Salt Lake City to Denver Road Trip
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- Salt Lake City, UT
- Dinosaur, CO
- Hayden, CO
- Steamboat Springs, CO
- Silverthorne, CO
- Denver, CO
- Roadside assistance
- Fastest route
- Scenic route
- Cheap insurance
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 Utah’s 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 Colorado’s best mountains—along with plenty of quirky attractions and great restaurants. Before you go, enroll in roadside assistance with Jerry to avoid unexpected delays.
Ready for a memorable adventure? Grab your hiking boots and let’s go!
Salt Lake City, Utah
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.
Eat here: The Copper Onion offers innovative New American eats in a well-designed environment. Laziz is a cult favorite for Lebanese lunch or dinner. If you need breakfast and coffee, try Publik Coffee Roasters in the homey Avenues neighborhood.
Look at this: 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.
Try this: 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.
Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah
Stop in—Dinosaur, CO
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.
Eat here: Dinosaur has limited food options, but if you’re peckish you can head to Highway Bar & Grill. 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).
Look at this: 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.
Try this: 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.
Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur, Colorado
Key Takeaway Nature is the best attraction on your route, so set aside time to explore.
MORE: Road trip essentials
Stop in—Hayden, CO
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.
Eat here: Once again, the highlight in Hayden is not the food. It’s better to stop in Craig, the town just before Hayden. Go to Seasoned Brisket for BBQ or Carelli’s Pizzeria for Italian food. If you’re here before lunch, you can get a great cup of coffee at Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary.
Look at this: 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.
Try this: 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.
Yampa River State Park, Hayden, Colorado
Stop in—Steamboat Springs, CO
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?
Eat here: There are killer food options here, from all cuisines. We like Aurum Food & Wine on the river. If you’re here around breakfast time, Yampa Valley Kitchen has the best morning meals in town.
Look at this: 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.
Try this: Old Town Hot Springs 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.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Key Takeaway Colorado is beautiful in every season—just drive with extra caution in the winter.
Stop in—Silverthorne, CO
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.
Eat here: Timberline Craft Kitchen & Cocktails is good for a hearty meal. If you want a view of the water, Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar is right on the reservoir. Pure Kitchen is a great choice for healthy eats, like superfood salads and protein bowls.
Look at this: By car, the best view of the area is via Sapphire Point Overlook on Swan Mountain Road. You can take a quick snap from the parking area or take a short trail for a better view.
Try this: You have a huge selection of hikes in this area. We like Willowbrook Trailhead (a 4.5-mile loop), Buffalo Mountain Trailhead (6.5-mile out-and-back), and North Tenmile Creek Trailhead (7.3-mile out-and-back).
Sapphire Point Overlook, Silverthorne, Colorado
MORE: Car camping essentials
Arrive in—Denver, CO
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.
Sleep here: 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.
Eat here: Go to Star Kitchen for dim sum, or Work & Class for a vibrant atmosphere and mouthwatering Latin American cuisine. 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.
Look at this: 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. For an indoor adventure, head to the independent Tattered Cover Book Store.
Try this: A stroll in the Denver Botanic Gardens is guaranteed to rejuvenate your mind and body after a long drive. The Denver Art Museum has seven stories of exhibitions. Finally, the Molly Brown House Museum (of Titanic fame) is a fun glimpse into the “unsinkable” Molly’s life and her Victorian-era furnishings.
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? Jerry 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.
Finding cheap car insurance
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Jerry can provide you with competitive quotes in under a minute. Swapping is just as effortless. Jerry takes care of all the paperwork and phone calls and even cancels your old policy on your behalf—oh, and it’s free! Plus, the average user saves $879 a year on their car insurance.
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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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