Denver is the biggest city in Colorado, and while there are plenty of places to shop, eat, and visit in the city itself, the beauty of living (or staying) in Denver is, well, the literal beauty surrounding you! The skyline of the city has a breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains providing plenty of opportunities to ski and hike.
But there are also historic cities and mountain mining towns within reach, and for weekend getaways and road trips there are also historical monuments, beautiful national parks, and cities to explore in the surrounding states. So let’s take a look at some amazing places to spend a day or weekend, if you live in Denver or are just passing through.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
30 minutes from Denver (19 miles)
If you’re short on time, why not take a mini road trip to the Red Rocks? Even if you’re not there to see a show, the stunning Amphitheatre set into the red rocks is a sight to behold. But if you would love to see a show there, the amphitheatre hosts a series of summer concerts. But with a capacity of 10,000, tickets go quickly so check ahead for the performer schedule.
Meanwhile, the Red Rocks Park is a great place for a short hike. Once known as the Garden of Titans due to how the tall and mighty red rocks towered over the landscape, it’s a fantastic way to get closer to nature in Denver.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
1 hour 30 minutes from Denver (60 miles)
Denver may be called the Mile High City, but the Mount Evans Scenic Byway reaches even more dizzying heights! It starts just 40 minutes away from downtown Denver in Idaho Springs, and as you make your way from Exit 241 of Interstate 70 it climbs 7,000 feet and ultimately reaches its peak at 14,130 feet above sea level. In fact, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America and the 5th highest paid road in the world.
What’s more, the drive has plenty of stunning views along the way, with the Rockies to the west and Denver to the east. Due to the weather, the byway is only open from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day, and it costs $10 to drive the 28 miles up to the top. But if you love a good road trip you won’t want to miss the breathtaking views and sheer drops!
50 minutes from Denver (31 miles)
Located just outside Denver in the foothills of the Rockies, Boulder is another great place for a short day trip. It has a delightful small town feel with great restaurants, and craft beer breweries all with a stunning mountain backdrop. But one of Colorado’s biggest assets is its stunning nature, and Boulder is no exception. You can hike 300 miles of trails through the Flatirons all year round.
1 hour 40 minutes from Denver (97 miles)
One of the most famous ski resorts in the US Vail is known as the biggest ski mountain in Colorado. With its 193 official ski trails and 7 ski bowls covering all faces of the Vail mountain it’s definitely earned that title!
But even if you’re not into skiing, Vail has something to offer all year round. The town hosts festivals in the summer and fall and there’s skiing in the winter and spring. But there’s also hiking, mountain biking, and snowmobiling as well as night-time ski biking during the cold season. Vail is also home to the highest botanical garden in the world.
Vail is also quite unique to other ski towns in that different parts of the town offer something completely different. You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Europe in Vail Village, while the Lionshead district is super swanky and full of luxurious hotels.
Vail has so much to offer that it’s the perfect weekend getaway, but as it’s only an hour and a half away from Denver in good traffic we still recommend visiting even just for a day.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1 hour 30 minutes from Denver (73 miles)
The Rocky Mountain National Park is yet another amazing place to hike and be in nature, and getting there from Denver couldn’t be easier. You just head north along the I-25, then follow Highways 66 and US-36 all the way to Estes Park. If you wish to spend the night, there are plenty of places to stay at Estes Park.
However, if you’d rather sleep under the stars the Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of places to camp. What makes this national park unique however is the lakes wedged in-between the mountains. Be sure to bring your camera!
Rocky Mountain National Park sits either side of the Continental Diviee with 5 distinct parks, all offering something unique from large green meadows, to steep mountains dusted eternally with snow.
Bear Creek Canyon & Evergreen
40 minutes from Denver (29 miles)
Evergreen is less than 30 miles from Denver, making it the perfect place for a short day trip and a way to get out of the city for a bit. Meanwhile, the Bear Creek Canyon Scenic Mountain Drive is a lovely road that runs from Morrison to Idledale. The starting point is near Red Rocks Park and you could easily combine a trip to Red Rocks and Evergreen.
