Sunset View from Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument

While it is possible to either hop on a quick flight from Denver to Grand Junction or rush across I-70, there are many benefits to taking a more leisurely and experiential route. This Colorado road trip itinerary is for those who want to turn the city-to-city journey into a trip of its own and view a scenic route across part of Colorado before arriving to Grand Junction. 

There are many lodging options along the way, so stop when and where you wish; however, the sooner you arrive in Grand Junction, you’ll find the most variety and affordable lodging options anywhere in Colorado. This will save you money and allow you to stay in Grand Junction a couple of extra days to explore!

 

Begin in Denver 

Picture of Denver Sunset Peaking Through Building

Start your trip off in Denver, the capital city of Colorado. Known as the Mile High City, because of its 5,276 feet elevation above sea level, Denver is Colorado’s cultural hub, brimming with historic architecture, museums, performing arts venues, sporting facilities, parks, and food. Unsurprisingly, Denver is the most populous area in the state.

Things to Do in Denver

There are lots of ways to stay busy in Denver. Spend a couple of hours at the Denver Art Museum taking in their expansive collection spanning over 70,000 works. Or walk through the neon fantasy world that is Meow Wolf Convergence Station. Denver is also home to Colorado’s most popular professional sports teams (Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche) – making Denver a great place to catch a game.

Denver Eats

What is Pepto Bismol pink, has a historic fountain outside, cliff divers inside, and was recently purchased by the owners of the South Park television show? Casa Bonita! This iconic restaurant is newly opened with all the fanfare you would expect – a must-see to kick off your road trip and provide you lots of conversation and laughs for the miles ahead. Looking for a historic downtown experience? Head to historic Larimer Square for a diverse selection of eateries, including the famed spot Rioja, known for its locally sourced Mediterranean dishes. To quench your thirst, pop into one of Denver’s many breweries, like the unfussy Station 26 Brewing Co. or the off-the-beaten-path option: Grateful Gnome (which also makes a mean sandwich).

 

Estes Park 

Picture of People Walking Through Park

Estes Park isn’t on the direct route from Denver to Grand Junction; however, it is well worth the diversion because of its scenic views and abundance of wildlife. This mountain town has direct access to Rocky Mountain National Park, currently the fifth most visited national park in the country. It’s charming downtown, and popular (and maybe spooky) sites like the Stanley Hotel, provide unique activities for you to enjoy while not in the park.

Located just 70 miles northwest of Denver and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, Estes Park is perfect for exploring the Rockies while putting your hiking boots to the test. 

Things to Do in Estes Park

Estes Park has so much to offer in terms of outdoor activities. Grab your binoculars and birdwatch along the 4-mile Kruger Rock Trail, check out the Continental Divide while driving on Trail Ridge Road, or count elk at Moraine Park. In the summer, put your toes in at Lake Estes and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountainscape. 

What to Eat in Estes Park

Estes Park also has a great selection of restaurants. With thousands of stellar reviews, you can’t go wrong at the original Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew. For farm to table cuisine, check out Bird & Jim.

Whiskey lovers and history buffs won’t want to miss the bar in the Stanley Hotel. Opened in 1909, the famed lodging inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. If you’re worried about The Shining inspiration, just remember that Dumb and Dumber was partially filmed here also, so it’s not all spooky.

 

Georgetown

Picture of Traintracks through the Mountains

Take the scenic route from Estes Park to Georgetown, aka the Silver Queen of Colorado. Tracing its origins back to the Colorado Gold Rush and the eventual Silver Boom, Georgetown was an important site in the 19th century.

Georgetown is one of the few funky mountain towns on I-70 between Denver and many ski resorts. Idaho Springs offers a similar vibe to Georgetown and is also along I-70 en route to Grand Junction from Denver. 

Things to do in Georgetown

Take a stroll down Sixth Street to admire an assortment of buildings dating back to the 19th century, including the Hotel de Paris, a well-preserved inn, turned museum, that highlights Colorado’s heritage. 

