A trip from Denver to San Francisco, from the Mile High City to the Golden City, is a magnificent adventure. This scenic route from Denver to San Francisco will glimpse some of America’s bustling communities, magnificent national forests, and popular tourist destinations. This road trip through the western United States is full of breathtaking scenery. The distance between San Francisco and Denver is roughly 1250 miles.
When planning a trip from Denver to San Francisco, there are two main options: one leaves Denver to the north and travels through Salt Lake City and Reno. A non-stop drive between these two locations can take between 19 and 22 hours, depending on your route. However, you can take five days to explore the most beautiful areas of your trip. The alternate route loops back to San Francisco via Fresno after traveling through the Rockies and southwest via Las Vegas . Let’s take a look at the most scenic route along the way:
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339 miles — about 7 hours, 56 mins
Denver, CO to Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway
Denver, Colorado, serves as the starting point of the unforgettable drive from Denver to San Francisco. Denver, a stunning modern metropolis with diverse cuisine, sights, and culture, is nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Denver is well-known for its cultural sector and for serving as Colorado’s capital. Denver offers cultural events, such as theater productions.
The city has numerous bars and clubs, boasting a vibrant nightlife. Lariat Scenic and Historic Byway is only a short drive from Denver. From Golden, at the foot of the Rockies, the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway go through the hospitable historic communities of Evergreen and Morrison. Enjoy stunning mountain vistas, lots of outdoor activity activities, and leisure time. Denver’s downtown is only 20 minutes away after this 40-mile trek.
Lariat Loop Scenic & Historic Byway to Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
Approach Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Lariat Scenic and Historic Byway. Colorado’s first scenic byway was the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. As the winding route passes through the Arapaho National Forest, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, and Rocky Mountain National Park, take in the breathtaking scenery. This drive is a beautiful mountain escape and is only a short drive from Denver, Boulder, or Fort Collins. Don’t miss Panorama Point, which, as its name suggests, offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Denver, the Roosevelt National Forest, Mount Evans (14,264 feet tall), and the summits in Rocky Mountain National Park. Besides the Arapaho National Forest, CO-119 travels.
Peak to Peak Scenic Byway to Rocky Mountain National Park
Take South Saint Vrain Avenue/CO 7 in the northwest. Utilizing US34, travel toward West Wonderview Avenue to reach Rocky Mountain National Park. More than 110 peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park are above 10,000 feet, with more than half of those being over 12,000 feet. The Trail Ridge Road is the longest continuous mountain road in the United States, and it will take you to an elevation of 12,183 feet. The road opened in 1932 after a 3-year construction period. Enjoy countless snow-capped peaks, green valleys, countless lakes, and erratic weather. Following US-36 from Boulder or US-34 from Loveland will take you to Estes Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park to Colorado River Headwaters Byway
Follow US 34 West until you reach the Colorado River Headwaters Byway. In the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Colorado River rises and empties into the Gulf of California on the western side of the Continental Divide. The Colorado River, most known for creating the Grand Canyon, has also carved out several lesser canyons along its course. It was notorious for its unpredictable flash floods and dry spells before damming some of the rivers.
The gorgeous route starts in Grand Lake, which serves as both the park’s western entry and one of the state’s first resort communities. It is the ideal continuation of our Rocky Mountain National Park Drive. After such a long trek, you can stop at Bond, Colorado, and continue your adventure the following day.
398 miles — about 7 hours, 55 mins
Colorado River Headwaters Byway to Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway
Discover the wild, isolated area of northwest Colorado. This off-the-beaten-track excursion starts in Yampa and proceeds to Meeker through the White River National Forest. You can explore vast stretches of verdant rolling hills, the Rocky Mountains, glistening glacial lakes, and river valleys by traveling along modest forest service roads that were once Ute people’s paths. The Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway is reached by turning onto State Highway 131/CO 131. With almost 235,000 acres, the Flat Tops Wilderness ranks Colorado’s second-largest wilderness region.
Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway to Red Cloud Loop Road
until you reach Red Cloud Loop Road, keep driving on US 191. This picturesque side excursion takes US-191 from Maeser to 17 miles north of Vernal via the canyons and woods of the Uinta Mountains, past towering mountains, sandstone cliffs, rocky gorges, animals, and sacred Indian petroglyphs. As you go further down Red Cloud Loop Road, you will cross meadows, aspen and pine forests, and the breathtaking peaks of the Uinta Mountains. If you’re fortunate, you might see some animals like deer and elk. Vernal, UT, is an excellent place to stop on your second day of travel.
468 miles — about 7 hours, 59 mins
Red Cloud Loop Road to Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway
Take US-191 north from Red Cloud Loop Road and continue on the Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway. The Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway, which passes through the Ashley National Forest, offers a variety of landscapes, including aspen groves, deserts, and craggy red rocks in the canyon. Experience history from the Jurassic to early explorers, homesteaders, and cowboys while surrounded by stunning, vast postcard-worthy panoramas on what is known as “the drive through the ages.”
The “dinosaur capital of the World,” Vernal, is where the scenic trip starts. Vernal is accessible from either the US-191 or US-40 freeways. Consider stopping at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum before departing. You can learn about the area’s natural history discovery, dinosaurs, Native American life, and the past six hundred million years. The well-known Dinosaur Garden, where life-size models stand tall, is located outside the museum.
Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway to Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway
The Lamoille Canyon Picturesque Byway is another excellent scenic drive. Take NV-225 South exit 301 off of I-80. The Ruby Mountains contain the Lamoille Canyon, created by glaciers during the Ice Age. As a result of its U-shaped canyons, valleys, peaks, and year-round snowfields, it is frequently known as the Yosemite of Nevada. Beautiful scenery, waterfalls, and wildlife complete the wildness’ natural beauty. As you get closer to Lamoille Canyon, the Ruby Mountains will take up much of the scenery. Make a stop in Deeth, Nevada, and then continue your journey the next day.
473 miles — about 8 hours
Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway to Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway
Take NV-445 north. Until Mullen Pass, where the route starts its descent to Pyramid Lake, the road will ascend the Virginia Mountains. Utilize the pullouts to take in the breathtaking views and the 400-foot-tall pyramid-shaped rock that gave the lake its name. Pyramid Lake’s sparkling, emerald-blue waters are a desert sanctuary in Nevada. The lake is a relic of an old sea that once covered Nevada, and it sits surrounded by mountains and beautiful natural tufa rock formations. Pyramid Lake is a drain for the Great Basin, the longest continuous arc of watersheds in North America, which is of geological interest.
Pyramid Lake Scenic Byway to Lake Tahoe
Continue on Emerald Bay Road in the direction of Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is renowned for its pure crystal water and is surrounded by the craggy hills of the Sierra Nevada and Carson Ranges. Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest lakes in the USA, the tenth deepest lake on the entire planet (only surpassed by Crater Lake in Oregon). This all-year-round resort has plenty to offer everyone, including superb shopping, dining, relaxing options, hiking, bicycling, golfing, water sports, and winter sports. Sleep in Lake Tahoe to complete your lovely recollections.
257 miles — about 4 hours, 58 mins
Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, CA
Stay on I-80 West as you travel from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco. And this will be the last day of your long journey. Locals in San Francisco value the outdoors, healthy eating, and the arts. Never too hot or too cold, the weather is about as ideal as it can be. With its distinctive Victorian homes and recognizable features like cable cars and crooked streets, Fog-strewn San Francisco is nothing if not picturesque.