A Denver to Salt Lake City road trip will take you across northern Colorado, stretches of southern Wyoming’s wide-open country, and a portion of north-central Utah. And once you’ve reached your destination at the end of a roughly eight-hour drive, Utah’s capital of Salt Lake City has enough landmarks, natural attractions, and points of interest to keep you occupied for as long as you plan to visit.
Among some of the best options for stops along the primary route of Interstate 80 are Wyoming towns that have a lot to offer in the way of services. If you’re spreading the Denver to Salt Lake City drive out across multiple days, an added perk of this road trip is the fact that there is so much great car camping and access to arguably some of the most beautiful but least-crowded outdoor areas in the American West.
Planning a Denver to Salt Lake City Road Trip
For anyone planning a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City, seasonal weather conditions are undoubtedly the most important factor.
Between the months of roughly October to early April—and even in the warmer months when the notorious Wyoming wind is whipping at its strongest—it’s not uncommon for long stretches of I-80 to close completely.
The winds out here are no joke, sometimes topping 60 to 80 miles per hour and generating enough force to capsize a large semi-truck. Heavy snow and icy conditions are always possible too, so preparing to the level of having chains, jumper cables, and plenty of survival blankets and warm clothes is not a bad idea if you must drive in severe weather across Wyoming.
Assuming you’re making the trek across southern Wyoming without bad weather in the equation, another important consideration before making a Denver to Salt Lake City road trip is whether you’re going to try to make the drive in a single day, or two, or maybe even three.
An eight-hour drive is doable in a day, especially if you get an early start, but there are plenty of chances to stay overnight at a hotel or lodge in a small town, and car camping is in very good supply at potential stops such as the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Seminoe State Park.
Services like gas, restaurants, and retail shops are also generally easy to find on this drive. Do keep in mind, however, that things are a lot more spread-out on average in this part of the country, so this is not a drive where you want to let your gas light blink on.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can visit Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across many providers. Alternatively, you can rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy which can be used to extend your trip from Salt Lake City to Vegas or detour to Yellowstone.
How Far is Denver to Salt Lake City?
As mentioned already, the only route that really makes sense for a drive from Denver to Salt Lake City will have you keeping mainly to Interstate 80. This drive covers roughly 520 miles and clocks in at just under eight hours total with no stoppage time, so you can of course expect it to take you a good deal longer with some stops in the mix.
Even less-traveled county roads and state park roads along the way to Utah are not always in bad shape, so it’s easy to plan short detours off the main highway to stretch your legs and do some sightseeing.
If you were to do things in reverse and make a Salt Lake City to Denver road trip, one possible alternate route could be to head south through the Provo area via Interstate 15 and track southeast toward Interstate 70.
This route would add a significant chunk of extra time but is worth considering, especially for anyone who likes the idea of traveling in a circle and taking a more southern route back to Colorado on a Salt Lake City to Denver drive.
No matter if you choose this route for the first or second leg of this road trip, you’ll be able to see quite a bit more of both Utah and Colorado on your way back.
Best Denver to Salt Lake City Road Trip Stops
You’re likely to be just starting out in the morning at this point, so consider heading to one of Boulder’s top-notch breakfast joints such as Snooze, The Buff, or Lucille’s. The greater Denver area is known for its breakfast burritos, so grab a burrito with green chili and some coffee if you want to do it like the locals.
If you’re staying in Boulder for more than just a quick stop, be sure to head downtown and take a walk around the Pearl Street Mall. You’ll find a wide array of both high-end and quirky retail shops alongside plenty of delicious coffee shops, ice cream stores, delis, and restaurants. Street performers and buskers are also a common sight along Pearl Street in Boulder.
Cache la Poudre Canyon, Colorado
Located just another 45 minutes to an hour north of Boulder on Interstate 25, depending on traffic, the Cache la Poudre Canyon just outside of Fort Collins is a beautiful place to get out of the car and see some of Colorado’s prettiest outdoor scenery.
The upper parts of the Poudre Canyon were hit hard by the Cameron Peak Fire of 2020, but the lower sections below Stove Prairie Road have retained 100 per cent of their natural beauty.
