Colorado is a state that I have visited more times than I can count. Typically when I travel in Colorado, I head straight to the mountains to stay at my family’s vacation home in Breckenridge or I will stay in Denver where multiple close family members live. It wasn’t until my recent 6 week stay in Colorado for my Semester at Sea training that I actually started to branch out from my normal routines, discovering lovely places like Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
I am so thankful to have experienced other corners of Colorado and I was inspired to develop a 1 week Colorado travel itinerary. I designed this itinerary to work for summer or winter travel in Colorado so regardless of what time of the year you visit, you’ll find that this itinerary can be useful.
Discover the best that Colorado has to offer with this helpful 7 day travel guide for Colorado!
Day One & Two: Denver
Denver, Colorado is a sprawling urban destination at the feet of the Rocky Mountains that offers something for everyone to enjoy. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and with that growth comes an expansion of everything that a tourist would be looking for —public transportation, restaurants, breweries, street art, cultural attractions —there is just so much to do in the Mile High City!
As the largest city and state capital, Denver is a natural place to start your 7 day trip in Colorado. Denver’s airport, DIA, is a hub for several airlines, including Frontier, with daily direct flights from around the US. The airport is about 45 minutes away from the city center by car, and the recent opening of the A-Rail is another affordable option for getting from DIA to downtown.
With over 300 days of sunshine, Denver offers year-round appeal to people of all different ages and interest level. It is a young and expanding city with lots of new development in every direction which means that it is easier than ever to access all the amazing things this city has to offer. With so much to offer, I wrote a separate post covering how to spend 2 days in the Mile-High City.
Day Three: Colorado Springs
Located only 1 hour south of Denver, Colorado Springs is an easy day trip or an overnight stop on your 1 week Colorado itinerary. When I was planning my travels in Colorado, a lot of people told me to skip Colorado Springs because there “wasn’t that much to do” but I found that there was enough to fill a day. I probably wouldn’t recommend spending much more than 24 hours unless you are really interested in aeronautics or the US Airforce, but there is certainly enough to see for one day.
Start your day in Colorado Springs with a free visit to Garden of the Gods for beautiful natural scenery and almost 0 crowds. The park opens early at 5:00am and tourist crowds swell in the late morning and early afternoon, so it is best visited quite early or late. Probably the most famous attraction in Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is a stunning city park with a paved trail perfect for walking through the red rock formations. The main circuit is about 1.5 miles, or you can park further in the garden for shorter walks.
Next, drive up to Pike’s Peak, a 14,115 ft mountain that is easily accessible regardless of your hiking abilities thanks to a well-maintained road that you can drive. Afterwards, you can proudly say you’ve been to the top of fourteener! You will drive almost all the way to the summit, where you’ll find a parking lot and the recently renovated Summit House restaurant. Once at the top, enjoy walking trails and stunning views of the entire Pike’s Peak region. Roundtrip this excursion will probably take 3-4 hours.
On your way back into Colorado Springs, stop for some food and shopping in either Manitou Springs or Old Colorado City. Both of these former pioneer towns offer a glimpse into what the culture and architecture of Colorado used to look like during the gold rush days. In Old Colorado City, don’t miss the overwhelming metal works at Little Colorado + Camino Real or the well-curated handmade treasures at HeartShake Studios.
Now it is time to explore the city! Grab a coffee or beer at IvyWild School, a former elementary school turned community and small business space. I loved this spot because all of the architecture and school supplies have been left in the original form. It is very nostalgic to walk the halls of a school but this time, as an adult patronizing small businesses!
End your day in Colorado Springs at some of the downtown establishments, offering delicious drinks and food. Start with a beer at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, whose massive 3 story restaurant and bar offers a nice patio, bar games and a large menu of snacks and sandwiches. For dinner, Four by Brother Luck is a good option for folks who enjoy tasting menus. I loved that this former Top Chef contestant allows you to customize your own tasting menu from 4 different food themes. If that’s not your style, 503W has a delectable assortment of Asian fusion food to pair with their house brewed beers.
Where to Stay in Colorado Springs
There are plenty of casual, chain hotel options to choose from in and around Colorado Springs which you can easily find with a basic Google search. If you’re looking for something a little more luxe, the Lodge at Flying Horse is a posh spot that offers country club access. Garden of the Gods Resort has rooms with views of the park for a sunrise to remember! For a more affordable yet chic option, we opted for SCP Eco-Hotel on the outskirts of the city which is a renovated motel focused on sustainable living.
Day Four & Five: Mountains
Arguably the best part of the state, a one week travel itinerary in Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the stunning Rocky Mountains. Colorado is an ideal place for exploring the Rockies because there are points of access throughout the state for a variety of different outdoor skill levels. If you are just looking for a leisurely stay at a mountain lodge, Colorado has it. If you’re looking for an intense multi-day backpacking experience in the wilderness, Colorado has that too. There are ways to enjoy the mountains for everyone!
I am most familiar with the mountains around the Dillon Reservoir, which will be the focus of this article, but other great mountain areas include Rocky Mountain National Park, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and many more. I think the Lake Dillion area is one of the most versatile places for enjoying the mountains, because it has access to winter activities and summer activities with copious options for lodging and exploration that both novice and expert mountain visitors can enjoy.
