There are SO many fantastic things to do in the Mile High City that we could easily stay in the metro area for the rest of our lives and never get bored, but these unforgettable day trips near Denver will make you reconsider marinating in your comfort zone! Have you sailed the wondrous waters of Lake Dillon? Stood atop the phenomenal Pikes Peak? Soaked your buns in the holy healing waters of a geo-thermal cave? No? Well, you’re welcome, because we’ve got all that and more comin’ at ya!
The Dillon Reservoir (or Lake Dillon to locals) is Denver Water's largest water storage facility and is home to the
Frisco Bay Marina
. The full-service certified clean marina offers boat rentals of all kinds, including canoes, kayaks, SUPs, and motor and fishing boats. Explore the 3,300 acres of the glistening lake and 25 miles of shoreline, while drinking in the spectacular surrounding mountain summits. Guided tours, sailboat lessons, and the Lake Dillon Water Taxi are available for those who'd rather not captain their own ship. (Note: Only furry friends are allowed to swim in the reservoir.)
After your sun drenched day on the water, stop off at
Pug Ryan's Lakeside Tiki Bar
, "the coolest scene and hottest deck in Summit County." With a Rum Runner or Dark 'N' Stormy in hand and the waves gently lapping on the shoreline, you'll swear you're on a beach somewhere. (Except for those majestic peaks in the distance, that is.)
Before you head back to the Mile High City, stop at the
Dillon Dam Brewery
for award-winning beer, insanely good nachos, and more!
2. Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas have much to offer Mile High day-trippers, including the infamous and incredible
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
, which just celebrated its 125th birthday. On June 30, 1891, the first steam train climbed from Manitou Springs to Pikes Peak, and today you can enjoy the same sights as those brave pioneers. The train runs daily from 8am-4pm, travels along 8.9 miles of track, and lasts about 3 hours roundtrip. Enjoy views of waterfalls, the Continental Divide, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and even the skyscrapers of downtown Denver on a clear day. (Gifts and concessions are available, but I suggest saving your appetites and wallets for less touristy traps in Manitou Springs or Old Colorado City.)
is the only waterfall in Colorado on National Geographic's list of international wonders. The majestic 181-foot series of waterfalls is nestled in a 1,250-foot box canyon and has a 224-step stairway to the top. Also on site are hiking trails, zip lines, a restaurant, and more!
Colorado Springs has plenty of fabulous shops and eateries, but I suggest strolling the quaint streets of Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs instead, where you'll find a bounty of eateries, galleries, and shops with Indian art, jewelry, and artifacts that are sure to please.
End your day at the magical
Garden of the Gods
and roam amongst the impressive towering sandstone rock formations, as you watch the sun slip behind the picturesque Pikes Peak backdrop. And definitely take the time to peruse the Visitor and Nature Center, which has a wealth of western wares.
Situated at approximately 10,152', Leadville is the nation's highest incorporated city and second highest incorporated municipality.
Leadville is a lovely little gem in the heart of the Rockies at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, which was once a booming silver mining town. Today you can tour the historic structures and sites from the mining era and visit the National Mining Hall of Fame museum downtown as well.
Leadville was the second most populous city in Colorado in the late 19th century (with Denver being first), and today it's a popular destination for mountain recreation including Turquoise Lake, Twin Lakes, and several surrounding 14ers viewable from town, such as Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive.
And if you're not up for a strenuous hike, there are plenty of other trail options where you can explore the woods and wildflowers and enjoy breathtaking vista views of the high Rockies.
On your way out of town, stop off at the legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, where they've been slinging cold ones since 1879 and are reported to have served legends like Oscar Wilde and Doc Holliday. I'll be your huckleberry.
4. Black Hawk
Does all this Doc Holliday talk have you in a drinking and gambling mood? If so, head on down to
, Colorado's largest gambling town, established in 1859.
Black Hawk is home to 18 casinos (some of which are open 24/7), where you can try your hand at poker, craps, black jack, roulette, slots, and more. (Just remember: The house ALWAYS wins! I warned you.)
The historically preserved Main Street in Black Hawk is still reminiscent of its old mining town days and is stocked full of casinos, saloons, shops, and other old-time treasures. You can easily waste the day away roaming from casino to saloon to casino, but you can also take the shuttle bus or trek the short one-mile to nearby
for even more Colorado culture and casino fun.
5. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway
After all that gallivanting and gambling you probably need a good dose of the great outdoors, and the wild wonder of
is just the ticket. You'll experience a wealth of Rocky Mountain beauty in just 22 miles on this (paved) breathtaking high mountain pass.
Guanella Pass begins in historic Georgetown and travels along South Clear Creek over the highest point of elevation (at 11,699'), and along the South Platte River to its culmination in Grant. Along the way you'll experience many spectacular views, including Mt. Evans, Mt. Spalding, the Sawtooth, and Mt. Bierstadt at an impressive 14,060'.
Animals also abound along the pass so have your binoculars and camera ready and allow time for plenty of pit stops and photo ops.
There are no shortage of picnic areas where you can pull off and refuel, but you'll probably want to save up for the famous Coney Island Hotdog Stand at the end of your route near Bailey.
