Denver is Colorado’s biggest city and home to a major international airport. As such, it’s a popular jumping-off point for quick getaways and longer trips into the Rocky Mountains and beyond.

In less than two hours, you could be lacing up your hiking boots at a trailhead, sitting down to a multi-course meal, drawing inspiration from world-class sculptures or finding a moment of zen on your yoga mat. The hardest part about day-tripping from Denver is deciding which direction to go — so many options to choose from, and usually not enough time.

During a trip to Colorado, Denver is really just the starting point. To get a sense of all this state has to offer, consider adding one of these day trips to your itinerary.

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A couple lean on the edge of a hot tub gazing out into woodland
Beautiful Breckenridge is a hub of wellness treatments and relaxation © Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / Getty Images

1. Focus on wellness in Breckenridge

Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes by car

Perched high in the Rockies at 9600ft above sea level, Breckenridge will feed your mind, body and spirit. In this historic mining town, you can take a mindful hike guided by a naturalist, do yoga on a standup paddleboard or in a grassy park, and dine on nutritious meals at eateries like Semplice Cafe, which serves up an array of refreshing vegan and vegetarian options. Depending on the timing of your visit, you may also be able to attend a soul-nourishing retreat at Clairvergence Wellness Center or tap into your creative side during an art class at Breck Create. Even if you just sit and breathe for a few quiet moments while staring up at the stunning mountain scenery, you’ll leave Breckenridge feeling rejuvenated and restored.

You can get a quick taste of Breck’s many wellness experiences in a day, but if you find yourself with extra time, there’s plenty to do and see here during a longer stay.

How to get to Breckenridge from Denver: Drive west on I-70 for 70 miles. At Frisco, exit the interstate and head south on CO-9 for about 10 miles. If you’re flying into Denver, the Peak 1 Express airport shuttle can transport you to Breck. 

2. Indulge in fine dining at Beaver Creek

Travel time: 2 hours by car

Treat yourself to a delicious day trip to Beaver Creek, a mountain resort that’s home to several unique fine-dining restaurants. Beano’s, situated roughly 9000ft above sea level, is housed in a stunning log cabin with a cozy fireplace and rustic decor. In the winter, the only way to reach this cabin is via a sleigh pulled by a snowcat; in the summer, you can take a horseback ride or a shuttle. Once you arrive, you’ll tuck into an upscale, multi-course meal while gazing out at sparkling ski slopes or fields of colorful wildflowers, depending on the season. (And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, as diners regularly spot bears and moose out the window.)

Other tasty options include Citrea, which serves up Mediterranean-inspired fare, and WYLD, which specializes in elegant, New American dishes. Little ones love the Candy Cabin, a colorful on-mountain paradise with nearly every sweet imaginable. And you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re at the resort’s main base area at 3pm, aka “Cookie Time,” when chefs bring around warm platters brimming with freshly made (and complimentary) chocolate chip cookies for everyone to enjoy.

How to get to Beaver Creek from Denver: Drive west on I-70 for roughly 100 miles, then exit the interstate at Avon. The main Beaver Creek base area is roughly 2.5 miles south on Village Road. The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang Pegasus shuttle can also drop you off in nearby Avon.

A red heart sculpture next to a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty
Follow sculpture trails around the town of Loveland © Victoria Ditkovsky / Shutterstock

3. Immerse yourself in art in Loveland

Travel time: 1 hour by car

Loveland has a few claims to fame — it’s a hot spot for postmarking letters around Valentine’s Day, for example — but art is this community’s biggest year-round draw. It’s home to two world-class sculpture gardens: Benson Sculpture Garden and Chapungu Sculpture Park

Located in the middle of town, Benson has more than 170 sculptures situated on the banks of several small ponds. They’re connected by walking trails, and slowly weaving your way through them all is a serene, relaxing endeavor. Chapungu, meanwhile, is located east of Loveland’s main core and spotlights 82 stone sculptures created by Zimbabwean artists. Also, check out indoor venues like Artworks Center for Contemporary Art, Independence Gallery and the Loveland Museum.

