winter road trip, denver, las vegas

Winter Road Trip: Denver to Vegas

Words: Kitt Doucette
Photo: Aaron Blatt

The backroad boogie between two kingpins of the wintertime west.

Driving from Denver, Colorado, straight to Las Vegas, Nevada, takes between 10 and 11 hours, depending on how fast you drive. That’s if you take the monotonous freeway. Instead, take a week and ply the back roads, visiting off-the-beaten path ski resorts like Monarch Mountain and Arizona Ski Bowl and hiking in the Grand Canyon before partying in Sin City. 

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Denver is the real deal. It’s easy to get to with a wide range of metropolitan delights. Rent a good 4x4 at the airport and leave town as fast as you can. While Denver is rad, it’s not where the action is when winter rolls through. 

winter road trip, denver, las vegas

With an international airport, epic micro-brews and tons of accessable mountains, Denver is a great starting point.

© Wikimedia

Instead of following every other skier west on I-70, juke the heard and high-step south on highway 285 toward Salida, one of Colorado’s most authentic western towns. Nearby, Monarch Mountain awaits with lift tickets half the price of Vail or Aspen.   

After shredding Monarch, there are two options. One option is to continue south on 285 and join up with Highway 160 through Wolf Creek Pass, a legendary backcountry skiing zone in the dramatic San Juan Mountain Range. The second option is to head west on highway 50 toward Gunninson. Be sure to grab a pizza at Mario’s before crashing at Red Arrow Inn & Suits, an affordable motel in the little town of Montrose. Once you’ve gotten rest, get up early and giddy down south on highway 550 to Telluride and the untracked slopes of Silverton. 

winter road trip, denver, las vegas

Surveying the sketchiness in Silverton, CO.

© Ian Fohrman/Red Bull Content Pool

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Both paths eventually lead to Durango, a super cool town with locals who take their winter recreation seriously. Snowmobiling, ice climbing, snowshoeing, ice skating, cross country skiing … you name it. If it involves snow, chances are you can do it in Durango. Stay at the historic Strater Hotel and eat a steak at the Ore House Restaurant to get the full Durango experience. 

From Durango, it’s back on highway 160 headed west toward Cortez, where 160 joins 491 south into the Navajo Nation Reservation. Show respect and slow down, keeping your eyes peeled for authentic and extremely high-quality Navajo-made crafts sold along the road in humble sheds. 

winter road trip, denver, las vegas, grand canyon

Ditch the ski boots for hiking boots and enjoy minimal wintertime crowds at the Grand Canyon.

© Wikimedia

Next stop is Grand Canyon National Park, where you can ditch your ski boots for hiking boots and enjoy the world-famous park with fewer visitors during winter months. Hike down into the canyon and feel the temperature rise as you lose elevation. 

After that, hit up Arizona’s Snowbowl in Flagstaff, a small, friendly resort that boasts some of the best views and snow in the state. It’s also a phenomenal area for stargazing and shooting stars because of its clear air and cold temperatures. Book a night in a yurt at the Nordic Village and watch the night sky come to life. If you’re feeling spontaneous after stargazing, take a quick day trip to Sedona to catch a glimpse of giant frosted cacti in the red early-morning sun.

winter road trip, denver, las vegas, grand canyon

Vegas, baby! If you have any extra gas money, this is where you parlay it.

© Wikimedia

Viva Las Vegas. After a week in the mountains and on backroads, the bright lights and booming nightlife of Las Vegas can cause a little culture shock, so arrive prepared. It’s best to just dive right into it. Lounge by a pool, play some blackjack, go golfing, suck down a cocktail or two. The area surrounding Las Vegas is also an incredible outdoor playground. Winter in Las Vegas is primetime for rock climbing, mountain biking and four-wheeling thanks to the cooler temperatures. So roll the dice …

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