This canyon has lots of trailheads and parking areas for families and travelers to go for a hike, a bike ride, or set up a picnic lunch, and there are lots of well-maintained camping areas.
If you make a stop here and drive up the canyon, you’ll find it’s easy to turn around whenever you want and head back to Highway 287, which will take you across some incredibly scenic parts of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming before you reunite with Interstate 80 at the town of Laramie, Wyoming.
If you didn’t take Highway 287 to the west of Fort Collins in the interest of stopping by the Poudre Canyon, staying on I-25 heading north from the Fort Collins area will take you right to the famed city of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The 10-day Frontier Days festival that happens here annually is the stuff of Wyoming cowboy legend. You can expect to see rodeo hallmarks like bronco busting, steer roping, and bull riding in Cheyenne if you find yourself passing through during Frontier Days.
Other attractions in Cheyenne include paying a visit to the Wyoming State Museum, the Cheyenne Railroad Depot Museum, or the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. And speaking of the Railroad Depot Museum, Cheyenne is generally a great town for anyone to visit who has an affinity for trains and the history of US railroads.
Families with kids will enjoy making a stop at the Union Pacific Big Boy Steam Engine landmark—known as “the world’s largest steam locomotive.”
Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Wyoming
Day-hikers and backpackers alike revere the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest for its awe-inspiring scenery and relative lack of crowds, and its proximity to the I-80 artery makes it an easy stop on a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City.
This area and surrounding attractions like the Snowy Range Ski Area can be a fun place for outdoor recreation year-round, with camping areas such as the Deep Creek Campground ready to accommodate weary travelers.
Some of the more popular day hikes in the Medicine Bow include the Libby Creek Trail, the Corner Mountain Loop Trail, the Rock Creek Trail, and the Medicine Bow Peak Trail, to name just a few.
Remember that cell signal can sometimes be spotty at best in the wilderness areas of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, so plan accordingly if you’re expecting an important call or anticipate needing your cell phone’s data for navigation.
Rawlins lies in the midst of a flat expanse of the dry, windblown Wyoming badlands in Carbon County, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically pass it by on your drive. This little town is really sort of a gateway to Seminoe State Park, but Rawlins’ downtown area also has plenty to offer.
The Wyoming Frontier Prison and Carbon County museums hold special appeal for history buffs, and you could even choose to play a round at the Rochelle Ranch golf course.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands surrounding Rawlins are absolutely filled with wild pronghorn antelope too, so keep an eye out for these animals as they graze the grasslands of Wyoming.
Seminoe State Park, Wyoming
From Rawlins, Seminoe State Park—and the North Platte River system that flows through it—is a must-stop on your Denver to Salt Lake City drive.
This outdoor area is based around a series of Bureau of Reclamation dams and reservoirs that are crucial for water supply needs in the West. They are also home to some of the best trout fishing in the greater Rocky Mountain states, as large resident and lake-run rainbow and brown trout are frequently caught here by anglers both in lakes and in the North Platte River.
Especially of interest is the section of the North Platte River that’s affectionately known as the Miracle Mile. Anglers looking to fish here may choose to wade fish or hire a local outfitter to be guided on foot or in a drift boat.
It’s even possible to book a half-day of fishing or a half-day float, after which you can shoot right back over to I-80 and continue your drive to the west across Wyoming.
Rock Springs, Wyoming
About an hour and a half west of Rawlins you’ll run into the town of Rock Springs, which despite being small by any standards is actually the fifth most populated city in the state of Wyoming.
This is another place that’s steeped in Wyoming’s mining and railroad history, and this very same history has led to the culturally diverse makeup that Rock Springs is known for today.
The booming railroad and mining work of the later 1800s brought dozens of different nationalities to settle in this area, and visitors can see this in the more than 15 locally owned bars and restaurants in Rock Springs that specialize in a variety of cuisine types.
Green River, Wyoming
As you pass Rock Springs, it won’t be long before you hit the town of Green River, Wyoming, and its namesake waterway that drains down into Utah.
