The mountains are calling, and you must go. When you visit Denver, do as the locals do and get out of town for the day. Experience the unique character of neighboring communities by taking day trips from Denver—you’ll satisfy the taste for adventure that brought you to the Mile High City in the first place.
10 Best Day Trips from Denver
Whether you’re looking for thrills, small-town breweries, or art exhibits, there’s an easy Denver day trip for you.
Evergreen is a favorite local day trip from Denver because it’s close to the city (about 30 miles west) but feels like it’s deep in the mountains. Stroll along Main Street to peruse the various art galleries and try the wine at Creekside Cellars. In the winter, ice skate outside, surrounded by pine-covered mountains, at 8.5-acre Evergreen Lake. The hills surrounding Evergreen are rife with trails ready to be explored in the warmer months; Maxwell Falls, Alderfer / Three Sisters Park, and Lair o’ the Bear Park are popular spots. Cheers to successful day trips from Denver with a beer at the Little Bear Saloon, an authentic Western live music venue and watering hole.
Estes Park, 65 miles northwest of Denver, is probably best known for the Stanley Hotel, the supposedly haunted accommodations that inspired Stephen King’s the Shining. Day trippers should stop by the Stanley for a tour (there’s a spooky Night Spirit option) and a flight at the Whiskey Bar, which has a collection of more than 1,000 bottles of the dark spirit. Estes Park is also the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The highest-elevation national park in the country has 355 miles of hiking trails, scenic driving routes, more than 50 lakes and streams for fishing, and plenty of wildlife (keep an eye out for elk, moose, and bighorn sheep). Back in town, visitors can easily pass an entire afternoon popping in and out of the jewelry, art, and furniture stores that line Estes Park’s main drag.
One of the most popular day trips from Denver is driving to Golden for a tour of Coors Brewery. After you’ve crossed that prerequisite off the list, it’s time to the rest of what Golden has to offer. In addition to shops—and even more breweries and distilleries—downtown Golden is close to a triad of great parks and a number of museums, including three definitely worth your time: Foothills Art Center, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, and the American Mountaineering Museum. Golden is also a hot spot for climbers because of its variety of routes (even beginners will feel comfortable) and proximity to Denver. Since the town is just 15 miles from Denver, plan to stay for dinner; try the French-influenced eats at Abejas or Middle Eastern classics at Amir Grill. Golden Moon Speakeasy, a cocktail lounge that distills its own spirits, is great for a nightcap.
Located 65 miles north of Denver, this one-time trading and agricultural hub has grown into the state’s unofficial beer capital (Anheuser-Busch, Odell Brewing Co., and New Belgium Brewing Company are all based here, plus more than a dozen other breweries). It’s also become one of Denver’s coolest neighbors. Ginger and Baker is a gathering place with a market, bakery, restaurant, and more in a restored feed building. Old Town, a national historic district, was the inspiration behind Disneyland’s Main Street USA and has a plethora of funky boutiques, restaurants, and artisans like bean-to-bar sweet maker Nuance Chocolate. Adventurers will want to raft or tube along the Cache la Poudre River, the state’s only designated “wild and scenic” river. Animal lovers on a day trip from Denver should visit Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, home to 22 genetically pure bison (descendants of Yellowstone bison) and their calves; the best time to see them roaming the land is in summer and early fall.
Red Rocks Parks and Amphitheatre
Red Rocks is a bucket-list concert venue—it’s the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world—but the 738-acre park, with its striking jagged peaks and views of the Front Range, is worth a Denver day trip whether or not there’s a show. Pack a snack and take in the unusual formations on the short Trading Post or Geologic Overlook trails; mountain bikers can pedal along Red Rocks Trail’s six-mile loop. Nearby, Dinosaur Ridge and its two-mile trail weaves by 15 fossil and geologic sites. Some of the fossil specimens, from apatosaurus, stegosaurus, and allosaurus, date back 150 million years.
The Wild Animal Sanctuary
You expect to see moose and bears in Colorado. But tigers and African lions? Colorado has those too. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is a 720-acre wildlife refuge in the Eastern Plains, 39 miles from Denver. Follow the Mile into the Wild Walkway, an elevated platform, to watch the animals as they eat, bathe, and lounge in their open habitats. More than 450 rescued animals live at the sanctuary, including leopards, wolves, and grizzly bears. Time your visit around 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. to see—and hear—the animals at their most active.
Las Vegas, Black Hawk is not. But the former gold rush town—miners first struck a payload in 1859—is gambling central in Colorado. Sixteen casinos sit side-by-side in the small burg 38 miles from Denver. Most of the town’s restaurants are located inside the casinos; when you need a break from the slots, head to Timberline Grill, a steak house on the main gaming floor at Ameristar Black Hawk. For fresh air, drive about 10 miles northeast to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for hiking, horseback riding, or biking. Choose a trail that heads to Panorama Point for an Instagram shot worthy of a road trip.
Garden of the Gods
It’s not hard to locate Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. Slabs of sandstone rock rise from the verdant surroundings, beckoning visitors to the 480-acre park. It’s a must-see natural attraction and one that’s accessible to outdoorspeople of all abilities. There are 15 miles of trails, some as short as a half-mile long; road and mountain biking paths; and a variety of rock climbing routes. Stop by the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to learn more about how the geological wonder formed.
St Mary’s Glacier
For a short day trip from Denver with major payoff, direct your car an hour west to Idaho Springs. The just-under-a-mile moderate hike from the trailhead leads to a lake and the namesake glacier, which is typically snowcapped year-round. (It’s also known as St. Mary’s Alice because the geographic feature doesn’t technically qualify as a glacier.) A short walk around the lake and up the snowfield provides panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. Relax on the sandy beach before heading back to the car. Refuel in Idaho Springs with a sandwich at Two Brothers Deli or a burger at Westbound & Down Brewing Company. Weather conditions can quickly change in this area, so bring appropriate layers and plenty of water.
Exploring all of Boulder would take more than a few hours, but you can get a taste of the People’s Republic with a day trip from Denver. Talented buskers entertain along the pedestrian-only, four-block Pearl Street Mall, which is lined with shops, galleries, and eateries. Set against the iconic Flatirons, Boulder is a siren for adventurers. From Chautauqua Park to Eldorado CanyoLinkn to Boulder Creek, there’s no shortages of hiking, biking, tubing, and kayaking in this city 30 miles from Denver. It’s also the site of more than 20 breweries and some of the state’s best restaurants; make reservations at Frasca Food & Wine or Oak at Fourteenth.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Denver Travel Guide
- 10 Best Luxury Hotels in Denver
- 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Denver
- 10 Stylish Boutique Hotels in Denver
- 10 Must-See Denver Attractions
- 10 Fun Things to Do in Denver
- The Best Cheap Eats in Denver
- 10 Best Denver Restaurants
- 10 Best Denver Breweries and Distilleries
- What to Pack for Denver
- What to Wear in Denver
Don't Miss: Top Tours in Denver
Luxury SUV Transportation: Denver Airport to or from Ski Resorts Breckenridge Vail or Aspen
– Original reporting by Daliah Singer