You find yourself in Colorado, but you don’t want to wait for Meow Wolf Denver to open. You like road trips, but only if there’s something to see along the way. You have a car full of friends, but no one can decide if they want to relax, take in the scenery, or do something a little more adventurous. No worries. You’re in luck! We’ve taken the guesswork off your plate and put together a fun, funky, and food-filled guide to road tripping from Denver to Santa Fe!
So, toss out your maps (they’re on your phone anyway), queue up this month’s Meow Mix, and get ready for a drive that boasts one magnificent destination after another.
Before you hit the road, first you gotta take the ride…
While you’re still in Denver, make sure you head downtown to Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, where Meow Wolf’s interactive, artist-driven voyage awaits in the form of Kaleidoscape. It’s not a rollercoaster. It’s a thrill ride for the mind. This dark ride was named in both USA Today and Los Angeles Times as one of the most-anticipated new rides of 2019.
Your road trip begins in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colorado, which is home to the only remaining Casa Bonita, the Mexican restaurant and entertainment destination that boasts cliff divers, fire jugglers, puppet shows, and a haunted tunnel called “Black Bart’s Cave.” It’s the perfect way to set the dial to “unapologetic fun” as you start the road trip of a lifetime!
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
As you head further southwest from Denver, you’ll pass by the small foothills town of Morrison, best known for this breathtaking concert venue. Red Rocks is a traditional tour stop for jam bands, but the open-air amphitheatre sweeps in an eclectic collection of performers, and it’s a popular setting for musicians to create live recordings. However, you don’t have to be at Red Rocks on a show day in order to enjoy it. The hikes, the landscape, and the VIEWS are worth the stop alone.
Coney Island Hot Dog Stand
Detour! Jk. This Coney Island Hot Dog Stand is nowhere near Brooklyn, but it’s a must-stop nonetheless, if only for photo opportunity of a giant, 42-foot hot dog/1950s diner nestled at the based of the Rocky Mountains’ Front Range. Located near the Pike National Forest, this exemplary piece of roadside architecture has both indoor and outdoor seating and places a large emphasis on sourcing local ingredients. Hot diggity dog!
Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort
We love our hot springs in northern New Mexico, but we won’t blame you if you want to stay in Colorado a little longer for a mini-staycation at the family-friendly Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, just over 80 miles down the road from Bailey. They’ve got 100% natural, odorless hot springs, spa treatments, luxury cabins, and (probably) cartoon bluebirds that wake you up and make you breakfast.
Great Sand Dunes
It’s a little bit of a dogleg to the east on your drive, but the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are a remarkable sight amidst the aspen forests and alpine lakes of Colorado. The tallest dunes in North America, Great Sands are an amazing venue for sand sledding, camping, and stargazing. Just make sure to check the weather for potential high winds or snow!
A near stone’s throw from Great Sands, just north of Hooper, Colorado, is this remarkable UFO Watchtower. Built in the year 2000 amidst an already existing hotspot for UFO observers, this watchtower has 360 views of the San Luis Valley. Whether or not you’re a true believer, this stop is at the very least a fun place to camp and explore a sky devoid of light pollution.
Colorado Gators Reptile Park
Take a hop, skip, and jump to the other side of Hooper and you’ll soon see signs for the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. This “family oriented, educational facility” is a sanctuary for unwanted exotic pets whose goal is to maintain an integrated ecosystem for alligators, pythons, tortoises, iguanas and more. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can even sign up for a gator wrestling class! Finally!
As you return to the comfort of 285, you’ll come across an experience that’s quite different from many of the nature-centric stops on your road trip, but nonetheless is a sight to behold in Cano’s Castle. This shining, 4-tower castle was built out of beer cans and recycled metal by Native American Vietnam veteran Donald (formerly Dominic) “Cano” Espinoza. Inspired by “Vitamin Mary Jane” and Jesus, Cano’s Castle is truly an incredible piece of folk art.
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
After passing through Antonito, you’ll find yourself with an opportunity to enjoy the transition between Colorado and New Mexico with the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Of course, this means ditching the car for a bit, but if you have the time the coal-fired steam train departs daily between Antonito and Chama, New Mexico before a luxury motor coach brings you back to where you started! For fans of true Western scenery, this is your chance to enjoy a Victorian parlor car while you chug-chug alongside mountain canyons and high desert.
Chili Line Depot
So, you’ve finally made it to New Mexico and you’re ready to get down on some local cuisine. If you take a pit stop in Tres Piedras, you’ll find green chile heaven at the Chili Line Depot. Whether you’re in the mood for a breakfast burrito, a green chile cheeseburger, or a slice of homemade green chile apple pie, you’ll find something to your liking! Don’t like green chiles? No problem! But really, though, what did you expect at the “CHILI” Line Depot?
As you hit the home stretch of your fantastic voyage, your weary body could probably use a soak. Luckily, the sacred waters of Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa & Resort are right along 285, providing ancient healing powers through the minerals of their hot springs. The ancestors of today’s Native American Tewa tribes built pueblos around these springs, which have been deemed sacred for nearly 3,000 years. There’s no more peaceful way to spend the last leg of your journey.
Meow Wolf Santa Fe
Of course, there’s only one way to end an epic road trip from Denver to Santa Fe, and that’s with a trip to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in the City Different. Our immersive and unique art experience features an exciting new form of nonlinear storytelling and work from over 100 local artists. It’s an ideal destination for road trip groups of all ages, and you could even stick around for a concert in the exhibit itself!
Enjoy your road trip, be safe, and watch out Denver! We’re coming for ya!