I’m a super late bloomer here – growing up, a summer migration to Colorado was not my family’s thing. It actually wasn’t until I was working for a Texas retailer with a big ski and outdoor selection a few years ago that the concept piqued my interest.
Colorado is the perfect complement to Texas life – the mountains, the cold, crisp air and all those trees! It’s a short flight from Dallas, with major airlines now going direct into resort towns during ski season.
I’m a big advocate though, of finding a simple condo, packing up the car and bringing as much home life as possible to the Rockies – bikes, balls, even our Vitamix, and, if you can swing it, the dog. Stay every minute you possibly can until there’s a nice mirage that the heat of a Texas summer is gone and your real summer living is done up in the clouds with the windows open and blankets on the bed at night.
Our Favorite Colorado Towns
Markus, our daughter and I identify as a Telluride family. There are nice amenities here, but, thanks to the old gold mining town’s architecture still in tact and a city ordinance against chain retailers coming in, it still feels rough around the edges- like a simple, funky portal into nature. If you like athletic vacations, Telliuride is TOUGH in a good way. It’s a tall peak at 8.750 feet.
For this reason, I’m thankful this is where I learned to hike and ski! My favorite part of Telluride is the free gondola system that is not just a summer novelty but a main source of transportation there between the town of Telluride and Mountain Village. For that reason, I like to stay in Mountain Village so we can ride it back and forth into Telluride proper, making sure our stay overlaps with the awesome local music festivals (we’ve seen Widespread Panic, G. Love and Special Sauce and many other smaller acts in this perfect concert backdrop).
The past two years, my extended family has gotten on board with mountain travel and we’ve gone to Vail. It’s 8,120 feet elevation, which my parents can feel as a considerable difference from Telluride when adjusting to the altitude. It also offers a lot more multi-generational programming (kid’s camps and beautifully made playgrounds, adventurous expeditions and spa options are plentiful), a wider selection of dining, a good mix of luxury hotels and basic condos (my parents stay at the gorgeous Hotel Sonnealp and my sister and I get family condos in Lionshead,, so it’s the best of both worlds). The towns are impeccably clean, there’s a more diverse offering of trails for varying skill levels, and nothing is far with the free bus system. I’ll take it in a heartbeat.
There are a million cool Colorado towns and resorts. It’s all about taking a look around and finding something perfect for what you like to do and what makes the outdoors exciting for you!
Since we meet family there, we love finding different paths for the drive from Texas to Colorado to get some time as our own family unit and mix up the experience. Here are our favorites so far!
The Best Stops Driving Direct
Most of the direct ways from Texas to your favorite Colorado resort town will pass through most or all of these stops with a minimal detour. Check your route and then decide what’s calling you!
*indicates that this stop is on the original US Route 66 – Route 66 landmarks are such a fun way to engage in our country’s history while seeing more of our landscape! I highly recommend trying at least one every trip to connect with our country’s history of recreational family road travel!
Archer City, Texas
Per the New York Times, 1,850 people and 450,000 second hand books live in Archer City, Texas (although I know many of the books have been dispersed since the writing of this article thanks to some large liquidation sales, I believe the ratio remains impressive). The reason for this mind boggling statistic is Larry McMurtry, author of my favorite book of all time, Lonesome Dove, and proprietor of the Booked Up used book stores that take up much of Archer City’s main drag.
This is a great spot to stretch your legs, feel like a Texan and find your vacation reading material. Down the road is The Royal Theater, made famous from another one of McMurtry’s books turned movies, The Last Picture Show.
This is another charming spot to stretch and use the bathroom at the restored Conoco station, a registered Route 66 Historical Landmark. We got to meet one of the visitor center guides, Theresa, whose grandfather owned the station in its hey day. The spot also housed a diner where Elvis ate once, so don’t forget to rub butt cheeks with the King by sitting in the same booth!
*Amarillo and Canyon, Texas
This is a favorite overnight spot for us, especially if you can plan early and book a coveted Palo Duro State Park Canyon Rim cabin. These structures were built by the CCC during the FDR programs and have stunning views, as well as decent showers and cozy beds – just the right amount of “camping” for our family. At night in the canyon, there’s a famous play, Texas, that runs in the amphitheater after sunset.
Dinner at The Big Texan is a must, and we’ve been lucky enough to get to witness brave souls take on the 72 oz steak challenge while we’re there. The Don Harrington Discovery Center was great for when we stayed an extra day one summer and needed indoor fun and fantastic outdoor playground. Even if we’re just driving through town, we love to pop in to Evocation Micro Coffee Roasters.
The Historic Route 66 area is fun if you like dive bars and funky antique shops (which we do – a lot).
And the stop at Cadillac Ranch is totally worth the photos you’ll get and the look on little faces when they’re told they can spray paint a car!
Santa Fe, New Mexico
We really got the full Santa Fe experience when we opted to stay at Suitable Digs, a completely solar powered grouping of bungalows with great people and gorgeous views from the common areas of the property.
