A Denver to San Francisco road trip checks every box on the list for a great road trip. Stopping in Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada along the way, this route from Denver to San Francisco will be unforgettable.
This adventure begins in the bustling metropolis of Denver and ends in the even bigger city of San Francisco—with the opportunity to soak up plenty of natural beauty along the way.
To pull off a 1,284-mile drive like this, you’ll want to make sure your car is in tip-top shape. And that means making sure you have great roadside assistance and an adequate car insurance policy.
Key trip details
Driving time: 20 hours and 11 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 3 to 6 days
This is a trip that requires some rest along the way, so why not take advantage of the drive and make some stops worthwhile? Feel free to add time to any city on the way there or back!
The road trip itinerary
Starting in Denver, Colorado
Our memorable Denver to San Francisco road trip begins in the Mile High City. Nestled in the mighty Rocky Mountains, Denver is a beautiful modern city with a rich tapestry of culture, food, and attractions. You could write whole books on all the things to see and do here!
Where to eat in Denver
Leven Deli ($$): Serving updated versions of deli classics and Mediterranean fare, Leven is legendary for their sandwiches. Try the Reuben!
SAFTA ($$): A well-loved restaurant known for its incredible Israeli cuisine, this stylish stop is guaranteed to fill your tummy for the road trip ahead.
What to do in Denver
Elitch Gardens Theme Park: One of the three great theme parks found in Denver, Elitch Gardens is a smaller-scale park—but this just means you can pack all their fun rides into one afternoon!
Narrated trolley tours: Take a guided tour of what was once Denver’s extensive electric rail transit system. A great opportunity to learn about the city and see it all at once.
Explore Denver’s Bike Trails: There are countless ways to explore Denver’s beautiful outdoors, and riding their bike trails is a fantastic way to do so! Stretch your legs and burn some calories before heading out on the rest of your road trip.
Traverse Denver’s Hiking Trails: If you’d prefer not to lug your bike around for this road trip, rest assured—Denver has plenty of places you can explore on foot. Smith Road Trailhead and Lake Mary Loop Trail are just a couple of many popular spots.
Leg 1: Denver to Laramie, Wyoming
Let’s skip the boring interstates and highways and take the scenic route. That’s going to involve driving up through the Rockies into the Medicine Bow mountains region.
The quaint mountain town of Laramie,
Wyoming is a great place to rest for a bit and find a nice meal. It also sets you up for a gorgeous drive through the Sugarloaf Mountain region.
Follow the I-25 N, CO-66 W/State Route 66 W and drive along US-287 N to reach Laramie.
What to do in Laramie
Medicine Bow National Forest: Laramie is home to this 2.2-million-acre park where you’ll find mountains, lakes, forests, and grasslands to explore.
Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic site: For a bit of history, check out this former federal prison, where Butch Cassidy was once imprisoned. A self-guided tour will take you through the exhibits—including a popular demonstration on broom making!
Leg 2: Sugarloaf Mountain to Rock Springs, Wyoming
Once upon a time, Rock Springs was a popular destination for roving gangs of gunslingers who terrorized the Wild West. It’s the town where the infamous outlaw Robert LeRoy Parker picked up the monicker "Butch Cassidy" after having worked in Rock Springs as a butcher.
What to do in Rock Springs
Rock Springs Historical Museum: This museum, housed in what was once city hall in the early 1900s, offers a unique look into the history of Rock Springs. With exhibits featuring the Union Pacific Railroad, coal mining, and the outlaws Butch Cassidy and Calamity Jane, it's definitely worth a visit.
Flaming Gorge Reservoir: Swim, hike, and fish in the largest reservoir found in Wyoming! The breathtaking landscape makes for a great place to stretch your legs and spend an afternoon.
Leg 3: Rock Springs to Salt Lake City, Utah
After taking in the amazing scenery along interstate 80-W, you’ll finally arrive in another big midwestern city: Salt Lake City
Utah. Situated along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, SLC is a town you’ll need a full day or two to explore—and even then, you won’t be able to see it all.
