Planning the perfect family road trip in Colorado

"Welcome to Colorful Colorado" roadside sign. (Thinkstock)

By Joshua Berman
Special to The Denver Post

Lodore, Dinosaur, DeBeque. I sound out the place names for my daughters as I trace their little fingers along my proposed route, along roads and rivers on the giant map pages and they try to repeat the sounds.

Ouray, Ophir, Rico, Cortez. DeLorme’s Colorado Atlas & Gazatteer sprawls on the carpet before us. I’m planning the biggest loop road trip I think my family can handle. My daughters are small (2, 4 and 7), but they are old enough to embark on the most comprehensive exploration of their native state to date.

Mesa Verde, Durango, Pagosa. If I hadn’t been hearing about these places for years, I would think they were destinations in some far-flung South American outback. But they aren’t. They are in my own backyard, and in just a few short weeks, we will be driving through them, taking in the entire western half of Colorado as if it were another country.

Silverton, Cimarron, Gunnison. I’m mostly guessing about driving times and distances, and I hope it all works out. I’ve always been more of a “drive up into the mountains and look for the perfect spot to crash” kind of guy, so this whole family camping/glamping thing (I have to reserve the campsites months before?!) is as terra incognita for me as some of the regions I’ll be seeing for the first time this summer. I’m as excited as my daughters as we continue flopping the big pages back and forth.

Salida, Saguache, Sand Dunes. We have nearly a month of potential travel time this summer. I want to make the most of it, but I don’t want to exhaust my family. Is it too much? Too ambitious? Would it be better to hole up in just one or two places instead of covering so much ground?

I guess we’ll find out. To keep the kids occupied, a friend recommended taking out a stack of audio books from the library and creating several crates of special car-trip dolls and toys to rotate out through the trip.

During a journey, you see the sights, smell the smells, and feel the cool bite of mountain air in the morning. Afterward, there is the telling of the story — showing pictures, exaggerating conditions, sharing your campsite selfies.

But before all that, before anything can happen, there is the magic of dreaming and planning it. The scores of topographic maps in the DeLorme book serve not only as a visual guide to Colorado’s back roads and recreation areas — the grids and contours also add to the pre-trip buzz, making it feel like I’m planning a proper expedition — even though it’s nothing more extreme than a lazy drive across the state and a family soak in a couple of hot springs.

Joshua Berman is the author of five books about travel. Find him online at JoshuaBerman.netand twitter.com/tranquilotravel.

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This article originally appeared in The Denver Post on June 12, 2015.

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