We always end up at the Tune Up Santa Fe for breakfast or dinner, and it never disappoints.
The best thing our family can recommend you do with your time ever is go to Meow Wolf! This place is NOT like the fun but commercially focused art pop ups you may have experienced in Dallas, but instead the result of a free-thinking art collective focused on experiential exhibits. Our advice is to go as early as you can and plan to spend double the amount of time inside that you think you need. Markus and I recently saw Meow Wolf: Origin Story in a local theater and it’s made the place even more special to us. I highly recommend watching it before you go if you can!
*Albuquerque, New Mexico
We did an overnight here on our most recent drive and absolutely loved it.
The El Vado Motel is a fully restored historic motor lodge and complete perfection. Everything that should look original and everything that should feel new is executed with a brilliant attention to detail. Our suite was perfect for a pit stop with a kid in tow. The pool and outdoor dining was great for expending energy, and there’s the Botanical Gardens right across the street if you need even more room to explore. Even with all of the exciting activity, the rooms are completely quiet at night! We loved the quirky shops on the other side of the lobby, especially Metal the Store.
Keeping with the Route 66 theme, we ate at 66 Diner and were happy campers with the food, aesthetics and service. The itty bitty ice cream sundae is just right!
Before hitting the road, we headed over to Las Palomas Lavender Farm for breakfast and milling about. Holy Nora Ephron movie, this place is a dream. We had an incredible breakfast, the most uniquely flavorful and satisfying, for $20 total for three people. The powerful aromas of the gift shop, filled with every product you made ever need made from farm fresh lavender, will knock you off your feet. Every detail is thoughtful and every desire is anticipated and met in a beautiful way. I can’t wait to come back here for a weekend with my girlfriends!
Taos, New Mexico
Even though it was only another short stop over, we had the best time exploring and catching up with resident Taos girl turned Texas lady, Andrea Overturf of Loubies and Lulu. If you plan to spend more time in Taos, you have to check out the guides on her blog. Her ancestors are memorialized in bronze in the Taos Plaza – she’s legit!
Our first stop after a long day in the car was Twirl, a local toy shop with an incredible play structure in the back. This is such a good spot to get out energy and find some “good behavior rewards” – in your family you may just call them bribes, and that’s ok too. Twirl is attached to the Taos Plaza, which was a wonderful spot to walk around and experience coffee, handmade items, live music and some good food with friends.
Our stay was at Hotel Luna Mystica and – WOW. From the incredible sunset to the quiet of the morning and openness of the scenery and sky, our short stay here will be imprinted in my memory forever. Next time I’ll definitely be hitting up the fire wood attendant they have on site to make us a fire under that beautiful star blanket.
The next morning, we couldn’t leave town before dining at Farmhouse Cafe (Andrea’s family ranch, Martinez Family Ranch, provides the beef). We had a very tasty breakfast and helped ourselves to some of their gluten free desserts out of the case for the rest of our drive.
Abiquiu, New Mexico
I embarrassingly haven’t done much in the Georgia O’Keefee wheelhouse in Santa Fe, mostly because of the great experience I had visiting her private home at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu.
We stopped here one summer on the drive back and Markus and our girl enjoyed a beautiful hike while I did a Georgia O’Keeffe landscape trail ride, going through the natural scenes of some of her most famous paintings up to her personal home where she worked. This was such an inspiring experience for me! I would love to come back for one of the artist workshops or retreats.
*Tucumcari, New Mexico
This is my favorite stop on Route 66 I’ve seen so far! I love that there are a few restored motels where many travelers love to stay the night, really bringing the feel of Route 66 to life! We loved the Blue Swallow Motel. It might be my favorite place we’ve ever stayed the night on this trip. It’s so charming and clean and they’re right – that refrigerated A/C is ice cold!
We also loved Kix on 66 Diner here for a morning cup of Joe before hitting the road and driving through the town to see all of the murals!
Last year, we decided to head out of Vail but spend a night and morning in Denver before hitting the long road home. This is such a great town, and we had so much fun!
We stayed at the Curtis Hotel downtown. I can’t recommend it enough for kids. It’s a super clean, mid-level hotel in the middle of downtown Denver. Each floor has a theme – the elevator makes sure you know by announcing it when the doors open! There’s even more thematic suites, like a video game room with Mario wallpaper, that will make sure you always remember this pit stop.
We loved walking around the Santa Fe Art Trail and found some great art for our house from Access Gallery, an art program and gallery space for makers with special needs. There’s a mural around every corner to take in here!
Speaking of immersive art, you’ll have to decide if a family stop at The International Church of Cannabis is your taste, but we loved sitting under the mural by Okuda San Miguel. Famous rap producer and art collector (with partner Alicia Keys), Swizz Beatz, hired Okuda to create a special design for his home the day he saw photos of the church ceiling in the New York Times. The space is open to the public, including children, when church is not in session.
The last activity we enjoyed in Denver is the trolley, tucked behind a nice Starbucks/REI combo. The trolley drivers are friendly as all get as they take you up and down a nice row of children’s museums and attractions, which you can stop off to enjoy if you don’t want to ride directly down and back. Don’t forget to ask to drive or ring the bell.
