Plan a Trip to Colorado: 15 Tips for Saving Money On Your Next Vacation

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In this guide, we are sharing our tips as a local couple on how to plan a trip to Colorado that’s fun and doesn’t cost a lot of money. 

No matter what time of year, or what is happening right now, a vacation to Colorado is a great way to spice up your life.

These tips are ones we personally use for planning our trips across Colorado. 

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Thinking of living in Colorado? This guide will help you avoid costly mistakes and remove the stress of planning so you can experience the joys of mountain living.

You will find examples of our favorite day trips from Denver or best day trips from Colorado Springs.

Whether you’re going on a weekend trip or staying for an entire week, these tips will help you plan the best Colorado vacation yet.

How to Plan a Trip to Colorado

A vacation to Colorado can be a wonderful way to break up the monotony of life and work. And you can do it without breaking the bank or taking too much time!

Whether it’s a day trip across the state or a weekend getaway these trips are quick and easy. 

getting to colorado springs

These ideas are often more budget-friendly since they don’t have to cost a lot of money.

They are perfect for adventure lovers who want to explore Colorado more.

Tip: we have an entire guide to help you if you are planning an epic ski trip to Colorado.

1. Search for the best Colorado tours

During both the summer and winter months, Colorado offers world-class skiing and five-star tours across the state.

From a jeep tour of Garden of the Gods to walking tours in Denver, there is something for everyone to do and to see. 

Our favorite Colorado tours include:

Booking a well-reviewed tour like one of these can help you customize your trip without spending a lot of money. 

Many of these tours include entrance fees required to enter the parks, as well as snacks, lunches, food and free transportation.

It’s a great way to create your Colorado itinerary without spending a lot of money on individual activities.

2. Grab the CityPASS bundle

If you’re looking to spend time in the city instead of the mountains, we highly recommend getting the Denver CityPASS bundle.

Starting at just $39 per person (and even less for kids) you can choose from 7 of Denver’s top tourist attractions.

Once activated, it’s valid for 7 consecutive days and can be used at 3-5 top destinations in the city.

Here are the top attractions included in the Denver CityPASS for one low price.

  • Downtown Aquarium Denver (reg $24.99) 
  • Denver Museum of Nature & Science (reh $19.95)
  • History Colorado Center (reg $14)
  • Denver Art Museum (reg $13-18)
  • Denver Botanic Gardens (reg $15)
  • Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (reg $15)
  • Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum (reg $18.95)

Total retail price for all attractions: $120.89

Total cost for Denver CityPASS: $39-54 depending on bundle

To learn more about this deal, check out our in-depth review of the Denver CityPASS.

3. Use Groupon for deals and savings

If your day trips dates are flexible, keep an eye out for deals and discounts for different activities and jump on them!

We love taking advantage of a limited-time deal to encourage us to be more spontaneous and adventurous.

Sites like Groupon are a great place to check for local savings on places like:

  • the best tours
  • hot springs resorts
  • museum packages
  • family activities
  • other discounts

For example, Groupon recently offered a Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort package for $35 admission for two at their historic bath house.

It included a day relaxing in the natural hot springs or lounging about in the Chalk Creek hot springs.

To find deals on adventures and activities in the city you’re visiting, go to Groupon.com/browse/CITYNAME to look for discounts on the things you want to do!

4. Stay for a day or a weekend 

Depending on your budget, you may only want to stay for a couple days or even an entire week. 

Both types of Colorado vacations have their pros and cons.

A shorter vacation means less money spent on lodging, food, and gas. But a longer vacation means more time spent at destinations and attractions. 

If you’re planning to visit a lot of Colorado destinations, then a longer trip makes more sense than several shorter trips.

You can also check out all-inclusive ski resorts and summer destinations that offer 3-day vacations or 7-day long trips.

5. Plan for crowds and traffic

Every vacation involves some time spent driving to and from your destination. So plan accordingly.

Colorado has become an increasingly popular destination for transplants as well as tourists looking for a relaxing vacation.

Decide how much time you want to spend on the road driving to your destination and back. This makes it easier to decide where to go within that range.

jeep-tour-in-colorado-springsjeep-tour-in-colorado-springs

Another thing to think about is known traffic patterns. 

For instance, if you are traveling on a weekday, you may join the queue for the morning commute depending on your departure time.

And if you’re not careful, you could catch the evening rush hour on your way home, which will seriously delay your return!

Even on weekends, be aware of the flows of traffic along the routes you plan to take.

You may find it surprisingly crowded if you’re going the same way as many others.

6. Look for free things to do

Colorado makes it easy to find fun and free things to do this weekend.

One of our top must-see places that is totally free is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Not only is this huge, wide-open space a local favorite, but it’s free and easy to walk or drive around.

Not only that, both Colorado Springs and Denver offer tons of things to do whether it’s a weekend away or simply a day trip.

At Garden of the Gods, you’ll see some of the largest rock formations in the state.

The visitor center and museum is totally free (although donations are welcomed!), and there is a nice cafe and gift shop on site.

As with many museums in Colorado, the museum is perfect for kids and grown-ups alike, so everyone can enjoy their visit.

7. Use Google Trips Planner

Now it’s time to plan your route and make this the perfect vacation. Are there any can’t-miss stops you want to make?

From a restaurant you’re dying to try, to a hike you just can’t skip, make a simple itinerary of things you want to do.

Include things you want to do while at your destination and along the route to get there.

One tool we love to use when planning our trips is the Trip Planner by Google.

Use the Explore feature to see things to do in any city in Colorado!

