• Halle Miller

Road Tripping Out West: Colorado & Beyond

Updated: Apr 16

After every yacht chartering season, Mark and I always plan a vacation directly afterwards to spend quality time together and explore somewhere new (definitely not on the ocean).

We decided to plan a road trip through Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Exploring the National Parks in this area has been a huge thing on my bucket list and I couldn't wait to hop on a plane & pitch my tent.

We bought budget flights that required us to be at the airport practically in the middle of the night and with limited luggage available. We decided to camp for the majority of the time but that complicated things in regards to packing.

Mainly raiding my parents camping gear, we packed the bare essentials- a tent, sleeping bags, one pillow, a solar powered lantern, extra blankets, and cooking utensils. Just this small list took up an entire suitcase. We decided on buying a skillet, cooler, and an air mattress (for warmth) when we arrived.

Even though we were going in August, temperatures in the higher elevations of the mountains were still dropping to freezing temperatures at night. This was a concern for us in terms of packing space and warmth but we made it work.

Our goal was to camp as much as possible in the National Parks that surround much of the West. I bought a Annual National Park Pass for $80. This pass allowed us to enter the parks for free, instead of paying a $30 entry fee for every park. Most camping fees were cheap anyway - ranging from $15 to $30 a night but we still saved some cash by buying the annual pass.

I did make an itinerary before leaving because it helped us stay on track and made sure we had enough time to experience our "must-dos". With that being said, I only booked our first and second night's stay so we had plenty of wiggle room to change directions. Our trip lasted for two weeks, but camped a total of one week. In between camping, we visited friends and family. Mark's brother lives in Salt Lake City, Utah while some of his family live in Gunnison,Colorado. His family live completely off the grid, owning an art gallery. When we arrived they had shot an Elk in the high elevations of the mountains.

Our first night, we stayed in Denver at a hostel, which was definitely the worst night of our trip. We ended up switching hotels at midnight after an experience with a rat and just not so great conditions. After arriving at a random holiday inn well after midnight, we felt pretty defeated. Needless to say, my privilege of booking hotels was revoked. After the first night, it was smooth sailing! It's so hard to pick our favorite place in terms of beauty because the campsites were so unique and different. Our first campsite, in Estes Park, had expansive views of a large valley with perfect streams for fly fishing and hiking trails for miles on end. It was the perfect place to restart our trip after the first night.

After a week on the road, we finally got the hang of it and things became routine. We had an endless supply of firewood, water, and toilet paper stocked in the car and could set up camp within the matter of 20 minutes. The Grand Mesa Forest took us completely by surprise. We got lost for an hour or two, after backtracking, we ended up at a campground that wasn't originally planned. It ended up being AMAZING. Our campsite overlooked a large lake with huge pines surrounding the area, we definitely wished we could've spent a week or more here. We spent the night playing rummy and hanging out by the fire.

How could anything else top these spots? Insert the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Whenever I planned this trip, I knew this campsite would end up being my favorite and boy I wasn't wrong. This blew my expectations out of the water. We hiked for miles up the sand dunes (hardest workout of my life), and camped among wildflowers and the stars. I bought a $5 backcountry camping pass the day of that allowed us to camp in the dunes. They didn't allow camp fires so we ate an early dinner then waited for the heat to subside before trekking up the large dunes. After setting up camp, we explored the dunes even further, enjoying the sunset. The best part was waking up at 2am to experience the stars in all of their glory.

This place didn't seem real. We felt like we were the only people for miles. It looked like something out of a story book. And goes down as one of the best days of my life.

We definitely didn't enjoy the cities as much and next time would probably skip Denver all together other than arriving at the airport. We could've spent months exploring all of the national parks and felt a bit rushed on time. Both, Mark and I, learned so much about the West and its beauty.

Below is the full itinerary from the trip:

Tuesday, August 20

Arrive in Denver at 9am

  • Explore Denver

  • 30 min drive to Red Rocks

  • Boulder, CO

Night 1: Denver, CO

  • hostel in city $100

  • Grocery store/ pack sandwiches/snacks for camping

Wednesday, August 21

1 hr drive to Estes Park/ Rocky Mtn national Park

  • Drive through trail bridge road

Night 2: Moraine Campground $26


Thursday, August 22

Drive from Estes Park to Flaming Gorge 6 hrs

Night 3: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area $18

-amazing campsites

-gorgeous views of gorge

Friday, August 23- Sunday, August 25

Salt Lake City, Utah with family

Night 4,5,6

Monday, August 26

Drive from Salt Lake City to Vail CO 6 hrs 30 mins

Night 7: Grand Mesa National Forest

Tuesday, August 27-Friday, August 30

White Water Rafting

Vail, CO with friends

Saturday, August 31

Drive from Vail, CO to Crested Butte 3hrs 30 mins

Crested Butte

Gunnison, CO Night with family

Sunday, September 1

Drive from Crested Butte to Great Sand Dunes National Park 2hrs 30 mins

Hike and Camp in Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • get a permit to camp in backcountry at the visitors center

  • Bring water/toilet paper/ trash bag. No fire allowed in dunes.

Monday, September 2

Drive from Great Sand Dunes to Garden of Gods 3hrs

Garden of the Gods- Horseback Riding 2hrs $90 per person

Pikes Peak

Night: camp in Colorado Springs, CO

Tuesday, September 3

Drive from Great Sand Dunes to Denver, CO 3hrs 45 mins

Hotel until 3am

Wednesday, September 4

Airport at 3am- leave at 5am

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