There’s a reason I’m never home on the weekends, I’m out exploring the amazing state of Colorado! Over the past 12 years, I’ve been able to explore nearly every nook and cranny of Colorado and come up with a list of the best day trips from Denver.
It’s so much fun to hop in the car and get out into the mountains. One of the best parts of living in Denver is the access to incredible places just a few hours from your doorstep. Taking a day trip from Denver is an awesome option for a local or someone who wants to really explore the mountains near Denver, but is only in town for the weekend.
For the last 12 years, Denver has been my main home and I’m so stoked to share it with you. In fact, it’s my mission to give you the best day trips from Denver so you can travel like a local, not a tourist.
This amazing list of day trips from Denver caters to all types of activities from burly hikes to relaxing hot springs and everything in between.
The Best Day Trips from Denver
This locally curated list of the best day trips from Denver offers the best things to do within 2 and a half hours from downtown. You’ll need a car to access most of these places, but there are a few that you can get to via public transportation. Here’s what to expect:
- A look at the best day trips within 2 and a half hours from Denver
- What do to in each location
- Where to eat
- Approximate drive times
1. Go for a Scenic Drive Near Idaho Springs
Located just 45 minutes from downtown Denver, Idaho Springs offers an array of amazing ways to spend the day. Start early with an epic scenic drive (one of the best scenic drives near Denver) to the top of Mount Evans, one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, for sunrise. Then head out to hike, raft, climb, or zip-line your way through the mountains.
For a unique experience, you can even pan for gold in Idaho Springs. The Argo Mill and Tunnel was built during the Gold Rush, and now gives tours of the historical site, which include a chance to do some gold panning.
When you get tired, soak your aches and pains away at Indian Hot Springs. Then finish the day off with some delicious local eats and grab a pint at Tommyknocker Brewery.
What to do in Idaho Springs: Drive to the top of Mount Evans (open Memorial Day through Labor Day), climb in Clear Creek Canyon, go for one of Denver’s best day hikes at Hell’s Hole or St Mary’s Glacier, pan for gold, visit the Indian Hot Springs, or fish in Echo Lake.
Where to Eat: Smokin’ Yards BBQ, Tommyknocker Brewery, The Frothy Cup (coffee).
Drive time from Denver: 45 minutes
Related: Most Scenic Drives Right Near Denver
2. Have an Adventure then Relax in a Hot Springs in Buena Vista
Buena Vista, pronounced “bew-na-vis-ta,” is an adventure town worth taking several days to explore. But even if you don’t have much time, it’s still a worthy day trip from Denver. With an assortment of activities from hiking a famous Colorado 14er to making your way down Brown’s Canyon on a white water rafting trip, there’s something for every outdoor adventurer in one of Colorado’s favorite mountain towns.
Be sure to bring your bike to Buena Vista, where you’ll find miles of excellent trails. And when you need a break, check out Cottonwood Hot Springs or Mount Princeton Hot Springs for some well-deserved relaxation.
What to do in Buena Vista: Hike one of Colorado’s 14er’s, go white water rafting, backpack the famous Colorado Trail, go brewery hopping, take a dip in one of Colorado’s best hot springs, visit the splash park, go hunting (fall season)
Where to Eat: The Buena Vista Roastery Cafe, Eddyline Brewery, Simple Eatery.
Drive time from Denver: 2 hours 30 minutes
3. Check Out Colorado’s Best National Park in Estes Park
One of the best day trips from Denver is to head to Colorado’s most famous national park, Rocky Mountain National Park. Make your way through the mountains along one of Colorado’s most scenic drives to the town of Estes Park, a mountain oasis, that serves as the gateway to the park.
Explore Rocky Mountain National Park on one of the many hiking trails. The hike to Emerald Lake is wonderful and not too difficult. If you’re an experienced hiker, you can challenge yourself by attempting the Keyhole Route to summit Longs Peak.
The historic and supposedly haunted Stanley Hotel, made famous in Stephen King’s The Shining, is another landmark to visit in Estes Park.
What to do in Estes Park: Shop on the main drag (lots of yummy candy stores!), hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, go for a scenic drive on Trail Ridge Road or the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, go rock climbing, camp, take a wildlife safari tour, visit the haunted Stanley Hotel
Where to Eat: Rock Inn Mountain Tavern, Scratch Deli and Bakery, Notctop Bakery & Cafe, Antonios Real New York Pizza.
