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Trail Ridge Road. Photo by Andrew Peacock/Getty Images

The Best Day Trips to Take From Denver This Summer

There are 27 weekend days this summer. Here's what to do during each one of them.

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If you’re like us, there’s only one thing on your mind after the winter we’ve had: Get. Me. Out. Of. This. House. Which is why we’ve rounded up 27 of the Front Range foothills’ best escapes, one for every weekend day this summer—plus a few experts to help guide you through new adventures.

1. Kent Mountain Adventure Center’s Via Ferrata | Estes Park

Rock climbing can be as scary as it is thrilling—unless you’re tackling Kent Mountain Adventure Center’s (KMAC) two-year-old via ferrata in Estes Park. Italian for “iron path,” this style of mountaineering allows almost anyone to ascend sheer cliffs along metal ladders sunk into the stone while clipped onto safety wires. From $289 per person
Detour: Book one of KMAC’s cliff camping experiences and spend the night suspended hundreds of feet up a rock face on a portaledge while the guides serve you everything from steak dinners to wine to morning lattes. $1,600 for two people

2. Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival | Estes Park

Mountain style doesn’t just mean flannels in Estes Park. It also means tartans and kilts during the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival, the largest gathering of its kind in the West. Enjoy whiskey-tasting seminars, Celtic music, Highland dance, jousting, and hurling, a Gaelic stick-and-ball sport whose origins are older than recorded history. From $29 ages 18 and up, $13 ages 10–17, 10 and under free; Sept. 10–12
Detour: The Stanley Hotel may have The Shining, but the nearby Baldpate Inn claims the largest collection of keys in the world, some 30,000.

3. Green Box Art Festival | Green Mountain Falls

“Animal Soul” by Jason Hackenwerth at the 2020 Green Box Art Festival. Photo courtesy of Tom Kimmell Photography.

This year’s Green Box Art Festival will leave a permanent mark on tiny Green Mountain Falls with the unveiling of “Skyspace,” the event’s first permanent installation. The newest in a series of “observatories” by contemporary artist James Turrell, the sculpted chamber turns the sky into an ever-changing work of art for the viewers inside. June 21–July 12
Detour: Hang out with rescued wolves at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. From $20 ages 12 and up, $15 ages 3–11

4. Cache la Poudre River | Fort Collins

If you want a party, float Golden’s Clear Creek. If you want an adventure, try tubing the Cache la Poudre River west of Fort Collins. On the state’s only federally recognized Wild and Scenic River, expect white-water rapids, pool drops, eddies, and just the right amount of adrenaline. Set up a shuttle by parking one car at Picnic Rock before heading to the put-in at the Gateway Natural Area. Then you’ll have three miles of white water, sections of which can push Class III, to float. Be sure to hit the river when water levels are low (check river conditions online), usually mid-July through August.
Detour: The Cache la Poudre–North Park Scenic Byway runs for 101 miles from Fort Collins to Walden, the Moose Capital of Colorado.

5. Vibes and Snowsox Minor League Baseball Games | Colorado Springs

The future of professional baseball in Colorado Springs was in doubt this past winter as MLB and minor league baseball renegotiated their contract. Yet this year, improbably, the city will field two pro teams. The three-year-old Vibes, members of the eight-squad Pioneer League, are being joined by the Snowsox, an expansion club in the bottom-tier (as in, below Single A) Pecos League—and both are likely to put on as entertaining a show as, ahem, the Rockies. Vibes tickets from $5; Snowsox tickets from $7.50
Detour: Prepare for July’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a tour of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, which opened in Colorado Springs in July 2020. $25 ages 13 and up, $15 ages 3–12

6. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb | Colorado Springs

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is America’s second-oldest motorsport race, and nothing else quite compares. First, there’s the course, which climbs 4,720 feet in 12.4 miles to the top of Pikes Peak. Then there’s the speed: The current record, set in 2018 by a purpose-built, all-electric Volkswagen, is a wild seven minutes and 57 seconds. After nearly a week of practice sessions, the event culminates on race day, Sunday, June 27. From $65 in advance, $75 on race day, online sales only

How To See The Speed

Since you’re locked into whichever spot you pick for the duration (with one exception), Lisa Haight, event coordinator and Pikes Peak Hill Climb historian, lays out what to expect from each spectator viewing area to help you choose.

