The Perfect Denver to Taos Road Trip

Heading out for a Denver to Taos road trip? Here is all you need to know about the drive, places to stop, and the routes you can take! We recently drove the “quickest route” to Taos, which is filled with plenty to do. But we’ve also driven the roads of the scenic route and appreciate the unique stops and gorgeous views.

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So regardless of which route you choose, you’ll have plenty of options for fun stops along the way to Taos from Denver.

Pinnable image of Denver to Taos Road Trip. 4 image collage: stretch of road with a snow capped mountain ahead, giant red rock wall, distant view of huge sand dunes with mountains behind them, looking from the side of a row of benches at an amphitheater with sunset/golden lighting

Distance from Denver to Taos

From downtown Denver to Taos, it’ll take just under 5 hours; 4 hours and 48 minutes to be exact from Google maps. This is city to city. If you are going from the Denver Airport to Taos, the timing is similar (5 minutes faster.)

And if you are going from Denver Airport to Taos Ski Valley (where the skiing is at), it’ll still be right around 5 hours.

The distance from Denver to Taos (city to city) is 286 miles for the quickest route and takes right around 5 hours.

Routes from Denver to Taos

tall 7-11 sign on road, safeway grocery store across the street

Walsenburg is a great half-way point on the quickest route

Quickest Route

The quickest, most direct route from Denver Taos is to take I-25 south through Colorado until you hit Walsenburg. When you get to Fort Garland, head south on CO-159, which turns into 522 when you cross the state border. 522 will drop you right into Taos.

Walsenburg is a great halfway point. It’s located in Colorado right where you break off of I-25. It’s a smaller town with places for gas and a small Safeway (grocery store).

Scenic Route from Denver to Taos

Alternatively, you could take the scenic route by taking 285 south through Colorado. From downtown Denver, you’ll take 6th avenue west until you hit I-70, which you’ll be on just a mile or so before getting to C-470. Take 470 until you hit the exit for 285 south.

Highway 285 is a little more twisty-turny in many areas, but beautiful as you wind through forests and small towns. There are less major towns and resources this direction, so make sure you have a full tank and some snacks for the road.

You’ll continue south until you hit Tres Piedras in New Mexico, where you’ll veer east on 64 for a short time, and then south on 522 right into Taos.

Distance: 309 miles, 5 hours 36 minutes

Stops Along the Quick Route from Denver to Taos

While it may be the quickest route, there is still a lot of great towns and stops on this journey.

Denver

Starting in Denver, make sure to appreciate all this city offers. It has all the main attractions of a family day out, like the aquarium, zoo, museums, and events year round (yes, even in fall or in the springtime). There are even plenty of free things to choose from if you are on a budget.

Garden of the Gods in Snow

Colorado Springs

As you drive south, you’ll hit Colorado Springs right along I-25. If you thought there was a lot to do in Denver, you’ll be in for a real treat in Colorado Springs.

I love all that Colorado Springs offers and that it has plenty of both outdoor and indoor activities.

Head to the famous Garden of the Gods for an easy walk around some incredible formations. This is an easy walk, so you don’t need to be in hiking gear to walk the central garden.

Or witness history and inspiration at the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum where you can virtually race against Olympians, catch some training, see the torches, and maybe even meet an aspiring olympian.

Go to one of the many museums in Colorado Springs, check out Air Force Academy, or see some awesome waterfalls, especially cool in late spring.

Just south of Colorado Springs is Pueblo. While it’s not necessarily a tourist location, it does have a zoo and riverwalk if you are wanting to explore a little.

Great Sand Dunes National Park view

Great Sand Dunes National Park

While this is a little bit out of the way, getting from Colorado Springs to the Great Sand Dunes is just around 2-1/2 hours.

To get here, you’ll turn off north in Fort Garland and it’s less than a half-hour to add this great national park to your drive.

Visiting Great Sand Dunes can be done in a day. I highly suggest staying the night so you have time to enjoy a full day in the park.

But even if you can’t stay the night, you should still stop by for a couple hours. Yes, it’s worth it!

These dunes are the tallest in North America and it’s fun to rent a sled and slide down them all day long. It’s also tiring climbing back up, so make sure you have plenty of water.

