One of the reasons Denver is such a popular tourism destination these days is that it makes a great base for exploring the rest of the Front Range. The Rocky Mountains are likely to be high on anyone’s Denver itinerary, but from brewery tours to city breaks to sand dunes, there are just so many excellent options for daytrips from Denver.
I am a Colorado local who left my Denver job to travel the world and write this blog. Every single time I return home to Colorado from my travels, I’m amazed at how incredible my own home state really is. One of the main reasons is that Denver is just perfect for people who love living in a city during the week, but need to get away to nature on weekends.
Having taken dozens, probably hundreds, of day trips from Denver over the years, I thought I would write up this quick list of my picks for the absolute best day trips from Denver. I hope you enjoy:
- 1 14 Best Denver Day Trips
- 1.1 Rocky Mountain National Park
- 1.2 Roxborough State Park
- 1.3 Mount Evans Scenic Byway & Estes Park
- 1.4 Garden of the Gods
- 1.5 Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Canyon City
- 1.6 Boulder
- 1.7 Pikes Peak
- 1.8 Fort Collins
- 1.9 Black Hawk & Central City
- 1.10 Golden
- 1.11 Breckenridge
- 1.12 Idaho Springs
- 1.13 Red Rocks Park
- 1.14 Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
14 Best Denver Day Trips
You will need car for most of these Denver day trips, though Golden and Boulder can be easily reached via public transit. There is currently a rental car shortage, so if you need a car I suggest using the excellent search engine Discover Car Hire to search and compare all the major car rental companies. Or, if you prefer to camp over in an RV overnight, check out Outdoorsy – a cool site that works like an Airbnb for renting campervans and RVs.
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Rocky Mountain National Park
If you only have time for one daytrip from Denver, then take a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park offers stunning year-round scenery and, in my opinion, is the single most beautiful place in Colorado. When my friends visit me in Denver, I always make sure to take them to to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re the active type, there is plenty of hiking and biking trails here, or you feel like being more sedentary, you can take in the mountain views and natural smells while driving the scenic route through the park via the Bear Lake Corridor.
👉 Local Tip: For summer 2021, the park has instituted a timed entry system. You’ll need to reserve ahead, and also be prepared for the possibility of lines at the entrance (RMNP is becoming a really popular day trip from Denver!).
Roxborough State Park
If you only have half a day, or just don’t feel like going that far from Denver, an excursion to Roxborough State Park is an excellent way to get a taste of the mountains, some light exercise, and incredible photos. The park offers several short trails, ranging from easy mile-long walks to more moderate basic hikes. Along the trails you’ll find spectacular views from several great lookout points offering splendid vistas of the dramatic rising red rock formations which adorn the park. Come at the end of spring for a real treat, when blooming wildflowers create some of the most beautiful photo opportunities near Denver. Note that entrance to the park is $10 per vehicle, and that Roxborough follows a strict “Leave Trace Policy,” which means no off-trail hiking, no dogs, no biking, and no drones.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway & Estes Park
Talk to any Denverite long enough and they’re bound to casually mention the number of “14ers” they’ve climbed. The term refers to Colorado’s fifty-three 14,000+ foot mountains. If you’re looking to conquer and easy one yourself, try hiking Grays Peak. But if you want an even easier option (some might call it cheating…), you can drive to the top of 14,625 foot Mount Evans for some stunning views via the Mount Evans Scenic Byway. The road claims to be the highest paved road in North America, and it definitely is one of Colorado’s top attractions for natural beauty (keep an eye out for mountain goats and bighorn sheep!). After your trip to that altitude, you’re sure to be winded, be sure to visit the nearby mountain town of Estes Park for a little relaxation. In Estes Park I suggest you take the fantastic Estes Park Aerial Tramway, relax with a cup of vino at the highly-rated Snowy Peaks Winery, or check out the iconic Stanley Hotel.
👉 Local Tip: Note that the access byway is only open seasonally, and a timed reservation system was recently implemented. You’ll need to reserve timed tickets here in advance
Garden of the Gods
I recently returned home to Colorado after spending most of the pandemic trapped in Argentina, and the first thing I did way take a day trip to the incredible Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, where the star attraction is giant red sandstone formations. It was so great to breathe in some fresh mountain air and relax in a favorite childhood spot. Plus, the jaw-dropping red-colored sedimentary rock formations make for stunning Instagram opportunities. The park also sports several miles of hiking and biking trails, plus picnic spots galore. Adventurers can book spectacular rock climbing excursions through the park, which makes for entertainment for the rest of us visitors. Best of all, entrance is free, making it a fun daytrip from Denver on a budget!
Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Canyon City
Visiting the enormous suspension bridge over the Royal Gorge was always one of my favorite things to do as a kid in Colorado, and it is definitely one of the more unique day trips from Denver. Supported by more 4,000 steel cables, the bridge hangs 956 feet above the Arkansas River below, making it the highest suspension bridge in the United States. Tickets for adults 13 and up cost $28, while child admission runs $23 (age 6 and under free). Admission to the park also includes a ride on an Aerial Gondola over the canyon, or for an extra charge you can try you’re hand at what has to be the scariest zip line in Colorado.