Illustration by Damien Weighill

A. The Start Line
This is the only viewing area spectators can leave during the race, from 7:30 a.m. to around 4:30 p.m., depending on stoppages and delays.

B. 9-Mile
Overnight tent campers are the only ones allowed along this sweeping right-hand turn below a hairpin switchback.

C. Halfway Picnic Grounds
This is the fastest section of the course—expect racers to rip by at over 100 mph.

D. Ski Area
You’ll have extra time to inspect the contenders as they rebuild their speed after slowing to navigate the hairpin known as Gilly’s Corner.

E. Glen Cove
Make time to visit the historic Glen Cove Inn, a large log cabin that houses a restaurant and souvenir shop.

F. Cove Creek
The last spectator area with shade, this spot is often populated by the overflow from Devils Playground.

G. Devils Playground
At the only above-treeline spot, expect expansive views of the racecourse, including multiple switchbacks and straightaways.

7. Seven Falls | Colorado Springs

It requires 224 stairs to reach the top of Colorado Springs’ Seven Falls, a cascade so beautiful that it’s been a private tourist attraction since the mid-1880s. The staircase also leads to two trails: a 0.4-mile hike to the smaller Midnight Falls and a 0.7-mile trek to Inspiration Point and a sweeping vista of the Great Plains. $17 ages 13 and up, $11 ages 2–12
Detour: The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is celebrating the city’s 150th birthday with an exhibit exploring the region’s rich history through 150 artifacts.

8. Golden Mill | Golden

Photo by Sarah Banks

Located on the banks of Clear Creek in a 156-year-old former flour mill, the two-level Golden Mill food hall opened in early April with five food vendors offering barbecue, ice cream, street-style tacos, sushi, and fried chicken and a 40-tap pour wall with everything from local beers to sake. But it’s the 3,000-square-foot rooftop deck with 360-degree views of Mt. Zion and North Table and South Table mountains that has us most excited for long summer evenings.
Detour: The 30-minute float from Lions Park to Parfet Park is a classic Clear Creek tubing route, and a great way to relax after stuffing yourself.

(Read More: A Food Hall Joins Golden’s Booming Restaurant Scene)

9. Dinosaur Ridge | Morrison

You can not only spot hundreds of Jurassic-era dinosaur footprints and bones at Morrison’s Dinosaur Ridge (the one-mile, closed-to-traffic road is ideal for strolling and biking), you can also touch them. The Tracksite and Bone Bed are popular stops to do just that, but don’t miss Crocodile Creek or the Raptor Track (both are home to suspected dinosaur courtship scratchings). Exploring on your own is free, or book a walking, bus, or self-guided audio tour.
Detour: The Morrison Natural History Museum houses dino skulls, the remains of the first Stegosaurus ever found, and a dig pit where kids can hunt for small fossils. $10 ages 12 and up, $8 ages 3–11

10. South Platte River | Deckers

Photo by Russ Schnitzer

The stretch of the South Platte River that runs through Deckers is an amusement park for Front Range anglers. Like any good playground, though, it’ll often be crowded. Don’t let that put you off: Its nutrient-rich water can hold as many as 9,000 fish per mile, so you’re almost certain to find some action. The river’s limited width and depth also make it perfect for wading, meaning you don’t have to splurge on a boat trip to land your next fish story.
Detour: Head upriver to the 116-year-old Cheesman Dam. In high snowpack years, its spillway creates a waterfall that tumbles 220 feet down a wall of natural boulders.

11. Peak to Peak Scenic Byway | Black Hawk to Estes Park

Colorado’s Peak to Peak Scenic Byway packs all the hallmarks of a classic multiday road trip into the 55 miles from Black Hawk to Estes Park. Funky roadside attractions? Hessie, Caribou, and Apex are ghost towns worth a stop. Adventure? Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Brainard Lake, and the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests are all along the route. Regional delicacies? Grab a plate of Rocky Mountain oysters at Estes Park’s Wapiti Colorado Pub.
Detour: For a little more mileage, link up with Rocky Mountain National Park’s 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, one of 10 Colorado routes federally recognized as an American Byway.

