The Ultimate Colorado Road Trip

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.

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.

After a couple of nights here you will be ready for the second part of your trip, but don't leave until you have had a sunset cocktail at the nearby historic Grand Lodge. Known as "Colorado's front porch," the resort features some amazing views of the setting sun on Grand Lake and the surrounding mountains from its benches and porch swings.

Grand Lake to Palisade

As you leave Grand Lake, take the Colorado Scenic Highway to Palisade. This deviation starts on Highway 34 north of Grand Lake and follows the Colorado River and will take you through the towns of Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Parshall, and Kremmling. From there you will make your way to Interstate 70 West towards Palisade. Allow about 4 to 5 hours for a leisurely and pleasurable drive.

When you say "Palisade" in these parts, locals think of one thing—peaches! The fertile soil is just right for growing some of the world's most perfect and sweetest.

Here you will want to explore the various roadside stands featuring the best of summer's bounties from local farms.

Exit 42 off of westbound I-70 will put you on Elberta Avenue. There are three fruit stands right on this road as you head south, but this is just the beginning of your fruit quest. The area has some 20 stands and orchards offering cherries, apricots, pears, apples, nectarines, tomatoes, corn, and of course, peaches. Some consider the Palisade Peaches to be the sweetest and tastiest on the planet.

From here, continue south to Highway 6, then head east to 38 Rd, which stair steps its way up to the mountain along the Palisade Fruit and Wine Scenic Byway. Living up to its name, you can visit any number of roadside stands and orchards such as Talbott Farms, Anita's Pantry and Produce, High County Orchards, Helmer's Produce and others. Many orchards offer tours and the Chamber of Commerce in downtown Palisade has a helpful map showing their locations.

The secret to the area's abundant fruit crop is the micro climate which typically sees warm summer days and cool nights. Irrigation from mountain waters and the Colorado River also provides the town with what it needs for optimal growing.

The area's climate also happens to be conducive to growing herbs. Situated on the corner of E Road, Sage Creations Organic Farm grows lavender, clary sage, and other herbs which they distill on site. You can purchase its bath and body products made with the oils of these plants in the gift shop.

Palisade to Grand Junction

It's just a short 20-minute ride along business I-70 West to Grand Junction for the final part of your road trip. Situated in the high desert, the Grand Junction was originally named after the Grand River which was later renamed to the Colorado River. The "junction" refers to its location being at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers.

The heart of the city is the downtown which has more than 100 retail shops including quirky boutiques, sidewalk cafes, restaurants, antique shops, art galleries and clothing stores. The entire downtown is very walkable and the city planners have incorporated an "Arts on the Corner" program placing 100 mixed-media works of art throughout the area.

Every Thursday night from June 22 to September 14, downtown is transformed into a giant farmer's market from 5:30 from 8:30 p.m. More than a dozen local farmers and vendors put their products on sale. Purchase things such as eggs, honey, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Even the local pizza parlor gets into the spirit offering "farmers" pies made with olive oil, mozzarella, prosciutto, basil, brie, and of course, peaches! Musicians and street performers play for the crowds and this is a "grand" way to spend a leisurely evening.

Many local chefs and restaurateurs have chosen to make Grand Junction their home and have dotted the landscape with their taste tempting eateries.

For breakfast, the Dream Café is a hot spot right on Main Street. If you are traveling light, so to speak, they have a yogurt parfait that comes in a giant goblet with killer house-made granola. They also have a variety of benedict egg dishes, buttermilk pancakes, and a cinnamon roll French toast.

At Bin 707 Food Bar, chef/owner Josh Niernberg has created an upscale restaurant with a casual ambiance. Situated in the Alpine Bank, Josh uses fresh locally sourced ingredients, whenever possible, as the guide in for his menus, which change frequently.

When available, try its melon gazpacho with cauliflower escabeche, chive oil and crema ($7 a cup)–cool and refreshing. Or go for the colorful and healthy Blaine's heirloom tomatoes with eggplant miso flan, Palisade strawberries, cucumbers, and kimchi furikake ($14).

The Bin Burger is one of the most popular items on the menu featuring a beef patty laden topped with beehive white cheddar, frisee, a beefsteak tomato, onions and truffle aioli ($13).

For dessert, you will have several options including their Momofuki Crack Pie ($8). But when in season, the High Country Orchards Palisade Peach Cobbler with vanilla peach bourbon reduction and vanilla ice cream ($8) is hard to beat.

For an upscale dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere, 626 on Rood (the actual address) is known for its seasonal American dining and wine bar. With 32 wines on tap and 30 by the glass, the knowledgeable staff will help you select the perfect pairing for your meal. The menu is based on seasonality and it has several "of the moment" specials such as fish flown in daily from Hawaii. Dinner selections might include butter-poached lobster tail ($32), Spanish paella ($16), or a local favorite, rack of lamb (2-bone, $25) from neighboring Meeker/

If you're a beef-lover, the Winery Restaurant is where to go for a classic steak and potato. For more than 30 years, it has been serving great cuts of meat and wine to Grand Junction's loyalists in a converted 90-year-old building, formerly the town's horse-drawn carriage fire department. Its classic filet mignon wrapped in bacon ($33) is a go-to favorite but save room for the extraordinary Palisade dessert. This five-story chocolate extravaganza is shaped like a sail ($15.95).

Grand Junction is also known as Colorado's Wine Country and one of only two viticulture (cultivation of grape vines) destinations and part of the Grand Valley AVA. There are some 23 wineries in the valley located nearby (most are in Palisade) and accessible by car, bike, tour bus, or even by limo (appointment only). You can follow the fruit and wine scenic byway and visit the various tasting rooms to sample chardonnay, Riesling, pinot noir, and merlot.

One of these, Colterris, was started by the noted owner of High Country Orchards, Theresa May and her husband Scott. After thriving in the peach business for many years (Whole Foods exclusively carries their peaches), they expanded into winemaking and have two tasting rooms in Palisades. Their award-winning wines are 100 percent produced from their own estate vineyards, which means the name translating to "from the land" is all the more fitting.


Not content with the status quo, however, they have created something that is quickly gaining national attention: wine in a can, each one vintage dated in its own 8.4-ounce container. The cans are a perfect size for anyone who wants to enjoy premium wines on the go, such as on a picnic while visiting the wine country. May says millennials are also taking note and rather than having to purchase an entire bottle, can learn about wines from these little cans.

Some of her current wine-in-a-can products include her "Canterris" 2016 White wine made from Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Another popular variety is the 2016 Rose of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Both tasting rooms are open from June to October.

For your final excursion, be sure you don't head back to Denver before visiting the Colorado National Monument. With 20,000 acres of red-hued canyons and rock formations, the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive provides some of the most stunning vistas you will ever encounter–the perfect way to conclude your road trip to The Colorful State.

FTC Disclosure: This was a sponsored trip, however, all opinions herein are the authors.

Where to stay

Grand Lake

The Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging and Events- Winner of TripAdvisor's award of excellence, it offers cabins with sweeping views of Grand Lake. Its treehouse unit is a 2-bedroom accommodation with a kitchen and elevated views of the lake.

Grand Junction

Springhill Suites by Marriott is centrally located and within walking distance to most of the downtown venues. It has clean, comfortable suites and included breakfast.