Top 5 Road Trips From Denver

It’s no secret that Colorado is an incredibly beautiful place. Why not hop in a car and experience as much of its stunning scenery as possible on a scenic road trip from Denver? Whether you are flying in from out of state or just need some extra inspiration to leave the Mile-High City, we can help. With some road trip snacks, a good map, and good tunes, you’ll be all set to explore. If you need some local tips on planning your scenic drive from the front range, check out our full list of the five best road trips from Denver!

  1. Glenwood Springs
  2. Buena Vista
  3. Estes Park
  4. Leadville
  5. Summit County
Glenwood Canyon & Colorado River. Photo courtesy of Defiance Rafting Company.
Glenwood Canyon & Colorado River. Photo courtesy of Defiance Rafting Company.

1. Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs has become a favorite weekend destination for the front-range crowd.  This charming mountain community is surrounded by the rugged White River National Forest and sits at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers.  The most popular route for this road trip from Denver is to simply head 157 miles West on Interstate 70. Before reaching our hometown, you’ll travel through the breathtaking Glenwood Canyon and we highly recommend stopping at the Grizzly Creek rest area for a leg stretch and walking down to the Colorado River. A bike path runs parallel to the Colorado River and it’s a great picnic spot for hanging out next to the river or exploring the Grizzly Creek hiking trail. Hanging Lake is also a sought-after hiking destination located in the Canyon, but make sure to make reservations before stopping to see this Colorado treasure. And before leaving the Canyon, be sure to stop in No Name (exit 119) and see us at Defiance Rafting Company for a guided Glenwood Canyon whitewater rafting trip. For river enthusiasts who want to create their own adventure, rent an inflatable kayak, Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), or raft at Defiance River Outfitters. We are located in Glenwood Canyon Resort where you can raft, zipline, and dine at the No Name Bar & Grill, all before reaching Glenwood Springs. If you are looking for camping, glamping, or an RV/cabin experience there’s no need to travel further because Glenwood Canyon Resort has many lodging options to choose from. While the Glenwood Canyon is magical, we recommend heading into town (only 1.5 miles away) either via the bike path running along the property or car and checking out either Iron Mountain Hot Springs or Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. Round out the weekend road trip by dining at the Colorado Ranch House located in the historic downtown area. Hands down, Glenwood Springs is one of the best scenic road trips from Denver and offers activities for everyone.

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2. Buena Vista

Buena Vista is an excellent weekend road trip from Denver and offers outdoor recreational activities both on and off the river. This charming mountain community is roughly 123 miles from Denver on HWY 285. Along the way, take a quick stop at the Continental Divide Winery in Fairplay, known as the world’s highest altitude winery, for a stretch and wine tasting. As you continue your scenic drive on 285, you’ll be awestruck by an area of Colorado that has more 14,000 peak mountains than anywhere else in the state. This makes these “Fourteeners” a major tourist attraction and highly recommended if you’re feeling up to the altitude challenge. While in the area, check out our friends at Wilderness Aware for rafting on the Arkansas River. From the river, check out Eddyline Restaurant. Eddyline is a bustling microbrewery that also specializes in wood-fired dishes and pizzas. As a natural hot springs enthusiast, my favorite places to stay always include soaking. Check out Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn and Spa for onsite camping and soaking in their natural hot springs pools. Or another option is staying at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort in one of their lodge rooms or cabins. What is particularly awesome about these hot springs is the option to swim in either the natural hot springs pool or soak directly in the Chalk Creek River. Before leaving the area, grab a cup of joe from Brown Dog Coffee Co.. Buena Vista is one of our favorite weekend road trips from Denver.

Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hanks.
Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hanks.