12. Mishawaka Amphitheatre | Bellvue

For more than a century, the intimate Mishawaka Amphitheatre in the Cache la Poudre River Canyon has survived bad owners, wildfires, floods, and testy tour managers. Now the venue can add a pandemic to that list—though it didn’t make it through COVID-19 without some changes. This summer, instead of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, expect “party pens” where your crew can reserve a table or dance socially distanced to the likes of 10th Mountain Division (June 18), the Steeldrivers (Aug. 20), and the Jayhawks (Aug. 21).
Detour: The Mish partners with the guides at Liarflies to host on-site fly-fishing classes, so you can (hopefully) catch a fish before you catch a show. $155

13. Central City Opera House | Central City

This July and August, the Central City Opera House’s production of Dido and Aeneas heads outside to the opera’s garden, and Carousel and Rigoletto will take the stage at Littleton’s Hudson Gardens amphitheater. From $25

How To Understand Opera

Central City Opera House has a whole glossary of terms to help you sound cultured during preshow drinks. Here are a few to get you started.

Aria \ ˈär-​ē-​ˌā
(Plural: arias)
An extended musical passage sung by one person to convey a character’s emotional state. The rest of the action usually pauses to let singers have their moments.

Leitmotif \ ˈlīt-mō-ˌtēf
(Plural: leitmotifs | Variant: leitmotiv)
A musical phrase associated with specific characters or events. Often signals the entrance of a character (think: Darth Vader) or foreshadowing.

Libretto \ lə-ˈbre-( )tō
(Plural: librettos or libretti)
Italian for “little book,” this is the opera’s lyrics. Librettos are usually shorter than play scripts since it takes longer to sing lines than to speak them.

Overture \ ˈō-vər-ˌchu̇r
(Plural: overtures)
The piece of music that starts the performance to set the mood. Usually contains some of the musical themes that follow.

Recitative \ re-sə-tə-ˈtēv
(Plural: recitatives)
This sung dialogue has faster rhythms similar to regular speech. Used to propel the story forward.

14. Chatfield State Park | Littleton

Denver may be 750 miles from the nearest salt water (the Gulf of California, if you’re wondering), but you only have to make the half-hour drive to Chatfield State Park to set sail. Book one of Victoria Sailing School’s sunset cruises, available most Fridays and Saturdays in summer, and for three and a half hours, you and up to five friends can do as much or as little of the sailing as you like around the 1,479-acre reservoir. $250 per group
Detour: Up for a little summer school? Victoria’s 15-hour Basic Keelboat Sailing class turns landlubbers into mariners capable of crewing most any sailing vessel. $422 per person

15. Cave of the Winds Mountain Park | Manitou Springs

Photo courtesy of Cave of the Winds

While some head to the mountains to escape the scorching summer sun, you can also travel in the opposite direction: underground. The caverns at Manitou Springs’ Cave of the Winds Mountain Park are always a refreshing 54 degrees, and guided tours range from a family-friendly walk through well-lit chambers to spooky explorations by candlelight. (The advanced Caving 101 tour is suspended due to the pandemic.) Once you’re properly chilled, the above-ground attractions include an obstacle course, zipline, via ferrata, and the Terror Dactyl, a monster rope swing that features a 150-foot free fall over Williams Canyon. Tours from $17, other attractions from $25
Detour: Manitou Springs’ Rainbow Falls is a 45-foot cascade surrounded by a kaleidoscope of graffiti. (Note: Access varies seasonally; check online before you go.)