Where to stay in Salt Lake City
Little America Hotel: Sitting across from its larger counterpart (the Grand America Hotel), Little America is a charming stay that is pretty centrally located. It's a great choice for an overnight stay to rest and recharge for the last leg of your trip. Cost per night: from $104.
Where to eat in Salt Lake City
Pig & a Jelly Jar: For a funkily decorated, lively dining experience, check out this well-loved spot. They serve classic American comfort foods with a contemporary, unique twist.
What to do in Salt Lake City
Yellowstone Bear World: If you’re here when they’re open for the season, then experiencing this drive-thru wildlife park is a must! Get up close and personal with free-roaming wildlife like elk, bison, deer, and bears (without the risk).
Thanksgiving Point: This indoor/outdoor space features museums, gardens, and a beautiful butterfly biosphere. Normal admission rates range from $7 to $20 per person.
The Great Salt Lake: And while visiting Salt Lake City, you need to take the family to see the city’s namesake. The Great Salt Lake is mesmerizing to look at—especially from the air. There are helicopter and balloon tours available around town. The Great Salt Lake is also great for a swim!
Leg 4: Salt Lake City to Elko, Nevada
Salt Lake City is a lot of fun, but alas, you still have a lot of ground to cover and continue your westward voyage. Next stop: the small town of Elko,
Where to eat in Elko
McAdoo’s ($$): Fill up at this family-friendly restaurant right in the middle of town with a quaint atmosphere and great bistro food. Try the quiche with panko potatoes!
What to do in Elko
Western Folklife Center: For any Wild West-buffs visiting Elko, checking out this cultural center dedicated to the history of the American West is a definite must.
Leg 5: Elko to Reno, Nevada
Your final stop before reaching San Francisco is the self-proclaimed "Biggest Little City in the World," Reno. But don’t let its small stature fool you! Reno might be small on a map but it’s huge for fun.
Where to eat in Reno
Squeeze In ($$): Visit this local hotspot for their signature breakfast dishes in the morning, or to try their delicious burgers and cocktails to end your day right.
What to do in Reno
The Fleischmann Planetarium: Located on the University of Nevada campus, you can check out daily digital planetarium tours and interactive exhibits for an in-depth learning experience about space.
Spend an evening at a Reno Casino: If you aren’t tugging kids along with you on your trip, spend a night gambling, drinking, and (hopefully) winning big at one of the many casinos in Reno!
Leg 6: Reno to San Francisco, California
Continuing your drive will lead you through Tahoe National Forest, down through Sacramento, and finally to the Golden City at the end of the voyage: San Francisco,
From the wineries of Napa to the redwood forests near Monterey Bay, San Francisco is easily one of America’s prettiest cities. It’s a mecca for music, arts, and culture, and home to some amazing architecture. The Golden City is the perfect dessert following the scenic meal of the drive from Denver to San Francisco.
To reach your final destination, follow the I-80 W until you reach exit 434B from US-101 N!
Where to eat in San Francisco
China Live ($$): A culinary and cultural experience in the heart of Chinatown, this is a favorite amongst San Fran diners. You won’t be disappointed by a single item on the menu, but we definitely recommend trying out their dim sum!
Caffe Trieste ($): The North Beach location of this San Francisco staple has been around for 50+ years, serving Italian-style espresso. They recently opened up a retail location where you can buy some coffee beans for the road!
What to do in San Francisco
Painted Ladies: This is one of San Fran’s most photographed locations, and this "postcard row" of elegant Victorian houses on Alamo Square is definitely worth a visit!
The Presidio: This park and former military fort is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Take a walk through this area and get a taste of the great outdoors and parts of San Fran’s illustrious history.
Point Lobos: This gorgeous beach has miles of white sand and blue ocean to take in, as well as restaurants, cafes, and bars to hit up along the way.
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