Red Rocks to Rockies: Five Day Itinerary That’ll Blow You Away!
What: Five days spent exploring some of Utah’s best national parks and the stunning Colorado Rockies! This is BUCKET LIST kind of stuff. Put it on your list and just GO! We promise, you won’t regret it, and you’ll never forget it. You might even become addicted, like we are, and have to come back again and again.
Where: Salt Lake City to Moab to Telluride to Salt Lake City.
When: You can do this trip from May through October, although some mountain passes will be closed due to snow in May/June and October. Our favorite time is late September to early October, when the autumn leaves are incredible but the air is still warm!
DAY ONE: Drive 4 hours south from Salt Lake to Moab, mecca for slick rock mountain bike trails, jeep safaris and red rock exploring.
After lunch at one of Moab’s local diners (see our recommendations below), spend the afternoon in Arches National Park, exploring more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch, probably the most recognizable arch, which is featured on Utah license plates. The hike to Delicate Arch is 3 miles, and worth every step! (Hint: Delicate Arch is amazing at sunset. Plan accordingly and be prepared for potential crowds.)
DAY TWO: Pick your favorite activity: off-road adventuring, hiking or rafting…
1. Rent a jeep or UTV and explore any of Moab’s amazing 4×4 routes. Our favorite: Hell’s Revenge, a 6.5 mile extreme off-road adventure, like Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Ride only wayyyyy better! Only attempt this yourself if you are experienced in off-roading.
Better yet, sign up for a tour with http://www.moabtourismcenter.com OR https://danmick.com or any of the other tour companies in Moab. Just sit back and let your experienced driver take you through the adventure of a lifetime that is Hell’s Revenge.
2. Not really into off-road adventuring? Hike the beautiful Negro Bill’s Canyon trail (also called Grandstaff Canyon). Named after William Grandstaff, the first non-caucasian pioneer to settle in Moab in 1877. The 4.65 mile trail starts above the banks of the Colorado River and travels up a scenic redrock canyon next to a smaller stream. The trail terminates at the 6th largest natural rock-span bridge in America, the Morning Glory Bridge. This trail only has a 300-foot elevation gain, so it’s good for kids. You will have to cross the stream in a couple places, so wear water shoes or shoes that can get wet.
The Mill Creek Trail is a short (1/2 mile), flat hike that follows a stream and ends in box canyon at a natural swimming hole with a beautiful waterfall. Perfect for hot summer days! Corona Arch, Fisher Towers, Park Avenue and Devil’s Garden are other beautiful hikes to take.
3. Raft the Colorado River through stunning red rock cliffs and beautiful vistas. You can raft the “daily” section of the river with a guide who knows all about the history and geography of this stunning area. This tour is good for kids age 5 and up. We highly recommend World Wide River Expeditions http://www.worldwideriver.com but there are tons of companies in Moab that you can use!
DAY THREE: Drive 2 hours to Telluride, Colorado. Spend the entire day exploring “America’s Switzerland!”
• Stroll Telluride’s Main Street for fun boutique shopping and tasty treats along the way.
• Drive to the end of Telluride’s box canyon to view the stunning 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls waterfall, which freezes in winter to create an imposing challenge for ice climbers.
• Rent mountain bikes and ride along the San Miguel River trail that follows the valley floor. Telluride also has a huge network of single-track trails and old mining roads, and the ski resort’s gondola is FREE and equipped with bike racks, with an awesome variety of trails for every skill level. You will never ride in a more beautiful place!
• For “adrenaline junkies,” Telluride also has a Via Ferrata, Italian for “iron way,” a 2-mile cliff-hugging rock climb in which you wear a harness and lanyards to clip onto iron bolts in the cliffside. Some of my kids did it the last time we were there, and LOVED it!
DAY FOUR: Rent a jeep for the day from Farabee’s http://farabeejeeps.com/telluride-colorado/ and pick your favorite on-or-off-road activity!
1. Spend the whole day exploring this beautiful area. If you are confident on rocky dirt roads (and are okay with sheer drop-offs), start in Telluride and climb over Imogene Pass into stunning Yankee Boy Basin and on to the charming historic town of Ouray for lunch. This is our very favorite 4×4 trail in Telluride. The views at every turn are absolutely stunning.
The Tomboy Townsite, once a popular mining town, is really cool to see, and the variety of terrain you pass through is incredible. The summit is up there, at 13,114 feet! You will never forget this amazing day. Return to Telluride via the beautiful Last Dollar Road. (Imogeme Pass is only open from July through September, due to snow.)
2. If you’re not quite that daring, simply take the Last Dollar Road both ways for a less adrenaline-packed but equally stunning off-road experience. Last Dollar Road winds through aspens, pines and wide-open ranches with stunning views of the Rockies throughout. It’s considered a beginner’s trail for off-road trips.
3. If you like the pavement under your wheels, drive to Ouray and then take the “Million Dollar Highway” to Silverton, another charming mountain town. If you do have a high-clearance SUV, take the one-hour drive from Silverton up to the very well-preserved Animas Forks mining ghost town. A bustling town of 450 in the late 1800s, many of the buildings in Animas Forks still stand. VERY cool and highly recommended!
4. On the backside of the Telluride ski resort, you’ll find a hidden gem: Alta Lakes. This road can be done in a basic 4×4 vehicle, and this place has it all: stunning lakes, a small ghost town and tons of hikes and simple walks around the lakes. This is a great way to get of the beaten path and enjoy some beautiful scenery. Pack a lunch and enjoy!
DAY FIVE: Head back to Salt Lake City through Ridgeway and Grand Junction. Take a detour outside Grand Junction to the Colorado National Monument, an area of canyons, spires and monoliths, including Balance Rock, a 600-ton boulder perched on a rock pedestal.
FIVE MOAB RESTAURANT SUGGESTIONS:
La Sal House – yummy, often locally-sourced comfort food
Jailhouse Cafe: Open only for breakfast! Go early…there is always a wait.
Quesadilla Mobilla – a food truck that always has a line! Good stuff.
Moab Brewery – Just down-home cooking and big portions
Antica Forma – wood-fired pizzas
FIVE TELLURIDE RESTAURANT SUGGESTIONS:
Brown Dog Pizza – iconic Telluride classic pizzeria
221 South Oak – expensive but amazing food and ambiance – good place to try bison or elk
Floradora Saloon – right on the main drag, awesome burgers, fish tacos, salads….and a fun atmosphere
The Butcher and The Baker – incredible breakfast (and lunch and dinner) with homemade pastries and breads
Chop House Restaurant – amazing steaks. ’nuff said.
Where to Stay
Because tastes and budgets vary wildly, I am not giving recommendations for specific hotels. Below are some resources I consistently use. I always check multiple sites before booking hotels and I always look at traveler photos and reviews.
We stay almost exclusively in short-stay home or apartment rentals when we travel (booked through site such as VRBO and AirBnb), especially when we take our whole family or travel in big groups. It’s more economical than renting a bunch of hotel rooms, and it’s more fun to live like a local! We shop at local grocery stores, eat breakfast and sometimes lunch or dinner in the apartment, hang out at the end of the day, play games at night. There’s more space than a hotel room, and it feels more like home.
Have you taken a trip through the Rockies? What were your favorite stops along the way?