Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

May 10, 2024

Tags:COtraveltips

Feature Red Rocks at sunrise, near Denver Colorado best day trips from denver colorado

Denver, Colorado, offers a fantastic range of day trips, each catering to different interests and adventure levels. Whether you're into exploring caves, hiking breathtaking trails, or experiencing the thrill of whitewater rafting, there's something for everyone. Below is a list of the best day trip destinations from Denver, including drive times and brief overviews of each adventure.

Summary of Best Day Trips from Denver

  • Spelunking at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park
  • Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
  • Georgetown Loop Railroad
  • Pan for Gold at Idaho Springs
  • Arkansas River Whitewater Rafting
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • World-Renowned Dark Sky Communities
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
  • Visit the Famous Stanley Hotel
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Go Spelunking at the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park- 

DRIVE TIME: 1 Hour, 20 Minute

What’s “spelunking”...? 

Spelunking is a term used in the USA to describe the exploration of caves. It involves navigating through cave systems, often for recreational purposes, and sometimes involves activities like climbing, rappelling, or squeezing through tight spaces. 

West of Denver, nestled amidst the foothills, lies the Cave of the Winds Mountain Park.  This hidden gem offers a variety of tours that will take you spelunking through a labyrinth of caverns adorned with stunning stalactites and stalagmites.  For the truly adventurous,  consider the "Wild Tour" which  takes you off the beaten path  through challenging crawls, squeezes, and climbs.

cave of the winds mountain park colorado Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Hike or Bike Along The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park:

DRIVE TIME: 1 Hour, 30 Minute

Canon City, southwest of Denver, is home to the Royal Gorge Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in the United States.  While the views from the bridge are  impressive in itself, for the true adventurer,  the challenge lies  across the Arkansas River.  Hike or bike along the Royal Gorge Trail system which offers breathtaking vistas of the gorge and  opportunities to  spot  bighorn sheep and eagles soaring  high above.

the royal gorge bridge and park biking system Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Take a Ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad:

DRIVE TIME: 50 Minutes

Take a scenic train ride on a historic narrow-gauge railroad through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The Georgetown Loop Railroad winds its way through stunning mountain scenery, offering a glimpse into Colorado's mining history.  This is a particularly great choice if you're traveling with a group or family.

Landscape with Georgetown Loop railroad view on a sunny day Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Pan for Gold in Idaho Springs:

DRIVE TIME: 40 Minutes

Just west of Denver, Idaho Springs was a  gold rush boomtown in the 1800s.  Today, you can try your hand at panning for gold in Clear Creek,  just like the prospectors of old.  Even if you don't strike it rich, you're sure to have a  fun and  unique  experience.  Afterwards, explore the historic district of Idaho Springs,  filled with  salons, shops, and  restaurants.

arial view of idaho springs Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Whitewater Raft on the Arkansas River:

DRIVE TIME: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes

If you're looking for an adrenaline rush, head to Buena Vista, Colorado, about a 2-hour drive southwest of Denver. This town is a hub for whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River, one of the most popular rivers in the country for rafting.  There are options for all skill levels, from mild scenic floats to heart-pounding rapids.

raft on the arkansas river Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Experience Rocky Mountain National Park: 

DRIVE TIME: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

This park, a mere 76 miles northwest of Denver, is a must-visit for any outdoor enthusiast. Encompassing majestic mountain ranges, alpine lakes, and diverse wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a variety of hiking trails, scenic drives, and camping opportunities. Be sure to take in the breathtaking views from Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved highway in North America.

Full blood moon rising on Rocky Mountains National Park Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Go Stargazing at the World-Renowned Dark Sky Communities:

DRIVE TIME: Depends on which location you visit! See below for a list.

Colorado is home to some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states, making it a prime location for stargazing.  Several locations near Denver have been designated as International Dark Sky Communities, which means they have taken steps to minimize light pollution and preserve the night sky.  Some of the closest Dark Sky Communities to Denver include Westcliffe,  Mayda, and Crawford. Head to one of these destinations on a clear night and be amazed by the Milky Way and countless stars. Below is a full list of current Dark Sky Communities, taken from Dark Sky Colorado

Dark Sky Parks:

  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Curecanti National Recreation Area
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
  • Hovenweep National Monument
  • Jackson Lake State Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Slumgullion Center
  • Top of the Pines

Dark Sky Communities:

  • Crestone, Colorado
  • Norwood, Colorado
  • Nucla/Naturita, Colorado
  • Ridgway, Colorado
  • Westcliffe/Silver Cliff, Colorado

Milky way as seen from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve: 

DRIVE TIME: 3 Hours, 50 Minutes

Journey south of Denver for roughly 4 hours and be transported to a surreal landscape. Great Sand Dunes National Park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America, reaching over 750 feet high. These dunes offer a unique opportunity for sandboarding, sand sledding, and exploring the otherworldly beauty of the sand dune landscape.

Landscape view of dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, the tallest sand dunes in North America Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

See “The Shining’s” Famous Stanley Hotel:

DRIVE TIME: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

Estes Park, about an hour northwest of Denver, is home to the Stanley Hotel, a historic hotel that is famous for being the inspiration for Stephen King's novel "The Shining."  The hotel offers tours, including ghost tours,  which will take you through the grand halls and creepy corridors of this  haunted landmark.  Even if you're not a believer in the paranormal,  the Stanley Hotel is a fascinating place to visit for its history and architecture.

The Infamous Stanley Hotel on a Fall Morning Estes Park-Colorado Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: 

DRIVE TIME: 4 Hours, 50 Minutes

For a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, head southwest of Denver for about 5 hours to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This park is home to a dramatic and deep canyon carved by the Gunnison River. While not as popular as some of the other national parks near Denver, Black Canyon offers stunning scenery, challenging hikes, and opportunities for solitude.

Dragon Point Overlook of Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison Best Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Rent a Motorcycle for Your Next Day Trip from Denver with Riders Share

Riders Share offers a wide variety of different types of motorcycles for your next Denver adventure. Choose from popular manufacturers like Harleys, BMWs, or even choose to go off the beaten path with an off-road approved adventure or dual sport bike! You’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for, and even as low as $25/day! View our Denver motorcycle rentals here

Pack Your Bags and Get Ready to Leave Denver for a Day

Denver provides an impressive variety of day trips, catering to every type of adventurer. Whether you prefer exploring caves, taking scenic train rides, hiking in national parks, or indulging in unique local experiences, there's an option that suits your interest. Each trip offers something distinct—stunning landscapes, intriguing history, thrilling outdoor activities, or a touch of the supernatural.

With all these opportunities, the challenge isn't finding something to do; it's deciding which adventure to tackle first. From exhilarating whitewater rafting to serene stargazing in designated Dark Sky Communities, your day trips from Denver will be anything but ordinary. So pack your bag, pick your destination, and get ready for an unforgettable experience just a short drive from the city.