The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip

From the mountains to high desert, visit these three destinations for fun-filled diversions

Miyaugi's Snack Bar

Theresa May

Ron Stern

Theresa May

Pack up the car and fill up the tank; it's summer, the best time for a road trip to explore Colorado’s spectacular scenery and attractions. With Denver as a starting point, make your way through Rocky Mountain National Park to the mountain town of Grand Lake in all its colorful splendor. Next, head west to Palisade, known for its peaches and roadside fruit stands. Finally, continue to the western edge of the state to Grand Junction for some good food, wine, and an iconic farmers market.

Denver to Grand Lake

The first part of your journey from Denver to Grand Lake will take approximately 4 to 5 hours, depending on traffic and how many stops you make. Highway 34 through Loveland will bring you to Estes Park and the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. From here you will traverse Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in the United States and certainly one of the most beautiful drives you will ever experience. Lined with pine and aspen trees, wildflowers, waterfalls and wildlife, there are many scenic overlooks which offer spectacular views and idyllic photo ops.

As you descend the western slope, you’ll enter the small mountain town of Grand Lake. Surrounded by majestic mountains and a national forest, the namesake lake is the largest natural one in the state (400 feet deep, 1.5 miles long, and two miles wide) and one of the state’s grandest outdoor water playgrounds.

During the summer months, families relax on the natural sand beach or enjoy water activities such as swimming, kayaking, sailing, or paddle boarding. One of the best ways to see the sights, however, is on a scenic lake tour where the tour guides narrate a bit about the history, the topography, and interesting facts about some of the 127 homes that dot the shoreline.

Grand Lake boat tour

Ron Stern

Grand Lake boat tour

With more than 60 shops, galleries, and restaurants, visitors can stroll down the historic boardwalk on Grand Avenue. Many of the buildings date back to the town’s founding in 1881. Here, the spirit of the Old West lives on, with hitching posts blending into the modern landscape.

This is one small town that is big on entertainment. Celebrating 50 years, the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater is a first rate professional performing arts venue. Its touring Broadway musicals include everything from The Sound of Music to West Side Story.

And as for food, you won’t have to look (or walk) far as everything is located within just a few short blocks. For breakfast, the Fat Cat Cafe has hearty, affordable lumberjack-style meals.

If you like barbecue, the Sagebrush BBQ & Grill just down the block has a wide selection of mouth-watering taste temptations. The walls are adorned with Western memorabilia as well as the original city jail doors that date from the 19th century.


Ice cream-lovers will be in paradise as there are no less than six parlors. One of the most popular is Miyauchi’s Snack Bar located right on the waterfront. This family-owned business has been serving hand-made ice cream for the past 20 years. The owner, Greg, Miyauchi, creates flavor combinations such as lemongrass basil and almond joy using fresh ingredients and 16 percent butterfat for a creamy, smooth texture.