Last minute vacay: 5 Colorado road trips for a quick getaway

Jonny Rhein

The summer days are dwindling. The time to plan an elaborate trip abroad is running out. Luckily, Colorado is a wondrous state that embodies all sorts of different atmospheres and views regardless of time.

Here are some last minute road trips that can be squeezed in before summer ends.

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1. Westcliffe & Silver Cliff, CO

  • From Fort Collins: 3 h 46 min (209.7 mi) via I-25 S
the starry night sky, the milky way, and the dark ground
A long exposure shot of the Milky Way near Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, Colorado (Photo courtesy of Curtis Urban)

Many people have gotten the opportunity to camp in a remote area and witness the beauty of the starry night sky, but few have experienced the stars like this.

The average adventurer may not have heard of these little Colorado towns, but Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are a unique getaway. Combined, the population of these two towns is 1,139 people. Each resident makes it a point to reduce light pollution because of city ordinances and a shared fascination of a perfectly clear night sky. The sky here is among the darkest on Earth and people travel from far distances to see it. A telescope and a friend are suggested.

2. Great Sand Dunes National Park- Mosca, CO

Great sand dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in the San Luis Valley and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Springtime is the most popular time, as the Medano Creek runs in front of the dunes, making it a great Colorado “beach” destination. (Sarah Ehrlich| Collegian)
  • From Fort Collins: 4 h 59 min (286.1 mi) via US Hwy 285 S 

No one can truly get a feel for this national park unless you stand before the sandy peaks that seem photoshopped against the mighty Sangre De Cristo mountain range. These dunes were created over tens of thousands of years thanks to sand deposits by mountain streams and playa lakes and a predominant southwest wind carrying them to a nestled corner of the San Luis Valley. 

Walking up the dunes that can reach over 700 feet is a serious glute workout that can certainly be felt the next day along with pouring sand out of your shoes for the next two months. Regardless, this national park receives 320,000 visitors annually. Campsite reservations are available in advance, or guests can take chances with the first-come, first-served camping policy.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park, CO 

Macy Tramblay, 18, appreciates the spectacular view in a hike at the Rocky Mountain National Park. (Abbie Parr| Collegian)
  • From Fort Collins: 1 h 16 min (45.2 mi) via US-34 W

How could this massive 358 square mile park not be on this list? Bear Lake is a popular destination but there are countless other trails, and each stands alone in its own beauty.

If waterfalls are on the summer bucket list, try Sky Pond, because the only way to get there is climbing a waterfall. For those wanting to try their hand at summiting a 14er, Longs Peak is a challenge with some incredible sights. Designated camping areas in the park exist, but make sure to reserve them in advance.

4. St. Mary’s Glacier- Idaho Springs, CO

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  • From Fort Collins: 1 h 55 min (104.2 mi) via I-25 S and I-70 W 
St. Mary's glacier, a lake, a rock, clouds and mountains
St. Mary’s Glacier (Photo courtesy of Kevin Ekmark)

At above 10,000 feet in elevation at the bottom, St. Mary’s Glacier has some of the best views in Colorado, especially at the top. People of all ages hang out here because of the easy hiking, cliff diving and overall peacefulness. Not to mention, free entry. Bring a dog, a hammock and relax, or attend the Glacierfest 2018 on Aug 11th for live music, food and drinks.

5. Hanging Lake – Glenwood Canyon, CO

  • From Fort Collins: 3 h 32 min (215.7 mi) via I-70 W
hanging lake surrounded by trees and mountains
Hanging Lake (Photo courtesy of John Sercel)

Hanging Lake is a great day trip idea, but is no longer exactly a hidden gem.  People constantly filter in and out at Hanging Lake and it easy to see why. The pristine, clear water brings people from all over the country year-round. The parking lot fills quickly, so it is best to arrive early (or late). Be cautious though – there are strict rules in place to keep the water crystal clear.

Collegian reporter Jonny Rhein can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @jonnyrhein.