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7 of the Best Day Trips From Denver

THE MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING

Article by Sherry Ott

Photography by Sherry Ott

7 of the Best Day Trips from Denver was originally published in Otts World

I moved to Denver for one of the great loves of my life…the mountains. I can look out my apartment window and see them; they are close, but sometimes seem so far away (especially when you don’t have a car!). They taunt me, with their inviting snow-covered peaks, aspens, rugged trails, and high-altitude lakes.

The mountains are calling.

I can’t ignore that calling for long.

The mountains have felt particularly far away this winter/spring as our country was in pandemic lockdown mode. I was itching to get back out when Colorado’s “Stay at Home” order was lifted and we were able to travel outside of Denver again.  

I think it’s important to start small and ease into widening your circle in these times as the state slowly starts to open up. That’s why I decided to compile a resource for day trips from Denver. Not only is it a way for people to slowly and safely get back into travel post COVID19, but it’s a great resource for Denver visitors looking longingly at those mountains and wondering where they can go and what they can do in a day from Denver!

Whether you live in Denver like me, or are visiting here for work, a conference, a concert, or getaway – plan an extra day to go into the mountains to have the full Colorado experience. Enter text.

Note: At this time when destinations and these small state communities are opening up at different rates, it’s best to view the Colorado statewide traveler information here.

You can also call 1-800=COLORADO to speak to someone directly.

Please check local listings before planning a visit and be aware that many communities require the wearing of facial coverings in stores and other enclosed environments.

Coronavirus updates by county:

Larimer County | Jackson County | Chaffee County | Park County | Eagle County | Grand County | Freemont County | El Paso County

Best Time to Take a Denver Day Trip

If at all possible, I recommend planning these day trips for weekdays. You’ll run into much less traffic on the roads and on the trails. I also suggest to get an early start. Many of these recommended day trips are all day outings – from early morning until the sun goes down, so you’ll want to maximize your time by getting an early start. In addition, if you get an early start you can avoid the commuter traffic in Denver.

You can typically get to the mountains at any time of year, but the Denver day trips described here are best taken in the summer and fall. The spring season (also called mud season) in the mountains can often be volatile with spring snowfalls, road closures, and spring storms.

Don’t Have a Car? No Problem!

I don’t actually own a car in Denver, so when I want to get out of the city I rent from RentalCars.com

Or you can try the car sharing service Turo.com 

7 of the Best Day Trips From Denver to the Mountains

This list represents a variety of day trip types:

Roadtrips – see the most you can in a day and put on a lot of miles up and over various mountain passes. Less time out of the car, more miles and the best views!

Destination Focused – a shorter drive to a destination and then time in that destination doing activities before you head back to Denver for the day.

Combination – a little of both – shorter roadtrips with multiple stops at destinations.

1. Cañon City Day Trip

Daytrip Type: Destination Focused –256 miles | 4 hrs 49 min.

Ability to Social Distance: Most of this itinerary that isn’t driving in your car can be done outside where you can remain socially distanced. You can pick and chose which activities you want to do.

Denver to Cañon City Driving Map

Day Trip Itinerary

I went to Cañon City for the first time last year and was surprised at how beautiful and close it was to Denver! Only a 2-hour drive and you are deep into the Royal Gorge, a 10-mile-long canyon characterized by over 1,000-foot tall, red-granite walls. The gorge is really the main attraction for this day drive; I was lucky enough to view it from above, below, and in the middle!  

The view from above is achieved by going to the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. You pay an entry fee to get into the park where you then have a variety of activities you can choose from – some included, and some not included in the entry price. You’ll want to for sure cross the impressive suspension footbridge and stare 956 feet down into the narrow gorge; assuming you aren’t scared of heights! You can also ride the gondola across the gorge to dangle above this natural wonder.

If you want to get a close-up view of the gorge, as well as an adrenaline rush, I suggest you try their new Via Ferrata! A via ferrata (Italian term meaning ‘iron path’) is a protected climbing route, built with a steel cable rail fixed to the rock, metal steps, ladders, suspension bridges and zip wires. You are clipped in the entire time and have a special harness to wear in addition to special ‘sticky’ shoes! Climb up the canyon on specific routes of varying difficulty and get a whole new perspective on the gorge!

You can also zipline and ‘swing’ across the gorge if you dare.

