Denver to Santa Fe Road Trip

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If you’re looking to head from the soaring snow-capped peaks of Colorado to the russet prairies of Santa Fe, we’ve got a list of the best places to see and stay along the way. We’re advising the scenic route rather than the standard route on I-25, which has more traffic and less to see.
Avoid making this trip in the winter, as it gets cold and snowy in both Colorado and New Mexico. Since this road is in the mountains and is particularly windy, it’s safer to go in the warmer months.
Regardless, you shouldn’t hit the road without making sure you’ve got roadside assistance at the ready. No matter who your car insurance carrier is, Jerry offers up comprehensive roadside assistance you can rely on, including towing up to 10 miles, fuel delivery, tire changes, and much, much more.
So get some fuel in your tank (or a full charge on your electric car) and let’s hit the road!
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Key trip details

Denver to Santa Fe trip map.
Denver to Santa Fe
​​Distance: 424 miles
Driving time: 8 hours and 5 minutes
Suggested length of trip: 2 to 5 days
You could make the trip from Denver to Santa Fe in one day, but there are so many awesome things to see and do along the way, it’s definitely worth it to take your time on the drive!

Itinerary

  • Denver, CO—Half a day
  • Manitou Springs, CO—1 to 2 days
  • Cañon City, CO—Half a day
  • Alamosa, CO—Half a day
  • Taos, NM—Half a day
  • Santa Fe, NM—1 to 2 days

Start in— Denver, CO

There are a million things to do in Denver—it’s a bright, vibrant city and you should expect to spend a couple of days there to get as much out of it as possible. Denver may not be the world’s biggest city, but there’s something for everyone when it comes to food, nightlife, shopping, and recreation.

Where to eat in Denver

  • Little Man Ice Cream ($): One of Denver’s best-known secrets is Little Man Ice Cream—a shop famous for its 28-foot-tall cream can and homemade ice cream.
  • Cart-Driver ($$): This contemporary and casual Italian eatery features a menu that is famous for its wood-fired pizza, oysters, and prosecco.
  • Tupelo Honey ($$): A legendary cafe featuring classic Southern favorites with a modern twist. Don’t miss their local craft beers, brews, and cocktails!

What to do in Denver

Larimer Square at night with lights over the street.
Larimer Square
  • Larimer Square: The birthplace of the city as we know it today boasts some local history paired with incredible shopping, dining, and nightlife.
  • Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: One of the nation’s most iconic entertainment venues, and it happens to be carved directly into a massive rock formation.
  • Denver Zoo: The Denver Zoo is not only known for its extensive animal exhibits, including primates, wildcats, and elephants but is also considered the greenest zoo in the world.
  • Whiskey tours: Denver has tons of distilleries offering whiskey tours. Bear Creek, Mythology, and Laws are in the top three.
  • Denver Climbing Company Outdoor Climbing School: Prep for scaling the Rockies by learning how to climb. All skill levels are welcome!
  • Empower Field at Mile High Stadium Tour: Home to the Denver Broncos and countless concerts for the Denver area, this arena is infamous for its high elevation and notoriously loud fans. A necessary stop for any NFL fan!
Pro Tip Denver is called the Mile High City for a simple (and clean) reason: it’s a mile above sea level. This means the atmosphere is thinner than many are used to. So in the first 24 hours of your visit, remember to drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, and avoid exuberant activity until you’ve had the opportunity to adjust. center
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Denver—Manitou Springs, CO

76 miles, 1.5 hours
The small town of Manitou Springs, CO is often overshadowed by nearby Colorado Springs but is no less deserving of a visit.
Situated at the base of the iconic Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs is known for its natural mineral springs and cave systems. But it has plenty of small-town charm to go along with it, including classic game arcades and small novelty shops.
To get to Manitou Springs, follow the I-25 S and take the US-24 BUS exit from US-24 W.

Where to stay in Manitou Springs

  • Manitou Cliff House: This refined Victorian hotel combines gorgeous mountain views with comfortable, elegantly designed lodgings. It’s a quick 5-minute walk to the centre of town, and is also not too far from the Manitou cliff dwellings and Manitou incline! Cost per night: from $125

Where to eat in Manitou Springs

  • Crystal Park Cantina ($$): Widely considered the best restaurant in the area, Crystal Park earns its accolades for its authentic Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.
  • Sahara Cafe ($$): For something out of the ordinary (for the region), check out Sahara Cafe’s excellent Mediterranean menu. We’d recommend picking up one of their gyro’s or trying their Sahara salad.
  • Cliff House Hotel Dining Room ($$$$): Even if you opt to not stay at the Cliff House, you can still enjoy some upscale dining in its beautiful Victorian dining room. They serve locally-sourced dishes and the veranda provides a great view.

