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Colorado

The Best of Colorado’s Majestic National Parks & Monuments

Program No. 22961RJ
Learn about Colorado’s natural wonders as you journey on Scenic Byways across the state exploring six of its most stunning and diverse national parks and monuments.

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At a Glance

Known for its towering Rocky Mountains and rushing Colorado River, the Centennial State is bathed with magnificent landscapes unlike any other in the United States. Immerse yourself in these landscapes as you loop on Federally designated Scenic Byways around western Colorado to explore six uniquely beautiful national parks and monuments. From the tallest sand dunes in North America, to one of the richest and most diverse archeological sites in the world, discover Colorado’s geographic phenomena with expert instructors, and journey into the lives of the Native inhabitants that thrived off these lands long ago.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Walk up to 2 miles a day on uneven terrain with elevations up to 12,000 feet.

What You'll Learn

  • Explore Mesa Verde, the only National Park dedicated to human habitation, as you look into the lives of ancestral Pueblo people.
  • Cross the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, and discover massive monoliths within a vast plateau and a canyon panorama at the lesser-known Colorado National Monument.
  • Venture off the beaten path to the Black Canyon and Great Sand Dunes National Parks, and experience deeply carved river canyons and mountains of shifting sands.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
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Joan Fields
A Colorado native, Joan Fields has always had a deep interest in the culture and history of the state. She is a member of several historical organizations and has had many years of experience in leading study explorations for various groups. She is a past president of Ghost Town Club of Colorado, an organization that focuses on the preservation and study of Colorado’s past. Her deep love of the state and passion for history brings everything together.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Joan Fields
Joan Fields View biography
A Colorado native, Joan Fields has always had a deep interest in the culture and history of the state. She is a member of several historical organizations and has had many years of experience in leading study explorations for various groups. She is a past president of Ghost Town Club of Colorado, an organization that focuses on the preservation and study of Colorado’s past. Her deep love of the state and passion for history brings everything together.
Profile Image of Lee Dahl
A Minnesota native, Lee Dahl graduated from Mankato State University with a degree in sociology and law enforcement. In 1998, he formed his own learning excursion company and offers visitors a look into the history, birding, geology and cultural highlights of the region. Lee is a member of several historical organizations and is a past president of Ghost Town Club of Colorado, an organization that focuses on the preservation and study of Colorado’s past.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Year
2024
  • 2024
Date
Aug 16 - Aug 26
  • Aug 16 - Aug 26
  • Sep 20 - Sep 30
Please Note: The program differs on certain dates.
Aug 16 - Aug 26, 2024 Itinerary Differences: This departure is 11 days / 10 nights and includes Dinosaur National Monument and its amazing Dinosaur Quarry. Meals: 23 total (10 B, 7 L, 6 D)
Please Note: The program differs on certain dates.
Select trip year and date
2024
  • 2024
Aug 16 - Aug 26
  • Aug 16 - Aug 26
  • Sep 20 - Sep 30
Aug 16 - Aug 26, 2024 Itinerary Differences: This departure is 11 days / 10 nights and includes Dinosaur National Monument and its amazing Dinosaur Quarry. Meals: 23 total (10 B, 7 L, 6 D)
While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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11 days
10 nights
23 meals
10 B 7 L 6 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Dinner
Denver, CO
D
SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denver Airport

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: Program Registration: 5:00 p.m. Check-in at hotel between 3 and 5 pm followed by 5 pm required orientation in hotel meeting room.

Dinner: Plated dinner

Evening: Orientation at 5 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. We will also make boxed lunch selections. This is a Road Scholar On The Road (OTR) program. OTR journeys take participants to multiple study sites in a region with a number of overnight stays. Lectures, talks, discussions, field trips, and on-board commentary will amplify the program theme. Long or short, On the Road journeys are learning experiences that make the most of our time together. Travel and transfers will be via private motorcoach unless noted otherwise. We will make numerous stops throughout the program. Some stops will involve short walks at scenic pull-offs while at others we will get off the motorcoach to take pictures and stretch our legs. Some stops will also have the Group Leader and local experts providing expert commentary. Stops for each day will vary depending on time of day, distance and time requirements, weather, group needs, etc. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/current conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
2
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, San Luis Valley
Alamosa, CO
B,L
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Alamosa