The best way to see the bottom of the gorge is to ride the Royal Gorge Railroad. A slow train that takes you through the gorge to get a feel for just how deep and steep the canyon is. It’s a 2 hour out and back train ride which has indoor and outdoor cars as well as a café. Learn about the history of this region and railroad as you roll along. 

If you have time, and want to experience a little quirkiness, then stop at the Colorado Prison Museum in Cañon City right next to an operating Correctional Facility! The museum is inside a historical cell house that was the original Women’s Correctional Facility constructed in 1935.

Turn it Into an Overnight Trip

Treat yourself to a fun stay at Royal Gorge Cabins or Glamping Tents. The newly built cabins are luxurious and spacious with beautiful views. The glamping option is newly completed and comfortable sporting sitting areas, porches, and real beds. Don’t miss the sunset from your porch!

Read Trip Advisor reviews for Royal Gorge Cabins & Glamping Tents

Book a night in Royal Gorge Cabins & Glamping Tents

2. Poudre Canyon Day Trip

Daytrip Type: Road trip Loop –283 miles | 6 hrs 11 min

Ability to Social Distance: Most of this itinerary is driving so it’s a good trip for social distancing. There are a few scenic look-outs, and an optional hike that will give you distance and fresh air!

Denver to Poudre Canyon Loop Driving Map

Poudre Canyon Itinerary

Drive from Denver north to Fort Collins. Enjoy the views of the Front Range and Flatirons on the left! Stop in Fort Collins at Silver Grill for their one-of-a-kind Cinnamon Rolls. Don’t worry about the calories, you’ll hike them off later in the day! This also might be a good place to pick of a picnic lunch you could eat at Agnes Lake.

Drive into the spectacular (and winding!) Poudre Canyon; one of Colorado’s Scenic Byways. Keep a lookout for wildlife, rafters, kayakers and fly-fishers as you ascend up the canyon in a gradual climb. This pristine natural environment has virtually no commercial development along the river’s banks. 

You’ll pop up out of the canyon and suddenly be surrounded by mountains in every direction. Take a short side trip to Lake Agnes trailhead and park at the historic Agnes Cabin.

This is your chance to stretch your legs, and take your lunch with you on this easy 2.5 mile out and back trail. Lake Agnes is stunning and sits at 10,320 feet. It was one of the easiest hike for the best reward that I’ve experienced in Colorado. Scree slopes dive right into the lake, pinnacle-like mountain tops, and even an island in the middle of the lake! We sat and just took it all in – until the dark clouds started spitting rain…and then hail. Yes…it is Colorado after all and you have to be prepared for anything!

From there you can keep driving through Gould and then head south Granby and Winter Park. You may want to stop for snacks in Winter Park and take in the cool ski town vibe or do a short walk along the river (see below!) before going over Berthoud Pass back to Denver.  

3. Multiple Mountain Passes and Rocky Mountain National Park Day Trip

Daytrip Type: Road trip Loop –261 miles | 6 hrs 40 min

Ability to Social Distance: Most of this itinerary is driving so it’s a good trip for social distancing. You can stop at the National Park Visitor Center and here are a number of scenic look-outs, but you should be able to see/interact with few people if you want it to just be you and the mountains.

Denver to Guanella Pass to Rocky Mountain National Park Loop Driving Map

Day Trip Itinerary

This is a pretty intense driving day, with equally intense mountain views. I did this drive by myself in the autumn to see the leaves and it was spectacular. Since you will want to stop numerous times on this route (especially if you do it in the fall!), be sure to get an early start on this Denver day trip; you will get back to Denver after dark.

Start by heading southwest out of Denver along scenic Highway 285. You’ll wind up into the foothills – the start of your mountain-filled day! At Grant head north onto Guanella Pass, a Colorado scenic byway. This beautiful paved drive was once a former burro trail! The route delivers views of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans. It is also known for its glowing alpine groves in Sep/Oct – Colorado’s autumn.  

Guanella Pass will drop you into historic Georgetown; an old mining and logging town. This is a great stop for coffee! Hop on I70 East for a few miles and exit off to go over Berthoud Pass into Winter Park. Drive through the picturesque valley past Fraser, and turn onto Highway 34 in Granby heading towards Grand Lake.

Enjoy the lake views surrounded by mountain peaks as you enter Grand Lake. This is a great place to stop for lunch or to stretch your legs. Walk down toward the lake share and take in the views. 

