Mountains & Mesas
Explore the very best that Colorado has to offer in this ten-night itinerary. Begin your exploration of the Centennial State in Denver, the ‘Mile High’ city before journeying towards the spectacular mountain landscapes and scenery of Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Drive along the San Juan Skyway to Grand Junction, where you will see the awe-inspiring Colorado National Monument, which rises more than 2,000 feet from Colorado River. Mesa Verde National Park is next; climb between 13th century cliff dwellings and mesa top villages before riding the Silverton Steam Rail road in Durango. Take in the stunning scenery and unusual landscape of the Great Sand Dunes National Park before concluding your trip in Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second largest city and a haven for those who love the outdoors life.
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
When the first flakes of gold were found in Cherry Creek, Denver sprouted up as a mining camp filled with gunslingers, gamblers, gold miners, saloons, cattlemen and a sheriff. Today, though, the ‘Mile High City’ is the centre of a very sophisticated state, one of the most educated, prosperous and ecologically minded places in the world. Downtown, the 16th Street Mall connects the Capitol Building, where you will find the best view of Denver and the Rocky Mountains, with LoDo (Lower Downtown). This cultural district, a century ago, was home to Bat Masterson and Calamity Jane. The Colorado State History Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Visitor Centre and the Molly Brown House, home of the “unsinkable” local heroine, are all nearby. Try one of the interesting restaurants in LoDo for dinner.
A walking tour of downtown introduce you to distinctive architecture that was, almost from the beginning, built for permanence. Good clay for bricks was plentiful, local wood was soft. As a result, much of the massive masonry architecture constructed around the turn of the century is still in use. The Santa Fe Arts District has Denver’s largest collection of art galleries. Cherry Creek has the best shopping and dining.
This morning, head towards Estes Park. The valley inspires outdoor adventures from hiking Rocky Mountain National Park's 350 miles of alpine trails to white-water rafting the Cache La Poudra River. Rocky Mountain National Park is a living showcase of grandeur with countless breathtaking vistas ranging from 8,000 to 14,259 feet. You’ll find delicate alpine flowers, clear lakes, rushing mountain waters, bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, coyote and elk. Keep your camera at the ready!
The Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road and Beaver Meadow Road encompass over 50 miles of beautiful landscapes. Stop at the overlooks that line the byway for magnificent yet different vistas of the Rocky Mountains, which tower over 14,000 feet. Take a short five-minute stroll at the Forest Canyon Overlook and marvel at the view of Forest Canyon, Hayden Gorge, and Gorge Lakes. Stand on the roof of the Rockies at Rock Cut. Pull over at Rainbow Curve, elevated over two miles above sea level to see trees transformed by long, repeated exposure to the harsh winds, ice, and grit of this severe environment. At Milner Pass, the byway meets the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which crosses approximately 3,100 miles from the Canada-Montana border to the Mexico-New Mexico border. At elevations of over 10,000 feet, this trail offers spectacular views of the Rockies and the meadows that lie at their base.
Glenwood Springs calls itself ‘America’s Most Fun Town’ and is blessed with a remarkable mix of geological wonders including hot springs, vapour caves and canyons; all surrounded by the magnificent Rocky Mountains. No visit to Glenwood Springs is complete without a stop at the Glenwood Hot Springs, home of the world’s largest hot springs pool. The hot mineral water has been drawing visitors from all over the world since 1888, when the resort and original spa officially opened for business. But even before that, the Ute Indians made yearly pilgrimages to the springs which they considered to be sacred.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park sits at an altitude of 7,160 feet on the side of Iron Mountain. Alongside several scream-worthy rides, you can also take a tour of the caves there. The ‘Historic Fairy Caves Tour’ includes sections of the cave system that have never been open to the public and a stop at Exclamation Point, overlooking Roaring Fork Valley. The ‘Kings Row Tour’ takes visitors down into Iron Mountain, to the most decorated cave room in Colorado.
There are also ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with several hiking trails, fishing areas, biking trails and white-water rafting. You can even go on a hunting trip if you wish.
Approaching Grand Junction, you’ll see the Colorado National Monument rising more than 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Magnificent views from Rim Rock Drive stretch from the colourful sheer-walled canyons and fascinating rock sculptures to the distant Colorado River Valley. The purple-grey Book Cliffs, and the huge flat-topped mountain, Grand Mesa can be viewed from here too. Many animals including mule deer, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and desert big horn sheep live, nest, and hunt within its boundaries. Time permitting, follow the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway along the rim of the world's largest flat-top mountain for 360-degree views of singular alpine skyline or take Highway 141 to the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. In Grand Junction, stretch your legs at the Dinosaur Journey, which is part of the Museum of Western Colorado and the Museum of Western Colorado.
Mesa Verde National Park
Prepare to be awestruck as you explore Mesa Verde National Park, an expansive dugout area sheltered by massive rock cliffs covered with adobe brick dwellings that appear to be the individual home units of ancient cliff dwellers. The earliest inhabitants of Mesa Verde are believed to have settled here in 550AD, transitioning from a nomadic existence to a farming lifestyle. Grab your sense of adventure as you go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling area. Be sure to take advantage of the many guided and self-guided tours available at Mesa Verde. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House and Long House can only be toured with a guide. Purchase tickets for these tours at the Far View Visitor Centre or at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, both of which are worth a visit for their excellent exhibits and orientation to the area. You may take self-guided tours of Step House, Badger House and other sites on the Mesa Top. A 6-mile Mesa Top Loop Road driving tour takes you through 700 years of Mesa Verde history to several scenic overlooks including Sun Point Overlook and Sun Temple.
Nearby Mesa Verde, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway takes you through archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. The Trail of the Ancients in Colorado and Utah takes you back to a time long before the United States existed, long before Spaniards came north from what is today Central America. Amazingly, some regions of the Colorado Plateau remain today much as they must have been in the 13th and 14th centuries. Arid and mostly uninhabited, the terrain along the byway conceals secrets of bygone populations, vibrant people who came and went like snow in warm spring sunshine or tumbleweeds at the front of a desert storm. The byway travels through some of our country's most beautiful yet austere country, and it lends itself to contemplation and rejuvenation as well as recreational adventures.
On your way to Durango, you can experience real Rocky Mountain Splendour on the San Juan Skyway Historic and Scenic Byway. Traveling the "road to the sky" offers views of the towering 14,000-foot San Juan Mountains speckled with ancient Indian pueblo ruins. The sheer cliffs and rugged terrain of the Skyway boast some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. See crashing waterfalls in the spring as the snow melts in the higher mountains. Wildflowers garnish the alpine forests in the summer months, where the gilded amber, bronze, and gold of the aspens delight autumn visitors. Winter brings a glistening blanket of snow to the byway, perfect for quiet admiration or more active recreation.
Founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1880, Durango was once a young city surrounded by silver mining towns and the Wild West. Today the railroad still passes through here but the mining towns it was built to serve have long since been abandoned. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad now takes visitors up into the San Juan Mountains and Durango has settled in as a carefully preserved National Historic Landmark. If you think you’ve seen Durango before, it’s because it’s the picture perfect Old West town that has starred as the backdrop for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, Cliffhangers and many other movies. It’s so authentic that you might expect a gunslinger to step right into the street any minute. The nightly show at the Strater Hotel is right out of the old West.
Alamosa & Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is an often overlooked gem of Colorado and offers stunning and unexpected scenery. Where else can you see mountains, rolling sand dunes and flat grasslands in a single view? The park s