Want to head out of town but tired of burning through road games crawling up I-70? That interstate isn’t the only gateway to grand adventures in Colorado. Turn south instead, heading off U.S. 285 or I-25 where solitude and open roads are all but guaranteed—along with new options for glamping, mountain and gravel biking, entertainment, and learning more state history.

Read more: 11 Weird and Wonderful Colorado Roadside Attractions

1. Stay overnight at not one, but two drive-in movie theaters in the San Luis Valley.

The Frontier Drive-Inn reopened in 2022 under new ownership, with a restored neon sign, the original 80-by-40-foot screen, and state-of-the-art film equipment. Park a lawn chair (instead of your car) on the grass and bundle up for an evening under a star-filled sky, then tuck into either a yurt heated by pellet stoves or an en-suite Steelmaster shed, complete with Pendleton blankets, blonde wood-paneled walls, and private decks with movie screen views. (Popcorn is free; the Frontier Drive-Inn is open Thursday to Saturday, Memorial Day weekend to October.)

The Star Drive-In, in Monte Vista, situates the fittingly retro Best Western Movie Manor alongside the two screens, one of which can be watched from most rooms, either lounging in bed or at two-top tables and with sound broadcast from in-room speakers. The decor preserves much midcentury charm, paired with flourishes from celebrities and icons of that era, and the venue is repeatedly sold out this summer for car shows that recall the 1950s heyday of American romance with the automobile. Call or check the website for movie schedules. (Tickets for the drive-in are just $10.)

Read more: The Last 7 Drive-In Theaters in Colorado

2. Take an architectural tour of the National Historic District in downtown Trinidad.

An aerial view of Fishers Peak State Park in Colorado
Fishers Peak State Park. Getty Images

Trinidad was Colorado’s coal-country capital at the end of the 1800s, and its downtown historic district preserves that boomtown era in one of the best collections of Victorian-era civic and commercial architecture in the state, much of it intricately adorned.

“Trinidad is one of those places where it helps to get out of your car and walk,” says Patrick Eidman, chief preservation officer and deputy state historic preservation officer with History Colorado. “The ornamentation on the buildings sometimes really gets lost unless you get out and study it.”

Standout structures include the First National Bank, with its stone Roman arches over its windows and a rooftop gable. Look four directions at its intersection, and every building is a standout in some way, whether with a wealth of bay windows or intricately carved sandstone. These structures now tell the history of the United States, remnants of or testaments to small but sturdy communities, like the Jewish immigrants who built Temple Aaron, a Moorish-influenced brick synagogue now considered one of the longest in continuous use in the American West and the state’s newest National Historic Landmark.

Refresh with a cuppa and a baked sweet at the Trinidad Tea Company in the Fox Theater, where work is underway to restore the original building’s beauty and, eventually, revive the venue. Sleep on theme in the forthcoming Well Hotel, built in 1888, and raise a toast to Trinidad’s storied past in the already-open self-pour taproom with beer, wine, sake, coffee, and kombucha. Stretch your legs on 11 miles of trails in one of the newest state parks, Fishers Peak, named for an iconic high point on the east side of I-25 with a newly opened trail to the eponymous summit.

3. Pedal mountains and canyons near Del Norte.

A shed in Tin Can Camp along the Rio Grande Traverse
Tin Can Camp. Photo courtesy of the SLV GO

Which rig should you take if you’re traveling to the Del Norte area? Well, take two, says Mick Daniel, executive director of San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO). Mountain biking trails in the area offer—yes, he hates to say it—Moab-esque slickrock and technical stretches for a fraction of the drive time. But the area’s bountiful dirt roads are also getting a reframe for gravel riding, with a new Gravel Adventure Field Guide for navigating nearly 8,000 square miles of farms, wetlands, dunes, and high deserts through the San Luis Valley. (The company has also produced similar guides for Ridgway and Southwestern Colorado, the Spanish Peaks, Pueblo, and the Grand Valley.)

A summer favorite for gravel grinders, the Rio Grande Traverse travels 66 miles along the Rio Grande and climbs 4,700 feet into the San Juan Mountains along old mining and timber roads. Expect little traffic, big views, and to share a little ground with the iconic Continental Divide bike route.

The SLV GO also recently opened Tin Can Camp, a group of small sheds that climbers and cyclists can use for cooking and sleeping along the trail. Proceeds benefit the organization’s trail-building and maintenance crew.

4. Explore ancient dwellings outside Durango (but, no, not those dwellings).

A pictograph on redrock at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado
Along McElmo Creek, a large panel of petroglyphs with bighorn, spirals and geometric designs stands the test of time in sandstone rock in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument on the Colorado and Utah border.

