Denver to the Grand Canyon
While traveling in the American Southwest, it’s hard not to feel awed by the smooth transition from dry orange desert to thick green forest. One day, you’re watching the lengthening shadows of a sandstone formation, and the next, you’re standing at the edge of a canyon, peering down at a massive surging river. If this sounds like the sort of surreal experience you’d enjoy, plan a road trip from Denver to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders: the Grand Canyon.
- Glenwood Springs
- Gunnison National Forest
- Arches National Park
- Monument Valley
- Tusayan Museum and Ruin
Things to know before you go on your Denver to the Grand Canyon Road Trip
Denver, the capital of Colorado, is often praised for its proximity to nature, but nothing can prepare you for the splendor of the Grand Canyon. The distance between the two is about 680 miles, and this shouldn’t take more than 11 hours to cross if you drive without a break – but why the rush? Our route is around 1,030 miles long, and is best covered over seven to eight days.
Both Denver and the Grand Canyon experience subarid climate, with low humidity and high daytime temperatures, but the daily weather at the Grand Canyon tends to be more variable, so pack accordingly. This is doubly important if you plan to go hiking.
Without further ado, here are some of our favorite stops on the way to the Grand Canyon!
Places to see on your Denver to the Grand Canyon road trip
1. Glenwood Springs
The first stop on your journey is at Glenwood Springs, a small town near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers. The town started out as an informal camp in the 19th century, drawing the attention of adventuring gunslingers from across the state. Today, though, it draws tourists in to see its hot springs and pools. The most popular of its attractions is Spa of the Rockies, which happens to be the largest hot spring pool in the world.
Once you’re done enjoying the warmth of a good bath in the pool, go rafting, kayaking or fishing at either of the rivers nearby. If you’d like to explore the wilderness, head to the White River National Forest, which has over 2500 miles of hiking trails spread over eight wilderness areas. Tired of the heat? The forest even has 12 ski resorts!
2. Gunnison National Forest
Named after Captain John Gunnison, a military explorer who was helping scout land for the construction of a railroad in the mid-1800s, the Gunnison National Forest is a protected area consisting of seven wilderness areas. Its gentle hill slopes and verdant valleys make it a favorite for hikers. In case you’re worried about getting lost here, you can use the CBGtrails mobile application, which can detect recorded trails even when you’re in remote areas.
You have probably read about the Grand Canyon before, but what about the Black Canyon? This spectacular formation plunges almost 2,700 feet in some places, so stay clear of its edges. The Gunnison River, which cuts through the canyon, has plenty of trout for you to catch.
3. Arches National Park
Situated near the town of Moab, the Arches National Park consists of a total of 2000 sandstone arches and other rock formations, many of which are named, and all of which feel magical. Camp here for a day or two if you can. You may also want to get some pictures taken at Courthouse Towers, two rocks that look oddly like office buildings.
Feel free to explore every nook and crevice, but make sure you have someone to watch your back and don’t try climbing precarious formations like the Balanced Rock.
The town of Farmington lies in between three native reservations: the Navajo Reservation, Ute Mountain Reservation, and Southern Ute Reservation. Once, the land on which it stands was settled by the native Pueblo people. Although they are long gone, you can still find traces of their culture at local excavation sites such as the (incorrectly named) Aztec Ruins.
The town’s museums tell the story of the native tribes that moved in after the Pueblos left. One of these tribes was the Navajo; you can learn more about their history and culture at the Farmington Museum. Before you get back on the road, cool off with a quick swim at Farmington Lake!
5. Monument Valley
Each of Monument Valley’s ‘monuments’ is between 400 to 1,000 feet tall, and looks like it could very well be from Mars. This area, so named for its picturesque sandstone hills, is managed by the Navajo Nation as a part of the Monument Valley Tribal Park. Make sure to get their permission before you enter. If you have watched a lot of old movies, it might seem familiar. This is because it was used as a filming location for many Hollywood films by directors such as John Ford.
The best way to explore the area and engage with its history is to hire a Navajo guide. The Navajo are a friendly people, but you may want to do some prior reading to ensure that you respect their social norms.
6. Tusayan Museum and Ruin
The Tusayan Ruin is yet another remnant of the ancient Pueblo culture. Archaeologists have identified it as the site of an 800-year-old tribal village that included living quarters, places of worship, and grain storage chambers. Excavation here is still ongoing, so if you find anything interesting on the ground, don’t keep it; instead, please show it to one of the authorities.
The Tusayan Museum, situated close by, displays delicate artifacts that were recovered from the ruin. It looks like something designed by the Hopi, a native American tribe thought to be descended from the Ancestral Pueblos. Spend a few hours examining its many exhibits, then drive the last few miles to the Grand Canyon – and the next big adventure!