16. Mile High Gliding | Boulder

Boulder’s Flatirons are even more stunning from the seat of one of Mile High Gliding’s sailplanes. After a quick tow from a prop plane, your pilot will use rising thermals to keep the unpowered glider aloft as you take in expansive mountain views from the back seat. Trips run from 15 minutes to a full hour, and there’s even a sailplane flight school should you grow tired of riding shotgun. From $120
Detour: Prefer a plein air experience? Red Tail Paragliding offers 10-minute tandem flights over the Boulder foothills. From $200

17. SunWater Spa | Manitou Springs

If a two-hour mineral-water soak in one of SunWater Spa’s outdoor cedar tubs in Manitou Springs isn’t enough to loosen you up, book one of its new-for-2021 ashiatsu massages. The technique, which originated in Japan, has practitioners use bare feet and body weight to apply broader, deeper pressure than the conventional fingers, hands, and elbows. Either choice is a great option after a day of rock climbing at nearby Garden of the Gods, exploring the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, or hiking the 12-plus-mile Barr Trail to the top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak.
Detour: After three years of construction, the cog railway up Pikes Peak reopened to the public in May. Trains run until October 31, and the depot is only a mile from the spa.

(Read More: The Pikes Peak Cog Railway Is Back on Track)

18. Gold Hill Inn | Boulder

Don’t mistake the Gold Hill Inn’s quaint prices (and even quainter decor) as indicative of its food. For $42, this beloved, rustic restaurant in the hills above Boulder serves a six-course meal of seasonal fare such as broiled smoked rainbow trout, beef tournedos, and leg of lamb with rosemary sauce. Reservations are recommended for weekends. Not a planner or forgot to call ahead? The inn now serves treats à la carte at its new outdoor beer garden, which was added last year as part of the 58-year-old eatery’s COVID-19 social distancing precautions.
Detour: Work up an appetite with a 4.4-mile out-and-back up Lion’s Lair Trail, a less-trafficked route to the summit of 6,843-foot Mt. Sanitas.

19. Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting | Idaho Springs

Whitewater rafting in Clear Creek. Photo courtesy of Rapid Image Photography

It’s tempting to dismiss a rafting trip down Clear Creek: It’s only a half-hour from Denver, after all. Then again, it’s also the steepest commercially rafted stretch of water in the state. Grab a spot on Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting’s eight-mile-long intermediate trip, for example, and you’ll barely have time to catch your breath as you navigate the five class IV rapids that punctuate nearly continuous class II to III white water. $77 per person, ages 14 and up only
Detour: As part of its COVID-19 precautions, the historic Georgetown Loop Railway will only offer open-air cars this summer­— which sounds better to us anyway. $28 ages 16 and up, $22 ages 3–15

20. Knotted Root Brewing Co. | Nederland

Though it’s easy to swing by Nederland’s Knotted Root Brewing Co. on your way to other excursions, the two-year-old brewhouse is an adventure in its own right, thanks to concoctions such as Goo—an unfiltered, smoothie-style Berliner Weisse made with milk sugar and various fruits. That’s not even the strangest thing Knotted Root makes. Each August, its brewers release the Taylor Ham, Egg and Cheese, Salt Pepper Ketchup, a beer meant to evoke the pork roll, New Jersey’s iconic breakfast dish.
Detour: Bring your mountain bike. Nederland’s mazelike West Magnolia trail system features routes for every skill level.

21. Elevated Astronomy Tours | Boulder

Colorado’s famously sunny days also make for cloudless nights perfect for stargazing. Learn all about the constellations, planets, and other celestial bodies—and the folklore that surrounds them—during one of AstroTours.org’s two-hour outings at Boulder Valley Ranch. With the annual Perseids meteor shower peaking around August 12 and both Saturn and Jupiter reaching their closest approaches to Earth this summer, there’ll be plenty of extraterrestrial action. $40 per person
Detour: Arrive early for a trek around the three-mile Boulder Valley Ranch Loop. You’ll navigate rolling ravines, spy red-tailed hawks and northern harriers, and pass by a private working ranch.

22. Monarch Casino Resort Spa | Black Hawk

After the passage of Amendment 77 last year, Black Hawk became the first city in the state to drop betting limits and introduce new floor games like baccarat. For the full Vegas experience, head to Monarch Casino Resort Spa. After nearly a decade of work, Monarch opened an expansion in November 2020 that includes rooftop pools, the city’s only 24-hour restaurant, an expanded gaming floor, and a buffet worthy of the Strip.
Detour: It’s just a 16-minute drive from Black Hawk to the 35 miles of trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, including a 1.25-mile hoof to Panorama Point.