How to get to Loveland from Denver: Head north on I-25 for roughly 40 miles, then head west on US 34. (To reach some parts of Loveland, including Chapungu, you’ll need to head east of I-25.) You can also take the Bustang North Line.

4. Feast on green chile in Pueblo

Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes by car

Coloradans put green chile on everything, from scrambled eggs to burritos and enchiladas. But one of the absolute best ways to chow down on this beloved spicy stew is by eating a “slopper,” or a burger that’s smothered in the stuff. Pueblo is slopper central, with restaurants like Gray's Coors Tavern and Sunset Inn Bar & Grill serving them up in droves. If you’re visiting in September, you can also attend the annual Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival, which has been going strong for nearly 30 years.

How to get to Pueblo from Denver: Drive south on Interstate 25 for 115 miles, passing through towns like Castle Rock and Colorado Springs on the way. Though Greyhound operates a bus between the two cities, public transit options are limited.

5. Savor craft beers in Fort Collins

Travel time: 1 hour by car

Colorado is home to some of the earliest craft beer pioneers — and there’s no better place to sip hoppy IPAs and malty brown ales than in Fort Collins. Located north of Denver, not far from the Wyoming border, this funky college town is home to more than 20 craft breweries — and counting, since new ones are opening up all the time. 

Some of the well-known forefathers of the entire US craft beer industry are located right in town, such as New Belgium Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company. But you’ll also find plenty of smaller, newer spots where brewers are getting extra creative, like Funkwerks, Horse & Dragon, and Peculiar Ales. You could easily spend a few days to a week in Fort Collins, but it’s also a great place to spend a sunny afternoon.

How to get to Fort Collins from Denver: Drive north on I-25 for 60 miles, then take one of several exits to head west into Fort Collins. A handful of public transit buses run between the two cities, including the Bustang North Line and FLEX.

A dusting of snow covers several red rock pointed rocky peaks that rise above a hilly landscape
See the otherworldly rock formations at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images

6. Marvel at rock formations at Garden of the Gods

Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes by car

Though Colorado is famous for the craggy, snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the Centennial State is also home to some other road trip-worthy geologic formations, like Garden of the Gods. Situated northwest of Colorado Springs, near the small town of Manitou Springs, this public park protects towering red sandstone formations that formed roughly 65 million years ago. 

Just marveling at the otherworldly shapes and figures is more than enough, but you can also rent bikes, take a guided segway tour, take a hike, and go rock climbing, among other activities. Garden of the Gods is a perfect day-trip destination, but to experience the broader Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs area, you may need more time.

How to get to Garden of the Gods from Denver: Head south on I-25 for 64 miles. Get off at exit 146, then head west on Garden of the Gods Road. Turn south once you reach N 30th Street, and you’ll arrive at the visitor center. If you don’t have a car, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang South Line can get you most of the way there — but you’ll need to take a few more buses or call a ride once you reach Colorado Springs.

7. Watch wildlife in Estes Park

Travel time: 1 hour and 30 minutes by car

Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, which protects 415 square miles of wilderness in northern Colorado. Because of its close proximity to the park and other public lands, like the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests, Estes Park is a prime wildlife viewing destination. Animals loom so large in this mountain town that it even hosts an annual elk festival every fall, when males are searching for mates and making loud noises to prove their dominance, a behavior known as “bugling.”

Year-round, you may catch a glimpse of elk, mule deer, marmots, beavers, bears, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, bobcats and more. Dozens of species of birds call Estes Park home, too, including birds of prey like Cooper’s hawks and peregrine falcons. If you do decide to make a day trip, set your alarm clock early or plan to stay until after sunset: wildlife tend to be most active around dawn and dusk.

How to get to Estes Park from Denver: Head northwest on US 36 for roughly 60 miles, passing through Boulder on the way. Or ride the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Bustang.

This article was first published Feb 24, 2021 and updated Aug 12, 2023.

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