Salt Lake City to Denver Road Trip

Eight hours in the Rockies? That’s our idea of heaven! Here are the best stops on a Salt Lake City to Denver road trip.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Let’s take a gorgeous 8-hour road trip through the Rockies! We recommend US-40 for the most beautiful route, although it’s not the fastest way to get from
capital to Denver. If you’re in a rush, take I-80.
The Denver to Salt Lake City scenic route will take you through some of
best mountains—along with plenty of quirky attractions and great restaurants. Before you go, enroll in roadside assistance with
to avoid unexpected delays.
Ready for a memorable adventure? Grab your hiking boots and let’s go!
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Key trip details

Salt Lake City to Denver
Distance: 491 miles
Driving time: 8 hours and 42 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 2 to 3 days


  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Dinosaur, CO
  • Hayden, CO
  • Steamboat Springs, CO
  • Silverthorne, CO
  • Denver, CO

Start in—Salt Lake City, UT

An oasis in the desert, SLC is full of surprising discoveries for the uninitiated. From farmers’ markets to thriving artist communities, there’s plenty to explore here before your road trip officially begins.

Where to eat in Salt Lake City

  • The Copper Onion
    ($$$): The Copper Onion offers innovative New American eats in a well-designed environment.
  • Laziz
    ($$): Stop by this cult favorite for Lebanese lunch or dinner.
  • Publik Coffee Roasters
    ($): If you need breakfast and coffee, try Publik Coffee Roasters in the homey Avenues neighborhood.

What to do in Salt Lake City

Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Temple Square
    : Temple Square is worth a quick visit if you’ve never seen the historic Mormon facility. The gardens are just as impressive as the church. If you prefer outdoor spectacles, then reverse course north to Antelope Island.
  • Red Butte Garden
    : Red Butte Garden is one of SLC’s hidden gems, with a concert series in the summer and lovely gardens. On your way out of town, you’ll pass through Park City which is well worth a stop in any season—just know that parking can be tricky.

Salt Lake City to Dinosaur, CO

205 miles, 3 hours 33 minutes
Just over the border from Utah, this town is named for the Dinosaur National Monument. The landscape feels incredibly prehistoric here so it’s no surprise that there are actually prehistoric dinosaur fossils here.
It’s 3 ½ hours from Salt Lake City on US-40

Where to eat in Dinosaur

  • Highway Bar & Grill
    ($$): Dinosaur has limited food options, but if you’re peckish you can head to Highway Bar & Grill.
  • Go to other towns for more options: A better option is to stop in Jensen at
    Donnie’s Cafe
    , or earlier in Vernal (we like
    El Sombrero
    for a quick bite or
    Jade Lion
    for a heartier meal).

What to do in Dinosaur

Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur, Colorado
  • Dinosaur City Hall
    : Life finds a way—and this town is brimming with paleontological history. Check out the dinosaur fossils and make sure to take a selfie at Dinosaur City Hall (on Stegosaurus Fwy) before you leave.
  • Colorado Welcome Center
    : Since you’re in town, it’s worth a visit to the Colorado welcome center. Grab a paper map in case you lose service in the mountains. If you have time to hike at the National Monument, check out
    Plug Hat Butte
Key Takeaway Nature is the best attraction on your route, so set aside time to explore.
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Dinosaur to Hayden

105 miles, 1 hour 41 minutes
Hayden is a great place (and the last place) to fuel up before you drive through lengthy national forests. There’s some interesting heritage in this area and it’s well-positioned to serve as your jumping-off point for outdoor activities.
Follow US-40 E for Hayden.

Where to eat (before you reach) Hayden

What to do in Hayden

Yampa River State Park, Hayden, Colorado
  • Hayden Heritage Center
    : Go to the Hayden Heritage Center to learn about early homesteaders, mining history, and the first cowboys of Colorado. Then head to the Hayden Cemetery, a quiet place to pull over and stroll amongst the shaded gravestones.
  • Yampa River State Park
    : Just before you arrive, you’ll pass Yampa River State Park. It’s the perfect setting to dip your feet in the river and stretch your legs. You can also take a slight detour (one hour) south to Williams Fork Mountains for a hike. It’s one of the most popular destinations in the area.