What to do in Manitou Springs

Cars parked near the red rocks of the Manitou Cliff dwellings.
Manitou Cliff dwellings
  • Manitou Cliff dwellings: Explore the mystery of the Anasazi by visiting the spectacular cliff dwellings in which they used to live.
  • Mineral Springs: Manitou is named and famed for its eight natural mineral springs. They are revered for their healing properties.
  • Manitou Incline: A popular and perilous incline hike, this is a great activity for anyone looking to get in a workout.
  • Cave of the Winds: This cave is a natural wonder in Pikes Peak. It features beautiful natural scenery and opportunities for adrenaline-fueled adventures, including zip-lining and the aptly named Terror-dactyl.

Manitou Springs—Cañon City, CO

116 miles, 2 hours
Known as the Gateway to the Authentic West, Cañon City is a bustling city in Colorado’s Fremont County that sits alongside the Arkansas River.
It’s a great stop for more extreme activities, like zip-lining and white water rafting. Those with less adrenaline-laden dispositions can also explore the many fossil beds, nature trails, and historical sites downtown and in the surrounding areas.
Continue on the I-25 S until you take exit 140. From there, follow CO-115 S and US-50 W to Park Ln in Cañon City.

Where to eat in Cañon City

  • Big Burger World ($): Home to the biggest and best burgers you’ll ever eat, this tiny burger joint is a must-visit for the beef lovers out there.
  • The Lost Cajun ($$): Stop by The Lost Cajun to get a taste of Creole in Colorado, along with some Cajun and seafood fare.

What to do in Cañon City

A long stretch of the white Royal Gorge Bridge on a sunny day.
Royal Gorge Bridge
  • Royal Gorge Bridge: This is the highest bridge in the United States! It is also home to the highest zip line courses and a gondola.
  • Arkansas river: Cañon City sits right along this major river, making it a prime spot for whitewater rafting, kayaking, and more.
  • Royal Gorge Mansion: This historical mansion dates back to the 1880s and features a wonderfully traditional afternoon tea.
  • Museum of Colorado Prisons: Dive into the history of Colorado’s penitentiary system at this museum, which is located in the cell house of a former women’s prison.
  • Royal Gorge Route Railroad: Running four times a day, this railway trip takes you through the spectacular Royal Gorge in style and comfort.

Stop in—Alamosa, CO

139 miles, 2.5 hours
The small city of Alamosa is far removed from the hustle and bustle of Denver, but it makes up for it with its surrounding natural habitats and landmarks.
Called "The Gateway to the Great Sand Dunes," this town is an ideal stop if you want to hit up the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park (and you should).
To get to Alamosa, get on the US-50 W to Saguache County, and turn onto the CO-17.

Where to eat in Alamosa

  • The Rubi Slipper ($): Quintessential American bar fare, reasonably priced, and highly rated. This spot serves up quintessential American bar fare with reasonable prices. The bar has an amazing, welcoming atmosphere and is a popular spot amongst local diners.
  • Calvillo’s Mexican Restaurant ($$): For a change of pace, check out Calvillo’s fresh Mexican fare. This brightly-colored spot is the perfect place to unwind, and we’d recommend checking out the El Calvillo burrito.

What to do in Alamosa

Great Sand Dunes National Park in the daytime.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Alamosa Wildlife Refuge: This massive sanctuary plays host to tens of thousands of migratory birds and other wildlife.
  • Colorado Gators Reptile Park: If you’re more particular to the scaly wild animals, check out this amazing reptile rescue, featuring gators, pythons, lizards, and more.
  • Cumbres and Toltec Railroad: If you enjoy authenticity, enjoy an actual steam railroad ride through the soaring Rocky Mountains.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park: Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, enjoy sand sledding, sandboarding, and hiking.
  • Creed Mining Loop Trails: Learn more about the area’s extensive mining history via this self-guided tour through well-preserved mining areas.
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Stop in—Taos, NM

90 miles, 1.5 hours
Your first stop once you cross the New Mexico border should be the pueblo town of Taos, especially if you’re a history buff.
There are over twenty historical sites registered within Taos’ city limits on the National Registry of Historic Places. This includes a UNESCO Heritage Site in the thousand-year-old Taos pueblo.
For the more adventurous at heart, Taos is actually home to an excellent ski resort and they even provide shuttle service up into the mountains.
To get to Taos, take US Hwy 285 S and US-64 E.

