The Mile-High City is a destination for its art galleries, its restaurants, its culture, and no doubt for its unique Rocky Mountain scenery. Though there are plenty of high-altitude parks to wander in and outdoorsy activities to pursue within the city limits, there’s so much to see outside of town that further explorations are almost mandatory. From Rocky Mountain trails and pretty historic villages to brewing capitals and thriving nature preserves, these 10 inspiring Denver day trips are well worth buckling in for.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is the quintessential destination for Denver day trips. One of the most stunning national parks in the country, it’s home to over 350 miles of trails, endless vistas of lakes, rivers, and peaks, over 70 mountains that measure above 3,500 metres, and native populations of big horn sheep, elk, and other wild critters. In the autumn it turns vividly golden, while visitors at any time of year can play in the snow, provided they hike or drive high enough. It’s also incredibly accessible from Denver: there’s time to drive across the Continental Divide and back in a single day out.
A sixty-mile straight shot up the road from Denver, Fort Collins is one-part lively college town, one-part gateway to wild, Rocky Mountain nature. Nearby Lory State Park is suitable for everything from low-key picnics to intense mountain biking, while the wild river and sheer cliffs of Poudre Canyon are worth their own stop-off. Once you’ve headed back into town, note that you’re also in one of the US’s beer capitals: legendary craft breweries the likes of New Belgium and Odell are based here, both with sizeable taprooms for ample sampling.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Colorado is home to more than 50 “fourteeners,” or mountains that are higher than 14,000 feet (or 4,267 m). But perhaps the most accessible of all is Mount Evans, which visitors can summit by car via the highest paved road on the continent. Once you’ve done some climbing, make sure to also plan a stop in the Mount Goliath Scenic Area, which offers views of the peaks but is still approachable terrain for novice hikers. And keep an eye out for the distinctive bristlecone pines, which can be as old as 1,600 years!
Barely farther away than a suburb, Boulder is like Denver’s chilled-out, fun-loving younger brother. One of the state’s big college towns, Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall attracts students – and families – with its long, pedestrianised stretch of shopping, browsing, and sightseeing. As this is Colorado, the mountains are, of course, nearby. Start with the Flatirons: a selection of jagged outcroppings on the edge of town that even newbies can climb after a day of training.
Pikes Peak Country
Comprising Pikes Peak itself – yes, one of those fourteeners – as well as the surrounding scenery and towns, Pikes Peak Country is ideal for family-friendly Denver day trips. Once you’ve discovered “America’s Mountain,” via scenic highway or hiking trails, there’s the soaring Cave of the Winds to tour, the Prorodeo Hall of Fame for some local colour, and plenty of shopping in nearby Manitou Springs.
Red Rocks & Golden
Just a quick trip west of downtown Denver, Golden’s name is no misnomer: this historic town was founded during a local gold rush in the mid-19th century. These days, there aren’t many prospectors around, but there is still plenty to see: the historic downtown hosts a number of cute boutiques, while the Colorado Railroad Museum is one for the kids. Then there’s the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave for a dose of cowboy history, and the Coors Brewery – the largest single-site brewery in the world. While you’re in the vicinity, swing by the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, which, as you’ll discover, is aptly named indeed.
For a real taste of the Old West, trade the big city for a small town feel in scenic Georgetown. Like Golden, the town was the product of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, and its historic downtown includes beautiful 19th century buildings and a newly opened heritage centre. To complete the old-timey feel, the Georgetown Loop Railroad sees guests wend their way through the canyon via steam locomotive.
If you fancy yourself a tasteful tippler, then you’ll be more than pleased with what you discover in Breckenridge. Breckenridge Brewery, which recently unveiled its 12-acre brewing campus, is open for tours, and certainly tastes – its Vanilla Porter is a particular standout. And then there’s Breckenridge Distillery, the highest in the world, which makes award-winning spirits ranging from bourbon to vodka. But before you indulge: strap on those skis and hit the slopes at Breck.
Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve
Just 20 miles west of Denver, Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve does what it says on the tin: the preserve, found within Genesee Park, hosts a thriving population of buffalo. The herd is supposedly descended from the last remaining wild bison in the US, and seeing these huge beasts in person certainly leaves an impression.
Don’t be surprised if you feel a certain spooky thrill when visiting Estes Park. The town, just on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, is home to the Stanley Hotel – better known as the filming location for The Shining. Horror junkies will certainly want to make a pilgrimage. Even if you’re not a scary movie type, though, there’s plenty to do in the area, from white-water rafting and fishing to hiking”¦and just soaking in those snow-capped views.
Thanks to Virgin Atlantic’s partnership with Delta, flights to Denver will have you within view of the mountains in no time.
Which of these Denver day trips are you most excited to embark on? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Claire Bullen