Wasatch Mountains in the fall as you approach Salt Lake City on the road trip from Denver.
Johnny Adolphson/Shutterstock.com

Road Trip From Denver To Salt Lake City

By Sasha Yanshin | Published on 25 September 2020

Whether you want to see the sights of the Mormon Capital or just want to drive through some amazing scenery across Colorado and Utah, a driving from Denver to Salt Lake City is an epic adventure.

The 525-mile road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City will take about 8 hours of driving along the scenic I-70 route passing snow-capped mountains, lush forests and arid deserts. There are endless options to stop en route to break up the drive.

Read on to find the best places to stop, amazing sights to see along the way and tips on the best hotels to spend the night.

How far is Salt Lake City from Denver and how long will the road trip take?

There is relatively little difference in terms of time or distance you'll have to cover regardless of which of the 3 different routes you take for the road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City.

The fastest route via the I-80 through Wyoming will barely save you 15 minutes over the scenic drive over the Rockies along the I-70 so unless you really do not care about the views and your sole objective is to get there as fast as possible, you'll want to follow the I-70.

If you want to come back via a different road, US-40 is a good alternative and passes through some interesting locations so you can enjoy the road back as much as the drive up to Salt lake City.

RouteDistanceDriving Time
Fastest Route
(via I-80)
520 miles7 hours 45 minutes
Shortest Route
(via US-40)
490 miles8 hours 30 minutes
Scenic Route
(via I-70)
525 miles8 hours

Best road trip route from Denver to Salt Lake City

The best road trip route from Denver to Salt Lake City is the scenic drive along the I-70 over the Rocky Mountains before US-191 and US-6 north.

This route has stunning scenery the entire way and has amazing places to explore on the way which is perfect if you want to take your time and spend time in nature as well as on the road.

The best route from Denver to Salt Lake City is to follow the I-70 west out of Denver. Follow the highway as it climbs the Rockies and enjoy the sights. Aparaho and Roosevelt National Forest will be to your right as you approach the famous Vail resort and the White River National Forest will open up straight after.

Just before you get to Glenwood Springs famed for its hot naturally fed spring pools, you'll pass the pretty Hanging Lake to your right (a relatively easy hike).

From there, the I-70 descends down to the vineyards of Palisade, passes through Grand Junction and into Utah. Keep following the road until you cross Green River at which point US-191 to your right will take you north.

Soon after passing Helper, take US-6 at the intersection which will eventually join into the I-15 which will take you all the way to Salt Lake City.

Waterfalls and pine forest surrounding Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
The route from Denver to Salt Lake City passes right by the stunning Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs.
DaveGarguilo/Shutterstock.com

Best places to stop between Denver and Salt Lake City

To avoid spending the entire day on the road, you'll want to break up the drive into two or three chunks. With the amount of amazing nature on show, you really want to invest time in the drive as much as time spent in Salt Lake City so make your plans accordingly.

Here are some of the best places to stop for the night depending on what you're looking for.

Explore Utah's National Parks in Moab

Just over halfway from Denver to Salt Lake City and just after you cross over from Colorado to Utah is the small city of Moab. It's the perfect place to stop and break the long journey into two shorter drives.

Moab is the gateway to not one but two stunning national parks - Arches and Canyonlands. If you're only stopping for the night, you could spend the morning exploring Arches National Park before heading to Salt Lake City but you really could and should stay longer and see the best sights of both.

The best place to stay in Moab if you love great views and a relaxed charming feel is the Red Cliffs Lodge. It sits on the bank of Colorado River 25 minutes north of Moab and although the rooms are a bit more expensive than the regular chain options in Moab, you get a lot more for your money.

There is an even more fancy option just a few minutes further up the river at the luxurious Sorrel River Ranch, but the prices there are a lot more expensive so although the views are amazing and the room decor is top notch, it may not be worth it for the hefty price tag.

View down into the canyon from the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
If you have time, you absolutely must go see the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah.
prochasson frederic/Shutterstock.com

Stay the night in Vail, Colorado

Vail is not great for dividing the journey into equal parts - it's only about 2 hours away from Denver so you'll have to do 6 hours of driving after the stopover or add in another stop.

But if you want to breathe some fresh mountain air, explore the activities ranging from skiing in the winter to exploring the mountain by bike in the summer, Vail is right on your way through the Rockies.

Consider adding Vail to your itinerary if you want to make some headway after work to reduce the amount of driving you have to do the next day or if you want to do the bulk of your drive back from Salt Lake City in one go, but don't quite want to stretch it to do the whole thing in one day.

Although Vail hotels can be pretty expensive, you can opt for the rustic family-run Sonnenalp right in the heart of Vail as the perfect place to relax on your way. You've got all the resort's amenities within walking distance and you can soak in the pool and spa after a solid day's hiking.

Piney Lake with mountains reflected in the water near Vail, Colorado.
Summers in Vail are perfect for hiking to places like Piney Lake.
Angelo Ferraris/Shutterstock.com

Things to see on a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City

The amazing thing about this drive is that you have an endless number of places to stop along the way to explore nature, relax in hot spring pools or hike through the desert.

Here is a list of some of the best spots to stop along the way from Denver to Salt Lake City:

  1. Vail, Colorado: One of the most famous ski resorts in the United States is equally amazing as a summer destination
  2. Aspen, Colorado: Another top notch ski resort and place to explore the Rockies a little way off the main route
  3. White River National Park: Discover hiking trails in the summer and ski slopes in the winter. Experience the wilderness at its best in the unspoiled forest-covered mountains
  4. Hanging Lake: Pristine lake with beautiful waterfall and forest that takes a short hike to get to. Check ahead if you need to park in Glenwood Springs and take the shuttle
  5. Glenwood Springs: Famous for its natural hot springs with the world's largest spring-fed pool, the water has to be cooled down to 104°F (40°C) before you can swim in it!
  6. Grand Mesa:The breathtaking view of the world's largest flat-top mountain and many more picture-perfect spots on the byway
  7. Wineries in Palisade: Perhaps the best wine region in the US that you have never heard of - try some Colorado specials in Palisade
  8. Arches & Canyonlands National Parks: Unique red rock formations, canyons and stunning hiking routes near Moab, Utah
  9. Provo Canyon: Provo to Salt Lake City is a beautiful drive with the backdrop of mountains and waterfalls
  10. Wasatch mountain range: Pretty mountains surrounding Salt Lake City that offer amazing views across the lake and beyond
  11. Steamboat Springs and Fish Creek Falls: If you come back via US-40, this is a great place to unwind and relax
Vineyard rows planted in Palisade, Colorado with the Grand Mesa mountain in the background.
If you like wine, you must check out the (rather good) vineyards in Palisade, Colorado.
Phillip Rubino/Shutterstock.com

Best time to go on a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City

You can take the road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City throughout the year. Both Denver and Salt Lake have hot and cold seasons so make sure you are adequately prepared, but even in the peak of winter, the I-70 over the Rockies tends to be clear and easily drivable.

If you do plan on going in the winter, check ahead of your journey as heavy snowfall can cause closures from time to time and some roads are permanently closed through the winter (e.g. the fastest route to Aspen). You'll also need snow tires as a minimum and although not compulsory, snow chains are a very good idea.

For the majority of the route, summer and fall are great seasons to travel - the weather is perfect, hiking routes are amazing and the various streams and rivers are not running as full as in spring.

If you're planning on stopping over in Moab and exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, try to avoid the peak of the summer - daily highs average 97° F (36° C). That's not quite as hot as places like the Death Valley or other parts of the Mojave, but it can still feel uncomfortably hot hiking.