5 National Parks You Can Get to From Denver

Zion National Park
••• Zion National Park. Flickr / Matt Machin
  • 01 of 06

    Road trip to the National Parks

    ••• Rocky Mountain National Park. Flickr | AER Wilmington DE

    The National Parks are coming off their 100th birthday celebration, and they're looking pretty spectacular for centenarians.

    Colorado is among the states that house the most national parks. Here, we have four national parks to call our 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. 

    Use this as your guide to nearby National Parks, with directions on how to get there, where to stay once you're there and some "must-see's" when you're exploring the expansive parks. 

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  • 02 of 06

    Rocky Mountain National Park

    Rocky Mountain National Park
    ••• Rocky Mountain National Park. Flickr / inkknife_2000

    The park: More than 350 miles of trails wind through Rocky Mountain National Park making it a hiker’s paradise. If you save your trip for the fall, you’ll hear the elk bugling (it’s their mating season). But, if you make your journey to the park in the summer, you’ll be spoiled with fields of wildflowers. You might also spot some bighorn sheep and moose.

    Distance: About 70 miles.

    Driving directions: The quickest route will take you through Boulder and Lyons, by taking I-25 north to Exit 217, which is U.S. Hwy 36 that will take you straight into Estes Park. Or, you can take the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway by taking I-70 west to Exit 244 (U.S. Hwy 6) to State Hwy 119 to Nederland. From Nederland, take Hwy 72 to State Hwy 7 to Estes Park.

    Where to stay: The Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, is just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The hotel’s claim to fame? It’s the muse of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Even if you’re just taking a day trip to Estes Park, you can book a tour of the hotel...MORE and learn about its famed resident ghosts. Book your tour in advance because they do frequently sell out.

    Must-see: 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 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. (Those other parks include Arches National Park in Utah, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah), Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Utah, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Lake Mead National Park in Arizona and Nevada.

    Brag-worthy: This mountainous park has 77 peaks that top 12,000 feet.

    Fun fact: Park rangers planted bear scat in a Rocky Mountain National Park greenhouse as an experiment. Since bears eat up so many berries before hibernation, the park employees were curious to see if the poop would yield seedlings that would blossom. Sure enough, they did this spring. Oregon grape and chokecherries sprouted from the scat and Rocky Mountain National Park showed it off on social media.

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  • 03 of 06

    Yellowstone National Park

    Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
    ••• Daniel Viñé Garcia / Getty Images

    The park: From geysers to grizzlies, there’s plenty to see in this park that’s nearly 3,500 square feet. It’s also got an active volcano and more than 500 active geysers (which amounts to more than half of the geysers worldwide). This geographically diverse national park also has nearly 300 waterfalls. The tallest waterfall you can scout out from the road is 308 feet, and is the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.

    Distance: About 565 miles.

    How to get there: Consider this a two-for-one as you’ll get to drive through the Grand Tetons 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.

    Where to stay: Set up camp! Yellowstone offers more than 2,000 camping spots at a dozen sites. But, reserve them because they do go quickly in the summer months. More into glamping than camping? Rent a safari...MORE tent just outside of Yellowstone National Park.

    Must-see: Old Faithful! The cone geyser erupts 17 times a day; once every 60 to 110 minutes. You can download the geyser app, which predicts eruption times.

    Brag-worthy: Yellowstone, which was established on March 1, 1972, holds the esteemed designation as the world’s first national park.

    Fun fact: Yellowstone National Park actually spans three states. Ninety-six percent of the park is located in Wyoming. Three percent is in Montana and one percent is in Idaho.

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  • 04 of 06

    Arches National Park

    Glowing Arch
    ••• Mark Brodkin Photography / Getty Images

    The park: Coloradans, we know you have an affinity for red rocks. That’s why you’ll feel right at home in Utah, where you’ll be spoiled by red rocks. Consider Moab your basecamp for all kinds of adventures, including a day trip (or more) to Arches National Park. The National Park Service describes Arches as a “wonderland of red rocks.”

    Distance: About 350 miles.

