Denver serves as an excellent gateway to the wonders of the nearby Rocky Mountains. Here are just a handful of must-see attractions, gorgeous drives and mountain town adventures, all within two hours of The Mile High City. Make Denver your basecamp for exciting day trips.
WILD ANIMAL SANCTUARY
Distance from Denver: 30 miles (48 km)
1946 County Rd. 53, Keenesburg
Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My! Visit this 320-acre rescue and educational facility, located just 30 miles outside of Denver, where more than 300 large carnivores roam free. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is one of the only places in America where you can see lion prides and groups of other carnivores living in natural habitats.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH (NCAR)
Distance from Denver: 31 miles (50 km)
1850 Table Mesa Dr., Boulder
The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is the world's foremost attraction for learning about the 21st century's hottest topic: climate change. The NCAR lab is open to the public free of charge seven days a week, and offers a wide array of hands-on educational exhibits that visitors are welcome to explore on their own, on a guided tour, or with an audio tour.
CENTRAL CITY AND BLACK HAWK
Distance from Denver: 40 miles (64 km)
Take I-70 west and Exit 243 onto Central City Pkwy.
Central City and Black Hawk are home to more than 30 casinos with blackjack tables, craps, roulette, poker games and more than 10,000 slot machines. In 2009, gambling stakes were raised to $100, to the delight of high rollers, and casinos began opening their doors 24 hours a day. The two cities are also known for having some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture in the West.
GEORGETOWN LOOP RAILROAD
Distance from Denver: 54 miles (87 km)
507 Taos St., Georgetown
The Georgetown Loop Railroad is a reconstruction of one of Colorado's most famous railroads, which was originally built in 1877. Steam-powered locomotives make the climb up the valley and across Devil's Gate Bridge, giving riders panoramic views, and a glimpse into Colorado's railroad-centric past. From the open air viewing cars it is possible to see big horn sheep and other wildlife.
MOUNT EVANS SCENIC BYWAY
Distance from Denver: 60 miles (97 km)
West on US Interstate 70 to Idaho Springs to the "Mt. Evans" exit (#240)
Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved auto road in North America, snaking its way to the 14,260-foot (4,346 m) summit. The road ($10 for a three-day pass) is open only from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and frequently has snow on it, even in August. The view from the top takes in the entire Front Range. The summit is 60 miles (97 km) from downtown Denver. On your way up the mountain, be sure to stop at M. Walter Pesman Trail (maintained by Denver Botanic Gardens) for a wildflower hike; you won't see anything like the rare flowers and 1,500-year-old bristlecone pine trees anywhere else in the world. The trail winds through subalpine and alpine areas where wildflowers and animals of the fragile tundra live. Volunteer guides from Denver Botanic Gardens give interpreted hikes that follow the trail throughout the summer.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Distance from Denver: 71 miles (114 km)
Take I-25 north to Exit 217 US Hwy. 36 west to Estes Park
One of the U.S. National Park System's crown jewels, Rocky Mountain National Park features 400 square miles of scenic beauty, including Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the world, crossing the Continental Divide at more than two miles above sea level. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, tranquil lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and horseback riding, visiting the Park is a truly unforgettable experience. Estes Park is a resort town on the edge of the park with restaurants and shops.
MOUNTAIN TOWN ADVENTURES NEAR DENVER
Distance from Denver: 42 miles (68 km)
I-70 West, Exit 228
Located west of Denver, Georgetown is a delightful Victorian village set in a spectacular mountain valley with 200 restored buildings from the 1870s. The main street has shops and restaurants, and many of the old homes have been turned into antique stores. The Georgetown Loop Railroad operates in the summer months with narrow-gauge steam locomotives curling down a mountain ledge, at one point crossing over a 90-foot-high (27 m) trestle.
Distance from Denver: 28 miles (45 km)
I-70 West, Exit 252
As its name hints, Evergreen is a pine tree-surrounded escape. A picturesque alpine lake is located right in town, with paddleboard, kayak and (in the winter) ice skate rentals available. You'll also want to hike the trails at Alderfer/Three Sisters Park — once a working ranch but now a hiker's paradise — and Flying J Ranch Park — formerly a runway for the area's onetime landowner but now a boon for hikers and bikers, with peaceful meadows, forests and wetlands. Historic downtown Evergreen is nestled right into the area's natural landscape and boasts a number of art galleries, shops and eateries. Spend the day golfing, hiking beautiful nature trails, touring small local musuems, relaxing at day spas or catching a local theater performance.
PIKES PEAK COUNTRY
Distance from Denver: 60 miles (97 km)
I-25 South towards Colorado Springs
Pikes Peak Country is located south of Denver and features more than 40 attractions centered around 14,000-foot-high (4,267 m) Pikes Peak. Things to see include the Air Force Academy, one of three United States military colleges; the famous Broadmoor Resort, with its lake and three golf courses; the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, with its exhibits on this exciting professional sport; and Garden of the Gods, made of naturally formed, 500-foot-high (152 m) red sandstone rock monuments at the base of Pikes Peak.
COLORADO SKI COUNTRY: SUMMIT COUNTY, VAIL AND BEAVER CREEK
Distance from Denver: 75 miles (120 km)
I-70 West, Exits 205, 203, 176 and 167
Summit County offers some of the world's best skiing, just a little more than an hour west of Denver. But the area is also a splendid summer resort destination. Breckenridge is a 130-year-old gold mining town filled with colorful Victorian buildings that now house shops, cafes and restaurants. Copper Mountain is a modern ski and summer resort offering all forms of outdoor recreation, from golf to tennis to snowboarding and cross-country skiing. Dillon/Silverthorne is a lovely pair of towns built on the shores of Lake Dillon. The area offers factory-outlet shopping in more than 100 stores. Frisco is yet another old Victorian mining town that has been restored, but still retains its Old West atmosphere. Keystone is a year-round resort that offers all kinds outdoor adventure, along with five-star dining. Vail is just a short drive from Summit County. This world-famous resort offers a European-style mountain village lined with shops and outdoor cafes, as well as the largest ski mountain in North America.