Colorado Road Trip Loop: Durango, Ouray, Steamboat Springs, Denver
Colorado is known for its beautiful Rocky Mountains and skiing resorts, but there's a lot more to this state than that! If you're looking for a fun and scenic road trip, Colorado is the place to go. With plenty of options for routes, you can create your own adventure tailored to your interests.
Which season you decide on for your Colorado road trip determines how to go about it. This winter we took a road trip through the mountains. Here's where we went and what we got up to. But first, a few words about planning a winter car trip in Colorado.
Winter driving in Colorado
We left Durango for this trip on March 9th. In this part of Colorado, that is solidly still winter. We are not expert winter weather drivers by any means, but we still managed just fine. Here are a few tips.
Have a capable vehicle
If you want to tackle winter driving in the Colorado mountains, you need to be prepared. That starts with your vehicle. We did the trip in our MINI Countryman ALL4. It's all wheel drive and we have snow tires on the car. We had no trouble driving on snow pack with it.
Watch the weather
The winter weather in the Colorado mountains can be varied especially depending on elevation. Rain at 7,000' can be heavy snow at 9,000'. Be prepared with a reliable source of weather information. If you don't have one or aren't sure, ask the locals.
We found ourselves driving in snow often, but not whiteout conditions. One morning we woke up to a fresh foot of snow and had to dig the car out to leave. Thankfully the hotel had a snow shovel we could borrow which made it easier.
You never know if you're going to get stuck. We carried a small snow shovel and chains, but never had to use them. We also had warm clothes, extra water, and food to last us a little while in case we got stuck. The more isolated your route, the more prepared you should be. Our route had steady, regular traffic so we weren't too concerned about being stuck for a long time.
Our Colorado Road Trip Itinerary
For our March, 2022 Colorado road trip, we left from and returned to Durango in the southwestern part of the state. This area is known as the Western Slope because it is west of the Continental Divide.
Our goal destination was Steamboat Springs but we ended up making a loop out of the trip so we could visit Denver and take care of some "big city" errands.
Is it worth going to Colorado in the winter? We might be a little biased since we chose to stay here throughout the winter. Read on to see exactly what we did on our winter Colorado road trip.
Our first stop was Ouray. Ouray is a small, picturesque town nestled in the San Juan Mountains. It's worth a visit any time of year. In the summer, hike Box Cañon and see the falls. In the winter, check out the ice climbers at Ouray Ice Park.
Wiesbaden Hotel and Hot Springs
During our winter visit, we stayed overnight at the Wiesbaden Hotel and Hot Springs. There are other hot springs in town but the Wiesbaden has a vapor cave under the hotel. It's quite a unique experience! Don't stay in the cave too long, though. It is hot and can quickly become overwhelming.
There's a bigger pool outside that isn't as hot and gives you wonderful views of the mountains. You can book a day visit but if you stay at the hotel you have no time limits in the caves or pool.
Is there vegan food in Ouray?
Yes! There weren't a ton of options, but we did okay. If you stay in a spot with a kitchen, the local market was well-stocked. There were plenty of non-dairy milks and meat alternatives. Don't worry, the food gets better as the trip goes along.
We grabbed lunch at Thai Chili and both ordered simple veggie and noodle dishes. They were both simply flavored but seemed. nourishing. We were told they could make almost anything on the menu vegan.
We went to Mi Mexico for dinner. Vegan here seemed to mean "on a diet." Heads up, they use chicken stock in their rice.
We got veggie enchiladas and the garden fresco burrito without rice.
One thing to keep in mind when traveling through small mountain towns is that food is expensive. Expect to pay around $15 per meal.
We were headed to Steamboat Springs for a particular event but that didn't stop us from getting up to stuff. We had loads of fun and we didn't even ski or snowboard!
Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs
The event hotel was the Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs so we stayed there. It had a mini fridge which was convenient for us. We used it to keep milk for coffee and cereal for breakfast. It's just outside the main bus route in Steamboat Springs so if you don't have a car you might not find it convenient. We did have a car with us, so we had no problems.
Steamboat Snowmobile Tours
If you're not going to ski or snowboard, what do you do in the Colorado mountains in the winter? Go on a snow mobile tour! We arrived after a nice snow storm and had plenty of fresh powder to zoom through, too.
We took the four hour tour which included a break for lunch. We were prepared with ample snacks but the tour operator provided a nice vegan meal. It was actually one of the best meals we've ever gotten while on a tour like this.
It was brutally cold, but the tour company provided snowsuits, boots, and helmets. We brought our own goggles, gloves and many other layers.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Strawberry Park Hot Springs are natural pools in a beautiful setting away from town. It's particularly magical in the winter time but the springs are open year round.
You can drive there yourself if you have a capable vehicle, but it's hard to get a reservation. The easy way to guarantee getting into the pools is to book through a shuttle company. You'll find the links on their website. The 4WD shuttle will pick you up and return you to your accommodations.