23. Hard Money Mountain Bike Trail | Black Hawk

The Sluice at Floyd Hill. Photo by Jonathan Crays/Courtesy of Colorado Mountain Bike Association

For the past two years, Floyd Hill Open Space’s the Sluice, a 1.3-mile route in Clear Creek County, was the only purpose-built downhill mountain bike trail along the entire Front Range. Now Black Hawk has changed that with the opening of Hard Money this past May. The 1.6-mile, machine-made, intermediate/expert trail is part of the city’s plan to turn Maryland Mountain Park into a cycling hub: Three more bike-only trails are in the works.
Detour: Visit Evergreen Brewing Co. for a post-ride pint and you just might be able to pick up tips from Gary Moore, executive director of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association; he’s a regular.

24. River Run Park | Sheridan

June is prime river surfing season in Colorado, and Sheridan’s River Run Park on the South Platte is home to Benihana’s and Wave 6, two of the Centennial State’s best breaks due to their Waveshaper systems. Both are best surfed with shorter, high-volume boards (before you buy, drop by the park; local surfers are known to loan out their gear to interested newbies), but downstream, beginner-friendly Chiclets can be ridden with a standard paddleboard. Be sure to pack a helmet, a personal flotation device, and a wetsuit if you don’t want to freeze.

How To Stand Up On A River Surfboard

Alex Mauer, river sports athlete and the Denver director of the Colorado River Surfing Association, recommends starting with the glide-in method.

A: Facing upriver in the shallower water to the side of the wave, hold your board with both hands by the rails, jump onto the board on your belly, and let your momentum and the current take you into the pocket of the wave.

Illustration by Damien Weighill

B: Lying on the board on the wave, get a feel for your body position: too far forward and the water will suck the board’s nose underwater; too far back and you’ll be flushed off the wave. Finding the sweet spot will lock you onto the break.

C: Don’t snap upright like you would ocean surfing. Instead, place your hands on the board just below your armpits and push yourself upright until you’re kneeling.

D: Once you feel balanced, stand up slowly, keeping your center of mass low and balanced over the centerline. Congratulations. You’re surfing. When you fall, back or belly flop to avoid hitting underwater obstacles.

25. Ghost Town Disc Golf | Russell Gulch

Water hazards, wind, and dense trees are familiar obstacles to every disc golfer. Phantoms, specters, and spirits, though? Not unless you’re playing a round at reservation-only Ghost Town Disc Golf, which winds through Russell Gulch, one of the oldest abandoned mining towns in Colorado. Signature holes at this course south of Central City include Jimmie Shoelu’s Hay Barn, where you’ll take a one-stroke penalty if you hit the namesake 136-year-old building. $10 per person; 303-582-3083
Detour: Keep an eye out for the course’s annual Ghost Town Classic tournament. Date TBD

26. Campfire by chef Jared Leonard | Evergreen

Photo by Sarah Banks

Evergreen is a gateway to Mt. Evans and the Arapaho National Forest, so it’s fitting that the town’s newest eatery draws its inspiration—and its name—from the outdoors. Whether it’s with the two rotisserie cookers, the Santa Maria–style grill, or the wood-fired pizza oven, pretty much everything on the menu at chef Jared Leonard’s Campfire is cooked by open flames. And like any fire, the restaurant is a great gathering space for post-adventure libations, thanks to its extensive cocktail menu, 60-person patio, and outdoor lounge on the banks of Bear Creek.
Detour: Rent a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe at the Evergreen Lake House for a predinner float.

27. The Cow An Eatery | Morrison

Although most of the breakfast dishes at Morrison’s the Cow An Eatery are standouts, the real draw of this revamped 1940s-era diner is the chance to indulge in a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone on the creekside patio before heading to Red Rocks Amphitheater, which hosts Brandi Carlile, Wilco, Andrew Bird, Jimmy Buffett, and others in front of limited-capacity, 2,500-person crowds this summer (at least to start).
Detour: With just 600 feet of elevation to gain, summiting Mount Falcon Park’s eponymous 7,841-foot peak from the west is easiest, though the 2,000-foot eastern approach might help you burn off that dipped cone.

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