Enter Rocky Mountain National Park and take one of the most scenic drives in America and the National Park System – Trailridge Road. This high altitude 48 mile scenic byway will take you from Grand Lake to Estes Park and up to 12,183 ft. You’ll be driving the sometimes busy road the opposite way of many people, and you can time your drive so that you get to the highest points of the drive around sunset if you want to get some stunning pictures.

Stop at the Alpine Visitor Center for some great views and talk with the rangers. And if you want to get your legs stretched out, I suggest a stop at the Tundra Communities Trail. It’s a short walk at high altitude with spectacular views.  

Once you drive down from the high altitudes, keep your eyes peeled for elk near the park exit at Estes Park. You might want to stop for dinner in Estes Park before heading back down through the cute town of Lyons, through Boulder and back to Denver. 

4. Salida Day Trip from Carley Cross

Daytrip Type: Combination Road trip/Destination – 284 miles | 5 hrs 14 min

Ability to Social Distance: This trip has a great deal of time in the car – but it’s great to get out and explore Salida a bit if you feel comfortable!

Denver to Salida Map

Day Trip Itinerary

Leave Denver via Highway 285 and drive approximately 2.5 hours. Before getting into Salida, turn down CR 162, which runs directly between Mt. Antero and Mt. Princeton and makes for gorgeous views.

Here you can access a trailhead for the Colorado Trail (Chalk Creek trailhead), and hike in either direction for as long as you wish (out and back, not a loop). Option to soak at the Mt. Princeton hot springs after your hike. They also have a restaurant so you can have lunch there on their large deck, if you don’t want to go into Salida.

Head into Salida for lunch – hit up either the Boathouse Cantina (sits right on the Arkansas River) or 50 Burger (it’s in an old McDonalds but they have local, healthy burgers and bowls and beer on tap). Go sit in the park to hear some live music (almost any weekend in the summer, will have live music), put your feet in the river and bop around the various shops and art galleries in downtown Salida. Stop at Woods Distillery to grab a bottle of their barrel rested gin.

Head home, north on Highway 285. Stop in Fairplay (Old South Park City), of South Park fame, for a silly photo op and to stretch your legs. Also, pick up some beer at South Park Brewing to take home.

Turn it Into an Overnight Trip

Have a real mountain experience by renting a mountain home for a longer stay at Colorado Mountain Vacations who specialize in cabin and home rentals in Salida and Buena Vista.

5. Manitou Springs Day Trip – by Carley Cross

Daytrip Type: Destination focused –177 miles | 3 hrs 52 min

Ability to Social Distance: Much of this trip is outside – hiking up the trail, and driving through Garden of the Gods. So even though this is about seeing the destination, it’s possible to keep your distance in the outdoor activities.

Denver to Manitou Springs Map

Day Trip Itinerary

The drive from Denver to Manitou Springs via I-25 is approximately 1 hour. Arrive and hike the Manitou Incline, an arrow-straight trail up the side of Pikes Peak made of over 2,700 railroad ties and gaining 2,000 feet in elevation.

If there’s time before lunch, visit the Cliff Dwellings or the Cave of the Winds (can reserve a time for Cave of the Winds online to avoid a wait time).

Have lunch in downtown Manitou at The Loop for Mexican food or at Manitou Brewing Co. for classic fare with vegetarian and GF options and great beer. After lunch take a lap of downtown to visit all the charming stores and gift shops.

Go for a drive through the Garden of the Gods. There are plenty of places to get out of the car for beautiful views and photo ops, as well as walking trails throughout the entire park.

Take the long, scenic way home (approx. 2 hours) through Woodland Park and Deckers and come out in Castle Rock and take either Hwy 85 or I-25 back to Denver.

Turn it Into an Overnight Trip

Stay at The Cliff House, a gorgeously renovated guest house/hotel that was built in 1873.

Read Trip Advisor Reviews of the Cliff House

Book a stay at the Cliff House

6. Winter Park Day Trip from Sherry Spitsnaugle

Daytrip Type: Destination Focused – 143 miles | 3 hrs

Ability to Social Distance: You can enjoy the outdoors around Edwards, or stick to walking around the town. The social distancing is up to you!

