One empty stomach. One full tank of gas. Eight restaurants worth the drive. plus: 24 other reasons to take your appetite on the road.
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 312 MILES
127 11th St., Steamboat Springs 970-870-0681,
Sandals and stilettos find equal acceptance at this temple of elevated comfort food housed in a 103-year-old brick building—the original Steamboat Laundry Dry Cleaning & Pressing, according to faded lettering on the restaurant’s exterior. “This is a place where you can come in jeans and a T-shirt or you can get dressed up, but you’ll feel comfortable either way,” says owner Rex Brice, who opened Laundry, his sixth Steamboat restaurant, in 2012 on the northeast side of town. The affordable menu (items rarely top $20) is as wide-ranging as the dress code, and it changes with the seasons. Regulars watch as winter’s roasted beets give way to fresh greens with grilled apples come spring, and a Southern-inspired shrimp entree replaces the rich ricotta agnolotti tossed in a heavenly mixture of kale, sage, and brown butter. One dish we wish remained year-round: the Brussels sprouts hash, a lively blend of the roasted veggie, crisp onions, bacon bits, and creamy goat cheese that will leave you satisfied, refueled, and ready to lace up your hiking boots. —Daliah Singer
Sit: At the bar. The restaurant reserves the entire area for walk-ins, and the bartenders know the menu as well as the servers.
Eat: Crispy smoked pork belly with arugula, watermelon, red onion, and mint
Know: The bricks you’re surrounded by are the originals used to build the Steamboat Laundry, which occupied the space until 1977.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Stay Located right on the main strip of Lincoln Avenue, Hotel Bristol harks back to its 1948 heritage with Pendleton blankets, rotary telephones, and impeccable service. Hotel Bristol, 917 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs; 1-800-851-0872, steamboathotelbristol.com
Watch The rodeo is a regular visitor to Steamboat each summer. Pop open a can of beer and settle into the bleachers for steer wrestling and bull riding every Friday and Saturday through August 17.
Ride Rent an inner tube and hop into the Yampa River, the only free-flowing river (not obstructed by dams or diversions) in the state. Just be ready for some bumpy (Class II and III) rapids as you drift through town.
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 194 MILES
193 Gore Creek Drive, Vail
Chef Paul Anders takes campfire cooking to a whole other plane at eight-month-old Mountain Standard, the satellite tavern of Kevin Clair and Matt Morgan’s Sweet Basil, a beloved Vail institution. There is no oven here; Anders cooks everything over an open fire. Olives roast in the coals, flames lick the skins of rotisserie chickens, and porchetta arrives slow-cooked, smoky, tender, and swoon-worthy. This is seriously refined campfire cuisine, buoyed by more than 36 years of restaurant experience (Clair opened Sweet Basil in 1977): Servers respond quickly and adeptly to requests, water glasses stay full, and the wine pairings never miss. Warmed by Anders’ blaze, the snug tables and booths, and a glass of crisp Grüner Veltliner, you can’t help but feel at home. —AMF
Sit: If you want to get cozy, request one of the booths facing the kitchen. If you want to celebrate being in Vail, ask for a table on the patio overlooking the banks of Gore Creek.
Eat: Shrimp and grits with Creole butter, piquillo peppers, and pancetta
Sip: Even Mountain Standard’s Bloody Mary gets fired: The charred tomato base—which mixes well with Ketel One vodka—adds a smooth, delicate note of smoke.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Stay While we love the heated stone tile floors in Vail Mountain Lodge’s 27 rooms, the spa—quite possibly the best in the state—is the real draw.
After your salt glow, spend extra time in the Solarium, a blissed-out, glassed-in room overlooking stands of swaying pines and Gore Creek.
Vail Mountain Lodge, 352 E. Meadow Drive, Vail; 1-888-794-0410, vailmountainlodge.com
Ride Bring your road bike and work off the calories by pedaling 8.7 miles up to the top of Vail Pass. Or double down and cruise over to Copper Mountain before turning around and hustling back up and over the 10,603-foot summit.
