The Best Day Trips from Denver

It’s no secret I have itchy feet syndrome bad. In fact, if I’m in the same place for too long, I start to experience the same symptoms as withdrawal –irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping. While I love culture and will always be a city girl at heart, we all get that itch to go somewhere, anywhere. If I’m in need of a fix or yearning to get out of the concrete jungle, one of these quick getaways will usually do the trick. Here’s a list of the best day trips from Denver that are all under three hours away.

bear creek res

Bear Creek Res (Lakewood/Golden) – 20 minutes from Denver

A true gem hidden in plain sight, Bear Creek is where I go if I need a “beach day” in landlocked Colorado. Soda Lake sits with backdrops of Red Rocks and offers SUP boards and other water toys to rent by the hour. There’s also archery, horseback riding (and mini horses- careful they bite…), hiking, and biking trails within the park. Bear Creek is equally good as a day trip from Denver or a weekend spent camping under the stars.

redrocks

Red Rocks (Golden) – 20 minutes from Denver

It’s easy to forget the most acoustically perfect amphitheater in America is just outside Denver’s city limits. Beyond concerts, Red Rocks hosts weekly workouts and yoga sessions (those stairs’ll getcha), along with cult-classic movie nights throughout the summer. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, come during the daytime for epic views from one of the many trails. Red Rocks is one of the essential Colorado experiences so if you only have 24 hours to explore, it’s a must-see Denver day trip.

boulder

Boulder – 40 minutes from Denver

My home away from home (go Buffs), Boulder has been named everything from foodiest small town to fittest city in America. You can get some exercise hiking Chautauqua Park or the Flatirons, or spend the afternoon window shopping and watching the kooky street performers on Pearl Street’s pedestrian mall. Traffic on 36 can be hit or miss, but this day trip is worth it for the scenic drive alone. For more Boulder reccs, click here to read my full post.

horseshoe reservoir

 Horseshoe Reservoir (Fort Collins) – 1 Hour from Denver

While I inherently have to dislike Fort Collins being our rival school and all (despite the downtown being pretty cool and having New Belgium), Horseshoe Reservoir just outside the city is pretty epic. One of the 10 largest bodies of water in Colorado, it’s perfect for hiking, kayaking or just enjoying a picnic on the rocks while you watch the brave folks bouldering. It’s one of the best day trips from Denver simply for those views that’ll have you completely forgetting you’re in a landlocked state.

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Painted Mines (Calahan) – 1.5 Hours from Denver

Google Painted Mines Interpretive Park and you won’t believe it’s in Colorado. The incredible rainbow rock formations look like a mini version of the Badlands meets Grand Canyon, all with a hike that takes less than 1.5 miles to reach to them. The pictures are utterly incredible and it’s the perfect half-day trip to make it home in time for Sunday football. It’s a miracle this place is still a hidden gem so don’t tell too many people 🙂

garden of the gods

Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs (Colorado Springs) – 1.5 Hours from Denver

Close enough to be an ideal Denver day trip, Colorado Springs isn’t known for much besides Garden of the Gods, but that just may be enough. A registered national historic landmark, the Siamese Twins Trail is an easy one-mile loop through a natural rock window, the perfect frame for an afternoon photo shoot. While I wish the park was a bit more structured (you’re kind of on your own once you get there), it’s still one of Colorado’s most touted outdoor playgrounds. Neighboring Manitou Springs is also worth a stop – a quirky, ex-hippie town full of amazing eats (tons of legit Middle Eastern cuisine for the falafel fiends out there), cute boutiques and cool cliff dwellings. If you’re feeling extra voracious, challenge yourself to do the Manitou Incline, which has 2,000 feet of elevation gain in less than 1 mile.

i70mountaindrive

The Stereotypical I-70 Drive (Breckenridge/Dillon/Silverthorne) – 1.5-2 hours from Denver

For a snowy winter escape, four of Colorado’s best ski resorts (Copper Mountain, Breck, A-Basin, and Keystone) are within two hours of Denver and within thirty minutes of each other. The weather and traffic on the two-lane highway can be unpredictable (and on rare occasions have taken me upwards of 6-8 hours), but it’s one of the most scenic drives anywhere with some truly harrowing mountain passes. Take it all in and hope you’re not stuck behind someone with a Texas plate. If you keep going a bit further you’ll also hit Vail and Beaver Creek (two of the more luxe mountain towns). I personally like to make a mountain getaway a weekend trip, but it is doable in a day.

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Royal Gorge (Canon City) – 2.5 hours from Denver

The best place to go whitewater rafting in Colorado and a place to take capture some incredible jump shots, Royal Gorge is one of the highest suspension bridges in America. If you get antsy after two hours straight in the car, Garden of the Gods is  almost perfectly the halfway point of your drive. Stretch your legs on a hike or two and snap a few pictures of Pike’s Peak in the distance.

Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake (Glenwood Springs) – 2.5 Hours from Denver

My favorite hike in Colorado, the Hanging Lake Trail is a moderately challenging 1.5 mile route that ends in a naturally formed elevated travertine lake. After you conquer a series of high altitude switchbacks, the unique topography rewards you with a seemingly upside-down waterfall suspended over the ice green water, a completely breathtaking backdrop that’ll have you in awe of Mother Nature’s power. Before heading back to Denver, swing by the Yampah Vapor Caves (pass on the hot springs, they’re way too toursity) to pamper yourself at the an underground mineral steam bath. Temperatures reach up to 125 degrees on the cave floor and I promise, it’s the best $15 you’ll ever spend. Although you might be too relaxed to drive home.

Estes Park – 1.5 Hours from Denver

There are a number of reasons to visit Estes Park — for one it’s the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and two, it’s home to the Stanley Hotel where the Shining was filmed (and they just added the hedge maze). I did an awesome snowshoe and fondue tour through the forest before hitting up the hotel’s insane whiskey bar with over 900 varietals. We needed a little hair of the dog to take the edge off, as they don’t just offer ghost tours, but ghost hunts just like Paranormal Investigators. I won’t give away too much, but let’s just say it was…memorable. You can spend the night if you don’t mind a few visitors, otherwise, it’s just as easy to make a day trip from Denver.

If you’re looking for some longer trip ideas, here are a few of my favorite Colorado weekend getaways also within driving distance of Denver.

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