5 refreshing weekend getaways near Denver
Whether you’re looking to relax in natural hot springs or surf down a colossal sand dune, there’s a weekend getaway near Denver for you. Our following five favorites will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to roll come Monday morning.
1. Get Your Thrills at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
A three-hour drive south of Denver is Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. Nothing can prepare you for the heart-stopping heights and unadulterated views here. At 956 feet, the Royal Gorge Bridge is the highest suspension bridge in the U.S. Below, the Arkansas River barrels through the canyon, flanked by 1,000-foot-high red granite walls. Drive over the bridge or walk across its 880-foot span on the wooden pedestrian walkway.
Or, for a real thrill, zip-line across the gorge, soaring 1,200 feet above the river, or ride the Royal Rush Skycoaster, a free-fall ride that swoops you down at 50 miles per hour and momentarily dangles you 1,000 feet above the river.
Back on solid ground, head into the canyon for a whitewater rafting adventure with Echo Canyon River Adventures. You’ll navigate the Arkansas’s rushing waters, and if you can peel your eyes away from the river, you might just see some bighorn sheep on the treacherously steep canyon slopes.
2. Say "cheers" to the outdoors in Fort Collins
An hour and a half north of Denver is Fort Collins, a college town that knows how to do breweries and taprooms. If beer’s your thing, make a weekend of it, and enjoy some quality outdoor time while you’re there to keep your tap-etite from adding padding around the old waist.
New Belgium Brewing Company put Fort Collins on the map, and its tasting room is a great place to kick off your tasting holiday. After sampling the wares, have some dinner at Fort Collins Brewery Company, which features 17 beers on tap. Beer is also a key ingredient in many of the gastropub’s dishes, such as the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Chocolate Stout gravy and the Pale Ale Vanilla Bean Cake.
Chances are, you’ve been over-imbibing on delicious food and beer since your arrival, so help your digestion along by grooving to live music at Lucky Joe’s in Old Town, a charming and cavernous live music venue featuring brick walls and lots of gleaming woodwork.
The next day, put that hangover in its place with a 1.7-mile hike on the Arthur’s Rock Trail at Lory State Park, located 10 miles west of town. Walk through lush meadows and navigate dense forest before climbing 6,780-foot Arthur’s Rock. From the summit, you’ll see views of Horsetooth Reservoir and towering Rocky Mountain peaks.
Head back to town and take a leisurely, self-guided tour of the breweries in Old Town. The next day, spend your morning on a whitewater rafting trip down the Poudre River, which features Class II to Class IV rapids.
3. Surf Great Sand Dunes National Park
Four hours south of Denver, the Great Sand Dunes National Park encompasses 30 square miles of massive sand dunes, including the tallest dunes in North America. One of the most fragile and complicated dune systems in the world, the area is surrounded by alpine peaks, range land, and a desert valley.
The dunes would quickly consume any trails constructed over them, but that means that you can hike across the dunes as your whim leads you. An hourlong hike will put you at the top of the High Dune, which lies on the first ridge you see from the parking lot. From there, you’ll get a sweeping view of the entire dune field. To the west, you’ll see 750-foot-tall Star Dune, the tallest in North America. It’ll take you around five hours round trip to reach Star Dune.
You shouldn’t leave the park without trying your hand at sand surfing or sledding. Rent a board or sled at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, and fly down the dunes at breakneck speed without getting cold or wet.
The park also includes hiking trails through the forests that surround the dunes. The Mosca Pass Trail follows a small creek that winds through evergreen and aspen trees. The Montville Nature Trail is a shady half-mile loop that’s cool in the summer, a welcome respite from the heat of the dunes. From there, you’ll have lovely views of alpine tundra, subalpine forest, wetlands, and Mosca Creek, which the trail crosses twice. If you’re lucky, you’ll see bighorn sheep, elk, black bears, and kangaroo rats, along with plant life you won’t see in the city, such as prickly pear cactus and rubber rabbitbrush.
4. Wind Through Wine Country
An unbelievably scenic four-hour drive west of Denver, smack through the middle of the Rocky Mountains, will land you in Palisade, Colorado’s answer to California’s Napa Valley. Palisade has the highest concentration of wineries in the state and it’s also home to more than 500,000 peach trees.
Celebrate the stone fruit during the Palisade Peach Festival in mid-August, or arrive on the third Saturday in September for the Colorado Mountain Winefest, which includes live music and plenty of grape stomping. If you can’t swing the festival, book a custom wine tour on the American Spirit Shuttle, which will chauffeur you to at least four wineries of your choice.
Palisade sits on the edge of the Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain on Earth. Head a half hour east of Palisade to catch the 63-mile Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. You’ll climb 6,000 feet, winding through desert sandstone canyons and evergreen forests while catching glimpses of clear mountain lakes and Rocky Mountain peaks. Visit the Grand Mesa Visitor Center at the Land o’ Lakes Area, from which you can embark on a short, self-guided Discovery Trail hike. You’ll pass subalpine firs, quaking aspens, and views of some of the area’s 300 lakes.
5. Have a Hot Soak at Steamboat Springs
Whether it’s summer or winter, you’ll find plenty to do in Steamboat Springs. A short drive north of town will put you in the hot springs that gave the city its name (the fur trappers who stumbled upon the bubbling springs thought they sounded like a steamboat). After a day of hiking or skiing, come here to soothe your muscles in the clear, hot water.
Just a few minutes from downtown Steamboat Springs is an easy, 1/4-mile gravel path that leads you to lower Fish Creek Falls, a 280-foot waterfall. Thanks to snowmelt, the falls roar in the spring. In the winter, ice climbers pick their way up the frozen falls. A moderate, 2.5-mile hike will lead you to the Upper Fish Creek Falls. Continue for another 4 miles of switchbacks through aspen groves to reach the crystal clear Long Lake. The Long Lake trail also includes a half-mile stretch that provides an exhilarating bird’s-eye view of the falls.
From June through August, Steamboat Springs’ Strings Music Festival is in full swing, with classical, blues, jazz, country, and Americana music. The 100-year-old summer rodeo is another must-see attraction, and if you can make it to Steamboat Springs for the annual summer Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, you’ll see around 30 balloons take flight over the valley, gleaming in the early morning sunlight.