There is some lodging at Strawberry Park Hot Springs but it is quite rustic. Like, no electricity, bring your own linens and blankets, no running water except in the shared bath house rustic.
If you get overheated in the springs, there is a cold plunge off to the side.
Vegan food in Steamboat Springs
There are a few restaurants that have vegan options in Steamboat Springs. You can see the options available on Happy Cow. There's also a Natural Grocers that has some grab and go vegan options like salads. If you have a spot with a kitchen or even just a microwave you'll have even more food choices here.
We made our own breakfast in the hotel. Lunch was covered on our snowmobile trip. And here's where we ate out.
We ended up getting two dinners and a lunch from Seedz Cafe. While it's not a vegan spot, they do have a separate vegan menu so you don't even have to look at the non-vegan options.
The lunch items we tried were the Avocado Caprese and the Philly. Both were served open face. We got them carry out so they're packed in boxes with a salad, our side choice. Both were good but I think the caprese was more satisfying.
The dinners were fantastic. Kevin got the Gochujang Tofu with Wild Hazel Dell Mushrooms both visits.
I got the plate with Kalbi Tofu, rice, and house veggies the first visit.
The next time I choose the Siamin Noodle Soup and added the Kalbi Tofu.
You won't be disappointed with any of these.
Mai Thai in Steamboat Springs has a vegan section on the menu that makes it easy to order.
We started with fried tofu. Kevin got the Drunken Noodles and I got the Yellow Curry.
The flavors here were definitely a step up from what we had in Ouray. The dishes were more complex. Surprisingly good for a mountain town.
We actually ended up staying overnight in Golden because it was more convenient to the route we took back home. In the Denver, area we were on a mission. Time to run some big city errands. And we had less than 24 hours to do it. I'm not going to lie, much of that revolved around eating.
Kevin's must do
Kevin had one (non-food) place to visit on his list: REI. If you've never been to REI's Denver flagship store, it's worth a visit. It's massive! The store is located in the 1901 Denver Tramway building. Lots of beautiful exposed brick. And it's right on the South Platt River.
Laura's must do
The only requirement I had for our Denver metro visit was to hit up an international market. I had a cold bag ready for some Korean rice cakes and I was not going to return home with it empty.
My choice this visit was H-Mart. H-Mart is a chain of supermarkets with loads of Asian goods. There are a few in the Atlanta area so I'm familiar with it. If you're curious about what I got and what I'll do with it, check out my vegan H-Mart haul post.
Vegan food we ate in Denver
Oh man, there are so many good spots to choose from in Denver. We're so sad we didn't have more time. But we did enjoy the choices we made.
The stars aligned and we were able to make it from Steamboat Springs to Denver just in time for brunch at Watercourse. We've been here numerous times over the years and the menu is ever evolving.
Both of us ordered off of the brunch menu. Kevin got the Chicken Biscuit that had JUST been added to the menu that morning! The chicken here is a lion's mane mushroom. It was on point,
I got the Chicken and Waffles. This chicken was made of cauliflower. Also amazing.
We tried to get a cinnamon roll to share, but they ran out. So we held off and headed over to....
Make, Believe Bakery
Make, Believe Bakery is owned by the same people as Watercourse (so is City o City.) If Watercourse is out of a baked good that you want, head on over and they probably have it.
We each got Wizards (their version of a blizzard) and a bunch of goodies to take with us. We drove from here to REI and ate our Wizards while sitting on a bench by the river before heading in to shop. I ate the whole Wizard and had regrets afterwards. So much sugar! But it was soooo good! If you can, be smart and split one.
After all that, we didn't have a ton of stomach capacity. So we decided to try Wellness Sushi, an all vegan spot that was new to us. It's a little counter that shares seating with a market. You order and then they'll bring it out to you.
Kevin got the Teriyaki Beef Onigiri because we've never seen a vegan version of this before. Plus, we got to try Omnipork Spam for the first time. It was really good. And I hadn't thought of how Just Egg would be perfect for tamago, but it is.
I got the Hot Flamingo Roll which was one of the few that didn't involve tempura.
Man, I wish I'd had more space so I could've tried their ramen. Next time! This place is perfect for "quick" sushi when you don't want to do the whole fancy restaurant experience.
The drive home
We took 285 to 160 and wow was that a beautiful drive! There's one point where you come around a curve and see a majestic mountain range and think it's amazing but then it just keeps coming and the mountains keep getting bigger. I have no photos that will do it justice so you'll just have to trust me.
If you’re looking for a winter (or summer) road trip idea, Colorado is definitely a great option. The scenery is beautiful and there are plenty of things to do no matter what your interests are. We hope our itinerary gave you some ideas for your own trip and that you have a wonderful time exploring all that Colorado has to offer.
About the Author
vegan. full-time traveler. rv dweller. food lover. cow petter.