The Green is renowned for watersports such as rafting, kayaking, and fishing, and at the very least it’s a chance to see one of the mightiest rivers in the country before it makes its way down to Utah’s Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
The town of Green River itself is also a worthy stop for everything from gas to food and lodgings. There is some fun window-shopping to be had in this town, too, with options ranging from a Harley-Davidson dealer to a tiny thrift shop.
There are also a lot of small outdoor parks scattered around where you might choose to stop for a quick chance to walk the dog or let the kids run around for a bit.
Evanston is yet another Wyoming town that was built along the Union Pacific railroad line and is now a fantastic stop on the far end of a Denver to Salt Lake City road trip. The Bear River flows right through town here, offering access to kayaking, floating, and fishing activities, and the towering Uinta Mountains stand just to the south.
Bear River State Park is excellent for photographers and wildlife-watchers, and camping, hunting, and mountain biking are also popular.
Lost Creek State Park, Utah
Somewhat of a last hidden gem on this Denver to Salt Lake City drive, Lost Creek State Park is not too far away from I-80 and is ideal as a last dose of serenity before you arrive in the urban area of Salt Lake City.
Although this area is day-use only, meaning there’s no overnight camping allowed, this really ends up helping to keep the crowds down. The lake is also typically a “no-wake” zone, although kayaks are allowed, and birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts will love traveling here with a pair of binoculars or a camera.
Where to Stay on the Denver to Salt Lake City Drive
Though you could do the Denver to Salt Lake City drive in just one day, finding a place to stop off for a night or two will allow you to enjoy the stops listed here more fully. The town of Rawlins, Wyoming makes a great option as it’s located between Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Seminoe State Park. If you’re wondering where to stay on your road trip, make sure to have a look at these suggestions:
Westin Denver Downton — A great, high-end option that is centrally located in downtown Denver, this is the perfect place for those looking for a bit of luxury to begin or end their road trip. They have a number of lovely rooms available and plenty of great amenities to ensure you have a fantastic stay. Click here to see their availability
Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver — If you’re looking for a consistent chain option that is centrally located and comfortable, then this hotel is a great option for you. They have a number of rooms for all types of travelers and breakfast is included each morning. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – A private vacation rental — like this centrally located farmhouse — is a fantastic choice for you if you’d rather have some privacy while visiting Colorado’s capital. There are tons of properties to choose from in the city that can suit all kinds of group sizes and budgets. Click here to browse Denver private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Denver hotels!
Best Western Cotton Tree Inn – If you’re looking for a solid option for a good night’s rest in Rawlins, then this hotel is a great option. Located close to the city center, there are a range of rooms available, great recreational facilities including an on-site bar and swimming pool and they offer a daily breakfast. Click here to see their availability
Hampton Inn Rawlins – Another great chain option on the drive from Denver to Salt Lake, this hotel is a fantastic choice for a solid night’s sleep while on the road. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available, a lovely indoor swimming pool and they even allow pets. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Rawlins hotels!
Salt Lake City
Hampton Inn Salt Lake — If you’re looking for the reliability and consistency of a chain hotel in Salt Lake City, then this is a great option for you. They have a range of rooms available, great amenities and facilities and a convenient location for exploring Utah’s capital. Click here to see their availability
Kimpton Hotel Monaco — If you’re keen for a more luxury stay in Salt Lake City, then this is the hotel for you. They have countless luxe rooms available, fantastic amenities, and a restaurant on site. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – Sometimes, having your own place to stay (like this downtown penthouse loft) over staying in a hotel is the more preferable option. Fortunately, there are lots of private vacation rental options available in Salt Lake City that suit all price points and travel needs. Click here to browse Salt Lake City private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels in Salt Lake City!
A Denver to Salt Lake City road trip is fairly easy in terms of logistics and drive time, though your specific plans are likely to vary depending on your goals and the season. The best news is that the capital of Utah is the kind of place where there’s plenty of fun to be had no matter the time of year, and the drive west across scenic I-80 has an abundance of worthwhile stops in store.
Are you planning a road trip from Denver to Salt Lake City? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!