If you are in the mountains during the winter time, snow activities are abound. Skiing is available at Copper Mountain, Keystone and Breckenridge, with both Keystone and Breck on the EPIC pass. Copper Mountain and Keystone both offer tubing for a fun alternative option on the slopes.
If you are visiting the mountains in the summer time, hiking and mountain biking are two of my favorite activities. You can go on most major ski resort mountains as well as many day hikes and national parks. You can also try out white water rafting on several of the major rivers in Colorado!
Where to Stay in Lake Dillon Area
There are lots of ski resorts and mountain lodges around the Lake Dillion area, so there are plenty of options to choose from depending on what your preferences are. I personally love Breckenridge because the town feels separate from the mountain where local people might actually hang out and enjoy some of the delicious restaurants the city has to offer. If you opt for Breckenridge, consider booking my family’s vacation rental for a lovely ski-in-ski-out home with room for up to 12 people! I also think that Frisco is really charming, and has a similar old town main street as Breck.
Day Six: Boulder
If you were to smash together a hippy mountain town with Silicon Valley, it would probably look something like Boulder. The city is a hub for tech and internet start-ups as well as a lively university campus, bringing a youthful and optimistic glow to Boulder—along with steep property prices.
There is a thriving shopping and arts scene in Boulder which can be easily explored with a walk along the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. Although many of the mom-and-pop shops have been replaced with big brands, there are still a few gems to be found on Pearl Street such as Art Source International, for vintage Colorado posters, Nature’s Own, a large gem and mineral store, and Momentum, a fair trade boutique for children and women’s gifts.
If you’re looking for a little nature experience close to the city, look no further than the beautiful Chautauqua Park which sits at the trailhead for the Flatiron Mountains. I’m not much of a hiker, but I am a really good eater, so I had a picnic lunch packed for me from Cured, a meat and cheese purveyor in the city. Their excellent selection and well-curated picnic supplies are the perfect friend to bring along for lunch in the park!
Another popular excursion to try in Boulder is a visit to the Celestial Seasonings Tea factory. My mother-in-law was so excited to take me to this spot and it did not disappoint! Free guided tours take 30 minutes and will take you onto the production floor, inside the invigorating mint room, and through the actively running tea packing room. Plus, you’ll get to sample as many teas as you like before ending in the gift shop where you can purchase your favorite flavors.
Dinner plans are one of my favorite parts of planning any city excursion and Boulder has some great options to choose from. If you’re looking for dinner with a view, Flagstaff House is your best bet. It has high-end Colorado food with an incredible patio 6,000 feet above Boulder. Another delicious option is The Kitchen, which has been named one of the greenest restaurants in the West with a focus on local, sustainable and farm-to-table cuisine. For a more casual way to end your day in Boulder, check out Rayback Collective, a food truck park with a bar and event venue.
Where to Stay in Boulder
For as much money as there is in Boulder, I didn’t particularly love the hotel scene here. There are minimal boutique hotels and most are the major hotel chains you would expect. Hotel Boulderado is probably the most famous hotel in the city, with its landmark status and stained glass lobby. St Julien Hotel & Spa offers a luxury option in the heart of the city, and there are plenty of AirBnb options in the area.
Day Seven: Fort Collins
While many people might skip Fort Collins on a short trip to Colorado, I would argue it is worth the stop. Fort Collins might have a reputation for being a college town, thanks to the large presence of Colorado State University, but Fort Collins is so much more than “just a college town”. From excellent bike paths to beautiful nature reserves, I summarized 8 of my favorite things to do in Fort Collins in a separate post.
One of the most famous parts of Fort Collins is their exceptional micro-brewery and beer scene. The city produces more than 70% of Colorado’s craft beer! In fact, Fort Collins is often seen as one of the best beer-loving cities in the country rivaling places like San Diego, Grand Rapids, and Seattle thanks to breweries such as New Belgium, Odells, and many more. Most of the breweries offer free or cheap brewery tours, or if you prefer to see multiple, you can also take a day-long guided tour with Magic Bus Tours. Fort Collins is also home to the Colorado Brewer’s Festival, an annual event bringing in more than 50 different breweries and 100+ beers.
Beer isn’t the only thing you can do in Fort Collins. Fort Collins definitely exceeds expectations when it comes to their local food scene too! With big companies like OtterBox and HP headquartered in FoCo, a young millennial population demands more of their restaurants than just fast-food, late-night college joints. After exploring the culinary scene for 6 weeks, I discovered 10 of my favorite Fort Collins restaurants ranging from high-end cocktails to tiny cheese shops.
Where to Stay in Fort Collins
There are lots of cute options for accommodation in Fort Collins. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and social environment, it is hard to beat Solarium International Hostel which has a beautiful atrium full of thriving plants and flowers. If you prefer something more upscale, the exquisitely chic Elizabeth Hotel is located in an ideal spot in Old Town Fort Collins with a nice rooftop bar. If you want to stay in For Collins for a longer period of time, I stayed at a nicely priced AirBnb in a 1920s craftsman house that stole my heart with its sun filled living room and quiet little yard.