Denver is an amazing city, but where do you go when you want to get away from the urban grind? Here are the top day trips from Denver.
By Michael Green
Denver’s a pretty chill place. It’s full-bloom city with a thriving art/food scene. It also happens to be the cradle of cannabis legalization in the U.S. In most states, one would be hard pressed to find a reason to escape on day trips from Denver in all its dankness. But Colorado isn’t most states. In Colorado, we have towering mountains, pristine lakes, and breathtaking canyons, all within a couple hours of the Queen City of the West.
If you’re taking a Colorado vacation, chances are you will be staying in Denver with plans to explore outside the city itself. Most of the time you’re only going to have a day or two to get out and explore, but the good news is there’s no shortage of day trips from Denver that allow you to see the rest of the state and all its beauty. The best day trips typically take two to three hours of driving each way. This time frame allows you to get to where you’re going, hang out, then head back to your hotel without being completely exhausted. Here are our four favorite spots that are perfect for day trips from Denver.
A Day trip from Denver to an Even Higher City
The first and largest spot on the list is Colorado Springs (6,035 feet above sea level). Being the second largest city in Colorado with over 9,000 acres of parkland, dozens of attractions and only one hour south of Denver, it’s a fantastic location to visit. Colorado Springs is a beautiful sprawling city with plenty to do during the day. The natural crown jewel on the way is Garden of the Gods with its staggering red rock formations. Its enough to make even the strictest nonbelievers feel a little godly.
Another major attraction is Cave of the Winds Mountain Park. Cave of the Winds boasts three cave exploration tour, two are basic and allow children and one advanced tour where you will learn the basics of caving. Manitou Springs is also home to above-ground activities such as a three-story obstacle course and a one of a ride called the Terror-Dactyl. The Terror-Dactyl is similar to a two-seated swinging sled that drops you into Williams Canyon at almost 100 MPH.
Almost all the parks in Colorado Springs are free to visit – And in this writer’s opinion, the best trail system in the area is at North Cheyenne Cañon Park. North Cheyenne Cañon has miles of trails and beautiful scenery. The best time to go if you want to avoid the large crowds is midday during the week or early morning around 8 am, or 9 am on the weekends.
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater
A Day Trip from Denver to Venue with a View
The next spot on this list is perfect for a date night in Denver. Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater is a world-renowned concert venue with some of the most magnificent views around. Red Rocks is only 20 minutes away from Denver. Since the venue plays host to concerts, movie nights, fitness sessions, weddings, and other events there is always something going on. Because the amphitheater is built into the side of a mountain, the natural acoustics make any show you see much more interactive and energetic.
If you get there early, you can go for a hike, climb the stairs, play on the stage, or visit the trading post. Inside the trading post, you can visit the gift shop or view the history of this magnificent place by visiting the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. CMHOF gives you an inside look at the artists that have performed there and lets you step back in time with audio and video clips of their performances.
A Day Trip from Denver to a Classic Colorado Ski Town
The next spot on this list is the farthest away of the day trips from Denver and quite possibly my favorite. Depending on the route you choose it will either take two hours or three hours each way. Founded in the 1850s, Breckenridge started out as a mining town but has changed over the years to become one of the highest rated and most visited ski towns in Colorado. The second you turn onto the main street you’re greeted with new businesses that are built right into historical buildings. While the architectural beauty is a sight itself, there is plenty to do no matter the season.
From late fall till early spring is Breck’s busy season. It frequently graces the pages of publications from Forbes to Ski Mag for its variety of trail difficulties and abundance of fresh powder. The slopes are perfect for every level of snow sports. It boasts the highest ski lift in all of North America and the 6th highest in the world taking you all the way up to almost 13,000 feet above sea level. While that lift may sound like it should be closed off to everyone except professional athletes, there are trails right off the lift for intermediate snow sports enthusiasts including a breezy blue-level bowl.
If you’re not interested in skiing/boarding or it’s the summer off-season there is still plenty to do. If you like reenactments and rich history, there are several tours that you can take. As with many old mining towns, there is a ghost tour and the Behind the Swinging Doors Saloon Tour which takes you on a tour of historic downtown while trying different spirits from Breckenridge Distillery.
Drive to the Top of Mt. Evans
A Day Trip from Denver to Get 14,000 Feet High
There are more than 50 mountains in Colorado that peak at over 14,000 feet. These mountains are known in the state as “14ers.” The vast majority of the 14er summits are only accessible by hiking. However, there are two that have paved roads that go all the way up. The first one is Pikes Peak, but for the time being, you cannot drive all the way to the summit. That leaves us with only one 14er that you can drive all the way up now Mt Evans. Towering at 14,265 feet Mt Evans scenic byway is the highest paved road in North America. With multiple mentions in 303 Magazine as well as other publications. It takes approximately an hour to get to the entrance of Mt Evans Scenic Byway from Denver and about an hour from there to the summit of the mountain.
This drive is a fantastic day trip from Denver, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First things first there is a massive temperature difference between Denver and the summit. To prepare for this remember to bring a sweatshirt or jacket and to wear long pants. Second, keep in mind is the higher in altitude you go, the worse your gas mileage will get. It is recommended that you have at least ¾ of a tank of gas by before starting your ascent. Finally, remember that the altitude affects everyone differently so keep an eye out for signs of altitude sickness.
Bonus day trips from Denver:
- Check out the crunchy groove of Boulder and Nederland
- Drive the Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park
- Take a New Belgium brewery tour by bicycle in Fort Collins
The Final Hit
It’s no secret that Colorado is an amazing state with breathtaking natural scenery and a booming economy with many lowlander newbies moving to Denver. As you can see living in Denver doesn’t mean that you will miss out on what the rest of the state has to offer. These four day trips from Denver alone show you unique aspects of the state, and that is just the beginning. Now you know if you decide to move to Denver you will not be disappointed and will never have a dull weekend unless you choose to.