We outlined an awesome Mountain Bucket list for North Carolina in our last post. To our surprise , it created a flow of greater traffic than any other blog posts so far. So here is another one for all you Mountain , Camp , Hike and Roadtrip lovers.
Today I will be sharing a comprehensive route for anyone who have only 1 week to explore but still covering 3 states- Texas , New Mexico and Colorado. I promise you all that the information on this post will certainly be one stop for planning an awesome trip for you and your family. All the important links for reservation , trail maps and other resources are at bottom of this blog.
A week is definitely not enough and you’ll still miss a lot of great spots in these state (I mean you could spend months traveling just Colorado itself) but this suggested itinerary hits some of the well known spots at a relaxed pace. No rush, drive just few hours a day and slowly soak in all the beauty.
Just a note, while reading you will notice a section called “Other Activities” where you can find more popular spots beside top suggested activities to design your own trip your way.
If you have more than 1 week to travel , watch out for the next post on this series for 14 day itinerary. Subscribe or follow us for notifications of next post.
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Also checkout these quick tips for cross state road trips on budget.
Day 1: Austin to Lubbock
We currently live in Austin,Texas. This is where we started our trip. Austin has a lot to offer but since we are locals , we did not stop anywhere in Austin for this trip.
Here are the major activities along main pit stops in sequence as they appear in highway from Austin to up North towards New , Mexico.
Top Suggested activities:
1. Brownwood, Texas: Unique Train Museum, Not boring for adults !!
I never mention museums in my blog as I find them mostly boring but this one is an exception.
- Martin & Frances Lehnis Railroad Museum , features a real train that was widely in use 1900 for cross cities travel.You can walk inside the actual train and travel back in time.
- Miniature trains moving around miniature city, mountains and tunnels
- Old ticket counters with typewriters, money vault, real and old train tickets
- Ride on Mini trains on Saturdays.Yes adults too.
2.Roscoe, Texas : Biggest Wind Farm in World
- Roscoe wind farm (RWF) is the largest onshore wind farm in the world.
- Get surrounded by an amazing view of more than 620 wind turbines right along the highway . Just pull over and see this amazing site.
3.Lubbock, Texas: Local Country Style Food
Local Steakhouses in Lubbock. If you love food , this can definitely be the sole reason to travel to Lubbock. Out of several options we tried “Bryan’s Steaks”
- People literally standing in long lines for several minutes like food is given out for free. Food is cheap but obviously not free!! Long lines but they move fast and definitely worth the wait.
- Salad bar with compulsory gloves as covid precaution.Items include fried okra, hush puppy sticks, spaghetti, mac and cheese, nachos chips, several melted cheese, creamy potato salad,
- Free Full fat ice cream made from local cows with every meal
- Super yummy , value for money, juicy steaks.
- Cheap comfortable hotels for spending the first night of a road trip. We spent 55$ for 1 night ; breakfast and tax included.
Try these local steaks houses and if you don’t like it , you can come back and kick my but t.
Pro Tip: Have cash handy as many local food places don't take cards.
- 5 minutes from the Train Museum in Brownwood you can head over to the insta worthy Runaway Train Cafe to enjoy food in a train-now-turned diner.
- Further 10 minutes from Train Museum in Brownwood, head towards “Spirits of Texas Winery” to take a selfie at “I love you & wine so much mural” or enjoy some home made wine in front of old bus
- If you are travelling with kids or if you like history and museums , there are tons of activities in Lubbock like Legacy play village,American Wind Power Center,Museum of Texas Tech University, etc.
Day 2: Lubbock, Texas to Raton, New Mexico:
After that awesome steak dinner at Lubbock a day before and it’s time to hit the road again.
Top Suggested Activities
1.Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas : Second Largest Canyon in US
We started our day early at 6 am and reached our trail head in Palo Duro State park around 7.30 am. Though its worth spending night camping and trying all different trails ,we did only one trail and spent around 3 hours in this park.
- Second-largest canyon system in the United States after Grand Canyon.
- If visiting only for a few hours, go for “LightHouse trail” with the park’s most iconic lighthouse rock formation. 2.3 miles one way. Take plenty of water and go as early in the morning as possible. Pretty bad heat related incident has happened on this trail.