Villages, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, and petroglyphs—the list sounds sure to steer a traveler to Mesa Verde National Park. But at least 8,300 archaeological sites lie within Canyons of the Ancients National Monument—with a fraction of the hassles and crowds. Ancestral Puebloans thrived there 700 years ago, building these structures as part of a network of communities laced together by ancient road systems. Stone-walled dwellings tuck into rose-colored sandstone nooks, towers step up to views of distant peaks, and deep kivas, the subterranean circular chambers once covered, are now open to the sky. Hike Sand Canyon, which meanders through yucca, juniper, and sage, to skirt an ancient pueblo girded by lookout towers.

A nearby visitor center and museum hosts exhibits on archaeology, local history, and indigenous cultures. Spice up your stopover by catching a full moon hike July 20 or a star party on September 6. (Still itching to see Cliff Palace? It’s just 12 miles away, so you can double-up.)

5. Take in a story on a scenic route near Cañon City.

The Royal Gorge Bridge stretches across the Arkansas River
The Royal Gorge Bridge stretches across the Arkansas River. Getty Images

Highway 50 meanders along the Arkansas River, passing tawny and tangerine bluffs, pink-striped canyon walls, and scattered pinyon and juniper trees through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The kaleidoscope of colors prompted drivers on the canyon’s first one-lane dirt road to dub it the “Rainbow Route.”

That’s just part of the history packed into the Royal Gorge Region and Tourism Colorado’s audio tour, released last year through the TravelStorysGPS app. Drive to one of its GPS coordinates, and the app starts retelling tales of coal miners, Jewish immigrants drawn to establish the community of Cotopaxi, and a railroad war that saw rail companies competing to be the first to lay track through Bighorn Canyon, with a shoutout for spots to stop and scan hillsides for the gorge’s namesake wildlife.

“People want to know, why is Cañon City here, why did that happen, was it mining, was it the railroad?” says Lynda Larsen, who works with the local chamber of commerce. “A lot of people are really interested to hear, actually, Cañon City was a prison community first.”

The historic tidbits might spark interest in learning—and exploring—more, like the Royal Gorge Bridge or the Tunnel Drive Hike, where hikers and bikers traverse the Royal Gorge’s walls and tunnels carved into the cliffs. Don’t miss the chance to dip into downtown Cañon City to visit the speakeasy-style cocktail lounge, the War Room, or sip a craft cocktail at Fremont Public House, the original bar in the historic Hotel St. Cloud (room renovations are underway and anticipated in 2025).

6. Just sort-of rough it.

The state’s already abundant glamping options just keep growing. Pitch your own tent at Ramble, in Mosca, near Great Sand Dunes National Park, where sites politely spaced from one another are outfitted with smokeless fire pits ringed by Adirondack chairs, outdoor kitchens with a two-burner stove and sink, and solar-powered outlets. (Ramble locations near Mesa Verde and Buena Vista are coming soon.)

Also in the San Luis Valley, the existing glamping tents at Rustic Rook Resort are joined this summer by BYO tent sites and the “Grain Bin Glampers,” available in August, which are, as the name suggests, climate-controlled grain bins with a sleeping loft.

The state’s first geodesic domes opened last year at the Pagosa River Domes, with 14 of the shelters situated so guests wake to sunrise on the banks of the San Juan River, insulated for any season, and just off the eastern edge of Pagosa Springs.

More of a four walls kind of sleeper? The new (as of last year) LOGE Wolf Creek in South Fork begs to be an adventure base camp, with RV hook-ups near the hot tub and fast access to places for fishing, SUPing, and hiking in the San Juan Mountains.

Read more: 7 Western Destinations Where You Can Glamp This Summer

7. Dig into Pueblo’s farm scene.

Pueblo Chiles
Pueblo chiles. Photo by Riane Menardi Morrison

Pueblo might be better-known for its rail hub and a steel mill, but the county is also a haven for multigenerational, family-owned farms, which means roadside stands dole out freshly picked corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, beets, watermelons, cantaloupes, and the now-famous chiles. Keep an eye out for stops that include lunch delis or on-site grills for firing bratwursts and squashes to enjoy with other fresh goodies like jams, jellies, and salsas.

Time this one for August or September to catch chile roasters up and running and produce like the famed Rocky Ford cantaloupe while harvest is in full swing. The Palmer Land Conservancy hosts an interactive map and published a guide that includes a calendar for what’s in season when and a map for biking a loop among some of the smaller communities in eastern Pueblo County onto the Saint Charles River mesa. It’s all an easily overlooked gem, says Wesley Trimble, communications manager for the Conservancy: “People could just pass on I-25 and not even know that there’s this incredible farming community out there that produces some of the best produce in the state.”

Keen to make it a party? On September 7, join the “Bike the Bessemer,” a 12-mile ride along the ditch that irrigates 15,000 acres of fields with stops to chat with farmers about what it’s like to supply produce for the Front Range and beyond.