Get suggestions of day plans, watch travel videos, see places nearby your destination or along your route, and, of course, get directions.

We find this tool especially helpful when comparing different locations and the activities and amenities available in each!

This is also a great opportunity to start a Colorado bucket list

You won’t be able to see everything that Colorado has to offer in a one day trip, so create a list of places to visit in the future.

8. Check out the Pub Pass 

The cost of vacation activities adds up but so does the cost of eating out when visiting a new place.

To save money on food while on your day trip, check out the Colorado Pub Pass.

Each pub passport costs about $25. You will receive a physical, pocket-sized passport that gets you two-for-one beverages at dozens of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and more.

Choose a passport for the region you want to explore, or pick one in your hometown and find a new-to-you favorite.

Grab a passport to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, or the Rocky Mountains.

Or you can even grab the Colorado Pack for $60 and get a passport to every available city in Colorado.

Check back each season to get your passport for the perfect apres ski exploration during winter and the best patios to relax at during summer.

9. Use the EatCheap.app

Another great way to save big on food is with an app like EatCheap.

Find budget-friendly bites around Denver, and filter by the day of the week and the meal you’re interested in.

These recommendations are provided by locals and kept up-to-date by the people, so some deals may not be exactly as described.

With deals listed from breakfast to late-night apps, you’re sure to find a great deal for any meal of the day.

Any more than 3 hours might be better as an overnight trip. You want to have plenty of time to enjoy your destination. And you don’t want to be overly tired on your ride home.

Decide how much time you want to spend on the road driving to your destination and back. This makes it easier to decide where to go within that range.

10. Be open to spontaneous adventure

While we love planning out the perfect outing, we leave a certain amount of room in our plans for, well, adventure!

A super rigid agenda of events can be stifling and sometimes unrealistic.

If you’re open to opportunity, you may find a totally unexpected surprise.

lost-lake-trail-colorado

Whether it’s a beautiful scenic pull-out or a dive restaurant you never would have seen otherwise.

(The good thing is, no matter what you actually do and see on your trip, you’ll have an incredible time exploring our state!)

11. Explore Colorado’s best destinations

Now that you’ve narrowed down your options on the map, it’s time to choose the right type of adventure for your trip.

If you want to have a more secluded adventure, look for destinations that are less populated.

Some ideas might be, a hike in nature or a national park where you’ll have lots of space to yourself.

Here are some of our favorite Colorado destinations:

12. Invest in gear & supplies 

Your trip is getting close. Make sure you’ve got all the gear and supplies you will need to make the most of your adventure!

Here are some items we suggest taking on your day trip:

Emergency kit / first aid kit

Having a well-stocked emergency kit and / or first aid kit is always a good thing to keep in the trunk.

Depending on the time of year, this may include things like: chains for your vehicle, and should always include common first aid supplies like pain medications, bandaids, and blister patches.

We also never leave home without:

  • sunscreen and sunglasses
  • an extra phone charger
  • towels and / or blankets

Food and water

Road trip snacks and water are must-haves for any Colorado day trip.

As you load up, either at the grocery store beforehand or somewhere along your route, pack extra staples like shelf-stable food and water.

If you’re out longer than expected or have kids in tow, a few extra granola bars can go a long way to keeping your energy up and tempers down!

Cash or a checkbook

As hard as it may be to believe, cash is still king in some places.

Bring your checkbook or have cash on hand, just in case you find a plastic-free toll booth or entrance fee. (We are speaking from experience!)

Change of clothes or extra clothes

The weather can change on a dime in Colorado. When the sun goes down in the mountains, it can get cold fast.

Regardless of the season, be prepared with an extra jacket or sweater so you’re not caught by surprise.

If you’re planning a more rugged adventure, pack a full change of clothes and shoes.

This will come in handy in case you get soaked or muddy, or want to get out of your sweaty adventuring clothes for the ride home.

Games and activities

Bring some games and activities that can be done while on the road. We enjoy using our phones, but we also like making time to unplug and enjoy the journey.

Audiobooks can be a great alternative to phone games. And simple coloring pages and classic road trip games are a fun break from the miles of driving.

For more packing tips and tricks, we have an entire guide about the best road trip essentials so be sure to check that out when gathering your gear!

13. Prepare your vehicle for the trip

Make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas before you leave. If it’s been a while since your last tune-up, make sure your vehicle is road-worthy.

Get an oil change, top up your fluids, and check your tire pressure.

ice scraper for winter cars

If needed, make an appointment before you go so you won’t be caught out in the woods! This can be an expensive way to keep chaos at bay.

14. Check the weather

When picking the right destination, there are some of the additional factors to consider.

If you’re planning to head into the mountains, prepare for the weather! As you gain elevation, the weather can change rapidly.

The mountains can present plenty of challenges at all times of year.

Plan for changes in altitude, the thinner air and rapid temperature swings. You should expect spontaneous rain, or even snow, as well as lower cell coverage.

15. Have a reasonable budget

One reason we love day trips is that they are a budget-friendly way to explore Colorado.

You don’t have to take time off of work for a longer trip, and you save money on hotel and overnight costs.

There are going to be some travel costs though, so add these into your budget.

Travel costs may include gas for driving, toll fees, and food and snacks that you bring or buy along the way.

Check for entrance fees at your destination, as well as other incidentals like parking fees.

If you plan to shop while on your trip, plan how much you would like to spend on any souvenirs or gifts before starting out.

We hope you find these tips helpful for how to plan a trip to Colorado so you can save money on your next vacation.