Perfect Winter Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Denver

From cozy towns to stunning vistas, there are plenty of good reasons to take a quick break from Denver.

Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods | CCallanan/Shutterstock
Garden of the Gods | CCallanan/Shutterstock

A big part of winter in Colorado is of course those weekend ski trips, but you can also take a nature-filled drive through the mountains, visit beautiful frozen-over lakes and snow-covered peaks and valleys, or bust out the snowshoes or sleds during a little weekend getaway. Whatever your pleasure, make sure your snow tires are solid and the playlist is loaded up for these winter road trips that’ll have you wishing it was cold weather year round. Don’t forget the cocoa and (spiked) cider.

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 20 minutes
There’s a reason locals call this college town north of Denver “Fort Fun”—and it’s not just the bar and brewery scene (although those are definitely part of the reason). One of Fort Collins’ biggest draws is all things outdoors. Horsetooth Reservoir, just to the west of Fort Collins, is 6.5 miles long and yes, swimming is not a great idea in the colder months, but the area does have some easy hikes that you can tackle no matter the weather. Then you should totally go out for a local beer after.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Fort Collins

Frisco, Colorado
Frisco, Colorado | Visit Frisco, Colorado

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Some might call Frisco the winter destination in Colorado (step aside, Aspen) and not just because it’s simply picturesque this time of year. Frisco is home to an absolute abundance of winter activities for folks of all ages, whether you’re looking for some adrenaline and excitement or a low-key winter activity. Check out Adventure Park for all things snow tubing, sledding, beginner skiing, hiking, and Nordic trails, and be sure to visit the Frisco Nordic Center for even more winter fun (including but not limited to skate-skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, and over 20 collective miles of ski and snowshoe trails. Plus, downtown Frisco is a perfect balance of good eats and shopping, if you’re more of a “stay cozy by the fireplace” kind of winter person. We see you and we understand.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Frisco

Drive time from downtown Denver: 30 minutes
One of the world’s best music venues is in Denver’s backyard, and though many of our favorite musicians finally returned to the stage last year, this natural red rock amphitheatre is worth a visit for the views alone. Entry is free and the park is open one hour before sunrise, closing one hour after sunset. Head to the top of the amphitheater itself for sweeping views of the Mile High City in the distance, or trek down one of the trails that leads you near many of the giant sandstone formations (just don’t climb on them—that’s a big Red Rocks no no). There are 868 acres of breathtaking beauty to take in across the whole area, with the Trading Post Trail and Red Rocks Trail being the two main paths to get the best views while hiking.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Red Rocks

Winter Park & Fraser Chamber - Colorado
Winter Park | Winter Park & Fraser Chamber - Colorado

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Once ski season hits, this small town will be bustling with skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes at the resort, but it’s got a lot to offer even if you’re not heading to the mountain. Check out the tubing hill in nearby Fraser, or soak away your worries at Hot Sulphur Springs. And if you are into that ski resort life, you’re in luck—Winter Park’s slopes will be open this season, in addition to other fun snow activities like snowshoeing, ski biking, and snowcat tours.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Winter Park.

Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours
This kitschy gambling town southwest of Colorado Springs is filled with classic Old West vibes. Founded during the Gold Rush, it was originally a mining camp. There’s even a free roaming herd of donkeys that include descendants of the donkeys that were used in the original gold mining operations. Along with nine casinos where you can try your luck at becoming a big winner, the town is also home to several historic attractions including the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine and the Cripple Creek Jail Museum.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Cripple Creek

Steamboat Springs
Strawberry Park Hot Springs | Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock

Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Steamboat Springs is yet another destination worth the extra bit of trek. Not only do you get incredible (and sometimes, a little scary) views via roads like the scenic, 15-mile Buffalo Pass (the accessibility of which is definitely dependent on weather), but you can also enjoy all the fun that downtown Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas has to offer. Strawberry Park is one of Colorado’s favorite hot springs destinations and Fish Creek Falls offers frozen waterfall scenes that’ll make NatGeo jealous—plus you’ll get your exercise for the day.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Steamboat Springs

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Colorado Springs to the south of Denver is packed with activities, but one of the best is this 1,364-acre park where you can hike, bike, or horseback ride your way around the massive sandstone formations. Plus, entry is free. If you do decide to hike this season, microspikes are encouraged to prevent any ice slippage. The park sits at the foot of Pikes Peak, one of Colorado’s “14ers” (a mountain that rises to an elevation over 14,000 feet) and the literal “purple mountain” that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful.”
Find an amazing Airbnb near Garden of the Gods

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park | haveseen/Shutterstock

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 35 minutes
For iconic, postcard-perfect Rocky Mountain scenery, it doesn’t get any better than this national park. Keep in mind that the park is still operating on its timed-entry permit system (and of course, is subject to closure due to inclement weather), so a trip will take a little planning in advance but the 415 square miles of pure alpine beauty is more than worth it. Explore the epic vastness of the park by way of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even sledding in Hidden Valley to get some of the most impressive winter landscapes you’ve ever seen. If you’re lucky, you might even see some elk or a moose.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Rocky Mountain National Park

Drive time from downtown Denver: 30 minutes
Quiet, close by, and full of tons of hiking and snowshoeing opportunities is the town of Conifer, easily reachable via US-285. Though there are a few restaurants and shops to check out downtown, it’s the expansive natural area surrounding Conifer that make it a draw for outdoor adventurers. Meyer Ranch Park offers just over four miles of hiking trails that boast aspen droves for acres, and Flying J Ranch Park is a local favorite for snowshoeing.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Conifer

glenwood hot springs pool
Glenwood Hot Springs

Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours, 45 minutes
It’s a bit of a drive for a “day trip” but you won’t mind setting out early for this destination because when you reach it, you’ll be rewarded with the ultimate in relaxation: hot springs soaking. The town is home to three hot springs attractions. Glenwood Hot Springs is the original—it’s been welcoming visitors since 1888 and is home to the world’s largest hot springs pool. In 2015, Iron Mountain Hot Springs opened with 16 pools of various temperatures for your soaking pleasure. Both are currently open, but reservations are required for Iron Mountain. At the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves, you can experience the area’s geothermal features in a different way, with a natural geothermal steam bath.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Glenwood Springs

Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours
As a warning, this destination isn’t for those with a fear of heights. The Royal Gorge Bridge, built in 1930, is the highest suspension bridge in the country, hovering 956 feet above the Arkansas River. And if traversing this feat of engineering isn’t thrilling enough on its own, the park is also home to other attractions including the aerial gondola which you can take back after your trek across the bridge. The gondola spans 2,200 feet across the gorge, 1,200 feet in the air for a truly scenic ride. Or take that same trip, sans the safety of the gondola and opt for the zip line instead—an experience that’s sure to get your heart racing. Most of the activities here are outdoors and open subject to weather.
Find an amazing Airbnb near Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado who is always on the lookout for fun things to do. Follow her Mile High adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.
Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer who likes sledding as much as hot chocolate by the fire. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram and @e_buehler_ on Twitter for more updates on Denver food and other Mile High shenanigans.