Catch Summer anglers can take advantage of Gore Creek Fly Fisherman’s free fly-casting clinics every day at 10:30 a.m. Gore Creek Fly Fisherman, 675 Lionshead Place, Vail; 970-476-5042, gorecreekflyfisherman.com
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 724 MILES
300 W. San Juan Ave.,
To get one of the best meals in Colorado, you have to travel to one of the state’s farthest corners. But one taste of chef Chad Scothorn’s food will quickly erase the memory of those highway miles. Scothorn’s globe-trotting menu features surprising dishes like creative sushi rolls, Colorado lamb chops, and whimsical, decadent lobster corn dogs, all delivered by a team of genial servers. And with a wine list ticking past 200 options, Cosmo guarantees the perfect accompaniment to any dish—including the wild blueberry pie with sour cream ice cream, a dessert so plate-scrapingly delicious you’ll (almost) be glad it’s too far away to order every night. —Luc Hatlestad
Eat: The surf and turf and crab-stuffed chicken breast entrées
Sit: Cosmo lives just across the street from
Telluride’s gondola, so grab a window seat for great people-watching in summer or winter.
Know: The restaurant is on the ground floor of Telluride’s Hotel Columbia, so dubbed in honor of the town’s original name. Gold Rush–era officials changed the town’s name from Columbia to Telluride to avoid confusing postal service workers delivering mail to Columbia, California.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Stay There are really two Tellurides: the old, historic town and the newer, glossier Mountain Village. We suggest checking in at the New Sheridan Hotel, located on the town’s historic main drag, for a more authentic Western experience. New Sheridan Hotel, 231 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride; 1-800-200-1891, newsheridan.com
Shop & Sip Browse through Two Skirts, and you might forget you’re in a secluded mountain hamlet. The high-end boutique stocks statement-worthy lines such as Herno and Yoaa Baraschi. Refresh with a post-shopping margarita at La Cocina de Luz. Two Skirts, 127 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride; 970-728-6828, twoskirts.net; La Cocina de Luz, 123 E. Colorado Ave., Telluride; 970-728-9355, lacocinatelluride.com
Listen Catch the 37th annual Telluride Jazz Festival (August 2 to 4) with the Motet, the Stanley Clarke Band, and Galactic. Telluride Jazz Festival, telluridejazz.org
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 77.5 MILES
Georgia Boys BBQ
237 Collyer St., Longmont
What lobster roll stands are to the Northeast, barbecue shacks are to the South (and now Colorado): Homey, unexpected spots where locals go for an unfussy taste of the region. Nestled alongside a Longmont mechanic’s shop and within earshot of the train tracks, a small yellow house with eight picnic tables out front and two rocking chairs on the porch (of course) holds what may well be the best barbecue in the West. Opened in July 2011 by Nickolas Reckinger and Matt Alexander—fraternity brothers from, yes, Georgia—the joint leans on family recipes. Beginning at 6 a.m. each morning, the 500- and 1,000-pound hickory smokers emit an aroma not often found this side of the Mississippi: the siren scent of pulled pork, pulled chicken, and beef brisket so expertly smoked that the Georgia Boys’ five delicious homemade sauces seem superfluous. Try them anyway, and leave room for the roster of other expertly crafted Southern staples. —Lindsey B. Koehler
Sit: Barbecue is made for outdoor dining, which is just as well because Georgia Boys has only two indoor tables.
Eat: The brisket burnt ends with collards ’n’ mustard and Good Ol’ BBQ Beans
Drink: Home-brewed sweet tea
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Shop Nothing in Denver rivals Longmont’s Cheese Importers—a bistro-kitchenware-cheese combination shop—for a delightful and unexpected shopping experience. Cheese Importers,
103 Main St., Longmont; 303-772-9599, cheeseimporters.com
Grow Turn green-thumb aspirations into reality at the massive yet easy-to-navigate Flower Bin Garden Center, home to everything from a greenhouse full of roses to a selection of hanging flowerpots that has no equal in the metro area. The Flower Bin Garden Center, 1805 Nelson Road, Longmont; 303-772-3454, theflowerbin.net
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 456 MILES
The Secret Stash Pizzeria and Groove Emporium
303 Elk Ave., Crested Butte 970-349-6245, stashpizza.com
Finding a greasy, carb-loaded, cheese-worshipping pizza place in a mountain town is the easy part. Quality pie, though—that’s difficult to come by. Unless you happen to wander into the Secret Stash Pizzeria and Groove Emporium on Crested Butte’s Elk Avenue. Here, the menu is as eclectic as the decor. Ignore the Buddha statues and tiki souvenirs, and dive into bizarre, divine pies such as the New Potato Caboose, a cheeky take on a baked potato (tubers, bacon, green onions, cheddar, and sour cream), or the Mac Daddy, a sesame-seed crust topped with Thousand Island dressing, rib-eye steak, onions, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, lettuce, and pickles. Too weird? Trust us, you should give it a try. Your taste buds have traveled too far for mere pepperoni. —Natasha Gardner
Sit: Soak up the mountain air on the busy patio.