3. Estes Park

Estes Park provides awe-inspiring panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. This destination is located just 70 miles from Denver, making it one of the best road trips from Denver for quick getaways, romantic weekend escapes, mountain weddings, and family reunions. For a route less traveled, the local tip is to take the scenic drive from Denver through Lyons. Route 36 follows the Saint Vrain River and passes right by the Colorado Cherry Company. This is a must-stop for pie and cherry cider. Get your camera ready because, along the way, you’ll drive through Allenspark where you’ll have an opportunity for catching a glimpse of a moose. This route takes you to the Wild Basin entrance of Rocky National Park and avoids the more heavily trafficked areas. Once in the park, there are a number of ways to experience nature from hiking, climbing, fishing, snowshoeing, or wildlife photography. In late August, the aspen leaves start turning yellow in the park’s highest elevations and are definitely worth a scenic drive from Denver for fall leaf-peeping. Perhaps the most popular reason to visit the park is to witness the fall rut of the bull elk. Witness this dramatic ritual and listen to the elk bugling in Holzwarth Meadow or Harbison Meadow in Kawuneeche Valley from mid-September to mid-October. Trout Haven Resort is lodging that will meet all your getaway needs no matter what the occasion. For dining that has local charm, be sure to stop at the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern for microbrews, hearty American cuisine, and live music. No matter the season, Estes Park is one of the top scenic drives near Denver.

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4. Leadville

Leadville is an excellent choice of road trips from Denver for history buffs, architects, and outdoor enthusiasts. There is so much to see and learn only 101 miles from Denver. Once you visit Leadville, it will be hard to believe that in the late 19th century this mining town was the second most populous city in Colorado, after Denver. Sitting at an astonishing 10,152 feet in elevation, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the United States. Once a booming mining town, Leadville has a rich history steeped in the wild west which is still felt today. Strolling down the main street is a bit like stepping back into history as downtown Leadville has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District of Victorian Architecture. Gold and silver were once mined “in them hills” that surround the town and you can explore the 20-square mile radius of the East Side Mining District. No matter the season, you can travel the trail by Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking, hiking, or by vehicle. If you’re searching for more scenic splendor on your road trip, consider visiting and staying in the Twin Lakes area. These two remote glacier lakes hold reflections of some of the nation’s largest peaks and you can rent a kayak or canoe from Twin Lakes Canoe and Kayak Adventures. Black Wolf Lodging is a peaceful and relaxing place to stay after your day of play on the lake. Another way to catch views is the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad which takes you on a 2 ½ hour ride through the untamed San Isabel National Forest. A local tip before leaving Leadville is to stop at Melanzana for handmade outdoor attire. And before heading back to Denver, grab some coffee from City on a Hill Coffee.

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5. Summit County

Summit County is just a hop, skip, and jump away from the metropolitan city of Denver (a measly 74 miles) making this scenic drive near Denver accessible for either a weekend getaway or day trip. Take I-70 out of Denver for a quick road trip away from the hustle and bustle of the city and relax into the slower pace of the mountain lifestyle. On your route, you’ll pass Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, where we highly recommend checking out the line-up and taking in a show if possible. Summit County gets its name from the many mountain summits in the county; accordingly, there are several mountain towns found in the area. This gives a little something for everyone and lots of room to explore and play. If you’re looking for a little shopping excursion, then the outlet mall in Silverthorn is a good place to start or end your day. The shops are easily accessible, right off the I-70 corridor. For those looking for outdoor adventures, the area has loads of opportunities that expand beyond downhill skiing. For a truly unique outdoor adventure, consider Good Times Adventures located outside of Breckenridge for a dog-sledding tour. The Siberian huskies are super friendly and guests have the opportunity to actually pilot (aka, mush) the sled. Before leaving the Breck area, stopover at Breckenridge Distillery for a tasting of bourbons, vodkas, and gin. You can also enjoy handcrafted cocktails and order lunch or dinner for tasty modern American cuisine. For more family-friendly recreation, the town of Frisco has the Frisco Adventure Park for year-round activities. In the summer the area has disc golf and biking and in the winter there is tubing and nordic skiing. For lodging that is close to everything in Summit County and walking distance to shops and restaurants, stay at the Frisco Inn on Galena for a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel and Bed & breakfast experience. There is so much to see and do in this area of Colorado that you’ll have to come back to check out each season.

Need help planning your road trip from Denver?

Let us help! We are happy to chat with you about our mountainous home in Colorado and have also written a post about the best things to do in Glenwood Springs (every season included!).

If you still have any questions at all about Glenwood Springs whitewater rafting, don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us!

Glenwood Canyon Half-Day

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$67
$57 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
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Scenic Canyon Float

Difficulty
Class I–II
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$57
$47 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
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Shoshone Short

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
1 Hour
Price
$57
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