    How to get there: Arches National Park is an easy-to-navigate drive. The most-popular route is 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.

    Where to stay: Red Cliffs Lodge is a little luxe, a little rustic. It’s perched on the banks of the Colorado River and nearby Arches National Park.  

    Must-see: You may have seen the “Delicate Arch” on Utah’s license plate. But you’ve got to see it in real-life. A moderate-to-difficult 3-mile hike along the “Delicate Arch” trailhead will lead you the iconic sandstone structure.

    Brag-worthy: ...MOREThe park’s name is a nod to the more than 2,000 natural stone arches, which can be as little as 3 feet to as big as 3,000 feet. Plus, there are plenty of pinnacles and fins throughout this park that sits atop a salt bed.

    Fun fact: Landscape Arch is the largest arch in the park, and it spans 306 feet from base to base. To help picture just how long that is, it’s almost the length of a football field.

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  • 05 of 06

    Grand Canyon National Park

    ••• Grand Canyon.

    The park: Nearly 6 million visitors flocked to the Grand Canyon in 2016, making it the No. 2 most visited national park. (The Great Smoky Mountains took the No. 1 spot). The Grand Canyon is a hedonistic playground for the adventurous types, whether you want to hike along the rugged trails on the North Rim or raft between the canyons and along the Colorado River.

    Distance: About 860 miles to the South Rim and about 690 miles to the North Rim.

    How to get there: 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 Hwy 89 Alt South to Jacob Lake, AZ. From Jacob Lake, take Hwy 67 south to the North Rim.

    Where to stay: Not for the clausterphobic, but definitely some cool digs: You can sleep 220 feet below ground in an ancient cavern via The Grand Canyon...MORE Caverns Motel. The rooms are pricey, though, running $850 per night for two people, and $100 for each extra person up to 6 people.

    Must-see: If we said the awe-inspiring canyons, we’d just be pointing out the obvious. Havasu Falls, a grand waterfall, is also worth checking off the bucket-list. While at the park, see if you can spot some of the red-spotted toads. They camouflage with the park’s rocks and are tough to spot. They toads feast on ants, bees and beetles in the park.

    Brag-worthy: The park’s main draw, the Grand Canyon, is considered to be one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World.”

    Fun fact: Did you know there’s a small village within the Grand Canyon? THe Havasupai Indian Reservation’s Supai Village can’t be reached by the road, and has a population of just over 200.

    Bonus: If you can, make it to the park between June 17-24. Astronomers will be offering free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing during the “Grand Canyon Star Party.”

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  • 06 of 06

    Zion National Park

    ••• Zion National Park. Photo: Flickr | Matt Machin

    The park: When you’re in the Grand Canyon you’re taking in views from the top. Change your perspective in this next park. Over the course of a million years, water carved out the canyons in Zion National Park. Visitors to this park marvel in 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. The park is also a paradise for climbers who love scaling the large rock walls.

    Distance: About 600 miles.

    How to get there: The largest leg of your drive is a 500-mile drive along I-70 West. You’ll take exit 27 onto UT-17 and drive for another 100 miles to Zion National Park.

    Where to stay: Combine your national park adventure with a wellness retreat. Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah is the perfect basecamp to do just that. Here, you’re surrounded by the red mountains, complete with sunrises and sunsets that give off an almost firey...MORE glow. Hammocks are spread throughout the resort for you to lounge in. Or, take part in a yoga class. You’re just an hour away from the park, and the resort offers group adventures or customized trips to Zion.

    Must-see: A cool way to get a glimpse of the narrows? By taking a river hike through them. Be sure to check with the park before going to hike the narrows. If the river is running too fast (over 150 cfs), it’s closed off for hiking.

    Brag-worthy: The park has its own “subway” system. It doesn’t have any trails, so you have to rappell and even swim through it. Much like you’d need a ticket to hop on public transportation, you need to get a permit to adventure in The Subway as the park limits the number of visitors can access it each day.

    Fun fact: Translated, Zion means “place of peace and relaxation" in Hebrew.