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Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Sydney, Australia
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Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Hey folks!

I'm using my very first TA post to ask for a bit of help from the Colorado forum, please. :) This October I'm hoping to kick off a scenic driving tour of Colorado and I'd love some comments or suggestions. The end goal is actually Yellowstone, but CO is my priority and with it starting on the 4th Oct, I'm hoping Fall hasn't completely fallen, and that there's still some great tree colouring about. We're arriving from Australia and doing a family a trip around the Grand Circle, and I decided to leave that after the Grand Canyon (South) and continue on my own. Picking up a car in Flagstaff on the 3rd and doing the day long drive up to Cortez. Then it begins!

Things I love:

Scenic drives! Long hours in the car doesn't bother me. (Open road, and all that). Mountains/Lakes/Trees

Short hikes (under 2 hours or so)

Food / beer. :)

Interesting towns.

Things I could happily skip:

Touristy attractions

Cultural buildings

Cities

Long tours (more than a few hours)

I spent some time reading scenic drives forums and tried to find a nice way to link a good few of them together, whilst still letting me head towards Wyoming. The start date is fixed, but the end date is open until I book flights.

4th Oct.

Day 1: Cortez to Ouray. Travelling the 550 section of the San Juan Skyway drive, and maybe detouring to do the quick Alpine Loop (near Tower Mt, at Silverton). Should I do a second day here and give Mesa Verde a proper viewing? Stay O/N at Ouray

Day 2: Ouray to Glenwood Springs (or nearby): Mostly a scenic driving day, but again, would a 2nd day be better to allow a quick detour to Telluride, and then perhaps do Kebler Pass on the 2nd day?

Day 3: Keen to do the drive up to Aspen, maybe go to Maroon Bells, then back down to Twin Lakes and stay O/N at Leadville.

Day 4: Top of the Rockies drive - from Leadville it's that loop north, then back and around. Then from Leadville thought about looping south and back north again to do Guanella Pass, or maybe just go to Breckenridge? Either way, I'd like to end up within striking distance of Mt Evans. (Stay at Idaho Springs?)

Day 5: Up and down Mt Evans! Followed by the Peak to Peak hwy, and stay O/N at Estes Park.

Day 6: Trail Ridge Road... Eventually ending up around Steamboat Springs. Or do I need a second night in Estes Park to do some exploring?

Day 7: Steamboat Springs north and into Wyoming, through Battle Pass, maybe to Saratoga or nearby for O/N.

And that's the Colorado leg! Lots of driving, to be sure, but I love it. :) I can slot in an extra day or two, and would be most grateful for some advice on where might be the best spots for that, if needed. Also trying to keep accommodation budget down, but if there are any places I absolutely MUST stay, please do let me know! Same with Natural must-see's.

(Also, just to round it out, this was my proposed run up to Yellowstone, getting there I guess on or around the 12th... no park amenities then, but fewer tourists! Please comment on that too, by all means. The whole trip is no doubt overly ambitious)

D8: Long haul drive to Cody

D9: Enter YNP from the East, head north, stay O/N at Gardiner

D10: South to West Yellowstone or Old Faithful (wherever I can stay)

D11: South to Jackson, and the Grand Tetons

D12: Long drive to Salt Lake City.

D13: Turn in the car, flight to LA in the morning, flight to Sydney in the evening!

Thanks again for any comments or suggestions! Be it drives, or accommodation, or food!

Cheers,

Dean.

NJ
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1. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Although i have been to Colorado several times, i am no expert BUT i'll give my two cents on what i think is neat...you already have 550 on your list. i really enjoyed Black Canyon of the Gunnison, did more view points than hiking here. Colorado national monument outside of grand junction, co., shorter neat hikes, Love Grand Lake Co - the western end of trail ridge road.wander down the colorado river trail- the river is more like a creek at this point then compare it to how it looks in the grand canyon! liked wandering (and skiing) in Telluride, Liked driving to aspen and took the loop but some routes close in winter and october may or may not be problematic, but i think you are early enough that all roads would be open. Liked durango, was going to recommend old fall river road which parallels trail ridge road but it is closed to flood damage from the fierce floods that ravaged the eastern communities around rocky mountain national park.