Eat: The Notorious F.I.G., which is dotted with figs, blue cheese, and prosciutto
Know: Like many of Crested Butte’s buildings, the structure has a long history. Built in 1938, the space once housed the town’s general store.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Stay Never mind the slopeside access or the balconies with stunning views at the Elevation Hotel & Spa; it’s the luxurious spa that keeps us coming back. Try the 25-minute Mini Escape Massage for a quick hit of “me time” and plan for an extra-long shower: The “rainfall” showerheads are downright dreamy. Elevation Hotel & Spa, 500 Gothic Road, Crested Butte; 1-800-600-2803, elevationhotelandspa.com
Sip The Caribbean might be rum’s home turf, but after sipping a Habanero Mango Martini (rum, mango, agave, lime, and habanero slices) at the Montanya Distillers tasting room, you’ll begin to associate the tropical booze with a different altitude. Montanya Distillers, 130 Elk Ave., Crested Butte; 970-799-3206, montanyarum.com
Hike The two-mile trek to the Judd Falls overlook is family friendly (read: it’s a jeep road). This means fewer blisters and fewer “Are we there yet?” queries. You’ll hear the falls before you see them. As you get close, keep an eye out for the perfectly perched bench—you’ll know it when you see it. Be careful as you take in the two cascading waterfalls; the drop-off is steep. The Judd Falls trailhead is about five miles north of Mt. Crested Butte on Gothic Road.
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 318 MILES
675 E. Durant Ave., Aspen; 970-920-6330, element47aspen.com
From the blackened steel, dark wood, and plush leather decor to the exquisite citrus-cured fluke with blood orange and Castelvetrano olives, Element 47 gleams. And suitably so. Unveiled by the Little Nell Hotel last December, the restaurant was named for silver (the precious metal is 47 on the periodic table), an allusion to Aspen’s mining town roots. But executive chef Robert McCormick’s contemporary dishes hardly recall the cuisine of 1891. Dishes such as the delicate
Anjou pear tortellini with pickled chanterelles illustrate a sophisticated touch, and an extensive wine list (compiled by the three master sommeliers on staff) is an elegant, if French-heavy, representation of the best of the world’s vines. It may sound fussy, but there’s an inherent approachability that permeates every aspect of Element 47. —AMF
Sit: Find a table on the sun-drenched patio or inside near the windows and glimpse
Aspen Mountain’s slopes.
Eat: Emma Farm Wagyu beef steak with tortellini, morel mushrooms, spring onions, and bone marrow
Know: The dessert options are mouthwatering (Dark chocolate praline mousse! Doughnut holes with lemon curd!), but no one will question you if you order the make-your-own sundae (choose from M&M’s, hot fudge, chopped peanuts, whipped cream, and three kinds of house-made ice cream) from the children’s menu.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Stay An Aspen mainstay for more than 120 years, the Hotel Jerome is a piece of living history—but recent renovations mean you’re also steeped in luxury (think oversize marble bathrooms and plasma TVs). After an active day, retreat to the cozy Living Room Bar for cocktails and a snack (we suggest the ciabatta toast with a mini Mason jar of goat’s milk cheddar pimento spread). Hotel Jerome, 330 E. Main St., Aspen; 970-920-1000, hoteljerome.aubergeresorts.com
Listen Every summer since 1949, the Aspen Music Festival has gathered the world’s best classical musicians. And you don’t even need a ticket to enjoy them. Just bring a blanket and a picnic and perch on the lawn outside the music tent (located at 980 N. Third St.). Although you won’t see the musicians play, you’ll hear the glorious sounds of chamber music under a canopy of rustling aspen trees. The festival runs through August 18 with concerts scheduled daily.
Aspen Music Festival, aspenmusicfestival.com
See The stunning Maroon Bells just outside of Aspen get a lot of attention—and crowds. Avoid the hordes with a trip up Castle Creek Road instead (the valley is just one drainage over), where meadows, stands of aspens, empty hillsides, and the impressive snow-capped Hayden Peak await for your Instagram-ing pleasure.