Drive time from Denver: 2 hours
4. Beer Tour Through Fort Collins
Fort Collins, just under 2 hours north of Denver, is home to some of Colorado’s best breweries. Biking to the various breweries is somewhat of a pastime for locals and visitors alike. New Belgium is the biggest brewery in town, and it’s signature Fat Tire ale even features a bike on the label.
You’ll find more than 20 craft breweries in Fort Collins, including local favorites Odell and Crooked Stave. If you’re hitting up a bunch of breweries on your bikes, just be sure to have a responsible party member to bring everyone home.
What to do in Fort Collins: Rock climb in Poudre Canyon, visit Horsetooth Reservoir, shop in old town Fort Collins, visit Fort Collins breweries on a brew tour.
Where to Eat: Social, Snooze AM Eatery, Maza Kabob, The Mayor of Old Town
Drive time from Denver: 1 hour, 45 minutes
5. Drive to the Top of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs
A time-honored favorite of the best things to do in Colorado is driving the windy road to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. This road is so famous, that every year people race down it in rally cars. In fact, despite having an uninspiring downtown scene, Colorado Springs is home to some amazing things to do in Colorado in the winter and summer months. It’s a great way to spend the day.
Another main attraction in Colorado Springs is Garden of the Gods. Walk around the paved trails and marvel at the incredible red rocks that line the trails of this park. You can even see the snowcapped summit of Pike’s Peak in the distance.
If you want to challenge your fitness level and test your quads, try to make it to the top of the Manitou Incline. This stair hike gains 2,000 feet of elevation in under a mile.
What to do in Colorado Springs: Drive to the top of Pikes Peak, check out the holiday lights at the Broadmoor, visit Garden of the Gods, visit the Airforce Academy, check out Cave of the Winds Mountain Park, hike up the Manitou Incline
Where to Eat: Phantom Canyon, Piglatin Cocina, Thai Mint, Switchback Coffee Roasters
Drive time from Denver: 1 hr, 30 minutes
Get Your Free Denver, Colorado Packing List!
6. Make a Splash in Boulder, Colorado
If you’re looking for one of the best day trips from Denver without a car, hop on the Bustang and head to Boulder. Just 45 minutes from Denver, this sister city has a lot to offer, including the chance to tube down Boulder Creek.
Boulder is also home to the iconic Flatirons. These five sandstone rock formations make up the main skyline in town, and you can hike around them, climb up them, or simply stare at them from from afar.
Visiting Eldorado Canyon State Park should be on your must-do list when in Boulder, too. This is a trad climbing destination, but if that’s not your thing, you can hike around the gorgeous park and wave at the climbers scaling the walls.
What to do in Boulder: Head to a farmers market, shop on Pearl Street, tube down the lazy (or crazy depending on the time of year) Boulder Creek, bike along the many bike and MTB trails, go for a Boulder hike, free solo a flat iron, rock climb in Eldorado Canyon, run the hiking trails at Chautauqua Park.
Where to Eat: Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Avery Brewing, Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery (cash only), Nepal Cuisine.
Drive time from Denver: 45 minutes
7. Spend the Day in Breckenridge
The towns of Frisco, Dillion, and Breckenridge are all located within a 15-minute drive of one another which is why this is one of the most action-packed day trips from Denver. Of course, there is skiing and hiking for days, but you can also enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, shopping, and stand up paddle boarding just to name a few things.
Also, be on the lookout for the Breckenridge Troll, aka Isak Heartstone, who is hiding in the woods. A short hike on Trollstigen Trail will take you to this cool 15-foot tall wooden sculpture.
Breck is actually full of culture, too, if you need a rest day from your outdoor adventures. Spend your day strolling through the Arts District or explore one of several museums. And be sure to check out one of the many après ski spots, like Rocky Mountain Underground or TBar. You can always enjoy a delicious drink even if you don’t actually ski!
What to do in Breckenridge: Go skiing at Keystone or Breckenridge resort, wander the streets of Breck or downtown Frisco, climb a Colorado 13er, hike near Breckenridge, mountain bike, take a scenic gondola ride (summer), visit the Breckenridge Troll, experience the thrills of the Keystone Adventure Park, SUP in the Dillon Reservoir.
