A great weekend road trip from Denver, to Navajo Lake State Park, will take you through southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, a 352-mile journey. Denver is the Colorado state capital, and if you stand on the west steps of the State Capitol Building you are 5280 feet above sea level, exactly one mile! This is where the city gets its nickname, “The Mile High City '', with its high altitude, Rocky Mountain location. This scenic city is surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountain peaks, 200 of which are visible from the capitol building's dome.
Denver is known for having a fabulous, highly walkable downtown district, and numerous attractions like the Denver Art Museum, Colorado History Center, Denver Botanical Gardens, Denver Zoo, Wings over The Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Waterworld, a huge water amusement park. These many activities make Denver a great place for families to visit.
The trip to Navajo Lake State Park will take you through numerous national and state parks and forests, which provide wilderness scenery on your weekend road trip. Camp near Denver at the Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s Reverend's Ridge Campground which has RV campsites with hookups.
From Denver, head west on Route 6 then take Highway 470, south to Highway 285, where you will continue south and west to Route 112, west of Del Norte. Route 112 takes you to Highway 160, proceed to the junction with Route 151, then takes 151 south to Ignacio, where you will pick up Route 172 south, until it becomes highway 511 at the New Mexico border. Highway 511 will take you south to Navajo Lake State Park.
The Chimney Rock National Monument, created in 2012 is a 4726-acre area of the San Juan National Forest. The purpose of the monument is to preserve the remnants of 200 ancient buildings sites of the Puebloan people that once resided in the area. The twin spires of Chimney Rock were used as landmarks by ancient peoples who had their settlement nearby.
There are four excavated structures including the 44-foot diameter Great Kiva, the Pit House, and the Chacoan Great House. The site is thought to date back about 1000 years. The Great House has 356 rooms and the Pit House is a multi-room dwelling, both exhibiting Chaco Style architecture. The site is open seasonally between May 15 and September 30.
You can camp nearby in the San Juan National Forest at the Vallecito Campground which has 36 reservable sites and 40, first come, first serve sites, and can accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length. There are a few sites with electric hookups, vault toilets, and potable water supplies at the campground. Generators are permitted proving they have spark arrestors, and only during specified time periods.
Alternatively, you can camp at the Williams Creek Campground. There are 60 sites here that can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet in length, and some have RV hookups.
As you take Route 112 to Del Norte, you will pass the turnoff for Penitente Canyon. Take route 33 north of the highway to BLM Road 40G ,then head a few miles northwest to reach the Penitente Canyon. This canyon is named for the religious order that once frequented the area, Penitente being the Spanish form of “Penitent”.
Check out the Virgin of Guadalupe while you are here. The painting was created in the mid-1980s by local devotees, who painted the figure high up on the canyon walls. They suspended themselves using lariats and an old car tire, and used house paint to create the “Virgin Wall”.
You can also discover the ancient wagon trail that runs through the canyon. The wagon wheel ruts were formed when ox carts cut through the soft volcanic ash covering the region, back in the mid-1800s. This was the northern branch of the Old Spanish Trail, which was once an extensive trade route in the region between Mexican settlers and Native Americans. The preserved ruts are one of the best examples of historic wagon tracks in the San Luis Valley. To get to the sites you can take the rugged 40G BLM road within a half-mile of the wagon tracks. Or hike from the 1.5 mile Penitente Canyon trailhead.
Before departing Denver, check out a unique opportunity in the city at the Denver Aquarium. This one million gallon aquarium provides diverse exhibits and a restaurant specializing in upscale-casual dining. The Aquarium Restaurant seating, surrounds the 50,000-gallon centerpiece aquarium, providing an entertaining meal that is sure to keep your table occupied viewing the fabulous exhibits and underwater creatures on hand. The aquarium features over 500 animal species. There is an interactive stingray reef touch tank, and a 4D theatre.
Check out the Mystic Mermaids show, where you can see these mythical beings frolic amongst their underwater friends. The mermaid show is choreographed to music, and provides a learning experience as well, teaching about the importance of taking care of our environment.
Other aquarium attractions include a North American, In the Desert, Under the Sea, At the Wharf, Rainforest, Coral Lagoon, Sunken Temple, Shipwreck, and Beach exhibit. You can take the Aquarium Express, an electric train ride around the aquarium property, or ride the Aquatic carousel, which features fantastical sea monsters as well as painted ponies.
Your destination is the desert oasis of Navajo Lake State Park in New Mexico. This is a great place to stay in an RV. RV rentals in the area can be found at RV Rentals Navajo Lake. The lake is 15600 acres in size and provides 150 miles of shoreline, and there are, on average, 280 warm sunny days a year to enjoy it! Activities include biking, boating, hiking, watersports, swimming, and fishing at this lake park. This park is a “hidden gem”, that, in spite of its numerous attractions and activities, is fairly peaceful, quiet, and unspoiled by crowds. The lake is set in a beautiful wilderness area surrounded by mesas and hills, with wildflowers and native desert vegetation. Wildlife in the area includes bald eagles soaring overhead, lizards sunning themselves on rocks and antelope, elk and deer roaming the lake shores as well as the occasional mountain lion or bear in the higher elevations of the hill country. The park is open year around, and there are excellent campgrounds that accommodate RV camping. Reservation Camping is available at the Sims Mesa and Pine Cedar which has some electric hookups or Pine Main which has full hookups. The Cottonwood Campground has more sites with services. All campgrounds have access to shower houses and restrooms.
A visit center is located at the Navajo Reservoir, and provides interpretive displays pertaining to the construction of the dam, and the natural features and history of the area. You can even explore a Navajo ruin. Take the Simon Canyon Trail, below the dam to the defensive structure site from the 1700s, which sites atop a boulder overlooking the canyon.