Perfect Summer 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.

Visit Pagosa Springs
Garden of the Gods | Visit Pagosa Springs
Garden of the Gods | Visit Pagosa Springs

Sure, Denver is one of the most exciting places to be in the summer, but what about satisfying that need for the occasional weekend getaway? After all, being within driving distance of picturesque mountain, desert, and prairie landscapes, several charming, middle-of-nowhere towns, and plenty of national parks and landmarks, Denver’s ideal for a base camp. There are plenty of in-state locations to explore plus a few across the border worth the extra hours of driving. So whether you’re looking for a quick day trip or a place to spend a long weekend, let this list of road trip destinations guide your adventure.

Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Twin Lakes and Leadville are close enough that you can see the majority of both in a single day, but each has its own charm and opportunities for excitement. Of course, there are numerous activities like kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding on the lakes themselves, plus guided pontoon boat tours. Avid hikers can challenge themselves with nearby fourteeners Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, and every visitor is encouraged to explore the tiny town of Twin Lakes, which includes the Twin Lakes General Store.
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Drive time from downtown Denver: 2 hours
Hearing “road trip to Wyoming” has many Coloradans assuming it’s an hours-long affair. Though technically true, it’s only about two hours north from Denver to Cheyenne, where you have your pick of outdoor adventures and city excursions alike. Once in Cheyenne, it’s just a quick jaunt to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, where you can hike, camp, bike, horseback ride, fish, and hunt, though the city itself offers plenty to do by way of local art and entertainment, brushing up on Wyoming history, or really leaning into the Old West of it all, like at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
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Silver Dollar Saloon
Silver Dollar Saloon

Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 45 minutes
If being transported back to the Old West is your idea of fun, making the trip to Leadville should be at the top of your to-do list. Founded in 1878 and sitting at a breezy 10,152 feet of elevation, Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America and has tons to see and do. Stroll down Harrison Avenue for quaint coffee shops, boutiques, outdoor retailers, and the Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, one of Colorado’s oldest operating bars. Or, step outside the downtown area for outdoor adventure of all kinds, including hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling, hunting, and horseback riding.
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Drive time from downtown Denver: 4 hours, 30 minutes
Known widely for its epic skiing, Taos is just as thrilling (or as chill as you need it to be) in the off-season. Local art and artisans thrive here, with many a gallery and shop for your eyes and wallet to consider, and those interested in learning about Taos and New Mexico history should take time to tour one of the local museums or visit Taos Pueblo, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark. And if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush to work up an appetite at Taos’ many decadent restaurants and eateries, rafting the Rio Grande is probably your best bet.
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Visit Pagosa Springs
Visit Pagosa Springs

Drive time from downtown Denver: 4 hours, 50 minutes
Sitting in the breathtaking and tranquil southwest corner of Colorado is this resort town prized for—you guessed it—its abundantly flowing hot springs. Soaking, swimming, kayaking, or tubing the San Juan River are all encouraged here if you’re up for the challenge. If not, plenty of fun can be had perusing Pagosa Street’s shops, restaurants, and museum. But if you’re looking for non-waterlogged adventure, visit nearby Chimney Rock National Monument or get a bird’s eye view of the local scenery via hot air balloon.
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Drive time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 10 minutes
It’s likely that you’ve driven by Silverthorne on many an I-70 ski or snowboard trip; and while it’s certainly a winter playground, it’s also an excellent destination for a summer day trip (or longer, don’t let us stop you). First of all, you’re just down the road from Frisco—aka Frisco Bay Marina and Frisco Adventure Park—so hitch up the boat or plan for a trip full of disc golf and biking. Rafting is also possible here, as is fly fishing and all the water activities you can think to try on Lake Dillon. Not that into outdoor activities? Silverthorne is rife with art, shopping, and food and beverage possibilities. Go nuts.
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National Park Service
National Park Service

Drive time from downtown Denver: 5 hours, 20 minutes
This hot, desert destination is a favorite for Denverites looking for a real change of scenery. While the drive is a bit longer since you’re headed out of state, the incredible natural landscapes and red rock formations are worth it. Camping here is a dream for those looking to unplug and recharge under the stars, and the hiking opportunities are plentiful, both for you and your four-legged friends. A huge draw here is Arches National Park, but we’d be remiss not to mention Moab’s vibrant nightlife if you’re looking for a trip that blends seclusion and civilization equally.
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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 perfect for swimming on a hot summer day, and the area also has some easy hikes you can tackle no matter your skill level. Then you should totally go out for a local beer after.
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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre

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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 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.”
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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 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 via hiking or biking through Hidden Valley and get some of the most impressive natural landscapes you’ve ever seen. If you’re lucky, you might even see some elk or a moose.
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Drive time from downtown Denver: 30 minutes
Quiet, close by, and full of tons of trail 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 makes 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, too.
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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.
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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.
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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.