I’ve said plenty of times that people don’t live in Colorado for Denver, they live there for easy access to the mountains and as a base for adventure. While I love playing in the city, there’s nothing like getting outside, traversing nature and exploring the Southwest’s best landscapes. Here are a few of my favorite weekend road trips and quick getaways from Denver.
Cheyenne (Wyoming) – 1.5 hours from Denver
Most of the year, Cheyenne doesn’t have much going on, but Frontier Days is not to miss. The two-week rodeo is one of the highlights of summer with big name country stars performing every night of the week. Plan to camp out, rock out and get your cowboy on (and stop for a brew in Fort Collins on the way).
Aspen – 3.5 hours from Denver
Aspen certainly has a reputation of being a haute getaway, and rightfully so. The restaurants are on point, the fashion and furs extravagant, and the lodging five-star. If you have some cash to burn, it’s a great place to spoil yourself on the slopes. Make sure to get a picture of the iconic Maroon Bells while you’re in the area.
Steamboat Springs – 3.5 hours from Denver
One of my favorite mountain towns, Steamboat is far enough from the chaos and traffic of I-70 that it feels like your own private retreat. Strawberry Hot Springs are arguably the best hot springs in the state (and clothing optional after 9 p.m. for some adults-only fun). For a unique weekend, you can stay in one of their classic caboose cars or a tipi.
Palisade – 3.5 hours from Denver
Did you know Colorado has it’s own wine country? Relatively unknown outside the state, there’s not just a handful of wineries in the small town of Palisade (near Grand Junction), there are over 30 stops on the officially designated fruit and wine byway. You can bike the path, but with generous pours and on average five free samples per vineyard, your best bet is to hire a local driver to take you around. Three Dreams LLC offers completely custom tours based on your group’s tastes (we wanted sweet fruity whites and Bonnie was happy to accommodate). Pro Tip: make sure to drive through Grand Mesa for stunning views and photos when your liver needs a break (and be sure to pickup a bag of the famed local peaches at one of the many farm stands).
Arches National Park (Moab) – 5 Hours from Denver
A little further afield but still a reasonable weekend getaway, Moab is a straight shot down I-70 past the mountains, through Grand Junction and straight across the state border. The crowning jewel of Utah? Arches National Park (and Canyonlands just 30 minutes from there). With a number of notable hikes, we did most of the Devil’s Garden Loop, a challenging (even moreso when icy) seven-mile loop featuring four of their most famous arches, that was not meant for someone who’s afraid of heights with a combination of narrow ledges and scrambling far off the ground. The Delicate Arch, commemorated on their license plate is a separate hike, but one you can easily snap a few pictures of on your drive up, a quick .5 mile trip from the parking lot (albeit a bit of a let down, it seemed much smaller in person). One hike we need to go back for is the Fiery Furnace, a naturally formed labyrinth that requires a video, guide and permit to figure out how to get out.
South Dakota (Black Hills/Custer State Park/ Badlands) – 5-7 hours from Denver
Considering it’s two states north, it blew my mind to learn that South Dakota was a mere five-hour drive from Denver. It’s one of the best road trip options with tons of adventure activities all clustered in the Southwest corner of the state (the closest section to us). There’s exceptional rock climbing, mountain biking and general outdoor recreation throughout the Black Hills and Custer State Park area. The Badlands are a couple hours further, but totally worth the trip if you can power through the drive. You can camp right next to wild buffalo, which is a completely otherworldly experience that feels like a safari in America. Don’t miss the Yellow Mounds, which look like they leapt right of the pages of a Dr. Seuss novel.
For some shorter adventures, check out my favorite day trips from Denver.