Hayden to Steamboat Springs, CO

25 miles, 31 minutes
You could spend days exploring this town, but a quick visit will whet your palate for a return trip. Steamboat Springs is perfect for exploring the mountains and then enjoying a cold drink or hot tub afterward. Great food, great views — what more could you want?
Hop onto US-40 E to get from Hayden to Steamboat Springs.

Where to eat at Steamboat Springs

  • Aurum Food & Wine
    ($$$): There are killer food options here, from all cuisines. We like Aurum Food & Wine on the river.
  • Yampa Valley Kitchen
    : If you’re here around breakfast time, Yampa Valley Kitchen has the best morning meals in town.

What to do in Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  • Yampa River Botanic Park
    : If you don’t have time for a long hike, that’s okay. Visit Yampa River Botanic Park for an easy, mostly flat walk that will leave your lungs and legs refreshed.
  • Old Town Hot Springs
    : This is a dreamy stopover in wintertime (or post-hike) to soothe sore muscles. If you have an hour or two for hiking, try
    Fish Creek Falls
    . It’s open year-round with a $5 day-use fee payable with cash or check.
Key Takeaway Colorado is beautiful in every season—just drive with extra caution in the winter.
MORE: 8 helpful tips for long car rides with kids

Steamboat Springs to Silverthorne, CO

89 miles, 1 hour 39 minutes
Located on a reservoir and surrounded by tons of great hikes, Silverthorne is your last hurrah in the wilderness before you join up with I-70 to head into Denver. Stop for a final road trip meal and breathe in the crisp mountain air.
Get there via US-40 E and CO-9 S.

Where to eat in Silverthorne

What to do in Silverthorne

Sapphire Point Overlook, Silverthorne, Colorado
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Silverthorne to Denver, CO

67 miles, 1 hour 11 minutes
One hour from Silverthorne and you will reach your final destination! Mountains, art, live music, great food—Denver has it all. Whether you’re here for a day or a week, you’re in for a treat.

Where to eat in Denver

  • Star Kitchen
    ($$): For superb dim sum and other Chinese offerings, don’t miss Star Kitchen!
  • Work & Class
    ($$): Hit up Work & Class for a vibrant atmosphere and mouthwatering Latin American cuisine.
  • Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes
    ($): Got a sweet tooth? Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes is a cupcake delivery service with out-of-this-world flavor combinations. They sometimes do pop-ups.

What to do in Denver

Red Rocks Amphitheater
  • Red Rocks Amphitheater
    : Even the locals don’t get tired of Red Rocks. This amphitheater glows red and orange in the sunlight, and it’s worth a visit whether or not a concert is on.
  • Tattered Cover Book Store
    : For an indoor adventure, head to the independent Tattered Cover Book Store.
  • Denver Botanic Gardens
    : A stroll in the Denver Botanic Gardens is guaranteed to rejuvenate your mind and body after a long drive.
  • Molly Brown Museum
    : Finally, the Molly Brown House Museum (of Titanic fame) is a fun glimpse into the "unsinkable" Molly’s life and her Victorian-era furnishings.

Where to stay in Denver

  • Art Hotel
    : The Art Hotel is positioned right next to the Denver Art Museum. The architecture is stunning and you’ll get to sleep next to works of art. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of great backyard Airbnbs in Denver. Just be sure to ask about parking availability. Cost per night: from $148

Why you need roadside assistance

On the one hand, driving through the mountains is a lot safer than it used to be. We don’t need to rest our mules or soak the wagon wheels. But the Rockies are still a dangerous place to run into car trouble.
Roadside assistance is the simplest way to ensure that you have help when you need it.
For $6.99, you unlock a ton of rescue services that could save your road trip from certain disaster. Run out of gas?
has you covered. Get stuck in a ditch? Winching and tire changes are included. It even offers trip interruption credits up to $750.

The fast way back

At eight hours, I-80 is the fastest route between Salt Lake City and Denver. You’ll get to see the grasslands of eastern Colorado and the beautiful plains of southern Wyoming.

The scenic way back

I-70 is the scenic route. It takes you through Vail and the White River National Forest before meeting up with US-191 in Utah.
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How to drive in Colorado in the winter?

The safest way to drive in Colorado in the winter is to install snow tires and use an AWD or 4WD vehicle. There may be road closures, so make sure you check conditions before you go and pull over if you don’t feel safe on the road.

Best places to ski in Utah?

Park City and Alta are excellent resorts in Utah for snow sports. Note that Alta is a skiers-only mountain. Snowbird and Deer Valley are great, too.
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