Why is it you can always think of where you want to go on a day trip from Denver – until you actually need to think of a day trip from Denver you would like to go on? Or maybe you are visiting the Mile High City and want some recommendations outside of what the people who pay in the magazines tell you what to do.
Here are 17 fabulous day trips from Denver:
See Colorado’s Newest State Park
Want another reason to love Colorado? As the headlines of the world are filled with how open space is being exchanged for another housing complex with a name reflective of what used to live there prior to the concrete showing up (you know “Elk Meadows” or “Coyote Creek”) – what does Colorado do?
Open another state park. Located in Pine, Colorado, Staunton State Park features loads of trails and few roads – allowing us all to celebrate what nature is all about – the natural.
50 minutes from Denver
Beautiful, Lazy and Easy Afternoon Strolls
Idea #1 (1 hour from Denver): Considered by Colorado’s most famous photographer, John Fielder’s, the best State Park in Colorado, Roxborough State Park has gorgeous trails for grandma, the kiddos and/or the lazies as well as some huffer and puffers for those looking for exercise. Perfect for those looking to go for a little outdoors town when the mountains are full of snow or you just don’t want to commit to the time to drive to get to them.
Idea #2 (30 minutes from Denver): We went to the South Platte River as it is another place to go sans-snow and sans- physical effort. It, like Roxborough Park was recommended in, John Fielder’s Best of Colorado. It is a flat path that meanders along the South Platte. You could walk or ride your bike. The perfect place to get outside but not have to exert yourself – a win – win, no?
Lazy Bike Ride Get-Away
For the Saturday afternoon that you want to get out of Denver, but don’t want to go too far and are not in the mood for really exerting yourself – throw the bikes in the back of the car and head to the Boulder Bike Trail – 300 miles of trails that take you through the campus, the town, along the river, up the canyon (although some of it is closed due to the floods and does require a wee bit of exertion), to the parks and beyond. When you are ready for a rest, all of Boulder is waiting to food and drink you.
45 Minutes from Denver
Visit the Cemetery You Have Probably Never Visited, Heard of or Even Seen
When what was Denver’s city cemetery (what is now Cheesman Park) started to cramp the style of a growing Denver, entrepreneurs decided to move the dead to what was, at the time, the countryside. This area on 52nd and Brighton was considered so remote that only Colorado’s most wealthy could afford burial there. Resting in this 130 year old Riverside Cemetery are Colorado pioneers such as, “Augusta Tabor, Barney and Julia Ford, Silas Soule, three territorial governors – John Evans, Samuel Elbert, and John Routt – and numerous mayors, entrepreneurs, and civic figures.” It is also the home of over 1000 veterans from the Civil War.
This once seemingly remote cemetery is a modern day paradox. As visitors enjoy the historic headstones and final resting place of people who built Colorado, they are also surrounded by what followed the cemetery here – a “gritscape” consisting of an oil refinery, an industrial park and railroad tracks – and to mix it up just a bit more – one of the best unobstructed sunset views I have found in Denver.
15 minutes from Downtown
Go to the Best Bar Ever in Middle of Random Ass Nowhere
How far will I drive for a good bar? Apparently, one hour and 2 minutes. A girlfriend of mine was telling me about The Bucksnort Saloon in Pine, Colorado over drinks when the bartender overheard our chat and chimed in that it was somewhere I, “had to go”.
The Bucksnort does take a bit of getting to. You definitely want to try and GPS / Google Map it because the signs to the saloon are good for a bit and then fade off into oblivion right before you get there. If you are on a dirt road thinking, “there is no way in hell this could be right.” You are almost there.
When you arrive your hardwork is rewarded by all the saloon fixings – pool tables, dining on your standard pub fare, chilling on the back terrace overlooking the creek below, loads of bikers and watiresses that do not hesitate for a second to tell you what is up.
1 hour from Denver
The Lakefront View + Hike + Wine + Canyon Drive Combo
Determined to find a work around Mother Nature’s afternoon precipitation plans David and I opted for a hike close to Denver – Evergreen. First stop? Everbean for a cappucino and a lakefront view (a massive rarity and enormous joy in Colorado). Then, headed to Ponderosa and Sisters trailhead. According to the book we used to find this hike, Best Easy Day Hikes Denver, it is a 4 mile loop trail. It proved to be the perfect douse of outside, views, quiet and getting back before the rain started to fall.
Next stop? Creekside Cellars, an Evergreen winery for their $5 wine tasting (5 different wines for 5 bucks) and then made it to their deck overlooking the river below for a flight** of wine. The menu featuring numerous Mediterranean inspired options looked divine and will be something we definitely try next time. I particularly liked Viogneir and Gewurztraminer.
