The Ultimate Colorado National Parks Road Trip
Escape Campervans heads off into the sunset. Photo Credit: Alain Denis, courtesy of Escape Campervans.
A road trip is the perfect way to celebrate summer in Colorado. While there are nearly endless places to explore, some landscapes stick out above the rest. With terrain as diverse as it is breathtaking, Colorado’s four national parks make perfect road trip destinations. Each park houses some of the Centennial State’s most iconic vistas, mountain peaks, and deep canyons. We’ve put together an awesome week-long itinerary for you to explore all four of these unforgettable destinations; so, roll your windows down, turn those tunes up, grab your crew, and let’s head out on our Colorado National Parks road trip adventure.
Escape Campervans, the largest campervan rental company in North America, brought over 14 years of experience, affordable prices, and outstanding customer service with them when they set up shop in Denver in April of 2017. One year later, their hand-painted, premium campervans can be found roaming the Rockies. It’s the perfect vehicle for your summer road trip through Colorado’s national parks.
1. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Day One begins with a drive to North America’s largest sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. We’re planning on spending two nights immersed in this unique landscape, so either plan ahead and reserve a campsite at the Piñon Flats Campground within the national park limits, or try the first come, first served Zapata Falls Campground, a beautiful spot located seven miles southwest of the park. It takes about four hours to drive from Denver to the Sand Dunes, so leave early in the morning so that you have plenty of time for your afternoon adventures. Once you arrive, beat the afternoon heat by hiking to Zapata Falls. Snowmelt from high in the mountains cascades over this 25-foot falls; access the trailhead from the Zapata Falls campground, and a short one-mile out-and-back hike will take you to the base of the falls.
Nighttime at the sand dunes is pretty spectacular; the National Park Service rangers offer summer night programs that include stargazing so that you can learn more about the park and the ecosystem. Or alternatively, kick back and relax in your campervan to rest up for the adventures on Day Two of your Colorado national parks road trip
Day Two is all about sand dunes. Head into the park to hike the tallest dunes, rising over 700 feet tall, splash around in Medano Creek, or enjoy the wooded trails on the outskirts of the park. Spend another spectacular night under the stars and get ready for your driving day westward to Mesa Verde National Park.
2. Mesa Verde National Park
Day Three calls for an eight-hour drive to Mesa Verde National Park located in southwest Colorado just outside of the town of Durango. If you need a break from your long drive, Pagosa Springs is a great place to stop for some lunch and a soak in the hot springs. The Springs Resort & Spa is home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring; a relaxing soak will rejuvenate you for the rest of your drive and an exciting day of exploration at Mesa Verde National Park.
Mesa Verde is home to more than 5,000 known archeological sites left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the area over 700 years ago. Spend Day Four hiking and exploring the park, including the famous Cliff Palace. Take a ranger-led tour to learn about the history and culture of the inhabitants that built these beautiful cliff dwellings. Spend your evening enjoying the town of Durango. From craft breweries to five-star restaurants, there’s truly something for everyone in this beautiful southwestern town.
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Day 5 takes you through the San Juan Mountains to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a 30,750-acre national park with astounding depth and beauty. 2,700-foot sheer-walled cliffs drop into the Gunnison River at the base of the canyon. Two million years of rushing water carved out this canyon from the earth. Drive along the North Rim for scenic overlooks and along the South Rim for overlooks and a bit of hiking. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture Colorado’s grandest canyon!
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
It’ll take you most of Day 6 to make the trek from Black Canyon of the Gunnison to Rocky Mountain National Park. Make a pit stop in Glenwood Springs to enjoy the hot springs and make another stop along I-70 to hike the steep ascent to Hanging Lake, a stunning and unparalleled geological wonder.
There are plenty of beautiful campgrounds located in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. You can park your Escape Campervan in Estes Park near the east entrance to the park or in Grand Lake, the less-traveled and beautiful western entrance. Day 7 in Rocky Mountain could be full of hiking, scenic drives, picnics, photography, and more. Drive along Trail Ridge Road, stopping along the way for photos and to learn about the surrounding landscape, or if you’re excited about exploring alpine lakes, head to the Bear Lake Loop to explore Dream Lake, Nymph Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Emerald Lake, and Bierstadt Lake.
Road tripping is the perfect way to explore all that the Colorado landscape has to offer. By traveling through all four of Colorado’s national parks, you’ll experience the largest sand dunes in North America, the history of the Ancestral Puebloan peoples in the Four Corners region, the gravity of the deepest canyon in Colorado, and the inspirational beauty of the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Escape Campervans offers three models of vans that sit and sleep up to five people so that you can bring your family and friends on your summer road trip. They include a queen-sized bed and bedding, a kitchen, and all kitchen utensils. The vehicles are easy to drive; their manageable size helps you fit into campsites and get off the beaten path. Finally, their affordable prices and reasonable gas mileage allow you to spend more time adventuring and less time worrying about travel. For more information, visit escapecampervans.com.