6 National Parks in 14 Days: Another Epic Summer Road Trip

Can you guess our family’s favorite way to travel?  If you guessed a road trip- you are right!  We love jumping in the car and heading to places where the internet and cell service are scarce, but the beauty of the outdoors is abundant.   We welcome pausing the rush of everyday tasks and to do lists, and instead, focus on family time, exploring the outdoors, and creating an endless supply of memories😊

Two other things our family loves- National Parks and hiking!  If your family does too, then this is definitely the road trip for you!  This 14-day itinerary winds through Colorado and Utah taking you to 6 incredible National Parks- Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve.  Below you will find a full schedule and a few of our tips and tricks to get you through these lovely parks and amazing road trip!  As always, please reach out with any questions and we wish you a wonderful adventure!

Must Know Before You Go

  • This road trip itinerary starts and stops in Denver, Colorado.  However, because it is a full loop, you could start at any location on the loop depending on where you live or flights available.  If you are driving instead of flying, you can head directly home from the Great Sand Dunes.  You will only need to drive back to Denver if you have a flight to catch. 
  • For this itinerary,  I highly recommend an America the Beautiful Pass.  It covers the entrance fees for over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including all National Parks.  It also makes your entrance into most parks a little quicker😊 If you have a 4th grader in your crew, check out Every Kid Outdoors to get a free National Park Pass instead!
  • The only parks on this itinerary that require tickets or reservations are Rocky Mountain National Park and Arches National Park. 
  • Throughout this road trip itinerary, there are add on days if you have extra time.  If you start this itinerary on a Friday, you will have 16 days to work with, instead of 14.  Also, we always try and schedule part of our trip around a holiday to get us a few more days without using any more vacation time from work. 
  • If you click on any park name throughout the itinerary it will take you to a park specific post with more information on lodging, dining, cell service, and trail tips for that specific park. 
  • Road trip packing/lodging tip: We try and make sure our midway lodging option has laundry services so that we only have to pack clothing items for one week instead of two😊


Rocky Mountain National Park

  • A timed entry ticket is required May 26th through October 22nd for the 2023 season.  This is in addition to a park pass. 
  • A timed entry ticket is required from 9am to 2pm everywhere in the park except the Bear Lake Corridor, which requires a timed entry from 5am to 6pm. 
  • Timed entry tickets can be found at Recreation.gov.  They are $2 per day.
  • The tickets are released in one-month blocks, one month in advance.  For example, if you are visiting the park June 15th, timed entry tickets for that day are available for purchase May 1st.  
  • If you miss the initial release, there is another block of tickets released at 5pm MST the day prior to the visit day. 

Arches National Park

  • A timed entry ticket is required April 1st through October 31st for the 2023 season.  This is also in addition to a park pass.
  • A timed entry ticket is required 7am to 4pm. 
  • Timed entry tickets can be found at Recreation.gov.  They are $2 per day.
  • Tickets are released in one-month blocks, 3 months in advance.  For example, if the the visit date is June 15th, tickets are available to purchase March 1st.
  • If you miss the initial release, there is a very limited number of tickets released at 6 pm MST the day prior to the visit date. 

Day 1

  • Fly into Denver, CO. 
  • Rent a vehicle.
  • Drive to Estes Park, CO (78 mi.).


  • Drive straight to Estes Park, CO from your home base.

*If you are driving from the Midwest, Kansas City, MO or Lincoln, NE are both good stopping points for making your way out to Colorado depending on your route.

Day 2

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Trail Ridge Road (48 mi. one-way)
  • Tundra Communities Trail (1.2 mi.)
  • Alpine Visitor Center
  • Alpine Ridge Trail (0.6 mi.)
  • Milner Pass/Poudre Lake/Ute Trail
  • Coyote Valley Trail (1 mi.)
  • East Inlet Trail (0.8 mi.)

Day 3

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Nymph/Dream/Emerald Lake (3.5 mi.)
  • Bear Lake (0.6 mi.)
  • Moriane Park Discovery Center
  • Sprague Lake (0.8 mi.)

Day 4

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Alberta Falls/The Loch(5.7 mi.)

OR (if you are feeling extra adventurous)

  • Alberta Falls/The Loch/Sky Pond (9.3 mi.)

Optional Add on Day

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Wild Basin Trail to Ouzel Falls (5.5 mi.)
  • Lily Lake (0.8 mi.)

Day 5

  • Drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park’s North Rim. (~295 mi. from Estes Park)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (North Rim)

  • North Rim Ranger Station
  • North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point (3 mi.)
  • Chasm View Nature Trail (0.5 mi.)
  • The Narrows View
  • Balanced Rock View
  • Big Island View
  • Island Peaks View
  • Kneeling Camel View

*It is 75 miles between the North and South Rims of Black Canyon. There are campgrounds on both sides, so if you are camping you could choose to stay on either side this evening. However, most hotel options are on the South Rim in Montrose, CO. We drove to Montrose, CO the evening of Day 5. Montrose, CO is just 10 minutes from the South Rim Entrance. It was a lot of driving on day 5 but made for a much easier morning on day 6!