Denver to Winter Park Map

Denver to Winter Park Itinerary

Like most of us, I’m suffering from cabin fever and spring fever—but thankfully, no COVID-19 fever—and I’m itching to get away from the city, my small condo, and the news.

Winter Park is so close to Denver, yet a world away. I’ve packed my yoga mat, lunch, and the dog for a great mountain escape. Come with me! Figuratively speaking, of course.

Winter Park is a mere 67 miles northwest of Denver but after being cooped up for weeks, except for a trip to my garage here and there, it will feel like another planet. The drive on twisting roads with views of grassy fields is just the beginning to reducing the anxiety level. Just the scenic mountain drive will do us all some good.

At 9,000 feet above sea level, the air here is pure, thin and head-clearing. In the Spring, flower boxes overflow with pansies, birds warble, and the high-altitude sun melts stress.

The highlight today is the paved Fraser River Trail, an easy five-mile path between Winter Park Resort and Fraser. There’s plenty of space here to meander through the lush wooded areas, spread out a yoga mat, and do a couple of downward dogs before strolling the path.

Many of the Nordic and snowshoe trails are accessible, as the snow starts to melt and you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself. Enjoy hiking, biking, and relaxing.

Photos by Winter Park Chamber & Winter Park Resort

In the summer, there are hot springs to soak in, chair lifts to ride, and shops to browse. I can be as active and social as I want to be.

I’ll see you on the trail! From the appropriate distance, of course.

Eateries and Lodging

Restaurants and lodging are scheduled to re-open May 22, but call ahead.

Pepe Osaka’s Fish taco Tequila Bar and Grill, fun place with great fish tacos

Elevation Pizza, a locals’ favorite, caters to vegans and serves gluten-free pizza

Mountain Grind Coffee and Bistro, also a fave among locals, has terrific atmosphere and caffeine.

Turn it Into an Overnight Trip

Winter Park offers a selection of condos and home rentals.

Check out the Trip Advisor reviews on the Zephyr Mountain Lodge right at the base of the ski mountain with access to hiking trails, gondolas and bike trails!

7. Edwards Day Trip from Sherry Spitsnaugle

Daytrip Type: Destination Focused – 221 miles | 3 hrs 45 min

Ability to Social Distance: You can enjoy the outdoors around Edwards, or stick to walking around the town. The social distancing is up to you!

Denver to Edwards Map

Day Trip Itinerary

As I tiptoe back into the world of venturing outside my Denver home, I’m beyond ready to get out of town. Edwards is calling my name.

As Vail’s less glamorous cousin, Edwards is set against a backdrop of snowy peaks, and has many of the same appeals as the nearby resort town. As long as there’s space, nature, and I’m out of the city, things will look up.

I’m packing my sunscreen and hitting the road. Early. With everyone craving to bust out, I might not be alone on I-70. But, like everything else these days, who really knows?

Stretch, hike, relax, and repeat at Eagle River Preserve, a great place for a tranquil stroll. You can enjoy the beauty of the river, do some downward dogs or a tree pose, toss the frisbee, breathe in the rich oxygen, and take in the views. There also is a small pond/lake that has a few benches to picnic. Behind Riverwalk is great as well. The path winds along the river and then over to Freedom Park.

Explore even farther from town, a favorite of locals is West Lake Creek. Best of all, it’s only a ten-minute drive. It’s a gorgeous hike and there’s plenty of social distancing! East Lake Creek is also a nice trail.

Spend some time in town too! The Bookworm is a local favorite of my niece, her husband, and their 11-year-old daughter. Whose opinion could be better? This cozy place offers coffee, books, food, all served curbside, during this time of COVID-19.

Drunken Goat provides one of the best outdoor patios for casual dining and great wine/beer. For something more upscale, Zino has a huge space and good outdoor dining.

Turn it Into an Overnight Trip

Check in with Edwards Riverwalk. Great location, but opening dates are still fluid.

Read Trip Advisor Reviews of Edwards Riverwalk

Book a night at Edwards Riverwalk

I hope you enjoy these Denver Day trips to the mountains as much as I did! Now you are ready to fill up the tank, and head into the Colorado Rockies to experience the beauty of mountain life! Before we know it, we’ll be doing multi day trips and hikes again in the mountains!

If you liked this story, sign up for my weekly travel newsletter full of travel news, discounts, gear and packing tips, travel advice, and the latest on my tours!

Follow Sherry Ott @ottsworld

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