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Santa Fe to Denver Drive: Road Trip Tips & Info

Planning a trip to Denver, Colorado? If you’re considering the drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico, you are in for a delightful, scenic experience. The route is heavily traveled, and the roads are kept in good condition. Once you know the basics, it’s time to pack your bags and put on that great road trip playlist.

The Santa Fe to Denver drive might not be as short (or perhaps as long) as you would like, but there are lots of fun things to see along the way. Before you hit the road, there are a few essential things to consider when driving from Santa Fe to Denver. With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about making the drive from Santa Fe to Denver.

Santa Fe to Denver Drive Map
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Santa Fe to Denver Drive Time

When planning a road trip, it helps to know how many hours you will be spending behind the wheel.

The drive time between Santa Fe and Denver depends on your start point and endpoint. Based on the typical traffic conditions on this route, the average driving time is about 6 hours.

This driving time does not include time spent at stopovers and roadside attractions. Bear in mind that if you are traveling with kids and pets, you are bound to spend more time than usual at specific stopover locations – or just making rest area stops when nature calls.

Santa Fe to Denver City Distance

Similar to the drive time, the distance of a Santa Fe to Denver drive depends on your start and endpoints. However, the approximate driving distance from Santa Fe to Denver is 392 miles.

As most cars can go 350-400 miles on a single tank, keep an eye on your gas tank. You’ll probably need to top-up or refill during the drive from Santa Fe to Denver.

Don’t forget: join our Great Plains Travel Tips group for even more travel inspiration!

What’s Between Santa Fe & Denver?

Santa Fe to Denver Drive - Colorado

A road trip through these Southwestern states is a great way to experience and explore this beautiful part of the Great Plains. If you have time, you might want to plan stops at some of the interesting sights along the way. Here are some of the best stops to make on your drive from Santa Fe to Denver.

1. Taos Pueblo

A stop at Taos Pueblo will be one of the unique parts of your trip. Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest inhabited communities in the U.S. This small Native American village is a UNESCO World Heritage site and still boasts of beautiful, ancient, multi-story adobe homes.

2. Great Sand Dunes National Park

A drive from Santa Fe to Denver will not be complete without a detour to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Though it’s not technically in the Great Plains, it’s a short jaunt over a few mountains to see this geologic wonder.

This Southern Colorado attraction is home to the tallest dunes in North America. It is best to allocate at least 2 hours to enjoy the vast, unique expanse of natural wonder.

3. Fort Garland

Located on the detour to Great Sand Dunes, Fort Garland is another stop worth making on your Santa Fe to Denver drive.

Known for its historic fort found at Mount Blanca’s base, this small town is a perfect place to stop over for some food and gas. The fort at the base of Mount Blanca was built in 1858. It was originally designed to protect settlers in the area and had over 200 soldiers stationed under Kit Carson’s command.

Currently, the fort has been converted into a museum open to guests and travelers. If you are open to more adventure and have the time, feel free to take a ride from Fort Garland on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. This ride will provide stunning mountain and meadow views.

Santa Fe to Denver Drive - Garden of the Gods

4. Grave of the Solid Muldoon

Never heard of a “Solid Muldoon?” No worries – it’s not real anyway! The 7.5-foot-tall “petrified giant” was created by con artist George Hull and buried in secret outside Pueblo, Colorado. He then arranged for it to be discovered – with the goal of gaining notoriety and drawing crowds (and their tourism dollars). Once the fraud was exposed though, it all dried up.

Today you can find a new grave with a newly constructed Solid Muldoon was buried in a marked grave of Colorado highway 78 west of Pueblo.

5. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

Adrenaline lovers will find this historic canyon worth the drive off I-25 into the Rockies. This massive canyon on the Arkansas River is home to the country’s highest zip line and one of the world’s largest suspension bridges over a body of water.

If you want to explore the water, opt for a white-water rafting experience with a guide and enjoy the full outdoor burst of adrenaline. It will be such a breath of fresh air after having spent hours cooped up in the car.

6. Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Unlike Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are fully interactive – you climb and explore them to learn more about what life was like in these unique dwellings centuries ago. the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are located west of Colorado Springs and an excellent detour for archaeology buffs and Indiana Jones wannabes.

7. Garden of the Gods

This gorgeous natural formation outside Colorado Springs is basically right on your route along I-25, so you might as well stop and enjoy it. The park contains 1,300 acres of sandstone formations and hiking trails for all skill levels. Just plan ahead and bring sun protection and water if you go out for a hike under that hot Colorado sun.

Other Tips for your Santa Fe to Denver Drive

Santa Fe to Denver Drive - Colorado

Now that you’ve got your start and end points map and know which stops you’re taking, there are a few other important things to keep in mind.

  • The fastest route when driving from Santa Fe to Denver is I-25.
  • The most scenic route is U.S. Highway 285, but it is considerably slower.
  • Trinidad is a great halfway stop to stretch your legs.
  • Raton is the best place to spend the night as they have more hotels and restaurants than Trinidad.
  • There are five rest stops between Santa Fe and Denver: Fort Union, one in Maxwell, NM, El Moro, Cuerno Verde-Colorado City, and Pueblo-North.

Should You Fly from Santa Fe to Denver Instead?

Even though you are excited about the prospects of exploring Southern Colorado via a scenic and adventurous road trip, you may still wonder if you are better off flying from Santa Fe to Denver.

In short, the answer is no – it’s not better to fly from Santa Fe to Denver. While it does take around six hours to drive between the two cities, it takes almost the same amount of time to check-in at the airport, take the 90-minute flight, and collect your bags. Also, you’ll still need to get a ride from DIA to Denver, which is another 25-40 minutes.

Apart from missing out on the beautiful scenery, the beautiful North American culture, and the welcoming residents of these two great cities, it is way better to drive than to fly. Again, unless you do not want to drive or cannot drive, it is better to drive from Santa Fe to Denver instead of flying.

Continuing on your road trip? Here’s my guide for making the Denver to Casper drive (in reverse) or driving all the way from Denver to Billings.

Have other questions about the Santa Fe to Denver drive? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t forget: join our Great Plains Travel Tips group for even more travel inspiration!

2 Comments

  • Janice W

    Driving from Littleton CO to Santa Fe NM in a couple of weeks. We are renting a car in Littleton and would like to break the trip up into two days, so looking for things to do on the way and a decent hotel in between for one night.

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