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Denver bears the nickname, Mile High City. It’s an apt designation. Denver is officially one mile above sea level when measured at the steps of the Capital Building.
This might seem insignificant until you have your first cup of coffee. It will be cooler because of the elevation. Have a drink instead-it will have a little more punch than usual!
Many folks, when they think of Denver, visualize mountains. The truth is that while you can see hundreds of peaks from Denver, it’s only near the mountains, not in them. As a result, there are plenty of areas to explore.
It ranks 10th in America as one of the most walkable downtown cities. Within one mile in any direction you can see colleges, museums, a mint, an aquarium, and a water park just to name a few.
Besides never running out of things to do, people move to Denver for a lot of reasons. For one, you can depend on about 300 days of sunshine. Golf courses never close! The region has strong ties to the Gold Rush, and the park system is spectacular with 200,000 flowers planted every year.
Two other factors set Denver apart. The city is a shining example for sustainability. Even the airport is dedicated to sustainable practices with green buildings. This pairs beautifully with the fresh, local ingredients used by many restaurants, representing a farm-to-table outlook.
Of course the locals have “been there, done that” with many of the cities features. If you are looking for some road trip adventure from Denver, read on!
10-Day Road Trip From Denver
Stop One: Boulder
Boulder is a culturally-rich city just an easy 30 minutes from northwest Denver. There is truly something here for every traveler in your group.
Just be aware that if anyone in your car hasn’t had time to acclimate to low elevations, it may take them time to adjust.
So what can you see and do? Well Boulder is home to over 300 miles of hiking and biking trails. On the easy-going end of things visit the Celestial Seasonings tea factory. They offer tours and (of course) a tea room for your sipping enjoyment.
Swing by the University of Colorado. Here you can see the Varsity Bridge. It’s a great photo opportunity, with the bridge looking like it’s set in the middle of a painting. The Chatauqua Auditorim offers concerts, lectures, singers, and artist venues throughout the year.
If you’re seeking a great meal, Boulder has been named the “foodiest town” by Bon Appetit magazine. And there’s more. The Naropa Institute is one of the few accredited Buddhis-inspired higher learning centers in North America ww.naropa.edu.
The 29th Street Mall provides you with all the shopping you could ever want. And, for a little culture go to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.Best unusual attraction? Tasting 5,000 year old bear. The Avery Brewing Company has a beer archaeologist who researches ancient beer consumption and recipes. There’s a Egyptian Ale and Peruvian Brew too.
Distance to Denver: 30 miles; Possible 1-2 Day Road Trip
Located 40 miles from Boulder, Loveland is a little calmer and it’s received awards as being a great place to live. A bevy of artists live in the area, which is one reason why the Loveland Museum and gallery is so spectacular.
Founded in 1937, the Museum offers history and art exhibitions, classes for young and old alike, lectures, poetry readings, and family events.
Note: Bring your Valentine’s cards to Loveland. For decades Loveland has been hand-stamping them with a special postal cancellation. Each year a new stamp is created with a suitable romantic verse.
Local residents submit their art and poetry for judging. Countries around the world take part to the tune of over 160,000 cards annually. The tradition began in 1947 and some people keep a collection of their Loveland Valentines.
Because Loveland lies along US 34, it sees a lot of thru-traffic to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain State park, which by no coincidence marks day three and four of your 10 day road trip from Denver.
Distance from Denver 45 miles; Possible 1-Day Road Trip
Stop 3: Estes Park
Estes Park isn’t really a park at all. It’s a town that’s just a 45 minute drive from Loveland located right near the Rocky Mountain National Park. The town has places to stay and eat, including riverside resorts, countryside views, and hot tubs!
And there’s a lot you can do here before going to the RMNP proper. You can also explore the world’s largest key collection! If you don’t want to head out on your own, you can take a tour. Options range from horseback riding and white water rafting to fishing!
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Estes Park Aerial Tramway for some of the most breathtaking views you will have in your life. Ticket’s aren’t expensive, but plan to wait in line. You’ll go up some 9,000 feet on this adventure. Bring a camera!
Distance from Denver 65 miles (1.5 hours); Possible 1-2 Day Road Trip
Stop 4: Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)
Colorado hosts for National Parks, of which RNMP is one. Make sure you drive along Trail Ridge Road. It goes up to 12,000 feet with many overlooks where you can stop for photographs. The park has 300 miles of hiking trails where it’s easy to catch a glimpse of wildlife and beautiful wildflowers.
If you’ve brought your Truck bed camper, you can set up camp in two areas. There are wilderness offices near Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Center. You can also visit the Holzwarth Historic Site where you can connect with turn-of-the century homesteading and dude ranches.
For hiking consider the Bear Lake trail. It’s only 1 mile long, an easy walk, and the views are amazing. In fall, the foliage burst into color. In other seasons you’ll enjoy pines and huge boulders. Emerald Lake Trail is similarly beautiful but a longer walk ranging over 3 miles.