Worth Going Out of the Way
Now that we’ve done the drive a few years and know the fun of it, we’ve started veering more and more off course to get the most out of our week in the West. These are pretty much, almost, on the way.
This year, we started in Albuquerque and headed west to the Grand Canyon before going north to Utah and then dipping southwest into Vail.
You won’t regret it!
Petrified National Forest and *Holbrook, Arizona
This was a fun drive through experience. The National Petrified Forest was a fairly pretty drive. I actually liked the painted desert vistas more than the petrified wood. We essentially went through the park back onto 40 into Holbrook, checking a national park off our list in the process.
The Rainbow Rock Shop held some wonderous “good behavior rewards” and Route 66 visual perfection with the hand painted signs and dinosaurs out front. Definitely make sure to pass by the Wigwam Hotel for a look at one of the final hotels in tipi style from the Route 66 hey day.
If you keep heading west from Albuquerque instead of going north to Colorado, you’ll continue on the Historic Route 66 and hit Winslow, Arizona.
You will, inevitably, find yourself standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, (per The Eagles), with a mural, signage and even a flat bed Ford available for photo ops. There’s also a clean coffee and ice cream shop with a great restroom and a selection of Route 66 shops with souvenirs worthy of coming home. Pull over!
Williams is the one of the best preserved spots on the “Mother Road,” and where the Pixar team who made Cars came to nail the Route 66 aesthetic. At dinnertime, the sidewalks had people walking around, patios were full with families having dinner, live music was streaming out of historic bars. We had the best time feeling back in time and taking it all in!
Williams also has one of our most talked about stops on the trip, Bearizona. This drive through and walk about animal sanctuary is beautifully done, and houses Black Bears, Junior Bears, mountain goats, bison….there’s not a woodland creature left behind. The “oooohs” and “WOWs” coming out of the car were from every family member. I can’t believe I saw a bear y’all! This was so great. ‘
The Grand Canyon
It’s a bonafide disgrace that I’m attempting to write about The Grand Canyon when we only stayed there for about 20 hours at the most, but trust me on the fact that if you’re ever in the “neighborhood,” it’s worth everything to come in and see what you can in the time that you have. Holy. cow.
We stayed at the very basic but incredibly cozy Yavapai Lodge in South Rim of the park, which made it very easy for us to wake up early and make the short drive to Yavapai Point for the sunrise. The grocery store next to Yavapai Lodge was amazing, just as good as home, with breakfast sandwiches and coffee. When we come back, we’re definitely staying for a week and staying at Yavapai for more fun.
Our pit stop on our drive The Grand Canyon to Moab was in Page, Arizona, where we met with the wonderful Navajo family who owns Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours.
Our combo tour took us out on an open top, off road truck to the family’s private land that features one of the picturesque and mysterious slot canyons made famous by the Antelope Canyon area. This experience features just one canyon (which is all we needed) with a maximum of 12 people in the group. Everything I’ve heard about Antelope Canyon experiences points to it being very beautiful and also quite crowded, so this tour really appealed to me. I especially liked supporting a Navajo family using their sacred land as a way to support their family, which paid off since everyone with Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours couldn’t have been nicer and more informative.
Our tour also included private access to Horseshoe Bend – a small curve in the Colorado River that bends into a horseshoe shape. The family that owns our tour company told us how this spot has always been on their land with no public interest, but, thanks to Instagram, it’s become one of the most coveted spots to photograph in the world. In fact, there’s now a special parking lot with entry fees to get in on the government-owned side of the spot, and lines can get unruly! I loved getting to see this beautiful creation in more of its original presence, with just eight other people and lots of quiet time for reflection.
From Page we drove straight north into Moab, arriving late after driving through the most surreal sunset and arriving at Red Cliffs Lodge under a blanket of stars. We loved our suite. After being on the road a few days, the kitchenette in our room was a welcome sight! We put our girl to sleep and enjoyed the star blanket on the back patio.
Coming in at night made the morning even more magical. We walked out onto the back patio to see a gorgeous green belt running behind this block of rooms, red canyons stretching up to the sky and – oh my God – ponies!! Horses drinking from the creek behind our room and walking up to the fence line for pets and ear rubs. This is another place where we’ll be back for a week as soon as we can. Pure magic.
Every view at Red Cliffs is incredible – but breakfast over the Colorado River as it ran between the cliffs couldn’t be beat. We took a swim in the pristine pool and caught (and released) frogs before packing up and driving through Arches National Park before another four hours of scenic travel to Vail!
And that’s everything we’ve been able to see from going a little off the path driving from Texas to Colorado – so far! These trips always expand us, reset us and make us think outside the box. (You cannot see a sunrise at The Grand Canyon and go the rest of the day without getting a big idea, I’ve decided.)
Where do you love to head to in Colorado? If you’re reading this planning your route, TAKE THE LONG WAY and happiest trails to you!