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 314 MILES
330 Seventh St., Glenwood Springs; 970-230-9234, thepullmangws.com
The Pullman chef-owner Mark Fischer hasn’t let being named one of Esquire’s 2011 Best New Restaurants affect his vision: “We want to keep this restaurant approachable,” says the mastermind behind Glenwood Springs’ most popular eatery. “But we don’t want to compromise our approach to cooking.” Mission accomplished. The burnished, dressed-down spot might look like a tavern, but what comes out of the kitchen is white-tablecloth worthy: roasted bone marrow with red onion jam, slow-roasted curried lamb shoulder, vegetable cianfotta (an elegant Southern Italian stew), and crispy, truffled pork rinds. If the Pullman’s waitlist is too long, head 13 miles down the road to Town, the farmers’ market–inspired restaurant Fischer just opened in Carbondale. —Lindsey R. McKissick
Sit: The front window puts you in prime position to ogle the small-town goings-on.
Eat: The pierogi with truffle potatoes, caramelized onions, and scallion crème fraîche (a menu staple since the restaurant opened in 2011)
Know: Perched across the street from the Glenwood Springs train station, the Pullman derives its name from the railroad and the Pullman Lunchroom, which occupied the building in the 1920s.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Stay We love Hotel Colorado for its outside-the-room amenities: an evening cocktail in the flower-filled courtyard, the old-school lobby (complete with a grand piano), and the breakfast sandwiches to-go. The rooms? Just keep in mind the hotel was built in 1893. Hotel Colorado, 526 Pine St., Glenwood Springs; 970-945-6511, hotelcolorado.com
Hike Peak baggers get a twofer on the 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris’ twin summits. Drive south on Highway 82 toward Carbondale. Take CO 133 to Prince Creek Road. Follow Prince Creek Road for eight miles to Dinkle Lake. This roughly 12-mile trek is an all-day outing. Mt. Sopris, White River National Forest
Refuel Pork, bison, chicken, lamb, and veggie burgers share equal billing on the menu at Grind.Extra: Look for the joint at the annual Denver Burger Battle on August 8. Grind, 720 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs; 970-230-9258, grindglenwood.com
ROUND-TRIP FROM DENVER: 284 MILES
311 H St., Salida; 719-539-5292, ploughboyinc.com
A visit to the three-year-old Ploughboy market and deli will expand your definition of eating locally. The Salida-based smorgasbord features Colorado products such as ground yak (yes, really), jalapeño pasta, and seasonal veggies, like Purple Mountain organic garlic, and works to keep tourists’ dollars in the region to feed their nearby (and often struggling) producers. Sample freshly baked almond-cranberry bread or Colorado-bean hummus while you deliberate over the deli’s selection of fresh sandwiches and daily soups. A tomato and asparagus frittata or the egg salad and rosemary sandwich? Answer: Both. You’re bound to get peckish on the drive home. —NG
Sit: Skip the tables and get your order to go; the raging Arkansas River is just three blocks away.
Eat: The High Rockies Cubano panino with locally sourced summer sausage, Swiss cheese, butter pickles, and Molicious Mustard
Know: Ploughboy operates on a delightfully old-fashioned billing system: cash or check only. If you forget (or only carry credit cards) the store will email you an IOU.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Stay Situated just eight miles from town, the Mountain Goat Lodge bed-and-breakfast boasts 19 bucolic acres for strolling, a hot tub for soaking, and sumptuous blueberry-stuffed French toast for fueling up. (The lodge’s name comes from the 21 resident goats.) Mountain Goat Lodge, 9582 U.S. Highway 285 N., Salida; 719-539-7173, mountaingoatlodge.com
Sip With a massive patio overlooking a kayak playground on the Arkansas, River’s Edge coffeeshop and bar is worth hitting up. Twice. Go early for a traditional egg breakfast (we’re big fans of the potato hash), and stop by later in the afternoon for a happy-hour pint of Elevation Beer Co.’s 8 Second Kölsch, brewed in nearby Poncha Springs. Rivers Edge, 300 W. Sackett Ave., Salida; 719-207-4267, facebook.com/salidariversedge
Explore Our favorite spot to pick up the Rainbow Trail (there are several trailheads near Salida) lies just off U.S. Highway 285, about five miles south of Poncha Springs. Head east on the trail for a switchbacking jaunt through shady pines. The payoff: breathtaking views of the Collegiates.
Rainbow Trail, San Isabel National Forest