To finish it off we took 74 East to 470 back to Denver. I think the route is about the same time as I-70 but with gorgeous canyon views, small towns to pass through and even more hiking along the way at Corwina Park, Lair of the Bear Park and Red Rocks, should you be interested.
40 min. from Denver
Eat Cheese, Go to Breweries, Visit Quirky Neighborhoods & a Cute Little Downtown
A quick drive up I-25 and a short jaunt to the west and you will arrive at Longmontm a town of about 88,000 with unobstructed mountain views, loads of small businesses, fun restaurants, breweries and some delightful hidden gems.
First stop – Prospect. Prospect is a newer development (such things typically terrify us), but to our joy (and relief) Prospect, the Recipient of the 1996 Governor’s Smart Growth Award, Prospect was built as the “antidote to conventional and sprawling suburban development, which is characterized by oversized front yards; wide, featureless streets; and inhospitable house fronts dominated by huge garage doors.”
The architecture at Prospect ranges from downright quirky to very traditional and they are all near, “A large community park surrounded by shops, a swimming pool, restaurants and offices comprise the town center — and all of this is within a five minute walk from Prospect’s homes.”
Lunchtime was at Cheese Importers. Located a bit south of town in an old and charming warehouse, the Cheese Importers is part cheese shop (the biggest one in Colorado reportedly), part gourmet grocery store (we acted to slow and missed out on buying baguettes) and part, crazily good, café with fresh Mediterranean and French inspired dishes.
Our Longmont wanderings also took us into Dickens Tavern. The locals will tell you different stories about the beginning of this historic restaurant and theatre. Some will tell you the original founders were related to Mr. Charles Dickens; others will tell you it was paid for via a grant from Ulysses S. Grant. Upstairs is the historic theatre with acts still playing there to this day and downstairs is the tavern (formerly a bank). Next time we go, we will be certain to get the table that resides inside the former vault – which is now converted into the wine cellar.
Longmont is also home to two large and popular Colorado players and worthy of a visit destinations – Oskar Blues Brewery (their anti-corporate headquarters (no words for how much I LOVE this), their restaurant and a new one on the way) and Left Hand Brewing Company.
50 minutes from Denver
True story: just on the other side of Denver’s border and a not-so-long bike ride from downtown – you can find wild coyotes, buffalo herds, deer, birds of prey – and completely empty hiking trails and space.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge has a not so pretty past which includes manufacturing chemical warfare for multiple military operations and a prisoner of war camp. (All of the historic details are described in their very well done visitors’ center.)
Today the Arsenal is a place of peace for both people and wildlife. The easy and unoccupied trails – make it the perfect escape for Denverites who want a serious dose of nature all within a 15 minute drive of their front door.
20 Minutes from Denver
Two Adorable Towns Very Worth a Day Trip
It is easy to think, because I have, that the only thing between Denver and Boulder is a whole lot of Bed Bath n’ Beyond and mega-neighborhood complexes circa 2009, but this past weekend David and I visited two gems: Niwot (50 minutes from Denver) and Louisville (35 minutes from Denver).
Niwot, is a wee little place a few miles northeast of Boulder. Their historic downtown area is about a block long but included in this is the most delightful place I have seen for a summer night’s meal – Colterra. (Their sister restaurant is Salt in Boulder.)
Although we did not get a chance to eat at Colterra their “canopy of hundred-year-old trees and a beautiful stone patio” and offerings of “Southern French and Northern Italian cuisine featuring the best local ingredients in peak season and in full flavor” ensure we will return for a visit.
A new brewery is opening on the historic street, a few quaint gift shops welcome visitors AND best of all they have a festival in August celebrating my people – Left Handers forced to live in a Right Handed world. Off Niwot Road is a plaza featuring all the things any little town needs and wants.
Louisville, comparatively, is much bigger. Main Street is loaded with more bars and restaurants than I bothered counting, and if and when you tire of Main Street, side streets have even more to entertain you. One of Louisville’s parks will particularly please the canine community with both the traditional dog park and even little lake for the dogs to take a dip. We stopped at the roof top deck of Rex for a drink.
Go on the Happiest Hike in Colorado
A recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park with two friends from Spain (!) introduced me to an extremely stellar loop hike in the CO. The views are nothing short of Rocky Mountain divinity, the lakes you will see are both plentiful and stunning and to top it all off the biggest waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park awaits you at the end.
