My Exclusive 4-Day Colorado Trip Itinerary

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This year has been a busy one! And although a jam-packed calendar hasn’t left a ton of time for my family and me to take as many vacations as I may have liked this year, we weren’t going to miss out on a family trip to Colorado

Now if you follow me on IG, you know Colorado has quickly become one of my family’s all-time favorite spots. Actually, this is our 4th time making the trip, and I’ve finally whipped up a 4-day Colorado trip itinerary for anyone else who’s ready to experience the swoon-worthy effects of the Colorado mountain air.  

It includes some of the best places to stay in Aspen, great spots for a nature hike, and my take on some of the best restaurants. Best of all, it’s an itinerary my family and I swear by when it comes to keeping the whole family entertained! 

Day 1: Land in Denver and Drive to Aspen 

My first suggestion for your Colorado trip itinerary is to avoid heading straight to Aspen. Instead, land in Denver and drive to Aspen via I-70 – there are way too many beautiful stops to see along the way. 

On the way to Aspen, you’ll pass through two ski towns: Breckenridge and Vail. Breckenridge is more relaxed, laid back, and affordable, with cute local shops like Bjorn’s Colorado Honey (which had the best-whipped lavender honey!). 

Vail is more upscale and has stunning views. If you stop here, you have to try the best, most decadent hot chocolate ever at The Remedy Bar at the Four Seasons. 

After you pass through these two towns, you’ll also drive through Glenwood Canyon. And if you want to stop for pictures, wait until you hit the Grizzly Creek Rest Area, which is the perfect spot for awe-inspiring views, that gorgeous IG pic, and a nature hike if you and the family want to stretch your legs. Another great spot for views is Mt. Sopris between Glenwood Springs and Aspen along State Highway 82. 

Aspen 

Once you’ve taken in all the beautiful views on your drive and finally arrive in Aspen, one of the most popular Colorado ski towns, you’ll find no shortage of great places to stay. You can check out places like the W Aspen, which has a stunning mountainside pool view and other perfectly placed lounging areas to take in the sights. There’s also the Viceroy Snowmass, with the perfect balance of luxury and nature.  

If you plan on coming to Aspen for some solo time, there are also more nature-focused options, such as the Beyul Retreat.   

Shoulder Season 

Before we keep on with the Colorado trip itinerary, it’s important to note that no matter when you visit Aspen, you’ll want to plan for shoulder season (which happens in the spring and the fall). Shoulder season in Colorado has some pros and cons.  

Pro: During this time, it’s less crowded, typically has no wait time at restaurants, and you can bank on crazy low hotel prices and cheap flights. Overall it’s quieter and more relaxing.  

Con: Due to the temperatures and the changing seasons, during the shoulder season, you’ll find that many activities are closed, including the chair lifts.

So when you plan your trip, you’ll want to identify, first and foremost, what you’re coming to experience. If you want to relax and hike more, go in the shoulder season and stay at a really nice hotel like the Limelight Snowmass. I’ve stayed there twice! Breakfast was part of the fees, and it was amazing. And if you go during shoulder season, you can book your room for a fraction of the regular price! 

If you’re coming for some adventurous thrills and the amazing weather of the peak summer and winter seasons, pack some extra time and patience into your trip. 

Day 2: Maroon Bells and Aspen/Snowmass Village 

I know what you’re thinking, “That was just day one?!” I know! But I told you, Colorado is one of our favorite places, and there are so many reasons why. So let’s jump into day two.  

Maroon Bells 

After a good night’s sleep in Aspen, I highly recommend visiting the Maroon Bells (peaks in the Elk Mountains). There are two ways to get to them: 

If you’re going after 8 AM: Book a shuttle to Maroon Bells in advance. The shuttle leaves from Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, and you’ll need to drive there and park or take RFTA public transport from the hotel. (Mama tip: With kids, this was way more convenient.) 

If you’re an early bird and can go before 8 AM: You can drive up to the Maroon Lake parking lot. Be sure to book your entry permit in advance. This option is much cheaper than getting shuttle tickets for all passengers and is a great way to catch the stunning sunrise! 

Whether you get there before or after 8, take time to enjoy the incredible views from the Maroon Lake area and walk the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail. Trails are clearly marked, and it’s a short and easy hike with plenty of amazing views and wildlife-watching potential (especially if you’ve gone early in the morning). 

When I went, I saw beavers, a white-tailed deer, and a family of moose all within an hour. It was beautiful!  

If you’re looking for a slightly more strenuous and very rewarding nature hike, do the Crater Lake Trail!   

Note: This might not be suitable for older people, very young kids, or those with bad knees! The total hike time is about two hours. 

