One can hardly imagine the city of Denver began as a mining camp during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1859. This vibrant city in Colorado has all the tourist trappings to keep you busy. However, what makes Denver exceptional is the easy access to some of the most breathtaking locales that are only a short drive away. While Rocky Mountain Park will undoubtedly be the best day trip from Denver, many more exciting places rank among the best day trips to Denver.
Whether it’s a peak at the history you seek on the Colorado Gold Rush Mountain or a mesmerizing experience at the Red Rocks, you’ll find all this and more among the best day trips from Denver. Some of these places on our list also rank among the best places to visit in Colorado.
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Colorado Gold Rush Mountain and Mine Tour
In 1858, a gold discovery in the vicinity of present-day Denver started a rush for gold. The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, which happened a decade after the California Gold Rush, created a boom in prospecting and mining in the area. Denver City began as a mining camp around this time, which later grew into a bigger city.
However, in early 1859, when better discoveries were made in the mountains further west, the placers around Denver were abandoned. Later other deposits were found in various parts of Colorado. The first substantial gold discovery in Colorado was made at the present site of Idaho Springs.
For those interested in this gold history, one of the best day trips from Denver is the Colorado Red Rocks, Dinosaur Tracks & Gold Mine Tour. This small group tour will take you to the iconic, family-owned Phoenix Gold Mine. You will also get a lesson in panning for gold and expand your knowledge about the history of the gold rush. Besides this, you will also have an opportunity to strike it rich by panning for gold and silver.
This tour offers not just mining and gold but also a chance to walk in dinosaurs’ tracks. Dinosaur Ridge is where the world’s first known Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus fossils were discovered.
- Tour duration: 8 hours
- Distance from nearest city/town: It’s about 40 minutes from Denver to Idaho Springs. However, there are various stopovers on tour before getting there.
- Transportation: Air-conditioned van
Breckenridge Mountain Tour
Considered one of the best ski resorts in Colorado, Breckenridge Mountain brings in the crowds, especially in winter. Families head here in droves to enjoy the ski runs and enjoy the views. However, it’s not just skiing that makes this place special and the best day trip from Denver. The historic downtown is good for shopping and sightseeing. You can also choose to ride the ski gondola during the season to the base of the resort or stroll along the Blue River.
The tour of the Breckenridge Mountains includes a stopover at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, where you can marvel at the natural acoustics of the place. Films are regularly screened here, making it one of the most amazing cinemas around the world.
Further on, the tour will also take you to Clear Creek Canyon with its rugged, steep canyon walls. The next stop is historic Georgetown, with its buildings that date back to the Silver Mining boom days. After a stopover at Loveland Pass and Sapphire Point Overlook, you will finally stop at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
- Tour duration: Approximately 8 hours
- Distance from nearest city/town: About a one and a half-hour drive to Breckenridge from Denver
- Transportation: Air-conditioned 12-15 passenger van
Glacier Hiking & Geothermal Cave Pools
For those who prefer a little activity, the best day trip from Denver is the hike up to St. Mary’s Glacier and a visit to the Geothermal Cave Pools. The walk takes you through a beautiful forest and culminates in a stunning view. On the way, you’ll also pass by the gorgeous St. Mary’s lake. Since the area above the lake experiences snow year-round, this is an especially popular destination. Depending on the season, you can either swim or sled.
On this particular tour, you can also feast on pizza at Beau Jo’s Mountain Pizza, which has existed since 1880. Post lunch, you get to visit another historical landmark. Here you can soak in the natural geothermal cave pools. After the morning hike, it’s best to soothe those aching muscles.
This small group tour begins downtown Denver at Ink Coffee, close to Union Station. It includes all-day transportation to and from Denver, water, and a light snack at the mountaintop.
- Tour duration: Approximately 8 hours
- Distance from nearest city/town: 55-minute drive to the base from Denver or 20 minutes from Idaho Springs
- Transportation: Air-conditioned passenger van
Red Rocks and Mount Evans
Another of the best day trips in Denver is combining a visit to the Red Rocks with Mount Evans. Outdoor enthusiasts will love Red Rocks Park with its cinnamon-hued sandstone cliffs and breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains. That’s not all that makes Red Rocks Park so special, though. The expansive amphitheater is a delight, too, with its natural acoustics and atmosphere. Many famous musicians have performed here. If you are lucky, you may be able to catch a film or show here.
Mount Evans, the other attraction of this tour, dominates the western skyline of the Great Plains. The highest peak in the Mount Evans Wilderness is visible from over 100 miles away. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, where you will visit, climbs over 7,000 feet. You can be sure you’ll be whipping out your camera to capture the breathtaking view from the top. Who knows, you may even bump into a bighorn sheep or a mountain goat!
Like most of the best day trips from Denver on our list, this one also begins near Union Station. The guided tour includes lunch and water refills.
- Tour duration: Approximately 7.5 hours
- Distance from nearest city/town: Mount Evans Scenic Byway is just 60 miles west of Denver; about an hour and a half drive
- Transportation: Explorer Tours Bus
Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods
A visit to Denver will be incomplete without touching some of the dramatic vistas nearby. If you’re looking for the best day trip from Denver, this combined trip to the Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak should be on your cards. A registered National Natural Landmark, The Garden of the Gods, will leave you amazed. The Utes believed that creation began here. Standing amidst the exquisite thin red-rock spires that rise 300 feet, it’s easy to believe this theory.
Pike’s Peak forms the perfect backdrop not very far from the Garden of the Gods. One of the famous fourteeners of the Southwest, the mountain is one of the most visited in the world. A visit to Pike’s Peak is one of the best day trips in Denver because the summit is easy to access. You can either drive to the top, take the cog railroad, or hike to the top.
On this guided tour, however, you will be driven to the top. The full-day tour includes both these destinations and a drive through Manitou Springs, a small resort town.
- Tour duration: Approximately 8.5 hours
- Distance from nearest city/town: About 2 hrs drive from Denver to Pike’s Peak
- Transportation: Explorer Tours Bus
Rocky Mountain National Park
Without a doubt, the best day trip from Denver is to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Soaring peaks, grazing elk, alpine lakes, and meadows carpeted with flowers will have you starry-eyed. While the park is best experienced on foot, this guided tour is the next best thing if you are short of time.
On the drive to the park, you will also see the city of Boulder, located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Estes Park and the iconic Flatiron’s red-rock formation are other scenic sights as you cruise down Trail Edge Road. Besides these, you will also visit the Stanley Hotel, one of the most haunted hotels in the world, made famous by Stephen King’s ‘The Shining.’ However, nothing comes close to taking in the spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains.
Just So You Know
- Denver has over 200 parks within the city and expansive outdoors to explore. You’ll find plenty of things to do in Denver for all ages and day trips. A good idea would be to check into one of the best hotels in Denver and begin your explorations.
- Denver sits exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, which has earned it the moniker ‘Mile High City.’
- The city holds the distinction of being the first place ever to turn down hosting the Olympics. In 1976, the city withdrew its bid for the Winter Olympics because of several factors.