A Road Trip Around the Centennial State

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by Neil Murray - 15 August 2018

Want to see Colorado from top to bottom? A trip to two of the Centennial State’s four National Parks (with a stop in Denver in between) is as good a way as any.

Fly into Denver then head to the north in your Hertz car to the town of Estes Park, your base for a visit to the spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park. Its mountain lakes, soaring peaks (many more than 12,000 feet (3,670 metres) above sea level) dense forests and dramatic, winding roads will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

The park’s star attraction is the Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile (77-km) stretch that, because of the vagaries of the weather, is only open between late-May and mid-October. Stop off at Forest Canyon and Rock Cut to take in the stunning panoramas then make for the Alpine Visitor Centre (at 11,796 ft, 3,595 metres, above sea level) to find out more about the park and its history. Fancy a trek? The park’s Bear Lake area offers several different trails to test your stamina and adaptability to the altitude.

Back in Estes Park, the Main Street has a range of souvenir shops and restaurants, as well as stores offering as much taffy, ice cream or fudge as you could ever eat – or want. Film fans might like to check out the Stanley Hotel, which, after a visit from Stephen King, served as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in the film The Shining.

Now head south back to Denver and allow time to visit some of the city’s many attractions, such as the Colorado Capitol State building, Denver Art Museum, Union Station and Molly Brown House Museum, the home of the Denver socialite who survived the sinking of the Titanic. And if there is a star attraction appearing at the nearby  Red Rocks Amphitheatre, bust a gut for a ticket to see a concert at one of the world’s great rock venues.

Durango, in the south-east corner of the state, is a 6-6½-hour drive from Denver, depending on your route and a perfect stopping-off point for a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. It is also the home of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a steam locomotive journey that has been “creating memories for 137 years” as it trundles past the Animas River, along deep gorges and below towering mountains on its 45-mile journey to the former mining town of Silverton. Time your visit right (end of May) and you could be racing 3,500 cyclists to Silverton in the annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, then take the bus back over the Molas and Coal Bank Passes, both more than 10,500 feet (3,200 metres) above sea level.

Less than an hour’s drive from Durango, the Mesa Verde National Park provides a fascinating insight into how the Ancestral Pueblo people lived in the area from around the year 550 until the late 1270s. Initially living underground in pit houses, they eventually moved to the surface and for the last 100 years occupied cliff dwellings, the top attraction in the park. The 700 Years Tour, clambering down steps and up ladders at Cliff Palace, gives visitors a close-up view of where the Puebloans lived all those years ago. By 1300, however, the place was deserted, the cave dwellers having headed south to New Mexico. Elsewhere in the park, various trails at the Wetherill Mesa lead visitors past the Badger House Community, highlighting how Puebloan “housing”, below and above ground, changed over 600 years.

So, from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the underground dwellers of 1,500 years ago – with the modern-day city of Denver in between – you really have Colorado top to bottom.

To book your Hertz car hire in Colorado, click HERE.

A native of Scotland now based in London, Neil Murray is a freelance journalist and former Travel Editor of the London Daily Mirror, who has written for a variety of papers and magazines. In 2008, he won the first Travel Industry Association Discover America Travel Writer award for the best US Travel Destination article and, in 2017, he was voted Travel Writer of the Year by the Visit USA UK Association for his body of work on the USA.