With its thriving art scene, diverse food options, natural beauty, and about 300 days of sunshine, Denver can easily fill up your itinerary. We understand why you wouldn't want to leave this fabulous city. However, within a few hours’ drive from The Mile High City, you can reach lots of places worth a visit: from hiking spots and charming towns with local events to ski resorts and scenic viewpoints. All you need to start the road adventure is a long weekend, good weather, and a few experiences in mind. Whether you prefer a laid-back day at the hot springs or an active weekend up in the Rockies, each season in Denver has adventures galore.
In the summer months, Denver serves as an excellent gateway to the Rocky Mountains and nearby towns. You could kick off your summer season with climbing up Colorado's highest mountain—Mt. Elbert (14,440 ft or 4,401 m). This "Gentle Giant" is notorious for afternoon thunderstorms in summer, so you might want to start your 100-mile (160-km) trip from Denver to Leadville, where the hike begins, as early as possible. Several of Colorado's 14'ers can be hiked in a single day, but they shouldn't be underestimated. There are no easy 14,000-ft peaks. Consider spending a few days acclimating to the elevation before attempting one of these hikes if you are coming from sea level. Most of Elbert's surrounding locations such as Leadville or Twin Lakes at a higher elevation, which is perfect for acclimatization. Another alternative is to spend some time in towns like Breckenridge, Buena Vista, and Winterpark, which host a great selection of restaurants, shops, and breweries to keep you occupied while you get used to the sub-alpine air. If you opt for Breckenridge, pay tribute to Isak Heartstone, an iconic 15-ft (4-m) wooden troll sculpture by a Danish artist Thomas Dambo. The hike is family-friendly and starts at the ice rink parking lot next to the Stephen C. West Ice Arena.
A southwest road trip from Denver in July can take you to the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, 228 mi (367 km) away. After the symphony of wildflowers, you can drive up Kebler Pass, a high-mountain gravel road between Crested Butte and Paonia with magnificent views of the West Elk Mountains, which is open roughly from mid-June to mid-October. At some 65 mi (104 km) from Crested Butte, you will get to one of the most photographed spots in Colorado—Crystal Mill. This place is especially charming in late September when the fall colors of cottonwood and aspen trees paint the landscape into brilliant yellow hues. On your way back from Crystal Mill to Denver, take a short detour to Mount Evans Scenic Byway in Idaho Springs, which is accessible from late May to early September; thus, summer is the right time to drive on the highest paved road in North America. If you happen to have a few spare hours, you could also spend a relaxing afternoon at Radium Hot Springs near Kremmling, 115 mi (186 km) west of Denver. There is a free primitive campsite at Mugrage Campground and Radium Recreation Site with tent pads, picnic tables, and toilets for those willing to stay overnight before heading back to Denver. These campgrounds are managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management); thus, check their website for recent closures and updates.
For a long weekend in summer, you could opt for a scenic road trip from Denver to Potash Evaporation Ponds, Utah—striking blue spots in the middle of the red desert landscape. This six-hour journey can be split into shorter drives. Make the first stop in Vail, about a two-hour drive from Denver. This picturesque mountain resort offers excellent rafting and kayaking opportunities in summer and early fall. Some 60 mi (100 km) westwards from Vail, right before reaching Glenwood Springs, make a stop for a hike to Hanging Lake. The 3-mile (5-km) heavily-trafficked trail to the lake is best hiked from April to October when the weather is pleasant; however, be ready to face the crowds as lots of summer travelers drop by. After a stop in Grand Junction or any other town along the route, drive a few hours to the Potash Evaporation Ponds in Utah. You can go there any time of year, but evaporation and stunning turquoise colors are most intense in the hot summer months. Be sure to bring lots of water as the summer Utah desert tends to be brutal.
Another excellent weekend getaway from Denver is a southward trip to Colorado Springs. From there, you can easily reach scenic spots like the Garden of the Gods, where sunny days are packed with activities: hiking, horseback riding, climbing, and biking. On a hot summer day, you can also head to Paradise Cove for a refreshing dip in the swimming hole. If you happen to be in the Colorado Springs area in June, you might want to take advantage of a slightly shorter distance (177 mi or 285 km, about 3–3.5 hours) than from Denver (245 mi or 394 km, about 4.5 hours) to Medano Creek. This seasonal "river" in the heart of the Great Sand Dunes National Park is formed by melting snow waters in late spring and early summer (May–June), so being there at the right time is vital. Summer months are also an excellent time for kayaking adventures within a short driving distance from Colorado Springs and Denver. The most thrilling kayak rides can be experienced in May and June, while August tends to be more suitable for peaceful kayaking. Lake Pueblo State Park, some 50 mi (80 km) south of Colorado Springs or 120 mi (190 km) from Denver, is a great kayaking spot for newbies and offers rentals.