Where to eat in Taos

  • La Cueva Cafe ($): Serving up the Southwestern cuisine the region is known for, La Cueva is an inexpensive option with delicious Mexican-inspired flavor.
  • The Love Apple ($$$): If you’re looking for lighter fare, The Love Apple offers up healthy American classics. With an emphasis on local, organic cooking and a warm ambiance, this is the perfect place to stop and fill up.
  • Gutiz ($$): For something you wouldn’t expect in the area, check out Gutiz! This spot for Latin-French fusion cuisine is especially known for its breakfast offerings. Grab a coffee (or a bellini) and enjoy it on their patio!

What to do in Taos

Taos Pueblo structure in the desert.
Taos Pueblo
  • Taos Pueblo: This incredible, multistory pueblo is a landmark built by the region’s Tiwa people over a thousand years ago. It is a must-see.
  • Taos Plaza: This former-Spanish walled plaza is now the historical heart of Taos and features a number of walking tours, including an artisan walking tour.
  • Skiing at Taos Resort: If you’re tired of the desert, head up to the snow! Taos Ski Valley offers up plenty of ski and snowboard courses, and shuttle service up the mountain is free.

Arrive in—Santa Fe, NM

70 miles, 1.5 hours
You’ve made it to beautiful Santa Fe, one of the world’s great art cities! Santa Fe offers up a long list of amazing experiences that you should take a few days to stop and appreciate.
While Denver is all about city living near the mountains, Santa Fe is more in tune with its cultural heritage, amazing cuisine, and beautiful Pueblo Revival architecture.
To arrive in Santa Fe, take the NM-68 S and US-84 E/US Hwy 285 S.

Where to eat in Santa Fe

  • Sazon ($$): No self-respecting Mexican food lover can give this incredible Latin menu a pass. A popular spot since its opening in 1991, Sazon is housed in an iconic old adobe building in the center of Santa Fe and is well worth the visit.
  • Sassella ($$$$): For those who love classic Italian cuisine, Sassella is the place to be. A fine dining experience, some of the popular items on the menu include the burrata, bolognese, and creme brulee.
  • Amaya ($$-$$$): A prime example of New Mexican cuisine, with enough options to please all pallets. Located at Hotel Santa Fe, Amaya’s casual, inviting atmosphere and contemporary menu make it a must-see.

What to do in Santa Fe

A Santa Fe folk art market sign surrounded by red lanterns.
A Santa Fe folk art market
  • Santa Fe Opera House: Santa Fe has a lively art scene, and that extends to opera as well. Performances are featured here year-round.
  • The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi: The center of Catholicism in Santa Fe, this beautiful Basilica is worth seeing just for its stunning architecture.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe Museum: The Mother of American Modernism drew much of her inspiration from the New Mexican landscape, and this museum proudly displays many of her iconic desert paintings.
  • Museum of International Folk Art: Folk art is a major component of Santa Fe’s cultural heritage, and the museum celebrates art created both locally and by folk artists around the world
  • New Mexican Flavors food tour: New Mexican cuisine is in a class all its own. Take a food tour to experience its many unexpected flavors.
  • Coffee lovers tour: Lovers of the sacred bean can’t miss a tour through Santa Fe’s best cafes and tea rooms.
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The fast way back

Take the I-25. It’s a direct link between Santa Fe and Denver. But make sure you check traffic conditions before you take off because its proximity to denser urban areas means more traffic during rush hour.

The scenic way back

Take US Highway 285. It’ll take you back up through Alamosa, but also near some rural small towns and mountain roads you didn’t get the chance to see after leaving Denver.

Why you need roadside assistance

The trek between Denver and Santa Fe means dealing with mountain and desert roads that can be taxing for most cars. There are also not always a lot of convenient stops for fuel or repairs.
Luckily, even if your car insurance company doesn’t offer roadside assistance, Jerry has your back! Jerry’s roadside assistance program covers everything you need for a safe journey, including emergency assistance, towing, winching, mechanic advice, rental reimbursement, and everything in between.
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