National Parks to see on your first van trip

The day has arrived—you’ve picked up your new van and are ready to hit the road! But where should your first adventure take you? In this guide, we highlight a few nearby National Parks from Fort Collins, that you won’t want to miss.

Whether you’re seeking breathtaking views, thrilling outdoor activities, or serene camping spots, these parks offer something for everyone.

1. Rocky mOuntain national Park

First up, is Rocky Mountain National Park. Just an hour away from Fort Collins, this National Park is a must-see! Hike the scenic trails, take in the stunning vistas from Trail Ridge Road, and keep an eye out for wildlife, like elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

WHERE TO STAY: Moraine Park Campground, Mary’s Lake Campground, Green Ridge Campground

WHAT TO SEE: Bear Lake, Dream Lake, 3-M Curve Overlook, Sprague Lake, Deer Mountain, Trail Ridge Road, Alpine Visitor Center, Grand Lake

WHERE TO EAT/DRINK: Bird and Jim, Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew, Poppy’s Pizza, Ed’s Cantina & Grill, Twin Owls Steakhouse, Cinnamon’s Bakery, Kind Coffee

WHAT TO KNOW: Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest National Parks in the country, so we recommend entering the park early. To enter, you’ll need a park pass and a timed entry permit. Learn more about entry here:


Next on the list is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Just under 5 hours from Fort Collins, this park showcases a unique Colorado landscape that defies expectations. You’ll enjoy hiking up the towering dunes, boarding down the sand slopes, and taking in breathtaking views of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo mountains and Medano Creek.

WHERE TO STAY: Mt Blanca Rd Dispersed, Pinon Flats Campground, Ramble Camp

WHAT TO SEE: Zapata Falls, High Dune, Star Dune, Hidden Dune, Sand Ramp Trail, San Luis Valley, Medano Creek, Mosca Pass Trail

WHERE TO EAT/DRINK: El Super Taco, Woody’s Q Shack, San Luis Valley Brewing, Milagros Coffee House

WHAT TO KNOW: Definitely rent a sand-board and try sledding down the dunes. You can rent one at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa or Great Sane Dunes Oasis in Mosca. Stay out at night and watch the stars!

3. Grand Teton National Park

A little over 6 hours from Fort Collins, you’ll find yourself at Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons provide a breathtaking backdrop for all your adventures. Whether you’re into hiking, cycling, or photography, this is the park for you. It’s also a fantastic destination for wildlife enthusiasts, offering the chance to see bison, moose, bears, elk, and more in their natural habitat.

WHERE TO STAY: Forest Road 30310, Shadow Mountain, Jenny Lake Campground, Colter Bay RV Park

WHAT TO SEE: TA Moulton Barn, Jenny Lake, Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, Schwabacher Landing, Snake River Overlook, Taggart Lake Trail, Oxbow Bend, Antelope Flats Rd, Jackson Lake, Jackson Hole

WHERE TO EAT/DRINK: Snake River Brewing, Local, Handfire Pizza, Gather, Pearl Street Bagels, Cowboy Coffee

WHAT TO KNOW: Sunrise at Schwabacher Landing is a must-see! The best chance to see bison is during the early morning or evening hours near the Antelope Flats.

4. Arches + Canyonlands National Parks

Last on the list, only 6 hours from Fort Collins, are Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Moab, Utah. If you love towering rock formations and crave the desert sun, these parks are the ultimate destinations for you. Explore stunning arches, dramatic canyons, and endless trails that showcase the rugged beauty of the American Southwest.

WHERE TO STAY: Klondike Bluff Rd BLM, Ken’s Lake Campground, Field Station, Sun Outdoors

WHAT TO SEE: Delicate Arch, Windows Section, Double Arch, Dead Horse Point State Park, Mesa Arch, The Needles, Island in the Sky, Moab

WHERE TO EAT/DRINK: Quesadilla Mobilla, Moab Food Truck Park, Milt’s Stop and Eat, Moab Garage Co, Moab Coffee Roasters, Doughbird Moab, Moab Brewery, Sunset Grill

WHAT TO KNOW: Arches does require a timed-entry system, Canyonlands does not. The Mesa Arch at sunrise is worth it!

Let the adventures begin

Well, that completes our guide! We hope this list inspires your adventures and helps you make the most of your time on the road.

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