie Bulau
Travelling Friend at Travel Nation
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High deserts, mountain forests, breath-taking canyons, and most of all, the mighty Rocky Mountains National Park - very few other US states pack in as much beauty as iconic Colorado! Having travelled across big chunks of the USA on previous trips, I was excited to finally explore the mile-high state on a standalone Colorado road trip in September.
After landing in Denver, I picked up my campervan and hit the road. My first impression was awe about the high altitude in Colorado. Even Denver in the ‘lowlands’ is a mile above sea level (hence the ‘Mile High City’), with the towering Rockies dominating the horizon.
I decided to travel anti-clockwise around Colorado, starting with the least visited areas of the state, so I began my road trip in the desert area of the South. My first destination was the Great Sand Dunes National Park - a pocket of picture-perfect sand desert rising from the plains.
After a day of hiking around the dunes and feeling a million miles from home, I drove to Pagosa Springs to enjoy another delight of Colorado. Set right at the banks of the San Juan River, you can soak in one of over 20 geothermic hot pools while watching the clouds go by. Pure bliss!
Once I reached Durango, I firmly felt like I’d arrived in the filming location for a classic western. Once an old mining town, it still boasts the leftovers of yesterday, specifically around the old railway station. After a hard day of sightseeing, it was time to sample another speciality of Colorado - a myriad of excellent microbreweries.
West of Durango, I took a longer detour westward to Mesa Verde, which is well worth a visit. Set over a vast desert and canyon area, Mesa Verde is home to the spectacular Native American Puebloan cliff dwellings. It’s unique to anywhere in the US and a fascinating dip into a long-gone culture.
Back in Durango, it was time to head north into the mountains. Driving the road from Durango towards Grand Junction is one of the highlights of the trip. The winding roads sneak high up into the hills, with glorious vistas over golden-coloured autumn forests and majestic peaks rising on all sides. Passing several ancient mining settlements like Silverton and Ouray, I still felt like I was travelling through the Wild West.
After catching my breath and passing through the high mountains, I continued my journey and found another highlight just around the bend - the Black River of Gunnison National Park. It’s a whopping name for a stunning natural wonder. The canyon landscape truly took my breath away, and it would be very easy to spend several days exploring the National Park alone!
Just around the corner from Gunnison, the Colorado National Monument Park is entirely different but equally unmissable. While Gunnison lets you hike along the rim of a canyon overlooking a vast riverscape, the Colorado National Monument Park will transport you right back into the desert, with colourful rock formations and mesas.
After so much hiking, I felt as though I deserved a break, so I decided to make sun-drenched Palisade my base for a few days. Palisade is home to Colorado’s most famous wine producers, so I rented a bicycle to explore the area. With so many vineyards around, driving was definitely not an option!
Freshly rested, I set off on the second part of my trip. In my little campervan, I slowly made my way up a series of steep mountain slopes to the most famous part of Colorado - the majestic Rocky Mountains.
Passing famous and star-studded mountain resort Aspen, the air became much thinner, so it wasn’t just the landscape that took my breath away. The mountain passes are easily over 3000 metres above sea level, and every turn promises an even more spectacular view than the last.
While hardly noticeable in the lower parts of Colorado, autumn was in full swing up here. I found myself driving and hiking through golden expanses of towering aspen forests.
After a few days exploring the Rockies, I reached the ultimate highlight of my trip - Rocky Mountains National Park itself. Everywhere I went in Colorado was stunning, but the landscapes of the actual Rocky Mountains National Park take the biscuit. Think endless forests, high mountain peaks and vast plains where you can spot herds of deer and moose. It’s simply gorgeous.
There are several campgrounds throughout the park that guarantee you a real wilderness experience. There’s also a vast network of hiking paths, from short stints to multi-day hikes. You can spend days here exploring and escaping right into these epic landscapes.
My ten days in Colorado went by way too quickly. After a quick city break in pretty Boulder, only an hour away from the mountains, it was time to head home. Looking back, I can honestly say that Colorado blew my mind!
I was already a fan of the Great Outdoors in the USA, but I have never seen so many natural wonders and epic landscapes packed into one state. If you would like to experience the epic west of the USA in a short timeframe, Colorado is the place!
Both United Airlines and British Airways operate daily direct flights from London to Denver. I opted for a cheaper connection with Icelandair, connecting in Reykjavik, so I even managed to add a cheeky weekend in Iceland on the way out. If you’re interested in something similar, I can help you combine your Colorado itinerary into a more extended trip around the USA, with stopovers to boot.
The best time to travel to Colorado is between May and mid-October. During the other half of the year, significant parts of the state are buried under layers of snow. I travelled in the second half of September, and couldn’t have asked for a better experience, as I saw the full golden blast of autumn in the aspen-covered mountains.
I opted for the most flexible option and travelled around Colorado by campervan. There are plenty of campgrounds scattered across the state, and there are also plenty of wild patches of land in the middle of nowhere for you to spend a night. If you would prefer to travel in more comfort, I can also plan a more conventional road trip by rental car, sleeping in selected hotels, motels and lodges.
We are experts in planning American road trip holidays, multi-centre trips and round the world holidays. If you would like to do something similar to this trip, get started by contacting Steffi directly, calling us on 1273 320 580 or sending us a quote request by email.
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