From the Bear Lake trailhead, hike towards Nymph and Dream Lake. The first mile or so is a bit of tourist/Texas hysteria but with a bit more hiking you can shed them. After Dream Lake keep following the loop and head to the best lake on the trail – Lake Haiyaha. (There is a brown lake-ish feature near Lake Haiyaha, but keep going. It involves easy climbing over a few big rocks to get there.) When you have finished taking in all the wonderfulness of Lake Haiyaha, follow the Lake Haiyaha trail back to the main loop trail and turn right to complete it.
Note, as it is a loop you can start off in any direction from Bear Lake Trailhead, but if you want to do the least amount of uphill do the loop by heading towards Dream Lake first. If you want more of a workout head towards Albert Falls.
Total hike distance: 6.5 – 7 miles
How much huffing and puffing will be needed? A moderate amount but after Lake Haiyaha it is almost all downhill unless you decide to walk from the Glacier Gorge parking back to Bear Lake which is uphill and a bit of a pain in the ass at the end of the day – if we are going to be honest about it. (Depending on the time of day and season there is typically a bus that will take you from Glacier Gorge back to Bear Lake or wherever you parked your car.)
Make sure you take a map – get a National Park Service map of the area and/or get a more detailed, durable and long lasting map of Rocky Mountain National Park.
For hiking food you might want to consider stopping at the St. Vrain Market in Lyons, Colorado – as the food in Estes Park is a bit, eh.
1 Hour 45 Minutes from Denver
Visit Montezuma, Population: 65
Montezuma, Colorado. The town’s dirt road and two stop signs regulate the “traffic” which doesn’t seem to be very much given the loal dogs sleeping in the middle of the road. Between Keystone and Montezuma there are loads of dispersed camping sites – some right along the river. Keep driving through Montezuma as far as your car will allow you and then get out and walk the road. Old mining remains and a good trail for kids and grandma await you.
1 hour 40 Minutes from Denver
Earn a Great View of the Continental Divide
My absolute favorite go-to hike outside of Denver is Coyote in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. It is a about a 30 to 45 minute hike up the mountain to absolutely stunning views of the Continental Divide. The hike continues to a longer loop if you feel so inclined. It is perfect for after work or when time is limited but expectations are high. (See next option for places to eat when you are done.)
50 Minutes from Denver
Hike + Beer + Little Corner of Colorado You Might Not Stumble Across
Corwina Park (part of the Denver Mountain Parks) located off of Hwy 74 between Morrison and Evergreen is the perfect place for a quick fix of nature after work. There are three different places (that we saw at least) that you can access the park.
We parked in the western most lot. (If you get to Kerr Gulch you went too far.) We then huffed and puffed it up to Panorama Point. (It is the last strectch that is the huffing and puffing part. But, um, to be fair, about 10 minutes after arriving three kids no older than 5 showed up, on their own accord, with their parents.)
Afterwards, we headed to the Town of Kittredge a wee bit west of where we parked. We happened to be there on a Friday and the entire town was bumping. (LoDo, you’ve got nothing on this place.) We opted for whiskey and chili at the Bear Creek Restaurant. Had we arrived early enough there were some extremely stellar little tables with wonderful views of the river. Great patio when the weather permits as well!
40 Minutes from Denver
Inner City National Wildlife Refuge, Hiking & Horseback Riding
As I wrote about in The Best City in the U.S., Denver has 205+ city parks. (I think the plus is from not being able to keep track anymore.)
Now if you want to go horseback riding or visit a National Wildlife Refuge you don’t have to pack enough clothing to survive a sudden 50 degree temperature swing plus two meals and snacks – you just need to walk, bike or drive (if you must) 3 miles west of Denver to Crown Hill Park. Located officially at 9307 West 26th Avenue, in Lakewood, Crown Hill Park is 242 acres and10.2 miles of trails that allow you to escape it all without ever having to leave it.
20 Minutes from Denver
The Downtown Area You Have Always Avoided that Got Crazy Cool While You Avoided It
So before I tell you where it is – I am going to tell you what it is – a three or so block main street in a charming downtown area with breweries, restaurants, bars, bakeries, chocolate shops, breakfast joints and other niceties.
Now, you might be as surprised as we were to learn this is what Old Towne Arvada is now all about. We went there one Sunday in search of coffee and were both blown away by how just damn cute it was.
As recently as a few years ago we got lured there by some lofty recommendations only to arrive and feel a bit, “Huh. Ummmm. Ok.”
But my friends, the place has changed. It has gone from “meh” to delightful. I think it arguably has one of the cutest and as well as one of the biggest little downtown areas in the Denver Metro area. Don’t miss the Rhinelander Bakery for sweet treats or Fuzzy’s for huevos rancheros.
25 minutes from Denver
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