- If you like the park and want to spend more than a day to cover all 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, plan to book a camping site in advance. There are 4 sites with water, electricity, and public restrooms. Unique stays like Canyon rim cabins , Cow cabins and Glamping sites are available but expensive and hard to book due to high demand.
2.Amarillo, Texas: Insta Facebook worthy Graffiti Cars
After leaving Palo Duro , we reached Amarillo within 30 minutes drive.The city of Amarillo is part of the historic Route 66 and a pretty big city with tons of activities.
- Car Graffiti at Amarillo Cadillac Ranch: The colorful art installation is an ode to Route 66. Initially installed in 1900, it features 10 Cadillac cars buried nose down and covered in Graffiti. Over the years , visitors slowly ripped off part of the car as a souvenir leaving it bare to bones like it stands today.Get a spray paint on your own or use one of the leftovers from other visitors. Car is all yours to paint, however you like.
- Visit the 6th Street Historic District on Route 66. Route 66–the spirit of american road trips from decades. You’ll find everything from classic cars to local restaurants to murals to antique shops.
- Good place to stay if you want to explore more. We spent only an hour there and headed towards the next spot before it closes for the day.
3.Capulin Volcano Mountain , New Mexico: Easy Drive to mouth of Volcano
Congratulations!! We just hit a new state, New Mexico.
We reached around 2.30 pm just 1 hour 30 minutes before it closes at 4pm. If you can’t reach here by 4, you can definitely visit while heading back home.
AFter a long hike at Palo duro already , we were not up for more hike. But this one was perfect for below reasons:
- Easy drive to top of Volcano Mountain in less than 10 minutes.
- 0.2 miles trails from parking lot to center of this inactive volcano
- Beautifully weird rocks and plant formations due to molten lava 100 years ago.
- Less than 1 mile hike around the entire rim of Volcano Mountain and back to the parking lot.
- Amazing 360 view of Sand dunes and deserts of New Mexico before we start seeing mountains in Colorado.
4.Raton , New Mexico: Hunting , Range shooting and Cheap hotels
Finally, in the next 30 minutes drive we reached Raton. Raton City looks pretty amazing at night.
- Cheap hotels to spend the night and get ready for Colorado.
- If you love shooting ranges and hunting, you can definitely spent few more hours next day at NRA Whittington Center before heading to next destination. We only visited Caplin Volcano mountain.
- In Amarillo, see monstrous Madame Queen Train, Amarillo zoo,3rd largest theme park in Texas, challenge yourself to free steak at “The Big Texan Steak Ranch”,botanical garden, etc.
- Camp , ride horse or cycle in Palo Duro Canyon State Park
- Elks, Deers , Bison , eagles and bird watching at Vermejo Park Ranch in Raton. Mountain biking, cycling , hiking and sight seeing also available.
Day 3-4: Colorado Springs, Colorado
As soon as you leave Raton, New Mexico border and enter Trinidad , Colorado, mountains start welcoming you. First it’s brown stone mountains, then slowly snow covered white mountains. Based on where you are staying, you can plan your activities for two days but don’t forget to include these top attractions.
Pro Tip: There is a rule in Colorado - " It's Illegal to Leave Colorado WITHOUT Cannabis Product. If you are cannabis enthusiast,buying in bulk at less crowded place like Trinidad, Pueblo will be more cheaper than Denver or Colorado springs.
Top Suggested Activities
1.Pikes Peak : The Snowcapped Mountain
In around 2 hours drive form Raton, we reached Colorado Springs. Out of tons of activities below at pikes peak , we just tried one i.e. driving the car to top of summit and playing with snow. Of course we stopped at several lookout points and walked less than 10 minutes to see Crystal Reservoir, historic Glen Cove, view of entire Colorado Spring settlement below, Garden of gods and so on.
- Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in North America at height 14,115 ft. You can reach the summit by car and back in around 3-4 hours, by cycle by 4-5 hours and hiking 14er through Baar Trail is 6-7 hour (one way). Hiker often go half way up , spend the night camping then summit the next day and come down.
- It’s about 19 miles to the top summit from entrance and there are about 164 twist and turns on the road with gradual gain in elevation and awesome Alpine scenery.
- I f you don’t want to drive yourself , get to the top in popular train called Cog Railway. Tour options on vans or coach are also available by Grey Line.
- Adventures-out-west and other outfitter also provide wide variety of adventurous activities like Zip-line in forest , hot air balloons, jeep ride, rock climbing , cycling , guided hikes.
