Day trips from Denver

Not Far from Denver There are Mountain Peaks, Stunning Red Rocks, and Charming Towns

Within just two hours or less from Denver, you can find yourself in a completely different environment with incredible views and activities. Getting up to those snow-covered peaks can be an adventure—one that is rounded out by a stay in a 5-star resort or a cold beer at a local brewery.

Mindy Sink
maio 30, 2023

When exploring the city of Denver, you will keep coming across the Rocky Mountains in building design, artwork, views, and more. Rent a car for the day (or take a bus) to go less than two hours west, north, and south to have some memorable moments outside of the city. You’ll go from looking at the mountains to being in the mountains and hiking or driving through a national park. Cities such as Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder, Golden, and Estes Park all have their own personalities and charms for visitors. You can go hiking, shopping, take a scenic drive up a 14,000-foot-high mountain, explore museums and galleries, and go out for some world-class meals. Be mindful of changes in elevation as you will be going higher up than Denver, possibly by thousands of feet, so keep hydrating and rest as needed. Where you choose to go will depend on the season when you are visiting and what activity you want to do. Whitewater rafting, skiing, hiking, cycling, and more can be done at these destinations.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is considered the crown jewel of Colorado’s four national parks, but it’s hard to compare as they are each so distinctive. When driving from Denver, you come through Estes Park, which is called the “gateway” town to the park. There are some good hikes that are considered part of the park but are accessed via the trailheads in town and not by going through the entrance gates. You can walk along Big Thompson and Fall Rivers in town, have lunch, do a little shopping, and possibly see some elk. The elk live in the park and are equally comfortable wandering about Estes Park.

Get There Really Early

Get into the park before sunrise and hike to Dream Lake with a headlamp so you can see the first light at this stunning spot. You also don’t need a reservation if you go early enough.

Inside the park, the most popular trailhead is Bear Lake which has access to several trails that lead to multiple lakes and a waterfall. During summer months there are timed entry reservations needed to get into the park so plan ahead. Longs Peak is the most climbed 14,000-foot peak in Colorado, but that statistic doesn’t mean everyone summits.

How to get there: There are a couple of routes to Estes Park from Denver and each takes about 1h 30min of driving on dry roads. Bustang offers a summer bus service from Union Station, which takes two hours each way.

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is south of Denver with some unique places to explore, depending on how much time you have.

Don’t Miss the Broadmoor

The Broadmoor is a world unto itself, like you’ve stepped into one of the paintings in their vast art collection. This 5-star resort welcomes guests with luxury at every turn in several restaurants to suite every taste (and budget), two pools, shops with something for every member of the family, a golf course, and mountain views.

Garden of the Gods is a red sandstone rock marvel to hike around or just stare at from the visitors’ center. Some of these “hikes” are on sidewalks as the popularity of this spot made them a necessity. A scenic drive loop gives fantastic views of the park, too.

Pikes Peak, the 14,000-foot peak that inspired “America, the Beautiful” is sometimes called “America’s Mountain” and can be accessed a few different ways, including driving up the road (plan 2-3 hours for this). There is also a cog railway that takes you up to a visitor center on the top. Like other peaks, Pikes Peak can be hiked but climbing a 14er requires planning. Local adventure companies drive tourists up, then put them on bikes to ride down.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs has interactive exhibits and tells the story of the Olympics and Olympians—and sometimes there is an Olympian there too! There is a nearby training center for Olympians that offertours.

How to get there: You can drive down I-25 south to get to Colorado Springs in an hour or take Bustang or Greyhound for a cost of $12-20 one-way. There will be a need for additional transportation to reach Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak if you take the bus.

Fort Collins

Just an hour north of Denver is the college town of Fort Collins. The walkable downtown, filled with restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels was the inspiration for Main Street, U.S.A in Disneyland. The campus of Colorado State University is open to the public and the Flower Trial Garden in spring and summer is worth a visit.

Try a Colorado Beer

Fort Collins has a big craft beer scene for a small-ish town, and it is ranked 4th in the country based on the number of microbreweries per capita. This is where 70% of Colorado’s craft beer is brewed. Schedule a brewery tour during your visit to Fort Collins, or just plan your own walking tour of the 20 or so breweries.

For those who want a whitewater rafting trip during their visit, many outfitters offer half-day and full-day excursions on the Cache la Poudre River, which is the state’s only designated “Wild & Scenic” river. The 6.5-mile-long Horsetooth Reservoir is a haven for boaters—often pulling water skiers—and paddleboarders on summer days. There are paddleboard rentals available for day-trippers.

In town, rent a bike to see the city parks and stop in at the local brewery for some sudsy sips.

