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Sipping a beverage after an adventure—in the woods, on the water, on a sheer rock—holds a special place for Coloradans. It is the exclamation point to any outdoor escapade and signals a triumphant return to the comforts of home. But sometimes a lukewarm Banquet in the trailhead parking lot just won’t cut it. You need an icy draft, a friendly bartender, and the sort of burger that requires a two-handed approach.
These 10 post-excursion watering holes have all that, plus drink specials, outdoor patios, and even karaoke. They’re the sort of spots where you can wear your Chacos without apology and catch the score to the Broncos game before cruising back to the city. They are delightfully unassuming—and often hidden on country roads or lonely interstates. But for as obscure as they might be, these watering holes offer a very tangible reward: beer and tan-colored food.
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We’d forgive you for grading the fare at any of these establishments on a curve, but it’d be in vain at the Windjammer Roadhouse, a veritable Texas smokehouse perched above Carter Lake Reservoir in Loveland. Here, campers and boaters (and bikers) enjoy slow-cooked pit barbecue (brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage links) that outshines much of the smoked stuff offered closer to Denver. (Also nice: buckets of Bud steps from the marina.) Grab a low-top table to watch karaoke performances that are improved by drinks from the well, or if the restaurant’s namesake gusts abate, snag a picnic table on the patio to catch the low-hanging sun disappear behind the spruces. 3431 S. County Road 31, Loveland
Two Bears Tap and Grill
Tucked at the bottom of I-70’s Floyd Hill, Two Bears Tap and Grill is the kinda place you might notice—and then keep on driving by. Big mistake. Huge. Instead of screaming back to the plains after whitewater rafting on Clear Creek or summiting Grays and Torreys Peaks, take a chance on this modest-looking roadhouse. We suggest pulling up a stool at the wooden bar top or a chair on the expansive mountainside patio, ordering fried pickle chips and the elk sausage smothered with green chile, and washing it down with an icy draft beer. 33295 U.S. 6, Idaho Springs
We think the tagline for this Fort Collins biker bar should be: Near Horsetooth Reservoir, nearer to heaven. After a day spent on flowy singletrack in the high desert, perhaps you’ll agree. Located across County Road 38 from the seven-mile-long jewel, Canyon Grill dishes up big ol’ burgers and pizzas and a flight of delightful apps (fried pickles, bottle caps, jalapeño poppers) fit to fill a famished mountain biker or trail runner. A dark dining room is a welcome reprieve for crisped boaters, but the patio is tough to beat when the mist machines pump and a live band jams in front of a Landshark Lager surfboard. Snag a wrought-iron table next to the flower boxes, which overflow with pink and white blooms this time of year. 4791 W. County Road 38 E, Fort Collins
If you’ve lived in Colorado for any amount of time, you should know the Mish. If you have and you don’t, shame on you for missing out on one of the Centennial State’s last perfect places. For more than 100 years, this riverside oasis—which has a bar, a restaurant, and a concert venue—has given Poudre Canyon adventurers a place to kick up their (usually dirty) feet after a day of hiking, fishing, or whitewater rafting. Grab an Odell’s, a grilled buffalo burger, and a seat on the expansive, umbrella-bedecked patio overlooking the rushing river. 13714 Poudre Canyon Highway, Bellvue
Platte River Bar & Grill
Located less than a football field from the South Platte River (and its adjacent paved trail), this decades-old Littleton icon is everything a roadhouse should be—and more. With two inside bars, a full roster of macro and micro brews and spirits, an elevated patio deck with umbrellas, live music five days a week, and a Mexican-forward menu, Platte River Bar & Grill is where you want to be after a day spent boating on nearby Chatfield Reservoir or getting a line wet on the South Platte. Don’t miss happy hour, which is actually four hours long—from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. 5995 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
Covered Wagon Restaurant and Saloon
Like a siren’s call to hikers exiting the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Covered Wagon boasts $3 domestics and a menu of burgers and sammies south of $14 (and a dessert menu, too). As you’d expect of any establishment in Ned, it’s decidedly charming, with an old piano, mining tools, and a vintage cigarette machine. Browse the antiques, then park tired legs outside at an umbrella-covered picnic bench for grub and several brews. 15 E. First St., Nederland
Pub Down Under
Dillon’s family-friendly Arapahoe Café may be famous for its down-home breakfast menu, but it has a secret: the Pub Down Under. Hidden below the cafe, find a stool at the corrugated-metal bar—plus everything a good dive needs, including $5 Coors Light drafts and PBR tall boys, a selection of craft brews, access to the full menu upstairs, and special dishes only available to bar patrons (go for the Philly cheesesteak). It’s also cool and dark—a perfect escape from the sun after a long day on the water. 626 Lake Dillon Ave., Dillon
South Park Saloon
Cruise over Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge and land at the highest saloon in America in the tiny berg of Alma. South Park Saloon, which nestles in the shadows of fourteeners Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross, caters to hungry peakbaggers and leaf-peepers with a menu that belies its old-timey, Western exterior. A tri-tip cheesesteak, blackened cod tacos, and a BLTA with aioli on challah bread highlight its offerings. At the bar, the drinks are just as distinguished: Find nearby Breckenridge Distillery’s booze across the cocktail offerings and Upslope, Left Hand, and South Park breweries’ suds among the taps. 24 N. Main St., Alma
Don’t blink or you may miss this one. Hidden among the conifers on a lonely stretch of Highway 285, this roadhouse is amazingly random. In a sense, so is its menu, which includes a 14-hour beef brisket, braised pork, and Cajun-spiced shrimp. It is both the best and only fare around, so top off your tank (and fill the cracks with $4 Fat Tire) at a low-top inside before cruising back to the Front Range. 50455 U.S. 285, Grant
The first five menu items at Emerald Isle are served in baskets—a delivery method that suggests a bevy of fried foods, something any low-on-calories, exhausted camper or paddler can get behind. Diners post up on the sun-drenched patio with views of Cherry Creek Rez or hang inside where there are pool tables and TVs (and great game-day drink specials). Load up on wings, shrimp, fries, onion rings, or pickle chips, but save room for dinner: Emerald Isle’s Mexican menu runs deep. 4385 S. Parker Road, Aurora