Pro Tip: Eat doughnuts at Summit (closed when we travelled), make snow man and wear wind proof jackets.
2. Garden Of Gods: Dramatic Red Rock Mountain Formation
Garden Of Gods is truly and unique place on earth. That is why more than 4 million people around the world visit Garden of Gods every year. We spend around 6 hours hiking in this place but if you decide to do just Perkins Central Garden Trail (1.5 miles ), you can finish it in an hour and still see most important landmarks of this park.
- Imagine dramatic views of tall all red , 300′ towering sandstone rock formations , on top of that, imagine a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak that we discussed above. That’s why it’s a Garden worth for Gods. But we get to see it for free. Lucky us!!
- These rock are believed to be formed 300 million years ago.
- The accessibility of the Garden of the Gods make it a destination that really anyone can enjoy.
- Popular destination for technical rock climbing. Other activities like Segway tours and cycling also available.
Pro Tip: Before you start hiking in Garden of the Gods, make sure to stop by the Visitor Center at the corner of Gateway Rd and North 30th St. Here you can pick up color hiking trail maps.
3.The Incline: Gain nearly 2,000 feet of elevation over less than 1 mile.
Yes you heard it right. 2000 feet in just 1 mile. It was one of the most unique and challenging trail we ever tried.
- The trail is rated as difficult and recommended for physically active people and advanced hikers only. It’s not ADA accessible. And it can take first responders up to 4 hours to reach you if you meet with any medical issue on the trail.
- The Manitou Incline’s average grade for the trail is 45 percent but in some places, it is gets steep as 68 percent.
- Its just a stair with 2,768 steps. It can take you 30 minutes to 1 hour or more to reach to top
- You can hike down through four miles of the Barr Trail. Though you will see locals goings downhill through Incline itself, it is strongly discouraged.
Pro Tip: Parking can be found at 10 Old Man's Trail at the Hiawatha Gardens building. It costs about $1/hour. Take the picture of parking ticket and show it at entrance. A shuttle that travel every 15 minutes will take you to entrance. Entrance and shuttle are free. Reservations are required in advanced. Book at least 2 days early and go in early morning as possible to avoid sun, take tons of water and snack.
4.Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: America’s only Mountain Zoo at highest elevation.
- Our best experience was feeding Giraffes.
- Mountaineer Sky Ride is a chairlift-style, open-air Sky Ride to see spectacular views of the Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs and its alpine surroundings.
- Get up-close and have hands-on experiences like chicken feeding, touching creepy crawling insects at my Big Backyard.
- Over 700 species including hippos, penguins, giraffes , bears, tigers, insects, amphibians, birds, ponies, flamingos, bees, elephants, wolves,etc.
Pro Tip: Book at-least 5 days in advance to get the tickets.
5. Royal George Bridge:Home of America’s Highest Suspension Bridge & Zip Line
- Royal Gorge Bridge is suspension bridge 1,053 feet above the Arkansas river over looking 1,200 foot canyon i.e. Royal Gorge.
- Walk over the bridge or enjoy view from Gandola.
- All thrill-seekers out there , please add The Cloudscraper ZipRider , North America’s highest zip-line to your bucket-list. Need more rush, try World’s Scariest Sky-coaster, “The Royal Rush Sky-coaster” which will give you free fall above the river.
- Manitou Cliff Dwelling: About 700 years old, unique pueblo structure settlement that demonstrates the architecture of the Taos Pueblo Indians. You can learn how ancestors slept, ate and had fun.
- Try the most popular route for climbing to the Pikes Peak summit called Barr Trail. A 13-mile trek with a gain of 8,000 feet in elevation that starts in Manitou Springs. Camp if you want to complete at relaxed pace in 2 days.
- “Race To the Clouds“, aka Pikes Peak International Hill climb is an annual car race event. Occurs on last Sunday of June. What takes normal person 2 hours , these elite racers can reach to top in less than 10 minutes. Imagine the speed!
- Rock Climbing at Garden of Gods. Climbing permit and gear details below.
- Cave of the Wind Mountain park has Gorgeous limestone cave with multiple tour options.
- Seven Falls water fall is another popular destination we never got to see but heard about a lot from locals.
- Downtown of Colorado springs is pretty cool with tons of unique places to eat. But oh man!! the lines can be daunting, up-to 2 hours wait time on weekends.
