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One of my favorite things about the Mile High City is how easy it is to escape with day trips from Denver. Don’t get me wrong – I love the city itself, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the hustle and bustle and get out into nature or a smaller town. Luckily, Denver is perfectly situated for easy access to countless getaways. It’s not uncommon for Denverites to be skiing in the mountains in the morning and enjoying a drink on a sunny patio downtown in the late afternoon.
I’ve rounded up my favorite day trips from the city that are perfect for any time of year. Most of them could also be turned into a weekend getaway with ease, which is a good thing because you probably won’t want to leave these scenic destinations!
My love for Boulder runs deep – it is the home of my alma matter after all (go buffs!). But don’t be put off by the fact that it’s a “college town.” There’s plenty to do for all ages. It’s also my favorite hiking destination that’s close to the city. Check out Chautauqua Park (pronounced shuh-taw-kwah) for hiking trails of all levels. My favorite is the Royal Arch Trail. It’s a bit more difficult, but totally worth it for the view at the end.
The heart of Downtown Boulder is Pearl Street, a scenic walkway full of local shops and restaurants, activists, protestors, and street performers. A stroll down Pearl will give you a true sense of the eclectic people that call Boulder home.
Image courtesy of beautifulcataya
On weekends in the summer, wander the Boulder Farmer’s Market or rent a tube and drift down the Boulder Creek. During the winter, pick out some reading material at Boulder Bookstore and cozy up at one of the dozens of cafes or restaurants.
- The Med – especially their tapas menu
- The Sink – a Boulder staple, and one of the best grass-fed burgers you’ll ever have
- SALT – a farm to table bistro right on Pearl Street, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu
- Bitter Bar – if you’re looking for deliciously crafted cocktails, this is your spot
- The Buff – prepare for a long (but worth it) wait, especially on weekends, for this breakfast hot-spot
- The Cup Espresso Cafe – a cozy coffee shop on Pearl with locally roasted coffee
- Salvaggio’s Deli – best breakfast sandwiches ever
Just an hour and a half northwest of the city is Estes Park, home to Rocky Mountain National Park and the infamous haunted Stanley Hotel (inspiration for The Shining). A day is definitely enough time to explore both the park and town.
Image Courtesy of The Stanley Hotel
The park is open all year round with activities for each season. I love driving through during fall to see the leaves change, but there’s plenty of hiking trails, campgrounds, snowshoeing, sledding, horseback riding, picnic spots, rock climbing, biking, fishing, wildlife watching, and guided tours if driving isn’t your style. Before you go, plan your trip by checking weather conditions on the RMNP website.
In town, you’ll find plenty of shopping and restaurants. There are also a ton of events during the year – one trip up we stumbled upon the Annual Elk Festival and ended up wandering through tents selling jerky and crafts while listening to people participate in the elk bugling contest.
- Claire’s On the Park – a cute little cafe with good food & views, and their patio is dog-friendly
- Estes Park Brewery – because trying the local beer is a necessity!
- Nepal’s Cafe – it doesn’t look like much but the food is excellent
- Estes Park Taffy Company – there’s tons of candy shops but this is my favorite, you must stop and see the taffy being pulled in the front window
- Baba’s Burgers & Gyros – a little drive through on the west side of town with amazing burgers and fries, especially after a day of hiking
Although a bit of a drive (about 3 hours from Denver), heading up to Glenwood Springs or Aspen for the day is totally doable, and definitely worth it. A couple of the most picturesque hikes in Colorado are also in the area: Hanging Lake and Maroon Bells. Both are extremely popular, so plan your trip accordingly by factoring in time to wait, and time to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.
The Hanging Lake trail begins just off the highway near Glenwood Springs, and is a steep 1 mile climb up to a rare natural wonder – a lake formed by travertine deposition complete with a lush hanging garden. The trail is open year round.
Maroon Bells are closer to Aspen and some of the most photographed peaks in the country, surrounded by a glacial valley. Access to Maroon Bells is a bit limited, so be sure to check the website for their schedule and weather before you go.
Image courtesy of John Fowler
I’ve done many day trips to the area and stopped in both towns along the way, but you could choose either one and have enough to do to spend a day or longer there, even without hiking! Glenwood Springs is famous for the hot springs which are definitely worth a soak. The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool tends to get crowded, so if you’re going during a popular time of year try Iron Mountain Hot Springs.
- Hotel Colorado – I highly recommend this historic hotel if you’re staying the night, but it’s still worth a stop even if you’re just passing through. Especially if you’re interested in ghost stories like me…
- Daily Bread – a great little homestyle restaurant with awesome breakfast
- The Pullman – I like coming here with a group and sharing the small plates, everything is delicious
- Glenwood Canyon Brewpub – have to check out the local beer again
Aspen is host to tons of amazing events throughout the year, as well as top of the line shopping and restaurants. Park downtown and spend the day strolling the streets and browsing, stop at the weekend market, or take the gondola up the mountain.
- The Little Nell – one of the most recognizable hotels in Aspen, amazing to stay at, but also great to stop in for a meal or drink
- Red Onion – you know it’s good if it’s still going strong after 50 years, great pub food and sometimes live music
- Annette’s Mountain Bake Shop – any baked good you could imagine plus a daily sandwich special
- Meat & Cheese – located on restaurant row and serving up seasonal charcuterie
South of Denver, and situated at the base of one of the most famous mountains in the state, Pikes Peak, is Colorado Springs. Famous for the US Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, and the US Olympic Training Center, it’s not surprising the Springs is an exciting place to visit.
One of my favorite things to do is check out the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I have a soft spot in my heart for this small zoo because I’ve been going there since I was a child, and it was the first zoo I’d ever been to where you could feed the giraffes! Now the Denver Zoo also has a giraffe feeding exhibit, but I still prefer the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s. It’s so fun to meander around the platform that puts you at eye-level with the giraffes.
Image courtesy of CMZoo.org
Hiking and outdoor exploring is easy in the Springs since the city is right at the base of the mountains. Drive to the summit of Pikes Peak, pick a trail at Garden of the Gods, or attempt the Manitou Incline, a mile-long straight vertical climb.
- The Broadmoor – a European-style resort and spa, worth a stay or walk around the beautiful complex
- The Golden Bee – an authentic English pub located near the Broadmoor with great food and beer
- The Mona Lisa – excellent fondue, and definitely a unique and upscale dining experience
- Taste of Jerusalem Cafe – I’ve been eating here for years and it never disappoints with outstanding Mediterranean food
- The Burrowing Owl – 100% vegan menu, sustainable community lounge
- Edelweiss – German and European cuisine, amazing food, family restaurant that’s been around since the 60’s
- Bristol Brewing – my favorite CO Springs brewery (I like their Beehive honey wheat!), they regularly give back to different nonprofit organizations in the area and host plenty of fun events
Did your favorite spot make my list? Let me know if you have other recommendations! And if you liked this post, feel free to share with the image below.