If you want to experience the real beauty of Colorado, you’ve got to get out an explore. While Denver offers lots for visitors, including a thriving food and craft brew scene, plenty of cultural attractions and interesting shops, there’s so much to see outside the city, be sure to schedule time in for at least one or two day trips. From gold rush towns to spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll find plenty to fit the bill.
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Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is jam-packed with glorious peaks that soar over 12,000 feet and it’s just a 90-minute drive from Denver. There are 350 miles of trails that crisscross the park, connecting alpine lakes, waterfalls, mountain summits, rocky tundra and dense pine forests making it ideal for everything from a short trek to longer day hikes. Or, you can enjoy a scenic drive. Trail Ridge Road, sometimes referred to as the “highway to the sky,” is one of its highlights, bringing the entire sweep of the Rockies before you in every direction. The 48-mile paved road stretches from Estes Park on the east side to Grand Lake on the west, and at its peak, it winds across the tundra to the high point at 12,183 feet in elevation, offering breathtaking views and wildlife sightings, including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, marmots and more.
Cripple Creek and Victor
Cripple Creek and Victor are less than five miles apart and about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Denver, making it easy to visit both on a day trip. Cripple Creek, which was booming at the turn of the 20th century with over 55,000 residents offers the chance to test your luck in the casinos and get a taste of history and the Old West. Descend 1,000 feet underground in an original 1890s gold mine, visit fascinating museums and take a ride on the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad. Over in Victor, you won’t find any casinos, but you will feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. There are numerous period buildings, most dating to the late 19th-century, like the Victor Daily Record newspaper office, the trolley depot and the Victor Hotel, with its impressive Victorian-style lobby and authentic birdcage elevator.
Royal Gorge Bridge, Canon City
Less than three hours south of the Mile High City is one of the state’s most popular attractions. The Royal Gorge Bridge spans a quarter-mile and sits nearly 1,000 feet over the Arkansas River as the highest suspension bridge in the country. It’s not for the faint-hearted but if you enjoy those type of adrenaline-fueled experiences, you can also take a ride on the Royal Rush Skycoaster. After a 50-mile-per-hour free fall, it hangs riders over the canyon’s rim with only the river below. Other attractions include an aerial gondola and a zip line.
Garden of the Gods
The Garden of the Gods is one of the most beautiful parks in America. It showcases 300 sandstone formations set against a magnificent backdrop of snow-capped peaks. You can hike the 15 miles of trails that wind through nearly 1,400 acres, picnic, or just relax and watch the rock climbers. There’s also a world-class Visitor & Nature Center where you can learn how the unique red rock formations got there, as well as a cafe and terrace which provides gorgeous views overlooking the park and Pikes Peak beyond.
Just an hour’s drive north of Denver, Fort Collins is a cool college town that offers a lively arts and music scene, lots of fantastic restaurants and endless places for enjoying a good brew. After a day of play, perhaps a hike at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space or paddling Horsetooth Reservoir, take a tour and enjoy samples at New Belgium Brewery and then sip experimental beers at Odell Brewing Company. In Old Town, you’ll find lots of opportunities for enjoying the nightlife and you may even be able to catch a free concert in the summer.
A little over an hour from Denver tucked into the Rockies just west of Boulder, Nederland is what many feel is Colorado’s quirkiest town, internationally famous for its “Frozen Dead Guys” festival which celebrates a Norwegian immigrant whose dead body is still frozen in a Tuff Shed. It offers a great music scene, unique shops and all sorts of outdoor adventures nearby. In the winter, ski or board at nearby Eldora Mountain Resort, and in the warmer months you can hike or bike scenic trails throughout the area.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is just a little over two hours from Denver and offers a fascinating look at a well-preserved, ancient ecosystem that existed 35 million years ago, including a unique display of fossils preserved from prehistoric Colorado. Some of the richest and most diverse on the planet, it includes fossils of about 1,700 different species of trees, insects, fish, plants, and other animals. There are 14 miles of trails, including the Petrified Forest Walk, a one-mile trail that passes massive, petrified Redwood stumps, a historic excavation site and a geologic timeline exhibit.
Less than 45 minutes from Denver in the foothills of the Rockies, Boulder, aptly described by Timothy Olyphant’s character in 2007’s “Catch and Release” as “Patagonia Disneyland,” offers a ton of things to do and do. Head to Pearl Street Mall, a top spot for people watching and enjoying free, live entertainment, along with great dining (including plenty of options for tasty organic fare), multiple music venues, and opportunities for recreational activities. When the weather’s right tube down Boulder Creek which runs right through downtown or take a hike in the Flatiron Mountains.
The capital of Wyoming is just a 90-minute drive north of Denver. If you’re here for the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo held in late July, you won’t want to miss it. It takes place over 10 days and offers rodeo, big-name concerts, a carnival, parades, a Western Art Show, Indian Village and more. The rest of the year you can enjoy its historic buildings and museums, and visit its Renaissance revival-style Capitol building.