Where to Eat: The Canteen Taphouse and Tavern, Peak of Asia, BreckFast, The Lost Cajun
Drive time from Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes
8. Check Out the Hiker’s Paradise in Nederland
If you can’t get enough mountain scenery and you love to hike, then Nederland is the place for you. Nestled deep in the Rockies, with endless scenic drives, this quaint town is one of the most incredible day trips from Denver for hikers.
The 4th of July Trailhead is the place to start many classic hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, including Arapaho Pass and Diamond Lake. It’s an especially great spot to hike during wildflower season.
In the winter, don’t miss Frozen Dead Guy Days. This weekend festival features live music, local beer and food, and quirky events like coffin racing.
What to do in Nederland: Hike from the scenic 4th of July Trailhead (summer only), ski at Eldora, Fish or hike at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, drive the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, Grab a coffee in a train car
Where to Eat: Randi’s Grill and Pub, Crosscut Pizzeria and Taphouse, New Moon Bakery and Cafe.
Drive time from Denver: 1 hr 20 minutes
Related: Denver, Colorado’s Best Hikes
9. Rock Climb at Shelf Road Near Cañon City
Shelf Road is one of the premier climbing spots in Colorado. Touted as an excellent place for sport climbing, there are literally thousands of routes to choose from. If you don’t climb, it’s still a beautiful place to hike with stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Ranges framed by gravity-defying cliffs.
The Royal Gorge is another extremely popular attraction in Cañon City. You can walk across the bridge that sits 956 feet above the Arkansas River, or you can follow a guide on the via ferrata along the walls of the gorge. For a view without the effort, take a ride on the gondola instead.
What to do in Cañon City: Rock climb at Shelf Road, camp, hike, visit the Royal Gorge.
Where to Eat: Bunk House Burgers, Pizza Madness, ITO Japanese Steakhouse Sushi and Thai Restaurant, Coyote’s Coffee Den
Drive time from Denver: 2 hours 30 minutes
10. Chill Out Along the Creek in Golden
Clear Creek runs right through the little western town of Golden, and the banks of the river are the place to be during hot summer days. You can kayak, raft, or tube down the creek, or simply dip your toes in the water while you soak in the sun.
Golden is nestled in the foothills, with North Table, South Table, and Lookout Mountain surrounding the town. All of these offer hiking and biking trails, and you can rock climb at North Table, too.
When you’re ready to fuel up, Sherpa House serves hearty Himalayan cuisine in a cultural center with a lovely outdoor patio. New Terrain Brewery is located at the base of North Table Mountain, so it’s a perfect place to grab a pint after your adventures.
What to do in Golden: Bike on Lookout Mountain, rock climb in Clear Creek Canyon, tour the Coors Brewery, listen to live music at the Buffalo Rose, sneak into the Golden Moon Speakeasy
Where to Eat: Sherpa House, Anthony’s Pizza, Bob’s Atomic Burgers, Thai Gold, D’Deli, Bonfire Burritos, Windy Saddle, Tributary Food Hall
Drive time from Denver: 30 minutes
11. Bike Around Buffalo Creek
Buffalo Creek sits along the South Platte River between Pine and Deckers, and it offers something for everyone in terms of outdoor adventures. The mountain bike trails in the area are amazing, with systems of single track connected by the Colorado Trail.
The South Platte also attracts lots of climbers to areas including the crack mecca of Turkey Rocks and the granite multi-pitch playground of Elevenmile Canyon. Hiking trails abound as well, and you can also relax along the river and do some fishing.
What to do in Buffalo Creek: Take in the panorama from the top of the Devil’s Head Fire Tower Lookout, hike a section of the Colorado Trail, treat yourself to soft-serve ice cream at Decker’s Corner, find some of the best free camping near Denver.
Where to Eat: Buck Snort Saloon, Decker’s Corner, Zoka’s
Drive time from Denver: 1 hour
No matter what your style, there’s a day trip near Denver for every taste. If you want beautiful mountain scenery and epic adventure, you’re sure to find it within 3 hours of Denver.
Other Resources for things to do near Denver
Looking for more about the best of Denver? As a local of over 12 years, I’ve got you covered: