There is plenty to do and see in Colorado, but if you’re not looking for a week-long stay somewhere or spending a ton on gas, try planning a day trip instead. With a little planning, you can have a fun day of activities the whole family can enjoy or a little romantic escape you won’t soon forget.
About 1.5 hours north of Denver is Estes Park, a town that also operates as a base camp to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The park itself is a sprawling vista of more than 100 peaks that rise above 11,000 ft in altitude. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country. You can make the park your entire day trip and have a great time, but there are also plenty of fun things to do in Estes Park that warrant a visit.
There’s the Open Air Adventure Park, which is a jungle gym for all ages featuring rope courses and zip lines. They also have axe throwing lanes available. Or you can book a ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel, which famously inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining.” For adults in the craft beer and alcohol scene, Estes Park is home to four breweries, a distillery, and a winery. And of course, Estes Park has all the restaurants and boutique shopping one could hope for.
Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
In Southern Colorado, the path of the Arkansas River carved a canyon into the landscape in what is now called the Royal Gorge Region. In 1929, workers built a bridge spanning the Royal Gorge so that visitors could truly appreciate the view and the forces of nature at work. The Royal Gorge Bridge continues to be the highest suspension bridge in the United States. It is nearly 1,000 feet above the river and among the top 25 highest bridges in the world. The bridge is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2018, it was trademarked “America’s Bridge” to celebrate the spirit of American Workers and the millions of guests who’ve walked across its planks.
Tickets to walk the bridge also will allow unlimited rides on an aerial gondola that spans 2,200 feet across the gorge, providing wonderful, 360-degree views of the Colorado landscape. For a unique perspective to the gorge, you can purchase tickets to the Via Ferrata, a guided climbing tour of the gorge which allows guests to hike and climb the walls of the gorge in a controlled mountaineering environment. A ticket to the Via Ferrata also includes admission to the bridge and gondola.
For an extra fee, thrill seekers can take a ride on America’s highest zip line! The Cloudscraper Zipline is the Travel Channel’s #1 bucket list experience for Colorado. Or you can ride the Royal Rush Skycoaster, which sends riders on a 50mph free fall to hang 1,200 feet above the gorge.
Calmer and kid-friendly experiences include the Tommy Knocker Playland, Plaza Theater, and Visitor’s Center, which has a truly unique water clock.
Drive 30 minutes north of Denver to the base of the Rocky Mountains to get to Boulder, a hip, college town that is the perfect blend of urban and outdoors. For the outdoor enthusiast, you can hike the infamous Flatirons or any of the other 10 trails at Chautauqua Park. There are additional hiking and biking trails at Eldorado Canyon State Park, as well as rock-climbing and fishing. All told, there are more than 300 miles of hiking and biking trails in the area around Boulder!
Boulder Creek also runs through the center of town, which was named one of the 10 best lazy rivers for tubing by Men’s Journal. There is also a stretch of the creek which offers a 20-gate slalom course for kayakers. Boulder Reservoir is another place to enjoy the water in Boulder, with paddleboarding, boat rentals, and paddle boats. There is also great picnicking, grilling, horseshoes, and volleyball.
For shoppers and families, the brick-paved Pearl Street is a central gathering place for historic storefronts, good food, and excellent people-watching. Boulder is also a haven for connoisseurs of alcohol, with 18 breweries, three distilleries, four wineries, one cidery, and one meadery. Another beautiful stroll is through the University of Colorado Boulder campus. Home to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Fiske Planetarium, the campus has some fun activities for visitors to experience as well.
Finally, in addition to the Fiske Planetarium, Boulder is home to several scientific institutes and organizations, including. These include:
- The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)
Science-lovers and students will love the many guided tours to explore and further understand our planet.
Located one hour north of Denver, Fort Collins calls itself the Craft Brew Capital of Colorado. Fort Collins makes 70 percent of the craft beer brewed in the state and is fourth in the nation for number of craft breweries per capita. Visitors can craft their own walking tour, book a bus tour, or take a beer & bike tour.
Good beer isn’t the only thing Fort Collins has to offer, however. Enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and water sports at Horsetooth Reservoir. The Cache la Poudre River cuts through town but is also a great spot for outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting.
For family-friendly activities, kids can:
- Learn about agricultural heritage at The Farm at Lee Martinez Park
- Experience hands-on exhibits at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
- Explore a 212-acre nature preserve at the Environmental Learning Center
- Simply cut loose with go-karts, mini-golf, and laser tag at Fort Fun
The downtown area has plenty of boutique shops, historic architecture, good food, and amazing art for folks looking for a relaxing stroll.
Georgetown Loop Railroad
About an hour’s drive west of Denver, the city of Georgetown has been a destination for tourists looking to experience the rugged Rocky Mountains since the 1880s. It continues that tradition today with the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mining Park, a historically immersive living museum. Guests can book passage on a steam-powered locomotive on a 3ft narrow gauge path between Georgetown and a mining town called Silver Plume. The open-air train ride takes passengers on a windy path through the Rocky Mountains over bridges and past the remains of old mines. For an extra fee (or booked separately), visitors can take a walking tour of the Lebanon silver mine.
On Saturday evenings in the summer, the Clear Creek Paranormal Society mine tour lit only by candle lanterns called the Tall Tales & Tommyknockers Lantern Tour. You could also book a 3-hour passage on The Great Georgetown Gatsby & Murder Mystery Train, an interactive live murder mystery show. In August, they offer Wild West Days, where guests can dress up in their best Wild West costume and experience a train robbery reenactment.
Georgetown offers plenty for the outdoor enthusiast as well. There are five great hiking trails, plenty of fishing on Georgetown Lake or fly fishing in the river, and a really fun 4×4 ATV trail that passes through many historic ruins and mines.
Families can also experience the many boutique shops and restaurants Georgetown has to offer. The Capital Prize Gold Mine Tour is a fun, interactive activity that kids will enjoy.
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