If you want interesting drives and you are headed to yellowstone, you may want to try the beartooth hwy. (think it will be open). this is a BEAUTIFUL road. I drove from yellowstone lake up to red lodge then 212 (the bear tooth) to cooke city/gardiner. because it is high, it might NOT be open in October or have temporary closures. but it is a must see if you like driving. also the drive from gardiner into mamouth springs in yellowstone (which should be open and operating) is beautiful and you need to be on the look out for antelope and big horn sheep. (along with coyotes)

WestSlope,CO
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2. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Welcome to Trip Advisor and the Colorado forums, DeanV!

You may also want to read and post on the road trip forum and the Yellowstone forum, but you'll find lots of information here, too, because many Colorado lovers have made similar trips.

I'll jump in with my 2 cents' worth.

Yes, it is an ambitious trip, but a very beautiful one and if you love scenic drives you will love this one. You should still see some fall color the first week of October, barring any big winds or snowstorms. The aspen will probably be a little past peak, but their neighbors, the cottonwoods, should be beautiful in the canyons and along the rivers. Oak brush and other shrubby plants will still be showing color, too...some years that's gorgeous, too, painting the hillsides with shades of red, rust, and chestnut.

You will need to be prepared for all weather conditions and the possibility of snow, although your chances are good that weather will cooperate in early October. You can find lots of information on winter driving on these forums and on the Dept. of Transportation websites like www.cotrip.org and good articles out there on the web. It sounds like you will have some flexibility in your schedule. I would allow yourself a couple of "flex days" at the end of your trip in case you have to wait out bad weather. For example, plan on driving to your car drop off point two or even three days before you are to leave.

Okay...some specifics. I think you can skip Mount Evans, as it will be closed. tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g33388-i253-k68201… As far as the other high altitude roads, keep an eye on road and weather conditions, as these can be closed at any time (sometimes temporary, sometimes for the season) due to weather.

Re: Day 1-2. Yes, I would add a day here to see Mesa Verde if you are at all interested. It is a national treasure, a World Heritage site, and a must-see if you are anywhere close. (I guess that makes it a tourist attraction, but not in the way I think you mean.) You are going to want to add a couple of days in Southwest Colorado, IMO, so that you can see the area around Telluride, which qualifies as one of the most interesting towns on your route! I would plan 3-4 days in the area. You will not be able to drive the Alpine Loop, as it is an unpaved road and so prohibited by rental car agreements--much of it suitable only for 4 wheel drive high clearance vehicles. (Weather permitting, you could rent a jeep, or take a jeep tour.) I would add a stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose. Very dramatic scenery there, too, and you can get a good sample in just a couple of hours.

As you pass Kebler pass, you'll come to Redstone, another tiny town with an interesting history. I would include Glenwood Canyon east from Glenwood Springs in your drive somehow, if you can work it in.

Yellowstone in mid to late October presents some challenges...i.e. all the gas stations in the park are closed after the 17th, I believe. And you are very likely to have snow. I'm thinking it might be better to drive through Southwest Colorado, then north to Yellowstone from Grand Junction, then back to Colorado from Cody, and depart from Denver. Hmmm, worth a thought, anyway.

Fruita, Colorado
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3. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Welcome to TripAdvisor. You have some great fall days in CO ahead of you but I'm not sure how your trip to WY will pan out since it may be more like winter if it snows there. We've been there in late Sept. and found ourselves trapped in West Yellowstone - the park's roads were closed due to heavy snow and we never did get to see all of the park even when they did reopen some of the roads. You may want to rethink your itinerary and do YNP before the Grand Canyon/Grand Circle, then come back to CO and fly out of Denver. You want to see CO around the last week of Sept. or the first week of Oct. generally. It may be more expensive but you would for sure be able to see YNP.