For more history, step aboard the Georgetown Loop Railroad steam engine and tour an old silver mine. You’ll feel you’re in the Old West! The railroad is a favorite for families and nature lovers, especially in the early fall when the aspen trees turn bright yellow. 

What to Eat in Georgetown

Despite its small size, Georgetown has a variety of eateries spanning fine dining to pub grub. For a slightly upscale take on Colorado classics, book a table at Cooper’s on the Creek. For good food accompanied by live music, head to the 511 Rose, where Chef Smith plates fresh ingredients and house-smoked salmon. On a sunny day, grab a lakefront drink at Cabin Creek Brewing

 

Glenwood Springs 

Overhead of Glenwood Springs Town

From the Silver Queen of Colorado, head west towards Glenwood Springs. Famous for its mineral hot springs, the town has long been a resort destination and has much to offer in terms of natural beauty. 

Glenwood Springs Things to Do 

Glenwood Springs’ main claim to fame is its hot springs. It is even home to the largest hot springs pool in the world! After relaxing in the springs, get your adrenaline pumping at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park or embark on a climbing adventure at the Glenwood Canyon. Finally, you don’t want to miss one of Colorado’s most exquisite sights, the picturesque (and Instagram-worthy) Hanging Lake. Plan ahead, because you need a reservation.

Places to Eat in Glenwood Springs

Between soaking in the hot springs and taking in the wonderful scenery, there are many local restaurants to try in Glenwood Springs. For simple food done well (and served alongside unique cocktails), grab a table at The Pullman. Another gem in the heart of town is The Italian Underground, which has thrived for over 30 years, serving up classic Italian fare made with local ingredients. 

 

Grand Junction 

Overhead of Grand Junction

After driving about 90 minutes west from Glenwood Springs, you’ll arrive at your final destination, Grand Junction. As a lively and thriving city, Grand Junction has a bit of everything: art and culture, a delicious food scene, and awe-inspiring nature to explore. 

While we may be biased (we love our hometown!) you don’t have to take our word for it, as the New York Times recently named Grand Junction one of the 52 Best Places to Visit in 2023.

 

Things to Do in Grand Junction

View of one of the many red-rock spires in Colorado National Monument

Located along the Colorado River, at the base of the Grand Mesa and near Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction is an outdoorsman’s dream. Hike or bike along the amazing red rock trails of the Colorado National Monument or explore the pristine high-altitude Grand Mesa National Forest. Discover Grand Junction’s many museums and cultural attractions that highlight the history of this unique city. 

 

Where to Eat in Grand Junction

Pictyre of a Table at Taco Party

Delectable dishes from around the world can be found in Grand Junction’s downtown, which is also packed with breweries and tasting rooms from local area wineries. 626 on Rood is known for its upscale American dishes in a modern setting. For a unique twist on a foldable favorite, Tacoparty offers an ever-changing taco menu spotlighting local seasonal ingredients in every dish. If you prefer your meal with a little bit of an accent, check out Bistro 317 for some French cuisine that will have you saying oui oui. 

 

Spots to Stay in Grand Junction

Overhead of Two Rivers Winery

Grand Junction has a variety of accommodations for visitors, including 35 hotels, 170 vacation homes, and various campgrounds. Check out the comfortable rooms at the Downtown Springhill Suites or the stylish boutique Hotel Maverick. For a B&B experience, Castle Creek Manor offers luxury, with homemade breakfast, at a reasonable price. For easy access to the Colorado National Monument, check out Two Rivers Winery & Chateau for an immersive vineyard and B&B experience.

Discover Grand Junction, Colorado

Picture of People Walking Through Downtown

In a single 250-mile road trip itinerary from Denver to Grand Junction, you can hike the Rocky Mountains, go back in time to the Old West, soak in hot springs, and explore the Colorado National Monument. Now, that’s a Colorado road trip!

For more ideas for your trip to Grand Junction, check out the top 23 things to do in Grand Junction or check out the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide.

 

Photos by: @adamsmithphotographywi@VisitGrandJunction@peachwoodproductions1@msadanza@tacopartygj