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 245 miles total, approximately 5 hours throughout the day with stops. Walking about 2 miles throughout the day; gravel, paved paths, minimal steps.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We will check out of the hotel and board our motorcoach. We’ll then ride to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument by way of the ancient inland sea now called South Park. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument has one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world. Petrified redwood stumps up to 14 feet wide and thousands of detailed fossils of insects and plants reveal the story of a very different, prehistoric Colorado. A park ranger will give us a presentation in the amphitheater and accompany us on a walk along the fossil trail to explore this amazing place. Along the way, we’ll come across Adeline Hornbek’s Homestead. Traveling back in time to the late 1870s, we’ll learn about Adeline Hornbek, a widow who managed to save her homestead despite difficult circumstances, and how her story fits into the history of the National Monument.

Lunch: At Florissant Fossil Beds, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: Next, we will ride into South Park, stopping for views and breaks along the way as we pass the Sawatch Range with seven peaks over 14,000 feet high. Then, as we descend into the historic San Luis Valley, we’ll learn about its rich history of Spanish exploration and today’s fertile agriculture industry. We will check in to our hotel in Alamosa upon arrival.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to have what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Take some time for relaxation and reflection on a busy day. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
3
Great Sand Dunes National Monument & Preserve
Ignacio, CO
B,L,D
Sky Ute Resort

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 200 miles throughout the day, approximately 3.5 hours total. Walking about 2 miles total; sand, gravel, paved paths, some steps and inclines.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out of our hotel, we’ll board the motorcoach for a scenic drive to the 38,000-acre Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Starting at the Visitor Center, we’ll watch an introductory film and view the interpretive displays to gain an understanding of the park. Then, with our Group Leader, we will walk out onto the dunes and explore this unique geographic phenomenon. The sand — too heavy to rise with the winds that carry it north-eastward across the flat, semiarid floor of the San Luis Valley — settles at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Range. The deposits that have accumulated over the course of 15,000 years have resulted in a 39-square-mile dune, the largest in North America.

Lunch: At a café just outside the National Park.

Afternoon: Moving on, we’ll ride to Ignacio along the scenic highway including Wolf Creek Pass, known for its rugged beauty and difficult engineering. Our Group Leader will provide commentary and point out aspects of its natural and human history. We’ll check in to our lodge hotel upon arrival in Ignacio.

Dinner: In a private dining room at the lodge.

Evening: We will be joined by a representative from the Southern Ute Nation who will greet us and give us a presentation.

DAY
4
Mesa Verde National Park, Southern Ute Museum & Cultural Ctr
Ignacio, CO
B,L
Sky Ute Resort

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 150 miles throughout the day, approximately 3 hours total with stops. Walking about 2 miles total; gravel, paved paths, steps and inclines at National Park. Walking and standing in Museum.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Setting out via motorcoach, we’ll ride to Mesa Verde National Park. It was established in 1906 to “preserve the works of man,” the first national park of its kind. According to the National Park Service, the focus of the park’s research and resource management staff is the continued preservation of both cultural and natural resources. Mesa Verde — Spanish for “green table” — is also a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. It offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people, masters of architectural adaptation, who made it their home for over 700 years from 600 to 1300 CE. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings that are among the most notable and best-preserved sites in the United States. A national park ranger will give us a presentation providing an overview of the site. We’ll then explore the mesa top and canyons to learn about some of the many facets of Ancestral Puebloan life.

Lunch: At Far View Terrace Cafeteria in the national park.

Afternoon: We drive in our motorcoach along the scenic Mesa top road and then head east to Ignacio. We will join a local guide at the Southern Ute Museum and Cultural Center for an inside introduction to the Ute people and the history and culture of these ancient inhabitants. The Center plays an important role in educating not only non-native visitors, but also the members of the Ute tribe covering tribal history and culture from prehistory to modern times. The building itself is unique having been designed by Jones and Jones, architects of Native American heritage who also designed the Smithsonian Native American Indian Museum. The structure utilizes a central conic form, reminiscent of the teepee, wickiup, and woven basketry. The interior displays a beautiful and symbolic Circle of Life glass ceiling in the center of the ponderosa pine logs with a running creek flowing through the building. The displays chronicle the history of the Ute through photographs, video presentations, and more. It also includes life-sized replicas of a teepee made from buffalo hide, a cabin, and a school. Free time follows our museum visit.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded to enjoy what you like at the lodge restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
5
Million Dollar Highway, Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Montrose, CO
B,L,D
Hampton Inn Montrose

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 160 miles throughout the day, approximately 4 hours total with stops. Walking about 3 miles total; gravel, unpaved paths, some rocky uneven surfaces, steps and inclines to overlooks.