Distance from Denver 65 miles (1.5 hours); Possible 1-2 Day Road Trip
By far the major attraction at Gunnison National Park is the Black Canyon. It took Mother Nature two million years to sculpt these steep cliffs and craggy spires. It will take you over a half hour from the visitor’s center to reach the overlooks. Be prepared for blazing sun (bring plenty of water and a hat).
Gunnison offers more than just the canyon, though. You can fish in Gunnison River’s Gold Medal Waters (large trout). You do need a license so plan ahead. Nearby you can camp at the East Portal campground. If you have one, bring your telescope-the viewing is prime.
Just upstream, you can visit a restored locomotive, boxcar, and caboose at Cimarron. The exhibit shows the railroads importance to Denver and the Rio Grande region. There’s a trestle bridge here dating back to 1895, originally 288 feet long with telegraph lines on the south side.
Distance from Denver: 200 miles (3.75 hours); Possible 3-Day Road Trip
This is a little out of the way, some 2.5 hours from Gunnison, but if you’re on a leisurely road trip from Denver, it’s worth the time. You can stop along the way at Montrose. Take in a round of golf, or visit the PAX the Public Art Center, which is involved in displaying art around Montrose in public areas.
The Montrose Public Art eXperience (PAX) aims to create a more pleasing visual environment, expand opportunities to experience quality works of art, and facilitate the development, acquisition, and display of art in the community’s public spaces.
If you are entering the park from the nearby city of Fruita, make Balanced Rock your first stop. You can see it easily from Rim Rock Drive. The Rock stands upward on a much smaller piece of stone (thus the name). Sunrise is a glorious time for viewing.
Moving on to the rest of the park, talk about a picturesque location. If you just drive through the park it’s an hour, but if you stop for viewing (which you should) it can quickly turn into half a day. There are sandstone canyons everywhere along with an array of desert animals and plants.
Distance from Denver 256 miles (4+ hours); Possible 3-Day Trip
Mesa Verde National Park is a 3.5 hour drive from the Colorado National Monument. If you want to break up the day, and since it’s on the way, stop in Mancos. You can find camping, fishing, hiking, and a chance to swing by Mancos State Park.
Mesa Verde Park was founded in 1906 as a means of preserving the Pueblo people’s architectural heritage. The Pueblos lived here from approximately 600 BEC to 1300 CE. Currently there are over 5,000 dig sites including cliff dwellings, all of which are carefully preserved.
Stop at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to wrangle some help in planing your time. You can buy tickets here for the Balcony House Tour, great for adventurous hikers (includes walking, climbing, and crawling).
There’s also Cliff Palace, the largest known cliff dwelling or the Long House tour, which is in-depth exploration spanning 2.5 hours. There are restaurants in the park, and camping just four miles away.
Distance from Denver: 7 hours; Possible 4-7 day Road Trip
When people tell you about the beauty of Sand Dunes you might think they’re joking. They’re not. It will take a 3.5 hour road trip from Mesa Verde. Nearby accommodations exist in the towns of Crestone and Alamosa. Crestone has a unique reputation as a world-class spiritual center housing a Zen center, Hindu Temple, and a Carmelite Monastery.
The Sand Dunes in the Park are the biggest in the United States, measuring up to 750 tall. You can hike High Dune, roughly over 2 hours. Getting up is far harder than going down!
While surfing might be the farthest thing from your mind with all that sand, you can actually go sandboarding here! You can rent a board or sled. If you don’t want to rent at the park, you can get equipment in nearby sports shops.
It’s hot outside, so splash a little in the Medano Creek, which flows strongest in Spring and Summer. Now instead of sandboarding, you’re water tubing.
For lovers of a night sky, you don’t want to miss the moon here. It’s stunning against the backdrop of the dunes.
Distance from Denver 3.5 hours (you're on the return spin): Possible 2-3 Day Trip
It’s just a 3-hour road trip from the Dunes to Colorado Springs. This is another region that gets hellishly hot, so consider traveling in cooler seasons. You could easily spend the whole day in the city, boasting over 60 well-known attractions. These range from parks and museums to outdoor thrills and cultural activities.
The Garden of the gods is a National Landmark. The view from any angle reflect nature’s beauty. You can see Pike’s Peak capped in snow and 300′ rock formation in striking red. Activities include rock climbing, hiking, and open jeep tours.
One of the favorite trails is Siamese Twins. It’s a quiet walk leading to the rock formation. Here, take a picture of yourself between the stone window frame. If you want a memorable moment, watch sunset at the Siamese Twins from Mesa Drive.
At this point you can make a night of it in Colorado Springs. Day 10, it’s only an hour drive home to Denver.
I'm the owner of Beast Auto. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. I love anything automotive related, and taking road trips all across my beautiful state.