As well as great places to eat and spend the night, Evergreen is also home to a saloon with shows in the evening. It’s also home to the Revival Brews brewery with dozens of craft beers to try, as well as a bunch of charming local shops. From Morrison to Evergreen there are plenty of parks and places to go on a hike, and Evergreen Lake makes for a tranquil stroll.
Colorado Springs, CO
1 hour 20 minutes from Denver (69 miles)
While a lot of people head to Colorado Springs for the mountains and park surrounding it, the city itself shouldn’t be overlooked. Old Colorado City was formed in 1859 and is to the west of downtown Colorado Springs. It was actually the state capital of Colorado before that honor was bestowed to Denver.
Colorado Springs is full of great local shops, restaurants, and even art galleries. Speaking of which, Colorado Springs is also home to some truly unique museums like the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum and the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum dedicated to planes, classic trolleys, and even a preserved bordello.
Fort Collins, CO
1 hour 30 minutes from Denver (75 miles)
Fort Collins is an underrated city, but is just an hour’s drive up the I-25 north of Denver and worth a visit (see also ‘15 Amazing Things To Do In Fort Collins During Your Vacation‘). You’ll find quaint shops in the Old Town district selling everything from jewellery to spices, and we highly recommend spending the night there so you can take full advantage of the 2 dozen local breweries in the area. There’s a reason Fort Collins is called the Napa Valley of beer!
But Fort Collins is probably just as well-known for its great bike trails as it is for its delicious beer. You’ll often see the locals pedalling along the many dedicated paths, and if you decide last-minute to go on a bike ride then you can easily hire one from the plenty of bike racks. Just set yourself up on the app and you’re ready to go!
1 hour 15 minutes from Denver (69 miles)
A man-made reservoir running alongside Blue River and flowing into the Rockies, Lake Dillion is an extremely popular tourist destination all year round. It’s also a great place to begin a hike and to start exploring the mountains.
The tranquil lake reflects the snowy peaks of the Rockies and is a beautiful location to set up your RV in the summer. Bike paths and golf courses also surround it, and we really can’t think of a more serene location to ride through or play a few rounds of golf.
The town of Dillion also hosts a summer concert series and you can hire boats in the marina from late May to the end of September.
Lake Dillon also has 4 major ski resorts within a 10-mile radius including the large Copper Mountain, Keystone, and Breckenridge resorts.
Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center
2 hours from Denver (97 miles)
Located south of Denver, you can really experience these beautiful, formidable animals up close in the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. The animals living there are unable to survive in the wild, and this refuge replicates their natural environment as much as possible so they can live a happy, healthy life.
There are numerous tours running throughout the day, including a Standard tour, Meet & Greet, The Feeding Tour, and even a VIP tour.
The center is also home to foxes and coyotes as well as a wide variety of wolves. Learning about these fascinating animals makes for a rewarding day trip that would be great for families. After all, the best way to learn is by having fun!
Steamboat Springs, CO
3 hours from Denver (156 miles)
Steamboat is a gorgeous little town sitting on the edge of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests with an absolutely stunning mountain backdrop. Steamboat is home to a ski resort, the beautiful Fish Creek Falls and the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, meaning there is something for everybody to enjoy all year round.
Steamboat is a chilled out, outdoorsy town with ranches on the outskirts and plenty of activities such as mountain biking and snowboarding to enjoy. It’s the ideal place for those who love a taste of the outdoors but at a slower pace.
3 hours 20 minutes from Denver (159 miles)
Like Vail, Aspen is one of the most famous skiing destinations in the US and is a must-go destination for lovers of winter sports. But even if you would just like a few days of fresh mountain air and maybe partake in a bit of sledging, head on up to Aspen. If you’re not skiing, there’s also snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowbiking, and even ice skating to enjoy.
