While you’re in town for the Annual Conference, set aside some time to explore Denver’s wild backyard. Mountains, museums, and one of the country’s most-visited national parks all lie within driving distance, along with scenic highways and hiking trails galore. Read on for some ideas to help you plan a day out of town, and check out the city’s website for more inspiration.
Golden and Morrison
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. The world’s only completely natural amphitheater, Red Rocks was carved from 300-foot-high red sandstone monuments. The Beatles were the first rock group ever to play this storied concert venue, which also boasts miles of hiking trails and a restaurant with an outdoor patio. Park admission is free except when performances are scheduled. (Image: Capture Light / Shutterstock.com)
Dinosaur Ridge. Morrison is home to a major dinosaur tracksite. Some of the best-known dinosaurs were discovered here in 1877, including Allosaurus and Stegosaurus, the official Colorado state fossil. Walk the trail or visit the exhibit hall to learn more about discoveries in the region. (Kids can try their hand at paleontology and sift for fossils and shark teeth.)
Museums. Learn about the area’s history in Golden’s many museums, which include the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, a Colorado Railroad Museum home to more than 100 locomotive cars, and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.
Downtown Golden. Take a stroll through downtown Golden and browse shops and galleries.
Coors Brewery. Tour the Coors Brewery, which opened as the Golden Brewery in 1873.
Rocky Mountain National Park turned 100 years old in 2015 and earned a spot on a recent National Geographic list of must-see places. You can enjoy the park on foot or by car. (Image: National Park Service Photo)
See wildlife, especially elk. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the top wildlife watching destinations in the U.S. The park is home to hundreds of elk. Autumn, their mating season, is a popular time to see them. Their favorite feeding times are at dawn and dusk—just make sure to keep a respectful distance.
Trail Ridge Road. You’ll have a chance to drive the famous Trail Ridge Road just before it closes for the season. The highest continuous motorway in the U.S., it climbs to more than 12,000 feet in elevation, offering gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. The National Park Service recommends setting aside at least half a day for the drive.
Bear Lake Loop, Gem Lake trail, and other family-friendly jaunts. The National Park Service recommends a few activities to help kids discover their inner naturalist—in particular, the half-mile interpretive nature trail around Bear Lake.
A half-hour’s drive from Denver, Boulder holds possibilities for outdoor adventurers and urban explorers alike. (Image: Jim Lambert / Shutterstock.com)
University of Colorado Boulder. Take a stroll through campus, visit the planetarium, or head to the University Memorial Center, home to Boulder’s only bowling alley. (Don’t worry, it’s open to the public.)
Places to sip. The Celestial Seasonings tea company is headquartered here and offers free tours. You can also raise a glass at one of Boulder’s many breweries or sample honey wine at the Redstone Meadery.
Pearl Street Mall. If you’re looking for a place to amble and explore Boulder’s shops, try the outdoor walks of Pearl Street Mall downtown.
National Center for Atmospheric Research. The free tour and exhibits at NCAR offer a window into the world of weather, with hands-on, family-friendly exhibits to learn about cloud formation and more. (One of these: an 8-foot-tall tornado exhibit that shows how the windstorms work.) Visitors can also walk a scenic trail behind the lab.
Hiking trails and more. Fans of the outdoors will feel at home on the Mount Sanitas Trail or in Chautauqua Park. Just outside Boulder, Eldorado Canyon offers opportunities to hike, picnic, fish, rock climb, and mountain bike.
Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak
The Colorado Springs area has plenty to reward those willing to make the hour-and-a-half-long drive.
Pikes Peak. Drive or hike to the top of Pikes Peak for stunning views. But bring a jacket for the shift in climes—at 14,115 feet tall, the mountain has a 30-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between top and base.
Manitou Cliff Dwellings. These giant structures were once home to the Anasazi, an ancient people of the American Southwest who abandoned the dwellings when they moved to a different area. In a feat of engineering, the structures were moved in the early 1900s from the southwest corner of Colorado to their current location near Colorado Springs, where they were reassembled. Visitors can go inside them and learn more about the Anasazi in an on-site museum. (Image: Shackleford Photography / Shutterstock.com)
Garden of the Gods. This National Natural Landmark is home to towering sandstone formations and sweeping views of Pikes Peak. Explore the park on free guided walks, jeep and Segway tours, or a rented bike. Kids ages 7 to 12 can get an activity booklet and complete it to become Junior Rangers.
Colorado Springs. Round out your visit with museums and places to eat and shop in Colorado Springs.
Ski season won’t be under way yet, but Colorado’s famous mountain resort towns can still make for a fun outing during the low season. (These are also about an hour and a half outside Denver.)
Frisco. Frisco’s year-round offerings include dining, shopping, scenic drives, and road and trail running.
Have you booked a day trip for October? Share your plans or day trip suggestions in the comments!