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Pairing an open-road journey with walk-up food stands and restaurant patios is understandably trending hard in our current climate. So, this fall, stay socially distanced and explore at your own pace with some mountain motoring paired with mobile eats. This 309-mile day trip heads up from Denver, dips through Summit County, and circles the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, delivering loads of tasty fare and autumn gold before heading back down the hill.
Eat: Get an alpine start and beat the leaf-peeping rush to Breckenridge—not only for prime trailhead parking, but so you can stake your claim in line at Yo Mommas! Tacos y Burritos. The canary yellow walk-up food stand churns out chubby fresh-rolled burritos and remarkable homemade salsas. Order the cochinitas pibil burrito ($9) bursting at its homemade tortilla seams with fluffy scrambled eggs, queso, seasoned peppers, caramelized onions, cheddar, puffy fried potatoes, and delectable citrus-marinated pork slow roasted in banana leaves.
Hike: Continue your journey and switchback up Hoosier Pass. Swing into the pull-off at the summit, snap the obligatory top-of-the-world pic next to the Continental Divide sign, and then trek the 2.8-mile Hoosier Pass Loop for sweeping views of Summit and Park counties.
Eat: In Fairplay, stop for a snack on the patio at Salado. The tempura-fried cactus fries ($9) with sweet onion-prickly pear sauce and cilantro aïoli and elk jalapeño sausage topped with caramelized onions, chile sauce, and beer mustard ($13) are locals’ top picks.
Hike: Drop into Chaffee County and enjoy the varied landscapes of billowy rock outcroppings and sprawling meadows with lush forested edges. Turn west toward whitewater and singletrack mecca Buena Vista and stretch your legs along the riverside Whipple Trail System through town.
Eat: Capture eyefuls of the valley’s fourteeners, then snag a shaded seat on the Olive food truck patio to refuel on hummus, falafel, and tzatziki over fresh tabbouli, veggies, and feta. The popular Mediterranean outpost serves up a host of vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free options along with heaping meaty gyros.
Eat: Point your tires north to the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway and mosey into historic Leadville where Old West saloons, mountain outfitters, and funky clothing shops line Harrison Avenue. If your stomach allows, walk up to the window at Buchi Café Cubano and ask for a pressed Cuban Aye Conyo sandwich ($13). Or opt for a slice of velvety key lime pie ($6)—the perfect shareable circle of creamy tropical heaven—and a stout Cuban coffee ($6).
Hike: Before you approach the tiny town of Minturn, break for a gorgeous aspen hike and tackle a segment of the difficult-rated Cross Creek Trail south of town. Just two miles in, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Mount of the Holy Cross.
Eat: Minturn doesn’t have any food trucks right now, but Backcountry Wings is worth a stop for a to-go order ($7.99) to nibble on the ride home (extra napkins, please). After all, it’d be borderline criminal to pass through without tasting Backcountry’s raspberry habanero or bourbon-honey mustard chicken wings ($7.99 for six).
Return to Denver via I-70 East, possibly stopping for some antacids along the way.