I would suggest posting your thoughts on the WY forum so you can get their Destination Experts thoughts on this also. And, as fond as I am of the CO National Monument here in Grand Junction/Fruita, with all you have planned I would not put it on your agenda since it would mean giving up some wonderful color drives to make it work. imho, I would go over McClure Pass to get to Glenwood Springs, it's a beautiful drive.

And for the Alpine Loop, I was never so glad to get off of a road in my life as that road. I felt like getting out and kissing the ground - not one I would ever suggest in a rental car and to one not experienced in 4WD driving. And I grew up riding in the back of a pick-up truck all over the CO Rockies. As Missp noted, rental cars are not allowed off of paved/maintained roads so you would not be able to take one on that road.

Edited: 11:31 am, January 07, 2014
Windsor, Colorado
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4. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Trail Ridge Road as a through road between Estes Park and Grand Lake may or may not be an option due to snow. Historically, the average "official" closing date of Trail Ridge Road is October 23. That official date is rather deceiving. The actual last date TRR is open is usually a week or so sooner as park officials try to determine if the road can be reopened. In 2012, TRR was actually closed October 11. In 2013, the road would probably have been actually closed around October 5 if the government shutdown had not been in place. Trail Ridge Road is plowed to Many Parks Curve on the east side of RMNP. The good news about the east side of RMNP is that there are other roads and areas to explore even if Trail Ridge Road is not fully open. Here is a google map link showing you a nice driving tour of the east side of RMNP that is available year round. In October, you can also add the Upper Beaver Meadows Road off highway 36.

http://goo.gl/maps/23Tbb

Elk rut will be ongoing in RMNP in October and they will be everywhere. You will also have good chances to see deer and bighorn sheep.

To get to Steamboat Springs from Estes Park if Trail Ridge Road is closed, take this scenic route which includes dramatic Big Thompson Canyon and the Cache La Poudre Scenic Byway.

http://mapq.st/1fb5Bhc

Trail Ridge Road status line 970-586-1222

Ohio
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5. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

I too would not chance YNP that late in the year.

This past fall, the aspens were lovely (the last week of Sept) but... crazy weather year and snow and bloody cold! Trail Ridge Rd was closed due to ice and snow and Independence Pass was open but icy. fortunately for us, by the time we arrived there, ice was gone. Just a warning to keep tabs on the weather. And yes, Mt Evans will already be closed. Too bad-- it is my favorite mountain drive!

Definitely allow a day for Mesa Verde.

Maroon Bells are AWESOME in the fall. Hope you will get out and do a bit of hiking. Hike to Crater Lake is beautiful and under 4 miles (altho a definite elevation change!)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is great in the morning. Lots of very short hikes to the rim. Very cool place.

WestSlope,CO
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6. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

I like Susie Lou's idea of going to Yellowstone prior to your Grand Circle trip. Do you have enough flexibility in your schedule that would make that a possibility? Could you fly in and visit Yellowstone and then meet your family?

We were in Yellowstone in late August once and had snow, so if you go, you should definitely be prepared for the possibility. If you can't go earlier, then I'd consider skipping Yellowstone this time in favor of more time in Colorado, and possibly making your own loop trip including some of New Mexico.

In my previous post, I said Kebler Pass and I meant McClure Pass, as SusieLou mentions in post #3. Sorry for the error! It is a beautiful drive, especially when the aspen are turning. Redstone is a very small, historic community between McClure Pass and Carbondale. I think its history is very interesting, but you can read about it and see if it is what you had in mind when you said "interesting towns."

Edited: 6:45 pm, January 07, 2014
Sydney, Australia
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7. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

That's wonderful! Thank you all so much for the help. I've had a look through suggestions and whatnot, and it looks as though I may definitely need to make some changes, and be flexible as I drive around... but of course that leaves me with more questions. :)

A few things...

http://goo.gl/66Ektn

That was my initial vague route plan (to try and hit as many of the scenic bits as I could). It wont let me input the Independence Pass Drive, but that's the way I'd go if the weather is still behaving.

