Want to visit the grave of a real Wild West buffalo hunter, see over 300 carnivores in their natural habitat, and drive on the highest paved auto road in North America? You can do all that and more at these unique places near Denver. For an unforgettable experience, check out these unique spots just outside the city!
1. Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway
Want to ride the same routes as the pioneers of Colorado's early days in the 1920's? The 40-mile Lariat Loop allows you to do just that, with many historic landmarks along the way, such as Lookout Mountain, the Mother Cabrini Shrine, and Boettcher Mansion. (Pictured is the entrance to Denver Mountain Parks, built in 1917.)
2. Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave
One of the Lariat Loop landmarks is Buffalo Bill's grave site atop Lookout Mountain near Golden, where he allegedly requested to be buried. (And which is totally believable...I mean, look at the view.) The museum opened in 1921 and showcases memorabilia from Buffalo Bill's life and Wild West shows, as well as Indian artifacts, Western art, and antique firearms. Also on site is a gift shop and snack bar, plus hiking trails for additional panoramic vistas.
3. Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve
Are you now inspired to see some real buffalo? Cruise on over to Genesee Park and gape at these magical beasts in their natural setting. It's a great spot for a picnic and plenty of photo ops among indigenous wildlife in all of their glory!
4. Black Hawk and Central City Casinos
These twin towns have a rich history that started during the Gold Rush in 1859, but since 1991 they've primary served as Colorado's foremost gambling destination. There are over 30 casinos and gambling saloons where you can try your hand at striking it rich!
5. Georgetown Loop Railroad
Ride historic steam powered engines on this reconstructed route of one of Colorado's most famous railroads and one of our state's very first tourist attractions. Chug along through Georgetown, Silver Plume, and across the famed Devil's Gate Bridge and marvel at the beauty of Clear Creek Canyon from a vantage point like no other.
6. Colorado Railroad Museum
If you didn't quite get your fill of the railroad, stop off at this replica of an 1880's-style depot in Golden. There are thousands of rare documents, photos, and artifacts from over 125 years of Colorado railroads. There are also 15 acres with over 100 locomotives, cars, and other historical rolling stock. It's a train enthusiast's dream!
7. American Mountaineering Museum
This state of the art facility in Golden opened its doors in 2008 and is the first and only center of its kind in the nation. Explore the history and modern day heroes through personal stories and interactive exhibits at this museum and center dedicated solely to the education, research, culture, and spirit of mountaineering. You can even plan your own route to Everest, hang out on a port-a-ledge, and jump a crevasse!
8. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
Climate change is a hot topic (pun intended), and you can learn about it here through interactive exhibits and a guided or audio tour. This Boulder institution is open seven days a week and is totally FREE. (That's right! Free! Knowledge!)
9. The Wild Animal Sanctuary
This 720-acre rescue and educational facility in Keenesburg is truly one of a kind. Stroll along the "Mile Into The Wild" elevated walkway and see over 300 large carnivores in a natural setting, including lion prides, wolf packs, and roaming bears. Why go to the zoo when you can see animals living in (relative) freedom!?
10. Butterfly Pavilion
This 30,000-square foot science and education center in Westminster has a tropical conservatory with over 1,200 free-flying butterflies from around the globe. Incredible! Learn about invertebrates, conservation, and a whole host of other topics at the Butterfly Pavilion. (This is a fantastic hands-on learning experience, ideal for kids ages 2 to 12).
11. Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield
Not only does the Denver Botanic Gardens have an oasis in the city, it also has an expansive nature preserve at Deer Creek that includes trails, wildlife viewing areas, beehives, gardens, a historic farm, and a one-room schoolhouse. The Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is perfect for a day of leisure with family and friends...and a cornucopia of picnic vittles!
12. Mt. Evans Scenic Byway
Driving on the highest paved road in North America to the summit of a fourteener is undoubtedly a unique experience! There are many picturesque spots along the way to stop and breathe in inspiration from the surrounding mountains, but when you reach the top of Mt. Evans at 14,260 feet, the view will leave you speechless. (Note: The road opens Memorial Day Weekend).
What are your favorite unique, must-see places around Denver? Share them with us in the comments!