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With one of the top international airports in the country, centrally located within three hours of either US coast, Denver is ideally located for unforgettable outdoor adventures. The city serves as the gateway to the nearby Rocky Mountains; and it is a perfect base camp for a day trip to experience the outdoors, followed by a cosmopolitan evening enjoying world-class dining, more than 11,000 downtown hotel rooms, performing arts and more. Below are just some of the magnificent mountain daytrips visitors can take while staying in Denver.
Rocky Mountain National Park & Estes Park
Located 71 miles (114 km) northwest of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) features 400 square miles (1,036 sq km) of scenic beauty, including Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the world – crossing the Continental Divide at over two miles above sea level. The wilderness area includes 359 miles of hiking trails, 150 lakes, 60 mountains taller than 12,000 feet, and the opportunity to see elk, bighorn sheep, and moose. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country, consistently ranked in the top four most visited. RMNP stands out, among many other reasons, from other outdoor destinations due to its affordability – it is just $25 per automobile, per day. Estes Park is a mountain resort town on the edge of the park with restaurants, shops and Stanley Hotel – the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s classic horror novel The Shining. nps.gov/romo
Mount Evans and Echo Lake
Mount Evans has 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 from the Friday before Memorial Day through the first Monday in October, and frequently has snow on it, even in August. (The road closes at Summit Lake after Labor Day, preventing you from reaching the top). The view from the top takes in the entire Front Range. The summit is 60 miles (97 km) from downtown Denver. On the way up the mountain, visitors can stop at M. Walter Pesman Trail (maintained by Denver Botanic Gardens) for a wildflower hike to take in rare flowers and 1,500-year-old bristlecone pine trees. The trail winds through subalpine and alpine areas where wildflowers and animals of the fragile tundra live. mountevans.com
Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway
The Lariat Loop is a 40-mile scenic drive in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, 27 miles west of Denver, connecting the communities of Golden, Morrison, Lookout Mountain, and Evergreen. On the Loop, motorists encounter more than a dozen enchanting historical attractions, including the Colorado Railroad Museum, Boettcher Mansion, Lookout Mountain Nature Center, Mother Cabrini Shrine and The Fort Restaurant. lariatloop.com
Located just 42 miles (68 km) 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 (27 m) high trestle. georgetowncolorado.com
Central City and Blackhawk
Once called the “Richest Square Mile on Earth”, Central City and Black Hawk are two historic mining towns from the 1870s that have come alive once again. Located 34 miles (55km) west of Denver, there are more than 30 casinos here, with more than 10,000 slot machines, blackjack tables and poker games open 24 hours a day. The two cities are also known for some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture in the West. Other attractions include the Teller House Hotel, where President Grant once stayed, and the Central City Opera House, which still features an outstanding summer season of opera. There are mine tours, mining museums and several places offering instruction in the fine art of gold panning in streams where a half billion dollars’ worth of the coveted, shiny metal was found in the state’s early days. blackhawkcolorado.com
Pikes Peak Country
Pikes Peak Country is located 60 miles (97 km) south of Denver and features more than 40 attractions centered around 14,000-foot (4,267 m) high 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; the Team USA Olympic Training Center and United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum; and Garden of the Gods, which has gigantic 500-foot (152 m) high red sandstone rock monuments at the base of Pikes Peak. pikes-peak.com
Colorado Ski Country: Summit County & Vail/Beaver Creek
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 National Historic District is a 130-year-old gold mining town filled with colorful Victorian buildings which now house shops, cafes and restaurants. Copper Mountain is a modern ski and summer resort offering all forms of outdoor recreation, from golf and tennis to snowboarding and cross country skiing. Dillon and Silverthorne are lovely towns built on the shores of Lake Dillon. The outdoor Dillon Amphitheater features live concerts and outdoor movies in the summer to crowds of 3,000 people. The area offers factory outlet shopping in more than 100 stores. Frisco is yet another Victorian mining town that has been restored, but still retains its Old West atmosphere. Keystone is a year-round resort that offers all kinds of outdoor adventure, along with five-star dining. Vail is just a short drive from Summit County. This world famous resort offers a pedestrian village lined with shops and outdoor cafes, as well as the largest ski mountain in North America. coloradoski.com
In true Colorado fashion, Denver is the only city in the country to own its own ski resort. Winter Park is owned by the City of Denver and is one of the largest ski resorts in the state. Located in a lovely mountain setting, this year-round resort is as delightful in summer as in winter. During ski season, Amtrak runs the Winter Park Express Ski Train, taking skiers, snowboarders and snow seekers directly from Denver Union Station in the heart of downtown to Winter Park Ski Resort, dropping them off just steps from the base of the ski hill. Winter Park boasts 350 inches of annual snowfall. However, just because you can count on good snow doesn’t mean you should expect to ski in blizzard conditions. On average, Winter Park has 106 days of sunshine during the ski season – meaning approximately 70 percent of the season is sunny! The three interconnected mountains and high alpine bowl are spread out over 166 designated trails on 3,801 acres served by a network of 22 chairlifts. Summer attractions include Colorado’s longest Alpine Slide, guided hikes, scenic chairlift rides on the Zephyr Express chairlift and mountain biking galore. winterparkresort.com