Earlier trip to YNP: SusieLou, unfortunately until the 3rd Oct, the dates are all locked. I'm sneaking away from the family from the south Grand Canyon, and the closes rental place is Flagstaff, so that will be my approach to Colorado. Definitely doing McClure Pass though!

I also did a bit of reading on Yellowstone in October, and a few folks said it's definitely doable, but I think you guys are right, I'll make a separate post over there and ask some of their experts as well!

Mesa Verde: Looking more at Mesa Verde, it does seem fairly incredible! So a day there might not be a bad idea... if I'm arriving late-ish on the 3rd, would the Far View inside the park be a good place to stop? Do the day on MV, then O/N at Far View again, and set out early from Mesa Verde on the 5th? Or is it best to stay in Cortez/Durango?

Black Canyon: Lots of support for this as well! Perhaps a night in Ouray, day trip to Telluride and surrounds, then back O/N in Ouray and set out early for Black Canyon? MissP, would definitely love the extra days down the SW, it all looks amazing!

Alpine Loop: Must admit I'd not even considered unpaved roads as a thing... I guess I was thinking of my UK trip last year when I thrashed my plucky little hire car down every country road back way I could find. But yes, maybe a Jeep tour on the way to Ouray?

Mt Evans: A shame! I looked at road dates for lots of areas, but must have missed that one. If it's still open to Summit Lake, is that worth the drive up?

FV, cheers for those maps! As for Steamboat Springs, I thought about heading that way because it seemed like an interesting way to get into Wyoming... but if I cross off YNP, is time better spent elsewhere?

And any MUST-STAY venues along this trip? Or must eat restaurants? (MEAT!) ;)

I'll see what the WY folks have to say, and then have to double check my trip from there!

Cheers gang!

Ohio
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8. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

typically-- the top 5 miles of Mt Evans is closed early Sept. The whole thing is closed by Oct 1st or earlier depending on weather. We were there in Sept-- open to Summit Lake-- only a couple of days before they closed it for the year. Definitely worth it if it's open to Summit Lake.

Mesa Verde- yes, give it a full day. You can stay int he park or Cortez. We stayed in Cortez for 2 nights.

Windsor, Colorado
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9. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

As the link Missp gave you in reply #2 explains, they try to keep Mount Evans Road (highway 5) open to Summit Lake through the first weekend in October weather permitting. Last year, weather closed highway 5 for the season the morning of October 3. In 2014, the first weekend in October is the 4th and 5th which is before you plan to be there. The part of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway from Idaho Springs to Echo Lake and from Echo Lake along Squaw Pass Road to near Bergen Park is open year round. Since none of the highest sections of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway (i.e. Mount Evans Road/highway 5) will be open for your visit, I would skip the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. You will see plenty of mountains along your other planned routes.

From the forest service website:

"Alerts and Notices"

"The Mount Evans road is closed for the 2013 season. The road is scheduled to reopen on Friday, May 23, 2014, weather permitting.

The top five mile section of road to the Summit of Mount Evans Interpretive Site is scheduled to be closed for the season on Tuesday, September 2, 2014, at Summit Lake.

The lower section of the road will remain open until Monday, October 6, 2014, depending on weather conditions."

Edited: 9:11 pm, January 07, 2014
Sydney, Australia
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10. Re: Itinerary help/comments - Oct. Solo Driving Tour

Many thanks folks! I'd hoped even a little bit of Mt Evans might be open at this time, but those links definitely indicate otherwise... even with the most optimistic frame of mind! I'm sure I'll find alternatives. I doubt I could make it there before Oct. 6, though I'll definitely keep an eye on those websites, thank you FV and Wings.

My intention was an extra 2 weeks in these fabulous United States. (So far the family vacation includes 3 weeks doing LA, then the coast road to San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, and the Grand Circle). With my extra holidays, I hope to make full use and see as much of the incredible natural beauty of the US as possible.

I've made up a question over on the YNP forum, and if the gurus there say the proposed dates for Yellowstone wont fly, I hope I can come back to you guys to fill out the rest of my time!

Cheers,

D.