In late spring/early summer, Medano Creek is filled and becomes one of the best beaches in America according to Travel and Leisure.

distant view of the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, looking at a deep canyon with water at the bottom, everything is pretty brown, a large steel bridge across the canyon in the distance

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

As you get close to Taos, head west on US-64 to get to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

This bridge is one of the largest and highest of its kind. It crosses a huge canyon that forms around the Rio Grande.

You can go over the bridge and pull off to the left for a rest area and parking. Then, walk the easy canyon rim trail along the gorge to get some spectacular views.

Looking into Taos Plaza, pavers on the path, a few low cement walls protection trees and grasses, a pavilion in the distance in the center of the plaza, adobe style buildings in the far distance across the plaza

Taos

After visiting the bridge you won’t be far from Taos.

This city is rich in cultural activities and has a true reverence for the native people of the land.

Enjoy art galleries, Taos Pueblo, plenty of museums, local artisans, or a children’s museum (Imagine!) for a great stay. There are plenty of things to do to enjoy your visit.

Those are the best stops along the quickest route from Denver to Taos.

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Stops Along the Scenic Route from Denver to Taos

Taking the scenic route brings some unique stops as you drive from Denver to Taos. Here are a few of them in order.

Red Rocks Amphitheater, long rows of bench seating with a steep red rock wall behind

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater

Red Rocks is a popular place among locals and visitors alike. It’s home to one of the coolest concert venues in the country (opinion, but I’m pretty sure it’s true) and plenty of great hiking trails.

While it may not compare to Garden of the Gods along the other route, it’s a great alternative that does not disappoint.

Tiny Town

Tiny Town is located about 6 miles down 285 after you exit from 470. It’s a fun place, especially for younger visitors as the town is made just their size! While you visit, you can also get a ticket to ride the little train through town.

Open during summers.

Fairplay

Fairplay is a town deep into the mountains along 285. It’s one of the bigger towns along the road, so it makes a great place to stop if you need anything.

But while you stop, make sure to walk through South Park.

No, not the TV show and not related.

South Park is a small town that shows the life of living in South Park, with 40 different historic buildings and a museum, history lovers will enjoy learning about mining life back in the day.

Buena Vista

Another great, scenic town along the scenic route is Buena Vista. This town is home to Mount Princeton Hot Springs, where you can spend the night or just get a day pass to the refreshing springs.

Browns Canyon National Monument is also along the route, just south of Buena Vista, where you can admire tall cliffs and the Arkansas River from the ground or from the excitement of a rafting trip (this one is great for younger families).

Great Sand Dunes National Park

While the other route brought you along the east of the sand dunes, this route will run along the west side, making it a great, convenient time to check out this national park.

From Buena Vista to Great Sand Dunes, the drive is around 1 hour and 40 minutes, only making it about 20 minutes out of the way from the original route.

This unique park is definitely worth a stop!

Taos

From Great Sand Dunes to Taos, it’s about 2 hours to finish out the drive.

Where to Stay in Each City

When in Denver, check out the Grand Hyatt for lodging. It’s a nicer, mid-range hotel with an indoor pool and convenient access to many things in Denver, as well as to the light rail station to really be able to get around everywhere.

Once in Taos, check in to the Historic Taos Inn. This charming, but updated hotel has individually designed rooms and is just a short walk from the historic downtown Taos area.

Denver to Taos Road Trip Itinerary

While this Denver to Taos Road Trip can be done in a day with minimal, quick stops, it’s definitely worth the time (if you have it) to stay overnight at one or two places to really enjoy the journey.

We have been to all these places (some, many times), so here is how I would plan it out if you have 3 days:

Day 1

Day 2

  • Drive to Great Sand Dunes in the morning. Rent a sled and spend the day playing!
  • Spend the night (if you go to the dunes at night, you have a chance to see the incredible night sky!)

Day 3

  • Drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Walk along the rim.
  • Finish the drive to Taos.

While there are more things to do along the way, those will provide a good taste of fun along this Denver to Taos Road Trip.

Mix it up to fit your travel style and what sounds best to your family!

Pinnable image of Denver to Taos Road Trip.  4 image collage: stretch of road with a snow capped mountain ahead, giant red rock wall, distant view of huge sand dunes with mountains behind them, looking from the side of a row of benches at an amphitheater with sunset/golden lighting

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