Georgetown is one of Colorado's best preserved mining towns, established in 1868 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush.
Definitely take the
Georgetown Loop Railroad
, which travels over 3 miles of narrow gauge track from Georgetown to Silver Plume . Experience the Rockies like you've never seen them as you twist and turn through Clear Creek Valley and over the notorious Devil's Gate Bridge. There's also the option to throw on a hard hat and explore the Lebanon Silver Mine, so be sure to take advantage!
Afterward, wander around Georgetown's charming historic district, where you'll find quaint shops and eateries, as well as must-see landmarks like the Hotel de Paris, Hamill House, and Energy Museum.
7. Idaho Springs
Another delightfully historic mining town (which looks like just another pit spot off I-70) is
, founded in 1859.
One point of interest is the Charlie Tayler Water Wheel, which was constructed by its namesake in 1893 and was used to power his ore processing mill on Ute Creek. In 1946, the water wheel was gifted to the people of Idaho Springs by Charlie Tayler's estate and moved to its current location in front of the 600-foot Bridal Veil Falls. The Charlie Tayler Water Wheel was restored to its former glory in 1988 and is the largest water wheel in the state of Colorado.
There are two mine tours available in Idaho Springs, including the famous the Argo Gold Mine and Mill, which opened in 1913. The mill was one of the largest in the state and was used to strip precious metals like gold, silver, copper, and lead from ore. However, the Argo Mill ceased operations in 1943, when a flooding accident left four miners dead. In 1976, the mill was bought, renovated, and reopened as a museum where you can view artifacts and study the heritage of the mining era.
After all that work at the mine, you'll probably need to hit up the hidden gem also known as the
Indian Hot Springs
. Soak in their mineral water pool beneath palm trees and flowering plants, submerge your buns in a geo-thermal cave, treat yourself to a mud bath, and more!
End your Idaho Springs adventure at the infamous
, where they've been slinging mountain pies and honey crusts for over 40 years.
At the base of the Tenmile Range at about 9,600' is the former mining town of
, which is now a thriving alpine resort with much to see and do.
There are hundreds of hiking and biking trails in and around the city, but one option (especially for those looking for fantastic views with a minimal amount of effort) is to take the ski lift up to the top of the peaks and hike back down into town. Winning!
Fish, stroll, bike, and lounge along the glorious Blue River, which is a centerpiece of this quaint, quirky Victorian town. Pop in any and all of their shops, restaurants, and galleries, and don't miss
(seen here) and the historic
Gold Pan Saloon
, established in 1879. Also check out the fantastic calendar of summer events hosted by
, including art festivals, live music, and much much more!
The city of
is another of Colorado's old mining settlements turned thriving mountain town and was named the first official capital of the Colorado Territory in 1862. Today its quaint but bustling downtown is rich with restaurants, bars, boutiques, western flare, and all sorts of other raucous revelry.
Of course one of the most notable attractions is the gigantic
, founded in 1873. Experience the world’s largest single-site brewery, view artifacts from bygone brewing days, and sample FREE beers at the end of the tour (in a limited quantity, of course).
Golden is also home to the
Colorado Railroad Museum
, which has over 100 engines, coaches, cabooses, and more, on its spacious 15-acre property. This 4-8-4 steam locomotive is the largest on site but is just one of MANY to explore. (Check their calendar for family-friendly special events throughout the summer.)
Just a short jaunt from downtown Golden is the
Clear Creek History Park
, which is home to original buildings from an old Golden Gate Canyon ranch from the 1800s. Among the structures is the Guy Hill schoolhouse (pictured here), which served the students of the canyon from 1876-1951. Other buildings include a log cabin, chicken coop, barn, and two-seat outhouse. (Things that make you go, hmmmm.)
There are tons of trails in and around Golden, but one of the most popular is the group known as the
Clear Creek Trails
, which offer recreation and respite for weary walkers throughout town.
Another prominent feature of the Golden landscape that is not to be missed is
North Table Mountain Park
, which offers over 15 miles of trails, vista views of Denver and the surrounding foothills, and the opportunity to see local wildlife like mule deer, golden eagles, red tail hawks, and prairie dogs. (For the best chance of seeing wildlife, enjoying a bit of solitude, and escaping the heat, I suggest starting or ending your day at North Table Mountain.)
10. Fort Collins
Just outside of the fun and funky little town of Fort Collins is the 6.5-mile-long Horsetooth Reservoir, where you can fish, swim, boat, SUP, sail, and more!
Inlet Bay Marina
rents a whole host of motorized and non-motorized boats, including pontoons, jet skis, kayaks, and hydro bikes.
On the west side of the reservoir lies the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, just 4 miles from Fort Collins. The park offers almost 3,000 acres of woodlands, forests, grasslands, and an endless amount of trails, including the scramble to the top of Horsetooth Rock and Horsetooth Mountain summit at 7,256'.
After all of your phenomenal outdoor activities, head into
and experience all that it has to offer, including breweries, galleries, eateries, parks, museums, live music, and a whole lot more.
And did I mention that they've got a pretty fantastic 4th of July fireworks display at City Park!? Just sayin.'