Denver’s hip cousin, Boulder is part university town, part liberal enclave, and part mountain base. It’s close enough to the Front Range that you can go hiking straight from the city center, but still offers a solid selection of restaurants and nightlife along the famous Pearl Street pedestrian mall. Be sure to check out the craggy rock formations at the Boulder Flatirons. Boulder makes a great day trip from Denver without a car, as you can get there very simply via the Flatiron Flyer express buses that leave frequently from the Mile High City’s Union Station for Boulder, Colorado.
Arguably the most famous mountain in Colorado, Pikes Peak makes for an excellent and relatively easy day trip from Denver. The 14,115 foot peak towers over the city of Colorado Springs and can be scaled on foot or, if you’re not up for the grueling hike, by driving your car up the winding road to the top. It’s definitely not a good route for beginner drivers, but it’s also not that bad if you’re accustomed to mountain driving generally. In fact, every June more than a dozen race car drivers speed to the top as part of the thrilling Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Note that during the summer high season, you’ll need to complete the final stretch to the top via shuttles.
🚆 Rather Take a Train to the Top? Consider taking the scenic ride via The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. “The Cog” has been climbing to the top of Pikes Peak since 1891!
Though Denver has plenty of great beer of its own, true hopheads will want to venture up to Fort Collins. The city is becoming a mecca for microbreweries, headlined by the fast-growing employee-owned New Belgium Brewing Co. You can sign up for a tour through many of the breweries, or find organized brewery-hopping tours on offer from Denver.
Black Hawk & Central City
If you enjoy casinos, or just historic mountain towns, considering taking the winding mountain road from Denver to Black Hawk. The main attraction in this mountain town is the more than a dozen casinos and hotels, sporting thousands of slot machines and plenty of card tables. If you’re looking for Vegas-style luxury, try the Ameristar or Isle of Capri casinos. If get tired of gambling, head on over to Maryland Mountain Quartz Park for some picturesque hiking or go shopping at Gregory Street Plaza (under construction, as of summer 2021). You can also check out the next door Central City for more shopping and dining options, plus tours of historic Colorado mines.
Part frontier town, part modern adventure paradise, Golden has an enviable and picturesque setting at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps most famous as the home of Coors beer, tours of the brewery remain popular despite the fact that (frankly) much better brews can be found at the many breweries in Denver. Meanwhile, Golden serves as a popular base for adventure sports, especially white water rafting, mountain biking, and rock climbing. In the summer, you can bring your own tube and brave the ice-cold Clear Creek White Waterpark. In the evenings, the views from Lookout Mountain overlooking the Front Range are absolutely spectacular. History buffs and kids will also love the nearby Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, which honors the local legend. Best yet, it’s possible to get from downtown Denver to downtown Golden by taking the West Rail Line from Union Station, meaning its a great Denver day trip without a car.
If you want to hit the slopes or go hiking by day, but still be back in town in time for a brew or a show, Breckenridge is always a good bet (alternatively, nearby Copper Mountain and Keystone are other Colorado destinations that also make great day trips from Denver). The skiing and snowboarding in Breckenridge aren’t quite as good as you’ll find deeper in the mountains, but the price is right and you won’t have to shell out for pricey mountain winter accommodation. The resort town of Breckenridge itself also offers plenty of shops, art galleries, and tasty restaurants. If you do decide to stay overnight instead of heading back to Denver the same day, then Breckenridge Ski Resort offers plenty to do any time of the year.
Since it is one of the mountain towns with the shortest drives from Denver, Idaho Springs is definitely one of the most popular day trips from Denver, Colorado. The town is steeped in mining history, and you’ll find lots of attractions including the Underhill Museum, the Phoenix Gold Mine, and the Might Argo Mill and Tunnel. You’ll also find lots of adventure sports in the area, including skiing, tubing, ATVing, rafting, ziplining, and more. You’ll also find some of the closest hot springs to Denver.
Red Rocks Park
No list of the best day trips from Denver would be complete without mention of the iconic Red Rocks Park. Located in Morrison, Red Rocks is home to a spectacular outdoor Red Rocks Amphitheatre. At least in my personal opinion, it is the best music venue in the entire United States. But Red Rocks offers so much more than just concerts! You can also come in the morning to take part in the popular Yoga on the Rocks series, or check out the parks’ movie night series. Even if your day trip doesn’t coincide with an event, Red Rocks is worth visiting just to see it and soak in this incredible attraction near Denver. You’ll find nearby hiking trails that are relatively easy but filled with stunning scenery – a great way to escape Denver for a day!
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
I recently told my mom about how much I love this little Denver day trip, and I was surprised to learn that she had never been inside the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, despite having spent her life in the Denver area. Indeed, this final addition to our list is a much-appreciated thing to do in Denver. Located between the city and DIA, the Arsenal is a gigantic outdoor green space and wildlife refuge that is home to more than 300 species of animals, including a herd of over 150 bison. The park offers hiking trails and fishing, but the best thing to do is to drive the 14 mile Wildlife Loop, where you’ll not only have a chance to spot the animals but will also be treated to scenic views of the downtown Denver skyline with the Rocky Mountains in the background.
That’s it for this list of the best day trips from Denver, Colorado. Which of these day trips is your favorite? Rocky Mountain National Park tops my list, but I’d love to hear if you think Mount Evans, Garden of the Gods, Estes Park, or something else entirely should be up there instead!
Lastly, which of your favorite day trips from Denver did I miss? Scroll down and leave me a comment!
Enjoy your day trip from the Mile High City!