Breakfast: At the lodge.

Morning: We will check out of the hotel, board the motorcoach, and ride along the most scenic highway in Colorado. The “Million Dollar Highway” is part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byways. During our ride, we’ll have expert commentary from our Group Leader and make stops for spectacular views including the picturesque mining town of Silverton.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Our next destination is the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. We will learn about the canyon’s geology and natural history as we ride and walk at scenic and interpretive overlooks. For more than two million years, the power of water has been working to form the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The canyon combines depth, narrowness and sheerness while exposing some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The Canyon Rim Drive has several viewpoints that we’ll reach via short walking trails. We’ll have opportunities to see down into the canyon from steep cliff walls above the Gunnison River that runs nearly 2,000 feet below the canyon rim. From the National Park Service: “The canyon has been a mighty barrier to humans. Only its rims, never the gorge, show evidence of human occupation — not even by Ute Indians living in the area since written history began.” We will check in to our hotel in Montrose upon arrival.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
6
Ute Historical Museum, Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
Palisade, CO
B,L
Wine Country Inn

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 130 miles throughout the day, approximately 4 hours total with stops. Walking about 2 miles total; gravel, unpaved paths, some rocky uneven surfaces, steps and inclines to overlooks.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll drive to the Ute Indian Museum where we’ll have a welcome talk and introductory presentation by museum staff, followed by time for independent exploration. The museum represents a critical part of Colorado’s history with exhibits on the Ute peoples’ history of adaptation and persistence that unfolds around significant locations in Ute history. We’ll have an opportunity to learn about Ute cultural survival, political determination, economic opportunity, and the celebration of the Bear Dance. Next, we’ll ride up and along the spectacular Grand Mesa and follow the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. Along the way, we’ll make stops for informative talks, beautiful views, and cooler air on the mesa that rise over 10,000 feet above sea level. Grand Mesa is the highest flat-topped mountain in the world.

Lunch: At Alexander Lake Lodge on Grand Mesa.

Afternoon: Moving on, we’ll ride along the edge of Grand Mesa to Palisade, the orchard and vineyard capital of Colorado. We’ll check in to a vineyard-based lodge for the next two nights.

Dinner: On your own to have what you like in Palisade.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
7
Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction
Palisade, CO
B,D
Wine Country Inn

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 100 miles throughout the day, approximately 3 hours total. Walking about 2 miles total; gravel paths to overlooks; paths no more than 200 yards long.

Breakfast: At the Inn.

Morning: We will board our motorcoach and ride to Colorado National Monument, “a gift from the spirits,” as the Ute people refer to it. On our way, we’ll encounter sheer walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rimrock Drive. If we’re lucky, we might spy bighorn desert sheep and soaring eagles. Rimrock Drive is an engineering and road-building feat that was constructed during the Great Depression of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. We will be joined by a local expert for the 22-mile drive through the Monument. The drive will take us through several tunnels and many switchbacks as we rise to the top of the Plateau. Upon arrival, we will explore the Visitors Center and several viewpoints including Independence Overlook. John Otto, who worked to have it designated as a National Monument, called it the “heart of the world.” The grandness of its mesas and towering monoliths within a vast plateau and canyon panorama separate it from other national parks as it preserves one of the most iconic landscapes of the American West. We’ll continue along the scenic drive to Grand Junction.

Lunch: On your own to have what you like at Grand Junction.

Afternoon: Free time. This period of time has been set aside for your personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Please note that the period scheduled for free time is subject to change depending on local circumstances and opportunities for independent exploration. We’ll rendezvous at a predetermined time and place for our return to the inn in Palisade.

