Road Trip: Denver, Colorado to Moab, Utah

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Utah is known for its incredible National Parks. Both Arches and Canyonlands are relatively close, so I set out to explore them! Here is my road trip itinerary: where to stop along the way & recommendations for food and fun.

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There are two routes to Moab, Utah, which is where I camped while visiting these National Parks. I took both routes, and there is a very important reason for that. On this trip you will visit not two, but three National Parks!

Read more about Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park.

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The first route is 5 1/2 hours. It takes you through the Rocky Mountains and almost directly to Moab. It’s the shorter and more direct route. It is very mountainous and is littered with steep grades, which can be intimidating if you’ve never driven on this terrain. Just keep your car is lower gears to avoid riding your brakes!

Things to do on the way:

  • Mt Evans – This 14,000ft peak is just south of I-70. You can drive to the top of this mountain and see out forever.
  • Vail, Colorado – a popular ski town, and a charming town to stop along the way.
  • Hanging Lake Park – This has become one of the most popular destinations in Colorado. It’s just north of I-70, and you can expect it to be very crowded if you are traveling during the summer. *This is my recommendation! 
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  • Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park – A jam-packed theme park with cave tours, a coaster and even a zip line.
  • White Water Rafting – In Glenwood Springs you can stop for a few hours of white water rafting down the Colorado River.
  • Colorado National Monument – This park has stunning views of canyons as well as a campground and hiking trails.
  • Redlands – An unincorporated town, this stop in Mesa County features huge red rock formations.
  • McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area – This 123,400 acre conservation park is just before the border with Utah and offers caves, spires and even natural arches!

Where to stop:

We made three stops total on our way to Moab. First in Vail, Colorado. After hearing so much about the town I wanted to explore it a little! Even in the summer time it’s easy to appreciate the charming ski lodges, and I understood the appeal for winter travelers.

Our second stop was in Glenwood Springs, so we could hike to Hanging Lake. This was an incredible hike, with views like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Finally, Grand Junction, Colorado was the perfect place to stop for dinner after spending all day in the car and a few hours hiking. From there it’s smooth sailing all the way to Moab.

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The second route is 7 1/2 hours. It takes you farther south through the Rocky Mountains and is longer, but offers a variety of different experiences in National Parks, Grasslands & Conservation areas. As well, it is not nearly as steep of a route as it winds around most mountains rather than straight through them. If you’re nervous about mountain driving, this is the route I recommend!

Things to do on the way:

  • McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area – You will pass through this park again, so if you didn’t get a chance to stop on the way you can stop on the way home.
  • Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area – this 210,000 acre park also has trails and campgrounds as well as stunning views of canyons and desert plants.

  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – One of Colorado’s four National Parks, this one overlooks a steep canyon. It offers both hiking trails and overlooks you can drive to. *This is my recommendation!

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  • Curecanti National Recreation Area – This park is a collection of three reservoirs where you can boat, fish, camp and hike.

  • Blue Mesa Reservoir – US 50 will loop around this beautiful lake for miles, giving you stunning views on your drive. All along the road are national recreational areas where you can stop and explore the water!
  • Pike and San Isabel National Forests Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands – Here there are trails established specifically for biking and hiking, and even a lake for finishing.

  • Staunton State Park – This is Colorado’s newest State Park and offers miles of hiking trails that lead to a waterfall, as well as a view of Lion’s Head, a stunning mountain peak.

Where to Stop:

We only made two stops on the way home. The first was in Grand Junction, Colorado. We enjoyed Starbucks and Chipotle after a few days of eating camp food.

The second was our trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In order to save money we opted to finish our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car on the way home. If you wanted to stop for dinner, my recommendation would be Fairplay, Colorado.

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This was a trip of a lifetime. There is nothing like crossing the border into Utah and seeing the terrain change. Especially close to Moab, everything turns red. Mesas tower above you by hundreds of feet, and it’s like entering a secret place, one that has been untouched by time.

If you’ve taken this road trip, where did you stop along the way? What was your favorite part? As it was my first time visiting Utah I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised!

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