In case you want to spice up your trip from Denver to Colorado Springs with some events, you could pick late August for your weekend trip to witness the legendary Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, about 30 mi (50 km) west of Colorado Springs. Labor Day Weekend would be perfect timing too, when the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo and the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off occur. Pueblo (45 mi or 73 km) south of Colorado Springs also hosts the Chile & Frijoles Festival in late September, a paradise for chili pepper connoisseurs.
Heading north and northwest from Denver opens up an array of summer road trip destinations too. Within a distance of 66 mi (106 km), you can reach Estes Park, CO, a starting point of two breathtaking adventures: driving the Trail Ridge Road and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). A summer visit to the Trail Ridge Road, which is usually open from June to October, promises breathtaking views, wildlife sightings, and alpine meadows with wildflowers. Even in the summer months, it tends to be cold and windy up there, so wear warm clothes if you plan to take a walk. You can also hike the one-mile Toll Memorial Trail off the Trail Ridge Road to see alpine tundra meadows—a mushroom rock formation that offers a glimpse into the fiery volcanic past of this area. Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round, but hiking without special equipment is possible mainly from June to September. Besides, June to August is the wildflower bloom season up in the Rockies, so grab your hiking boots and camera to capture the beauty. Reservations are currently required to visit RMNP. Call ahead or visit their website for more information and to obtain a timed entry permit. Late September and early October paint the landscapes around Estes Park in hues of yellow and orange, so planning a northward trip from Denver for fall foliage is a good alternative.
Colorado is home to some of the most stunning landscapes in North America. While summer seems to be an obvious season for a road trip, the rugged snow-covered mountain peaks offer a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop for your winter road trip from Denver. Within a few hours' drive north, south, or west, you can reach stunning spots via wide open roads with quaint little towns scattered along the way. Before hitting the road, make sure you winterize your car and prepare for driving on icy roads in the Rocky Mountains.
Snow covers the slopes as early as mid–November and promises exciting winter sports until April. In some years, the high-elevation resorts such as Winter Park and Breckenridge keep snowy slopes well into May. Colorado resorts are perfect for ski and snowboard holidays. Drive some 80 mi (130 km) westwards to reach Breckenridge that boasts North America's highest lift. Winter is probably the busiest time of year in Breckenridge, as it is the most popular ski resort town in Colorado due to affordable lodging and excellent slopes. This resort town at the base of the Rocky Mountains' Tenmile Range also hosts International Snow Sculpture Championships in late January; however, the 2021 edition is going to be rather small due to the reconstruction in the area. Another resort destination you might want to check is Aspen (160 mi or 250 km from Denver), one of the most iconic Colorado winter spots that gathers the wealthy and famous. Its four ski areas (Ajax, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlights) belong to a one lift pass system and offer well-equipped slopes with high-quality service and apres-ski activities aplenty. Resorts like Vail, almost 100 mi (155 km) from Denver, also provide lots of other winter fun activities like skiing, biking, and tubing.
In case you would rather watch and observe instead of doing sports, late January offers a few winter events worth checking out. Ouray Ice Festival is heaven for ice climbing enthusiasts; for three days, it gathers climbers, fans, and industry representatives at the Ouray Ice Park, some 300 mi (485 km) southwest of Denver. January also brings one of the largest extreme sports events of the year to the Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen: X Games Aspen. This event will leave you in awe with world-class ski, snowboard, and snowmobile competitors mixed up with a great music program.
If you prefer to capture the winter beauty rather than practicing or watching winter sports, a road trip to frozen waterfalls might be your best memory. Drive southwards to Colorado Springs (70 mi or 111 km), which serves as a gateway to the winter fairytale of Colorado: Broadmoor Seven Falls, Helen Hunt Falls, and Rainbow Falls are all within a half-hour drive from Colorado Springs. One of the most popular winter magic spots is The Fang in Vail, about 95 mi (150 km) west of Denver. In winter, the waterfall turns into an ice column, but you will need special equipment if you wish to climb this frozen feature. Waterfalls across Colorado usually freeze in January and February, but before heading there, check the weather forecast or reach out to the locals to make sure it's worth the driving.
Traditional winter events could also lure you out of The Mile High City for a day or two. Colorado Springs Festival of Lights kicks off the Christmas holiday in, you guessed it, Colorado Springs (1.5 hours from Denver) with a parade, a stunning display of lights, and entertaining performances. Steamboat Winter Carnival (about 150 mi or 250 km from Denver) in early February will surprise you with a peculiar mix of cowboy and skiing heritage: skiers being pulled by horses along the main city street or jumping through fiery hoops—doesn't that sound fun? Well, if it doesn't, then the Frozen Dead Guy Days in March in Nederland (about 30 mi or 50 km from Denver) cannot leave you indifferent: coffin racing, a parade of hearses, frozen t-shirt contests, costumed polar plunging, and other bizarre competitions should melt your frozen heart.
Pick your destination, pack warm clothes, and let the wintry rugged landscapes of Colorado impress you.