Road Trip Recs: Colorado

Must-see spots in Colorado, whether settling down for a lengthy stay or just passing through.

In the last two and a half weeks, my truck and camper convoy has covered a lot of ground, climbed a lot of mountains, sweltered in the desert heat, and landed me somewhere in the heart of Utah. I left Missouri on the first Friday of June and flew across the vast plains of Kansas for eight hours straight, ending up in a new landscape and a new time zone. I popped up my camper in a daze around 11:30 pm, slept a few short hours, and hit the road again early the next morning to reach Colorado Springs.

My, what an entrance. The Rockies rise up from thin air and pierce the sky with their snow capped peaks, only doubling, tripling, and quadrupling in size the closer you get. Like a promontory over the sea, the ridgeline towers above the wind-rippled eastern Colorado plains, an unforgettable landmark luring in weary travelers from afar. And so, my week in Colorado was underway…

I set up camp in the Colorado Campground about 30 minutes outside of Colorado Springs near a quaint town named Woodland Park. Campsite 18 served as my base location for a week of seemingly nonstop exploration, and no matter the drive, every spot I saw was well worth it.

Colorado mountains
Colorado mountains. PHOTO Layne Deakins

As soon as I reached Colorado Springs, I laced up my hiking books and climbed into the Garden of the Gods, a textbook must-see for any visitor. The park is laced with hiking trails, some packed with tourists from every continent across the globe, and others more quiet and serene. I recommend walking to Balanced Rock and taking one of the nearby trails up higher into the mountain. The views get better the higher you go, and rockier trails also mean smaller crowds.

The next roadside stop I made was in Manitou Springs, home to replica ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings carved into the red sandstone. Avid hikers or those looking to add a workout to their stop in Manitou Springs should check out the 2744-step Manitou Incline trail, which climbs 2,000 feet in elevation in less than a mile.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Photo by Payson Wick on Unsplash

After exploring Colorado Springs and the surrounding area, I made the two and a half hour drive south to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the middle of the desert in the Saguache and Alamosa Counties. The dunes aren’t close to any of Colorado’s major cities or notable landmarks, but the drive is just about as scenic as they come.

From the Spanish Peaks to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the views are endless, but nothing parallels the first glimpse of the rolling dunes from a distance on the winding backcountry Medano Pass Primitive Road. The sandy bluffs seem entirely out of place amid pockets of desert greenery and the snowy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range. Be sure to take a boogie board and climb to one of the windswept ridges to glide down toward the lazy Medano Creek winding through the park’s entrance below.

Colorado Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Photo by Vincent Ledvina on Unsplash
Layne Deakins

Content Editor Associate

Layne is a Pennsylvania native who enjoys adventuring in nature, traveling, writing, eating, and spending precious time with her cat. Fluent in Italian, Layne jumps at every opportunity to explore the world around her, and she’s always planning for her next trip back to Italy.

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