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.
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).
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Cheyenne
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.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Aspen
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.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Steamboat Springs
3.5 hours from Denver
Did you know Colorado has its 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).
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Palisade
4 Hours from Denver
Ask any local what their favorite mountain town is and 9/10 will likely say Crested Butte. A bit more off the grid than Vail or Breck, the town has a relaxed vibe with some of the best wildflowers, whitewater, mountain biking, and skiing in the state of Colorado. CB is also a great base for exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park or hiking Crystal Mill.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Crested Butte
5 hours from Denver
One of Colorado’s premier spa towns, Pagosa Springs is just about half an hour from the New Mexico border in Southern Colorado. It’s certified by Guinness World Records as the World’s Deepest Geothermal Hot Springs so the main activity is rest and relaxation. That said, it’s not far from Great Sand Dunes National Park, Wolf Creek Ski Resort, and plenty of other backcountry fun.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Pagosa Springs
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.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Moab
Santa Fe (New Mexico)
5.5 Hours from Denver
Do you know the way to Santa Fe? One of the Southwest’s best cities for food and art, you’ll find nearly 300 galleries along with photographic pueblo architecture and tons of Native American culture. The highlight of any visit is sure to be the immersive exhibit meets murder mystery better known as Meow Wolf and green chile for days. If you want to see more of New Mexico, Taos is right over the border (4.5 hours) or you can continue on to Albuquerque (which is a little over 6 hours) and a great road trip in fall for Balloon Fiesta.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Santa Fe
6 Hours from Denver
The biggest town in Southern Colorado, Durango is the last major hub before New Mexico but it still has a distinct mountain town and Old West mining vibe, especially in neighboring Silverton. Take a day trip down the old steam railway for epic views of high country, visit the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, and snap a selfie at Four Corners National Monument. You can also drive the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Durango
6.5 Hours from Denver
The most epically Colorado place in Colorado, Telluride isn’t easy to get to, but it’s one of those places where it’s about the journey as much as the destination. A gorgeous getaway for all four seasons, both the town of Telluride and Mountain Village are connected by the free gondola, which makes exploring all the more memorable. If you’re not afraid of heights, you’ll want to climb the via ferrata, one of only four in the U.S. that circumvents a waterfall.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Telluride
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 (near Mount Rushmore) 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.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in the Black Hills
For some shorter adventures, check out my favorite day trips from Denver.
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