Excursions from Denver
There are many worthwhile excursions from Denver that are within a two-hour drive of the city. No matter how far you’ve come to visit Denver, after a few days of looking at the Rocky Mountains from afar, it’s worth traveling just an hour or so to visit the dramatic splendor of Rocky Mountain National Park. Historic towns, religious architecture, mountain peaks, funky college towns, and ski resorts are also a relatively quick drive away— depending on the weather, of course.
If you’re in the mood for a walk in the mountains followed by a sophisticated dinner afterwards, the college town of Boulder, hugging the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is for you. In Boulder you will find numerous hiking and biking trails within the foothills, gourmet restaurants, and an array of shops along the open-air Pearl Street Mall. The University of Colorado campus includes many historic and scientific buildings of interest. The Eldora Mountain Ski Resort is not far from Boulder and some Boulder hotels offer ski package deals with Eldora.
If Victorian-era buildings and history are your thing—and you don’t mind squeezing past dozens of modern mega-casinos to see a bit of quaint mining-town history—head up to Central City and Blackhawk where casinos now dominate but some vintage charm remains, particularly at the Central City Opera House.
It’s been called the crown jewel of Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park never fails to impress in any season. Nature really puts on a show in and around this stunning park where there are easy waterfall or wildflower hikes for beginners, 14,000 peaks for experts to climb, or just scenery to take in driving along Trail Ridge Road. Chances are good that you will spot an elk, even one just wandering through the park’s gateway town, Estes Park, and other wildlife throughout the park.
The world-renowned ski slopes of Vail are just under a two-hour drive from Denver. As the small towns along the Vail Valley have grown, so have the year-round activities that now include fly-fishing, golf, zip-lining, and a walk through the world’s highest botanic gardens, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Make getting to the slopes part of the experience and take the Ski Train to Denver’s own Winter Park Ski Resort. There is also a fabulous cross-country and snowshoe resort nearby at Devil’s Thumb Ranch.
South of Denver is the state’s second-largest city, Colorado Springs, where you can check out the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and you should not miss the Garden of the Gods. Delightful Manitou Springs is just west of downtown Colorado Springs and, being closer to Pikes Peak, includes the Cog Railway as one route up the famous mountain. Manitou has several intriguing historical sights—from mineral springs fountains to the Miramont Castle Museum.
While each of these destinations could make for a long weekend vacation or more, they are close enough to just sample as part of a visit to Denver.
- Best Park to Begin a Hike: Chautauqua Park
- Best Get-Smart Hike: The National Center for Atmospheric Research
- Best Opera Venue: The Central City Opera House
- Most Refreshing Hike: The Bluebird Lake Trail
- Best Red Rocks: Garden of the Gods
- Best Free Drinks: The Mineral Springs
- Best Way to Get to the Slopes: The Ski Train
- Best Cross-Country Skiing: Devil’s Thumb Ranch
- Best Alpine Garden: The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
- Most Unique Architecture: The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya
© Mindy Sink from Moon Denver, 1st Edition