If you’re visiting Denver you’re lucky, there are tons of nearby places to see with one tank of gas! The hardest part of a one tank trip from Denver is picking which direction to explore. With so many national parks and forests nearby, you won’t be short on outdoor activities. But for this trip we’re heading south along the Front Range to visit some of the sights outside of Denver.
This one tank trip from Denver is 353 miles and takes approximately 7 hours and 46 minutes of drive time. As always, your mileage and time may vary depending on what you’re driving.
Denver is full of fun things to do in the city. Take a visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens, the Denver Art Museum, or the Denver Zoo. And there’s plenty to explore outside town as well, like hiking the Boulder Flat Irons or visiting the multiple nearby ski towns.
But before you leave Denver you have to take a side trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. While it’s an hour and a half north of Denver (and we’re heading south west on this one tank trip) we’d still recommend taking some time to visit this amazing national park! There’s over 300 miles of hiking trails throughout park and is full of beautiful views of lakes, mountains, streams, flowers, and woodlands.
Garden of the Gods
After you’ve explored Denver start your one tank trip south toward Colorado Springs. First up is Garden of the Gods Park. This incredible city-owned park is a popular place to hike, mountain bike, ride horses, and rock climb. The red sandstone formations tower over the landscape giving off an almost otherworldly atmosphere.
If you want to wander through the park, the main trail is the Perkins Central Garden Trail. This paved, 1.5-mile-long trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible, and it gives you views of the impressive red rocks. There are also miles of unpaved hiking trails throughout the park, as well as roads with bike lanes. Technical rock climbing is also allowed in certain areas of the park. It’s favorite place for rock climbers to test their skills.
The park also includes a living history museum and a visitor’s center with educational exhibits and a presentation about the park. There are even guided tours that you can reserve to learn more about the area.
The park is free to visit. It’s open November 1 – April 30 from 5 a.m. – 9 p.m. and May 1 – October 31 from 5 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Cave of the Winds
A short drive from Garden of the Gods is another natural landmark, although it’s hidden underground! Cave of the Winds Mountain Park is a great way to explore the wonders of underground caves. Take one of the guided tours like the Discovery Tour where you’ll learn about the history of the caves while you stroll past the geological formations or the spooky Haunted Lantern Tour full of ghost stories.
Back outside, visit the outdoor park with amusement rides, a zip line, a climbing wall, and the three story Windwalker Challenge course. If you’d rather stay on the ground there’s activities for everyone in the family, from panning for gemstones to sliding down the giant playground slide or even throwing axes.
Cave of the Winds is in Manitou Springs and is close to several other stops on this trip. The open hours vary throughout the year so check their website for times.
Pike National Forest
You’ll barely have to drive to this next place on your road trip. Pike National Forest is home to the highest summit on the southern Front Range – Pikes Peak. This mountain is one of 23 ‘fourteeners” (a peak over 14,000 feet tall) that are located within the national forest. Summit Pikes Peak, or spend your time hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, or just relaxing and enjoying the sweeping views.
One of the most icon things to do in the park is to take the Pikes Peak Highway. There are several ways to get to the summit. The first way is driving up the highway, which lets you go at your own pace and stop when you wish. If you decide to drive yourself in summer you’ll need reservations, and it’s a tricky piece of road.
If you want the driver in your party to also be able to enjoy the views, take a shuttle or guided tour. Several local outfitters offer tours up the mountain, giving you information about the area and letting you focus on enjoying the scenery instead of driving. There’s also the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Buy a ticket a ride up Pike’s Peak in a cog railway car. The ride is three and a half hour round trip from Manitou Springs.
And of course you can also hike your way to the summit. However, this 14er is best done by experienced hikers who are prepared for the trek. It’s a 13.5 mile hike with an elevation gain of over 7,400 feet. This isn’t for beginners! If you’re not an experienced hiker, stick to some of the easier hiking trails in the national park and get to the summit by one of the other fantastic options.
Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
Next on this trip is the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. This 10-mile-long gorge is a 1,200-foot-wide canyon along the Arkansas River in southern Colorado. The bridge is one of the world’s highest suspension bridges as it crosses the gorge at over 1,000 feet in the air. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera or phone for some epic photos!
There are plenty of ways to explore the area. Take a gondola ride across the gorge for panoramic views, or if you’re brave go for a ride on America’s highest zip line or try the mountaineering experience. There’s also whitewater rafting down the river if you’d rather stay close to the earth instead of up in the air. You can also keep your feet on the ground by checking out the historic railroad, the kids play area, and the historic dinosaur experience.
The park is open throughout the year with varying hours. Check out their website for exact opening and closing times.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The last stop on this one tank itinerary from Denver is a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park. This national park in southern Colorado is home to a 30 square mile field with the tallest sand dunes in North America. One of the biggest draws is the opportunity to slide down the dunes on a sandboard or sled, but there’s more than just sand sledding at this park!
The rest of the park is filled with a mix of environments from grasslands to wetlands to forests. You can hike and even 4-wheel drive on trails throughout the park. There’s also the seasonal Medano Creek that runs through the park and offers a chance to swim and splash during part of the year. There are also ranger led activities throughout the year. And the park’s rural location and elevation makes it a perfect place to watch the stars at night. This International Dark Sky park is fantastic for stargazing and night photography of the sky. Check the calendar on nps.gov for summer nighttime activities in the park.
Since the park is a bit far away from other places, it’s a great place to camp and spend a day or two. There are campsites inside the park that you can reserve in advance, as well as several other private campgrounds within 20 miles of the park. There’s not a ton of other places around the park, so bring food, water, and anything you’ll need for a day of exploring the region.
The park is open year round but be aware of cold and freezing temperatures during the winter months.
Take a One Tank Trip
We’ve got a list of one tank trip itineraries for several other cities. Check them out below!
- Salt Lake City
- Las Vegas
And don’t forget to head over to RVshare.com if you need an RV rental to start exploring!