Aspen is home to 4 separate ski resorts. These are Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass. The former three are smaller mountains closer to the resort, while Snowmass is the largest and is a few miles away from the resort.
But Aspen has plenty to offer in the summer too. The ski slopes transform into mountain bike trails, and hiking becomes a lot easier without all the powder! Breathtaking mountain top restaurants are open throughout the season, and you can even soak up a little culture at the 19th century Wheeler Opera House.
Getting to Aspen from Denver generally takes just over 3 hours. In the summer you’re able to take the shorter route by turning south off the I-70 at Copper Mountain. You then follow Highways 91 and 24 and turn right at Twin Lakes which will take you up towards the resort.
However, in the winter State Highway 82 is closed due to the dangerous, snowy conditions. Although you will have to take the longer route through Vail and Glenwood, this only adds 10 minutes to your journey.
6 hours from Denver (362 miles)
When it comes to Telluride, the journey is just as fun as the destination. For one, the drive to Telluride crosses mountain ranges and takes you through a few National Forests. But then you get to Telluride and the San Juan Skyway, which is a 233 mile loop through the San Juan Mountains, one of the best scenic drives in the state.
However, Telluride is a 12 hour round trip and the twists and turns of the Skyway can leave you exhausted. So why not put your feet up and spend the weekend here?
Telluride has something to offer everybody, from skiing and sledding in the winter, and hiking and white water rafting in the summer. To truly take it easy though, head to the restaurants and cafes in Mountain Village or have a stroll around the several art galleries in town.
You can also pay a visit to the Bridal Veil Falls which you can get to by driving up the valley from Telluride. However, this gorgeous waterfall completely freezes over in the winter. It’s a mesmerizing sight, but treacherous so be careful!
But what about road trips and weekend getaways out of state? Let’s take a look at two of the best ones below!
Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, SD
6 hours from Denver (367 miles)
Mount Rushmore – the giant 600ft faces of 4 of the most famous U.S. presidents – is an iconic U.S. landmark but few people can actually pinpoint where Mount Rushmore is on a map. Mount Rushmore is actually located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, just 6 hours away from Denver.
The Black Hills is a mountain range in the southwestern corner of South Dakota and is only a few miles away from the border with Wyoming. You can find the Black Hills National Forest and Wind Cave National Park in these mountains and both are fantastic places to visit as part of your road trip.
The route to Mount Rushmore is smooth and easy with a few exceptions. You’ll pass the Pawnee and Thunder Basin National Grasslands on your route, and these are both great places to take detours if you have time. They’re both vast, flat expanses covered in grass as far as the eye can see, and are perfect, serene places to watch the sunset with a cold drink.
Salt Lake City, UT
8 hours from Denver (518 miles)
Surrounded by mountains and the lake on all sides, Salt Lake City is a unique city with breathtaking views (just east of Salt Lake City is the stunning Park City, read here for more information). You’re sure to be in awe taking in all the key sights! Salt Lake City is also a great road trip destination as it can be combined with visits to other locations along the way.
It takes about 8 hours to get to Salt Lake City from Denver, whether following the I-70 across the mountains and through Grand Junction or the I-80 from Laramie.
The I-70 route takes you through Moab and the amazing National Parks and we highly recommend adding these to your itinerary. Palisade and Glenwood springs are also en route, and it’s only a small diversion to Aspen. If you’re getting to Utah via Wyoming though, Cheyenne and the Medicine Row-Boutt National is a good rest stop, but it takes 6 hours to get to Utah from Cheyenne with little notable stops on the way (for more information about Cheyenne, check out our guide here).
Salt Lake City is also notable as the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons only make up less than half of the population, but the church owns a lot of the land around the city. The Salt Lake Temple, Tabernacle, and other Mormon buildings are also eye-catching and beautiful landmarks to visit during your trip.