Day 5: Denver , Colorado:
It’s a last day before heading back home on this week itinerary. We spend only one day at Denver and drove another 3 hours to reach Steam Boat Springs to enjoy rest of our vacation in a resort. Look out for our next post on longer itinerary with some awesome frozen lakes, isolated mountain roads surrounded by more snow capped mountains, natural hot springs , waterfalls right at the source falling from melting mountains and more.
Denver is a popular tourist destination with tons of activities and easily accessible by plane. Since we were on road trip , instead of spending more time in Denver, we decided to go on lesser known more remote place like Steamboat Springs. We are planning to fly to Denver , probably next year and spend whole week there. Besides, round trip flights to Denver are less than 100$ from Austin :).
1.Rocky Mountain National Park: Hike and Scenic Drive with Alpine vistas, towering peaks, Mountain Lake , Waterfalls and Big Horn sheep
Fun Fact : ROCKY Mountain is one of the highest national park in the world with almost sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 ft and many of those even top out 13,000.
We started for Rockies mountain from Colorado Springs early in the morning and reached in 2 hours 15 minutes.
Here is an itinerary for a perfect day at Rocky Mountain which include perfect combination of hike , scenic drive and top spots. Best on if you are travelling with kids, want to hike more or less or if you can accommodate to higher altitude, you can choose one of several activities below:
- Bear Lake Trail head is start of several beautiful hikes.
- We did Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake Trail . In this trails you can see 4 beautiful lakes in Alpine setting in short round trip hike of 4.2 miles. If you want to hike less then ,Bear Lake is the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bear Lake hike is less than a mile in length and takes about 30 minutes.
- If you prefer waterfall, Alberta Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike about 2 miles round-trip from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Great if you are travelling with kids.
After finishing hike at Bear Lake , we hopped on our car for best scenic drive in Rocky Mountain National Park. From Bear Lake Road, turn left onto Highway 36 and continue on to Trail Ridge Road.
- As you drive on Trail Ridge Road, you will find numerous overlooks like Many parks Curve, Forest Canyon Overlook, Fairview Curve, etc.
- We also recommend visiting Alpine Visitor Center, the highest visitor center in the USA and take a very short hike of Alpine Ridge Trail, a stair climb to the top. The views will take your breathe away. We also saw big heard of elks in Alpine Ridge Trail.
- Grab a lunch at Café at Trail Ridge right next to Alpine Visitor Center.
While heading back to Denver we stopped at Pearl street in Boulder to spend a relaxed evening and rest of the night.
Pro Tips: *Reach Bear Lake parking as early as possible as it fills up fast. If you are late and can't find parking space, drive back down to Bear Lake Road to Park and then take free park shuttle back to Bear Lake. *Get Timed Entry Permit in order to enter park if you're visiting between May 28 through October 11 to Rocky Mountain National Park
2.Boulder Downtown: Evening at Pearl Street
Good stop to spend evening while heading back to Denver after a good hike at Rocky Mountain.
- Pearl Street, a street lined with restaurants, shops and people watching. Stroll the brick-paved pedestrian walkway, linger on sun-dappled benches and restaurant patios, and stop to watch only-in-Boulder street performers.
- Pearl Street was named as one of the Ten Best Foodies Streets in America, by Food & Wine magazine. There are nearly 120 restaurants to choose from.
- Unique and lively street performance by artist like piano, violin, live music, etc makes Pearl Street the heart and soul of Boulder.
3. 16th street Denver: Breakfast and Head back home
Next day, waking up early and a good having breakfast before heading back home would be a nice idea.
- Fountains and the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
- Street Performances , music and restaurants
- If you have time , visit hotspots in Denver Downtown by Pedicab.
4. Buffalo Overlook:
- On your way back home you can visit Buffalo Overlook which is just 30 minutes away from downtown Denver.
- BUFFALO Overlook has an observation deck with great views of bison herds roaming.
- If you have more time in Denver and you don’t get tired of driving, visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve which is 230mi (370km) from Denver. You will see some of the tallest sand dunes on the continent
- If you are planning to camp and spend more time hiking or horse riding , visit White River National Forest which is about 70 miles from Denver.
- If you don’t want to travel further up , and your home is down south, go back down to Colorado Spring and finish off few activities that you may not have completed earlier.