If you have extra time, the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area is a gorgeous setting where it’s possible to see bison, take a hike, or bring your bicycle and go for a ride on the trails winding through 28 miles of grasslands.

How to get there: Drive an hour north on I-25 to get to Fort Collins or take the Bustang for around $10 one way and expect it will take 1.5 hours. Plan for additional transportation once in Fort Collins.

Boulder

Boulder is home to the University of Colorado’s flagship campus and an outdoor recreation paradise for hikers, cyclists, runners, rock climbers, and skiers.

I grew up in Boulder and still like to visit for the day! I might meet a friend for lunch or go for a hike, and it’s always refreshing to be back.

Driving west into Boulder you will first see the flatirons, dramatic rock formations that jut up against the backdrop of the mountains. You can pull over on Davidson Mesa to snap a photo before you pull into town. As you take in the view, you’ll see the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a singular building by architect I.M. Pei. Visitors can hike around the building or go inside and learn about science.

Chautauqua Park is at the base of the Flatirons and is a popular hiking spot. The Colorado Chautauqua was created as part of a movement to offer cultural experiences in 1898. You can spend the night in one of the historic cabins, set out a picnic in the lawn, listen to a classical music concert in the vintage auditorium, or take the kids to the playground here.

The University of Colorado campus is open to visitors and there is a Museum of Natural History, a Heritage Center, and the Fiske Planetarium to check out. The area where the campus is located is often called “The Hill.” Just down the Hill is the Pearl Street Mall, the hub of Downtown Boulder with bars, restaurants, and shops.

If it’s winter, you can drive up Boulder Canyon about 20 miles to Eldora Ski Area for a ski day. In summer, you can drive eight miles to Eldorado Canyon State Park and see rock climbers scaling the canyon walls.

How to get there: It’s just a 30-minute drive from Downtown Denver to Boulder, and there are buses from Union Station.

Golden

Golden is only 17 miles from downtown Denver so it hardly seems like a day trip, but there is so much to do in this area that it could easily fill a whole day. Clear Creek runs through Golden and just strolling along its banks can be a pleasant way to spend the day. From here you can stroll over to Washington Avenue where most of the town’s shops, restaurants, and bars are found. There is a cute historic park along the creek banks where you might find farm animals on display in the summer.

The Colorado School of Mines campus is just a couple of blocks from the downtown area. Anyone can go to the Mines Museum of Earth Science and see hundreds of gemstones and a moon rock.

If you’re in a car, you can drive up Lookout Mountain for the view to the east. Travelers with more time can also visit Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, Dinosaur Ridge, and the Morrison Natural History Museum nearby to learn more about this area’s fascinating geology.

How to get there: Drive west on I-70, then exit for Golden and expect to get there in about 20 minutes from downtown Denver. The light rail goes to the south end of Golden for around $4 one way.

Breckenridge

It might seem unusual to visit a ski town in any other season than winter, but Breckenridge has appeal year-round. In the 1800s miners came to Summit County and set up a supply camp in what is now Breckenridge. You can visit the Country Boy Mine to experience what mining was like in the same place where gold was found.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that ski slopes were cut, becoming the next “gold” to lure people to this area. The town of Breckenridge is 9,600 feet above sea level and the surrounding peaks are over 11,000 feet high. There are sledding hills, cross-country skiing, snowshoe trails, and hiking around here too.

The Blue River that cuts through the town is popular with people who like to fly fish in summer and you can join them with a local outfitter and rented gear. Golf is another summertime activity here and in the nearby mountain communities.

How to get there: It’s 80 miles to Breckenridge from downtown Denver and there might be traction laws in effect during winter weather. Consider a private shuttle that can accommodate ski gear or take the Bustang from downtown Denver into Breckenridge.

Glenwood Springs

Perhaps best with an overnight stay, Glenwood Springs is almost a three-hour drive from Denver. This town is famous for being home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool and it’s open year-round. In summer there are additional water park features open too.

A stop in Glenwood Springs for a soak is a family favorite!

Newer to the soaking scene is Iron Mountain Hot Springs along the banks of the Colorado River, where you can watch whitewater rafters drift by as you soak in a private hot tub.

Above the town is the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which has tours of the caves and also an amusement park with a gondola that brings you up and an alpine coaster to ride.

How to get there: The drive up I-70 to Glenwood Springs from Denver is quite scenic, and you sit back and relax and take it all in on the Amtrak train that brings travelers to this town.

About the author

Mindy SinkGuidebook author and travel writer Mindy has lived in Denver most of her life and is the author of a few guidebooks about the city and other places in Colorado. She loves to travel with her husband and their daughter in places where they can explore on foot, including hiking. Mindy writes frequently for The Denver Post about finding adventures in your own backyard.