If You’ve Got Time Left in Your Day… 

Spending time at the Maroon Bells may soak up all your daylight, but Aspen and Snowmass Village also have tons to do if you have time to spare in the evening. Our other favorites include the John Denver Sanctuary and rafting with Elk Mountain Expeditions.   

As for places to eat, because Aspen is amongst the more luxurious Colorado ski towns, the food’s super pricey. But we found a great lunch spot called Big Wrap, with affordable lunch options for a family.  

Day 3: Drive Back toward Denver 

After spending an entire day taking in nature, my next suggestion is to make the drive back toward Denver.  

Only this time, take a different route than when you came in. Take CO-82 through Independence Pass and witness the fantastic mountain pass drive. (Make sure you fuel up before leaving Aspen – it’s a long road!) 

While you check out the views on the drive through the pass, also feel free to add in a little adventure and stop at any or all of the following along the way:  

  • Devil’s Punchbowl: If you’re feeling adventurous and want to take a 50-foot plunge into refreshingly cold water, this spot is for you. Open year-round, it’s a popular spot for cliff jumpers and nature photographers. There’s no designated parking area, although visitors are known to use an unmarked spot right off Highway 82. If you decide to take the plunge, please use extreme caution and read the state’s website for more info!  
  • The Grottos: This is a fantastic spot to stop and take a short but exciting hike. If you’re going in late summer (July/August), you can climb down into the ice caves and get some amazing photos. Once you finish at the ice caves, you can hike onto the Cascades. 
  • Independence Ghost Town: If you’re a horror buff, you’ll love this one! It’s a spooky historical site of an abandoned mining town from the gold rush era, set in a majestic backdrop.  
  • Independence Pass – Continental Divide: This unique little pit stop is at the summit of the Independence Pass. Bonus: it’s only a short walk to a breathtaking valley view! 
  • Twin Lakes: Another one for my horror buffs who appreciate the beauty. This quaint little town frozen in time is amongst (surprise, surprise) amazing views and, as the name suggests, twin lakes. If you need it, you can fill the car with gas from the old-timey gas pump and buy some souvenirs from the adjacent shop. Spend as much time here as you like because this marks the end of Independence Pass. 

Once you turn left onto Highway 24, heading up towards Leadville, you’ll witness more breathtaking views of the three tallest peaks in Colorado on your left-hand side.  

The sprawling vista that runs seamlessly from the farmland in the foreground to the jagged peaks rising to touch the sky in the background is one of my favorites in Colorado. And if you love to pull over to take it all in (like me!), wait until you reach the Crystal Lake Overlook. You can thank me later! 

Day 4: Rocky Mountain National Park 

On the last day of your trip, I suggest going out with a bang and visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  

During the summer, RMNP operates on a timed entry permit system, so make sure you get your Colorado mountain passes by booking your time slot in advance. 

When you’re reserving timed entry, make sure to also snag a permit for Bear Lake Rd, so you’ll have access to some of the most popular hikes in RMNP. 

There are so many ways to enjoy RMNP that taking it all in one day is impossible. So if you have more flexibility in your schedule, I suggest multiple days to do the highlights. Try to stay in Estes Park if possible, as it’s an hour and a half from Denver. 

To start your visit here, you can’t go wrong with a scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road. Just make sure to stop by the RMNP visitor center to ask about trailheads to hike along the road. 

I suggest parking at the Bear Lake Park’ N Ride and taking the shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead. From here you can take a stroll around Bear Lake, then begin the hike up to Emerald Lake. You’ll hit Nymph and Dream Lake on the way.  

If you’re with the whole family, Dream Lake is very doable for families, along with Alberta Falls (which you’ll see from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead stop on the shuttle). Still, if you’re looking for more kid-friendly hikes in RMNP, there are several options, including Alluvial Fan Trail.  

For a more challenging hike, Lake Haiyaha is a fantastic detour. You can also go boulder hopping in Chaos Creek, which is accessible via the trail to Lake Haiyaha. 

Finally, if you have extra time or can add another day to your agenda, consider spending time in Estes Park! As a base for RMNP, this beautiful mountain-view town is known for some great shopping areas. It’s also home to The Stanley Hotel, one of the most haunted hotels in America, which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining after he stayed there. 

Did I Miss Anything on My Colorado Trip Itinerary

Colorado is a beautiful state with so much to do and see. From the views on I-70, the scenic Maroon Bells, the countless hidden treasures along CO-82, and the natural beauty of Rocky Mountain Natural Park, it’s a must-see.  

With all the makings for a beautiful family trip, I’ve made sure this Colorado trip itinerary ensures you see all the best sights. Please let me know if you find any other spots along the way that you think I should check out too!   

Want to follow along with my latest adventures? Make sure to follow me on Instagram

This post contains affiliate links to products that I used or recommend. If you purchase something through an affiliate link, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. I really appreciate your support!
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