Colorado is among the states that house the most national parks with four national parks to call their own: Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In addition to the parks within Colorado, though, there are several national parks in neighboring states. They're also beckoning, and most definitely worthy of a road trip.
If you're visiting any of the United State's national parks, you're going to need a car. However, it's up to you whether you drive all the way from Denver, or if you book a direct flight to the airport nearest to the park and drive the rest of the way. Because these flight paths aren't in high demand, the prices can be quite high. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you might get a better value out of driving.
From geysers to grizzlies, there’s plenty to see in this Wyoming park that's 532 miles from Denver like an active volcano and more than 500 active geysers. This geographically diverse national park also has nearly 300 waterfalls and the famous Old Faithful geyser erupts 17 times a day, so you'll have multiple opportunities to see it. Here's how to get from Denver to Yellowstone National Park:
- By car: The drive takes about 9 hours, but you should consider this a two-for-one as you’ll get to drive through the Grand Tetons National Park before arriving at Yellowstone. Take I-25 north to Cheyenne and then head west on I-80. Once you get to Rawlings, you’ll take U.S. 26/287 north. The highway turns into U.S. 89/191 and you’ll drive through the Tetons before arriving in Yellowstone.
- By plane: If you'd like to save a little bit of time you can fly from Denver to Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) and drive 71 miles north to Yellowstone. The flight takes 1 hour and 30 minutes and the drive to the park will take you about 2 hours.
Arches National Park is 350 miles from Denver. Consider Moab your basecamp for all kinds of adventures, in the park, which the National Park Service describes as a “wonderland of red rocks.” The park’s name is a nod to the more than 2,000 natural stone arches, which can be as short as 3 feet high to as tall as 3,000 feet. Here's how to get to Arches from Denver:
- By car: Arches National Park is an easy-to-navigate drive. The most popular route is to take I-70 west for about 325 miles, then take Exit 182 onto U.S. 191 south toward Moab, which will take you the final stretch to Arches National Park.
- By plane: You could also fly to Moab's Canyonland Fields Airport (CNY), which will take about 1 hour and 20 minutes and drive 28 miles to the park, which should take about 45 minutes.
Just 70 miles from Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise. If you save your trip for the fall, you might hear the elk bugling during their mating season. But, if you make your journey to the park in the summer, you’ll be spoiled with fields of wildflowers and might also spot some bighorn sheep and moose. The Colorado River starts its 1,450-mile trek in Rocky Mountain National Park. You can get a glimpse of the river from the Coyote Valley Trail in the park before it begins its voyage to the Gulf of California, passing through a half-dozen National Park services areas before it arrives there. There's no airport closer to the park than Denver, so here' show to drive there from the Colorado capital:
- By car: The quickest route, which is about a 2 hour drive, will take you through Boulder and Lyons. Take I-25 North to Exit 217 and get on Highway 36, which will take you straight into Estes Park. Alternatively, you can also take the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway by following I-70 West to Exit 244 to Highway 119 towards Nederland. From Nederland, take Highway 72 to Highway 7 to Estes Park.
Over 6 million visitors flock to the Grand Canyon every year, making it the second most visited national park in the U.S. The park is a playground for the adventurous types and Denver is 860 miles to the South Rim and about 690 miles to the North Rim. Here are two ways to get from the Grand Canyon from Denver:
- By car: It's possible to drive there, but keep in mind that it's an 11 hour and 40 minute drive to the South Rim and a 12 hour drive to the North Rim. To get to the South Rim, take I-25 south to Albuquerque, New Mexico. From Albuquerque, take I-40 west to Williams, Arizona. From there, you’ll take Highway 64 to the South Rim. To get to the North Rim, take I-70 west to Sevier, Utah. From Sevier, take Highway 89 to Kanab, Utah. From Kanab, take Highway 89 Alt South to Jacob Lake, AZ. From Jacob Lake, take Highway 67 south to the North Rim.
- By plane: It's much faster to fly to Flagstaff, Arizona from Denver, which is a 2 hour flight, plus a 1 hour and 30 minute drive to the entrance of the park. You will need to rent a car in Arizona to explore the park properly, so don't forget to factor that in with the cost of your flight.
Over the course of a million years, water carved out the canyons in Zion National Park, which is 682 miles from Denver. Visitors to this park marvel at the views from the ground, looking up—most notably from hiking in between the canyons along the Virgin River. The park has more than 100 miles worth of trails to explore, including 15 miles of paved trails and lots of walls that rock climbers love to climb. Here's how to get to Zion from Denver:
- By car: The drive will take about 11 hours, with the largest leg of the trip being a 500-mile stretch along I-70 West. You’ll take Exit 27 onto UT-17 and drive for another 100 miles to Zion National Park.
- By plane: Another option is to fly to to St. George Regional Airport (SGU) in Utah, rent a car, and drive the rest of the way. The flight takes 2 hours and the airport is only 51 miles from Zion, which takes about an hour to drive to.