Day 6

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (South Rim/East Portal Road)

  • Tomichi Point
  • Visitor Center/Gunnison Point
  • Pulpit Rock Overlook
  • Cross Fissures View (0.4 mi.)
  • Rock Point (0.4 mi.)
  • Devils Lookout (0.6 mi.)
  • Chasm View
  • Painted Wall View
  • Cedar Point (0.4 mi.)
  • Dragon Point (0.4 mi.)
  • Sunset View
  • High Point/Warner Point Trail (1.5 mi.)
  • East Portal Road/Primitive Trail (0.8 mi.)
  • Drive to Moab, Utah (185 mi.)

Day 7

Arches National Park

  • Landscape Arch/Pine Tree Arch/Tunnel Arch (2.5 mi.)
  • Skyline Arch (0.5 mi.)
  • Fiery Furnace Viewpoint
  • Salt Valley Overlook
  • Sane Dune Arch/Broken Arch/Tapestry Arch (3 mi.)

Day 8

Arches National Park

  • North Window/South Window/Turret Arch (1.2 mi.)
  • Double Arch (0.8 mi.)
  • Balanced Arch (0.3 mi.)
  • Petrified Dune Viewpoint
  • Park Avenue Trail (2 mi.)
  • Delicate Arch (3 mi.)

Day 9

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky District)

  • Island in the Sky Visitor Center
  • Mesa Arch (0.7 mi.)
  • Upheaval Dome (0.7-1.3 mi.)
  • Whale Rock (1 mi.)
  • Holeman Spring Canyon Overlook
  • Green River Overlook (0.2 mi.)
  • Candlestick Tower Overlook
  • Buck Canyon Overlook (0.2 mi.)
  • Orange Cliffs Overlook
  • Grandview Point Overlook/Trail (1.8 mi.)
  • Shafer Canyon Overlook (0.3 mi.)
  • Sunset at Dead Horse State Park

Optional Add on Day

Canyonlands National Park (The Needles District)

  • The Needles Visitor Center
  • Roadside Ruin (0.3 mi.)
  • Cave Spring (0.8 mi.)
  • Wooden Shoe Overlook
  • Picnic Area
  • Pothole Point (0.6 mi.)
  • Big Spring Overlook (0.3 mi.)
  • Elephant Hill (miles vary)
  • Newspaper Rock
  • The Needles Overlook (0.5 mi.)

Day 10

  • Drive to Mesa Verde National Park from Moab, UT(124 mi.).

Mesa Verde National Park (Wetherill Mesa)

  • Mesa Verde Visitor Center and Research Center
  • Step House (1 mi.)
  • Long House (2 mi.)- requires advance ticket/reservation.
  • Badger House Community/ Long House Overlook (2-3 mi.)
  • Far View Sites (1 mi.)
  • Park Point Overlook (0.4 mi.)

Day 11

Mesa Verde National Park (Chapin Mesa)

  • Spruce Tree House (0.25 mi.)
  • Petroglyph Point Trail (3 mi.)
  • Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
  • Cliff Palace Tour (0.25 mi.)
  • Balcony House Tour (0.25 mi.)
  • Mesa Top Loop
  • Cedar Tree Tower/Farming Terrace Trail (0.5 mi.)
  • Montezuma Valley Overlook

Day 12

  • Drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Mesa Verde National Park (200 mi.).

Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • Visitor Center
  • Sand Sheet Loop Trail (0.4 mi.)
  • Sand Pit Trail (0.6 mi. from point of no return lot)
  • Explore Medano Creek (~0.5-3 mi.)
  • Zapata Falls Trail (1 mi.)
  • Sunset: Sand Sledding/Stargazing

Day 13

Great Sand Dunes National Park

  • Hike to High Dune (2.5 mi.)
  • Explore Dunefield
  • Dunes Overlook Trail (3 mi.)
  • Sunset:  Sand Sledding/Stargazing

Day 14

  • Drive from the Dunes to Denver, CO to fly home (250 mi.)


  • Head home from the dunes!
family photo for Always Exploring

Meet the Johnsons

Welcome to Always Exploring! We are the Johnsons. We would love to have you follow along as we explore the world one adventure at a time! Here you will find itineraries to all of our explorations that will hopefully be helpful in your own adventure planning!

One response to “6 National Parks in 14 Days: Another Epic Summer Road Trip”

  1. Your itinerary is good. Personally, I would opt for the add-on day in Rocky Mountain and spend only one day at the Sand Dunes or Black Canyon. Also, the route passes right by Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction. It would only add an hour to take Rimrock Drive through the park. In my opinion it is a worthy addition to this epic road trip.

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