Dinner: At the Inn.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
8
Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur Diamond Byway
Rangely, CO
B,L,D
Blue Mountain Inn & Suites

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 200 miles throughout the day, approximately 5 hours total with stops. Walking about 2.5 miles total; gravel, paved paths, steps and inclines at the national monument. Elective, self-directed natural history walk 1/2 mile round-trip, graded level trail.

Breakfast: At the Inn.

Morning: We will check out of the hotel, board the motorcoach, and head north on Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway, riding through remote and stunning ranch country. Upon our arrival at Dinosaur National Monument, we’ll set out on a field trip on the Colorado side that, although visited less often, is probably the most beautiful of any of Colorado’s national parks and monuments as it preserves a true wilderness experience of stunning beauty. The Yampa River, designated as one of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers, flows through the Colorado side of the national monument where it joins the Green River. We’ll spend the day enjoying some of the viewpoints and overlooks as we look for wild horses and other wildlife that may be present.

Lunch: At the national monument, we’ll have boxed lunches.

Afternoon: We’ll continue our exploration of Dinosaur National Monument. There will also be an opportunity for an elective, self-directed natural history walk: 1/2 mile round-trip, graded level trail. Back aboard the motorcoach, we will ride on to our hotel in Rangely and check in.

Dinner: We will walk 4 blocks to the Rangely Automotive Museum.

Evening: We will have an opportunity to explore the unusual collection of antique autos before returning to the hotel. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
9
Dinosaur National Monument Quarry
Steamboat Springs, CO
B,L
Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 210 miles throughout the day, approximately 5 hours total with stops. Walking about 2 miles total; mostly paved trails of 100 yards or less to overlooks. Elective trail walk approximately 2 miles roundtrip; gravel path, uphill and downhill areas.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After hotel check-out, we’ll ride back to Dinosaur National Monument, this time on the Utah side. We will stop first at the Visitor Center for an introductory film and to see the exhibits. We’ll then ride to the Quarry Exhibit Hall that contains the remains of hundreds of dinosaur fossils still embedded in the rock. We’ll have a presentation by a National Park Service Ranger about discovering the bones, the amazing excavation and preservation techniques used to uncover the dinosaur bones embedded in the rock that we’ll see, and theories as to why the fossil wall exists.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll ride east to Steamboat Springs with time for leisurely, independent exploration in this vibrant ranching town. Please refer to the list of Free Time Opportunities. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. We’ll regroup at a designated time and place, then will check in to the hotel.

Dinner: On your own to have what you like.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
10
Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road
Denver, CO
B,D
SpringHill Suites by Marriott Denver Airport

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 220 miles throughout the day; approximately 6 hours total. Walking about 2 miles total; gravel, paved paths, some steps and inclines.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll ride along the Yampa River Valley until it joins the Colorado River as we gain elevation on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. Our Group Leader will provide commentary about the natural and human history of the rivers as well as giving us an introduction to Rocky Mountain National Park before we arrive at Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor Center.

Lunch: On your own to have what you like at the Alpine Visitor Center.

Afternoon: To cap off our national parks experiences, we’ll ride along Rocky Mountain National Park’s magnificent Trail Ridge Road — constructed between 1926 and 1932 — with eight miles of the 48-mile-long highway above 11,000 feet in elevation. With its high point reaching 12,183 feet above sea level, it is the highest continuous highway in the United States. It passes through several different life zones including subalpine and alpine zones, as well as the largest continuous tundra in the continental United States. With the various different climate zones, the varieties of flora and fauna varieties are bountiful. As we ride, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for wildlife that may be present such as deer, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, bears, marmots, pica, ptarmigan, eagles, Stellar Jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, Rocky Mountain bluebirds, and more. The magnificent vistas display unique, wild beauty and rugged summits of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. We will stop at key overlooks along the way including some short walks to view the tundra and magnificent scenery. Our Group Leader will provide commentary during these stops. We’ll ride on from the park to our hotel in Denver and check in.

Dinner: At the hotel. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departures in the morning. For participants flying, reserve airport shuttle at hotel front desk.

DAY
11
Program Concludes
Denver, CO
B

Activity note: Hotel check-out 10:00 a.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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