A road trip to Las Vegas is a common rite of passage for young adults in Colorado. The late-night entertainment and gambling wonderland is just a day (or overnight) away, and to add to it, the road through Southern Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada provides some stunning views and unique stops along the way.
Instead of blasting through in one go, we prefer to inch our way through the Colorado mountains and into the open desert.
Although you should expect to drive long stretches with no rest stops or gas stations, the red soil, rocky outcrops and desert vegetation as you get more southern somehow seem to reset the soul–right before you’re bombarded with the flashing lights of Sin City.
Here are our favorite 10 places to stop when road-tripping from Fort Collins in Northern Colorado (and also home to Colorado State University) to Las Vegas.
Welcome to Las Vegas, your final destination — Photo courtesy of Bret Robertson via Flickr
1. Genesee Park
After you get through Denver, you’ll veer off onto I-70, one of the state’s most popular and scenic mountain roads. About a half hour after the city congestion, you’ll reach a small, rarely busy wilderness area called Genesee Mountain. Exit toward Genesee Park for a picnic in pristine wilderness with views far across Denver.
The park itself, perched in a clearing atop a mountain ledge, is rarely busy, but offers conveniences that far beat a grungy truck stock, such as picnic tables, horseshoes, outhouses, a sandbox for the kids and often the sight of elk and deer casually walking through the grounds.
You’ll hit this busy city right before the pricy ski towns, so stop to fill your belly and car. Silverthorne is known among locals for its expansive shopping area, with more than 70 name-brand outlet stores. After you score some sweet swag, you can go fishing for trout on the Blue River, try the skate park or browse the flea market. If you’re on a budget, stay in a cabin here; the rates are dramatically less than just a short drive up the mountain.
Vail is the largest ski resort in North America — Photo courtesy of Connor Walberg
Colorado is known for its skiing, and Vail is one of the most popular ski resorts in the state. It’s the biggest in North America and one of the largest in the world. During ski season, stop here for a few days to enjoy the 5,000-plus acres of slopes, and then browse the shops and five-star restaurants in the quaint, European-inspired downtown. Vail is family-friendly–and also has a reputation for extreme luxury. In fact, you'll find more than 100,000 square-feet of spa services in Vail.
Even when it’s snowy, you’ll often see blue skies here, but don't discount the warmer seasons, you’ll find far fewer tourists and excellent biking, hiking, river expeditions, off-road adventures and camping. Vail is much more than just perfect powder.
Glenwood Springs boasts the world's largest hot springs pool — Photo courtesy of Glenwood Springs Visitor Center
4. Glenwood Springs
This is a must-visit stop as you tour through Colorado. Glenwood Springs is the home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool, known for its natural health benefits and rich history; the water that feeds the spa is considered sacred. The Spa of the Rockies is housed in a unique, historically inspired, sandstone bathhouse.
After you relax, go down the slide, play mini golf, munch at the poolside grill or arrange more Native American-inspired wellness treatments in the award-winning spa. Stay the night here and feel completely rejuvenated for the next stretch of road.
Palisade is Colorado wine country — Photo courtesy of Don Graham
After a day at Colorado’s most famous natural spa, the perfect complement is a tour through the state’s top wine region. Palisade contains more than a quarter of the state’s total wineries. Sample award-winning wine, dine at some of the excellent restaurants and explore the thriving artistic community here, but make sure you experience Palisade’s recreational offerings, too.
Go hiking, rafting, camping, biking, golfing, fishing or even skiing here in season. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in town for a festival or farmers market.
Petroglyphs at the Fremont Indian State Park — Photo courtesy of Ken Lund
6. Fremont Indian State Park and Museum
As you leave Colorado and wind into Utah, expect to see some of the most beautiful stretches of your drive and also be immersed in culture. As the story goes, while building I-70, some incredible ancient Indian artifacts were uncovered–and this hidden gem of a park preserves them today. If you’re using the interstate, it only feels right to stop and educate yourself about the important land through which you’re driving.
Make sure you visit the inexpensive museum, where you can see ancient pottery, weapons, baskets and more, and absolutely take the walking tour. You will walk through the Indian camp and come face-to-face with petroglyphs. Need a pitstop? You can camp here, too.
7. Cedar City
Now you’ll turn off I-70 onto I-15 and head south. After the lengthy remote expanses of land, you’ll be refreshed to stop in Cedar City, Utah. It seems there’s always something happening here, such as the renowned Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Cedar City is embraced by various parks, red hills and golf courses. Nearby, you can also explore the colorful and breathtaking Cedar Breaks National Monument, which looks like a coliseum with deep shelves and intricate natural canyons and columns. For a quirky activity, check out the Frontier Homestead State Park, with its large collection of horse-drawn carriages.
8. Quail Creek State Park
Drive slowly through Southern Utah and keep your camera handy. A road trip doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. A lovely place to stop and explore deeper is the campground at Quail Creek State Park. This remote park in the heart of Utah’s red rocks is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with swimming, fishing (for trout and catfish) or boating in the reservoir with ever-warm water. Weather is mild here, making Quail Creek camping a viable and comfortable option year-round.
The Virgin River gorge — Photo courtesy of Don Graham
9. Virgin River Canyon Campground
A short chunk of the trek to Las Vegas dips into Arizona, so stop at the Virgin River Canyon Campground to get a taste of this state and check it off your travel list. This isolated campground, in the wilderness of Northern Arizona, is about as remote as it gets. Spend some time here and unwind with fishing in the nearby Virgin River, go hiking along the Black Rock Mountain trail and keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep among the rocky cliffs.
Although you’re fully surrounded by nature here, the campground does offer conveniences, such as grills, restrooms and picnic tables.
10. Eureka Casino Resort
You’ll know you’ve made it to Nevada when you see a sign for the Eureka Casino Resort. This luxurious resort is a different way to experience the Las Vegas glam and gambling, amid luscious golf courses and dozens of acres of open space; that’s not something you’ll experience on The Strip.
But you’ll still get the quintessential Las Vegas experience, with plenty of casino games, an elegant outdoor swimming pool, live entertainment, palm trees and multiple on-site dining options. Book a spa treatment, such as a poolside massage, to fully relax before you arrive to the flashing lights and clanging slots in your final destination.