One of the best things about living in Denver is the ability to escape Denver and explore the wonderfully unique things that make Colorado such a sought-after place to live. In fact, there are so many noteworthy Rocky Mountain road trips you could spend years traveling within two and a half hours of downtown and not even scratch the surface of Colorado’s colorful landscapes.
But you have to start somewhere, so we narrowed down the absolutely must-see day trips from Denver to put on your bucket list. These must-visit hot spots offer a variety of activities for any kind of adventurer with easy access to the mountains perfect for a quick weekend getaway.
Nestled at the foot of the mighty Sawatch Range just a little over two hours away, Buena Vista (pronounced “bew-na-vis-ta”) has plenty of peak activities that are less crowded than the more well-known I-70 mountain towns. The area has one of the highest concentrations of 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet high) in the country, which makes it highly desirable for hikers. For a less strenuous trail, hit up Lost Lake, relax in one of the many nearby hot springs, go white river rafting, give ATVing or road biking a try, or simply stroll around the picturesque downtown and wash it all down a pizza and beer from Eddyline.
A little less than two hours from Denver, Rocky Mountain is bursting with mountain magic. As the third most popular national park in the country, you can hike, take a wildlife tour (elk are a common sight in fall), climb tall peaks, fish, and soak in the area’s natural beauty. Most people enter from the east through the town of Estes Park, which is a great pit stop for shopping, local eats, and a trip to the Stanley Hotel – the haunted filming location of The Shining, and the perfect place to get in the Halloween spirit. For the best views, traverse Trail Ridge Road, a designated national scenic byway. The hairsplitting turns take you soaring above treeline along the Continental Divide, stopping at many scenic overlooks for views and animal spotting. It’s only open seasonally, though, so plan accordingly.
Just two hours south, Colorado Springs, is another one of the best day trips from Denver and Colorado’s original resort town. Start your day with a leisurely romp through Garden of the Gods, one of the best free parks in the country, which features a dazzling landscape of red rocks overlooking Pikes Peak. You can drive to the top of Pikes Peak, one of Colorado’s tallest mountains, tour the Air Force Academy or Olympic Training Center, play at Cave of the Winds, feed giraffes at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, or experience life on a ranch for a varied visit full of classic Western experiences.
Craft beer enthusiasts must visit Denver’s neighbor to the north, Fort Collins. This college and cowboy town is home to some of the most innovative breweries in America that you can tour. New Belgium operates entirely on renewable energy sources and always has unique happenings from yoga to concerts. Odell offers up a lively patio scene while Funkwerks continually wins national awards for its selection of Belgians, Saisons, and sours. With over 20 brewhouses to choose from, you could easily spend the day sipping and sampling the local pours; just make sure to have a designated driver or you’ll end up spending the night.
Summit County boasts a wide array of year-round adventures, but one of the most notable activities in the area is hiking in the Tenmile Range. Some of the most scenic alpine lakes are well-within walking distance, and a few to seek out include Blue Lakes, Mohawk Lakes, Upper Crystal Lake, and Pacific Tarn (the highest lake in the lower 48). After your work up a sweat, take in the picturesque downtown for some shopping and eats. We highly recommend Ollies for post-hike bites and Breckenridge Brewery to wash it down. There are plenty of things to do nearby from road biking, SUPing, and kayaking at Dillon Reservoir to the Breckenridge Troll and Keystone Adventure Park, and of course, skiing.