day trip outside of Denver
October 14, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

2 days in Denver metro area in November and looking for a day trip (and a place outside of Denver to stay the night) - what to do?

The girl and I will be going through Denver on Amtrak - coming in on a Tuesday morning at 8a and leaving two days later on Thursday morning (which happens to be Thanksgiving).

We'll spend night 2 in Denver (since we'll be leaving at 8am the next morning), but sicne we've been to Denver before, we wanted to get outside of Denver (2-3 hours each way) and spend the night somewhere else.

We'd like to spend it in a smaller town and then also up in the mountains - suggestions people have given are Boulder, Manitou Springs, Estes Park and Grand Lake.

In late November will it already be snowing in Rocky Mountain National Park, or can we still do some light hiking? And where would be somewhere reasonable (and not expensive) but with character to spend the night? I know that it might be near ski season, so i wasn't sure if places start getting a lot more expensive...

aybe a smaller town or up in the Rocky Mountains. I'm unclear how snowy it gets (and how expensive it is - is it ski season yet?) - so I wasn't sure if Rocky Mountain Park was a good idea or not (some driving and light hiking?)
posted by waylaid to Travel & Transportation around Denver, CO (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:58 AM on October 14, 2011

You should go to Manitou Springs, you should stay here, you should go to Garden of the Gods among other places.
posted by jessamyn at 12:01 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any thoughts on whether the weather by November makes hiking or visiting parks like RMNP out of the question?
posted by waylaid at 12:08 PM on October 14, 2011

Out of the question? Hard to say. Much depends on you and exactly where in RMNP you want to go. There's already been snow in the mountains this year. There's likely to be snow in November. How much? Can't say. The NPS has a page on weather for RMNP.

If you come prepared for some weather extremes then it's not out of the question.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:17 PM on October 14, 2011

It will almost certainly be snowing in RMNP by late November. Trail Ridge Road is currently closed, and the Alpine Visitor Center is closed, but you can check for updates on the road conditions here.

IMO, a more pragmatic approach might be to look at hiking around the foothills, in some Jefferson County Open Space spots--the views of the Flatirons (in Boulder) are great, but the long vistas also allow you to break for the car if you see weather heading in. White Ranch Park is maybe a good place to look at (These are not hard-core hiking trails, FWIW.)

A-Basin is already open, in answer to your ski-season question.

Having lived in Colorado Springs and Denver, I'd recommend Boulder as the other town to visit, over Manitou Springs, unless you like your adorably-arty on a very small scale. (But Manitou does have great-tasting, free-flowing spring water, as you might expect from the name, so bring a plastic bottle or two if you go.)
posted by SmazenySyr at 12:26 PM on October 14, 2011

Re weather in Denver: even when it snows, it usually melts quickly and is sunny later the same day. Fickle, but fast-changing weather. So, I'd say unless a blizzard is predicted, you will be fine hiking. Just bring lots of layers, including a water/wind/snowproof one.

In town, have you eaten at Root Down or Watercourse yet?
posted by Betty's Table at 12:28 PM on October 14, 2011

Er, weather in Colorado in general, not just Denver. But SmazenySyr's point about closures is smart.
posted by Betty's Table at 12:30 PM on October 14, 2011

I'd recommend against Estes Park; it's maybe the one place in all of Colorado that I really don't dig--and I even see the windswept beauty of the eastern plains as kind of cool, so that's saying something. Estes is likely to be more expensive than comparable cabins/hotels/b&bs in other mountain-y towns and to me it doesn't feel like a mountain town--it feels like a place with a lot of tourist amenities, which is pretty much what it is. If you need a place to stay close to the park it's fine but given that hiking might be a bit hit-and-miss in terms of RMNP I can't say I'd consider it worth visiting.

If you're really wanting something with a non-city vibe that is really Colorado I'd think about heading just a bit up the I-70 corridor, not so far you're getting into ski areas (most of which are on the other side of the divide, past Eisenhower tunnel) but enough that you feel quite past the city and into the mountains. The upside of sticking not-too-far from I-70 is that unless you happen to come in on a day where there's a crazy snowstorm, the roads will be clear and most likely dry; plus the views themselves as you come up the foothills and into the mountains are really gorgeous.

Some cool things along that corridor, all within one or 1.5 hours of Denver:

--Evergreen and Conifer are kind of cutesy and not at all touristy; you'd have relatively easy access to the Mt. Evans wilderness area which definitely has hike-able trails even if they are snowpacked (dress warm though!). There's lots of bed & breakfast / lodge-y type places here at different price points that have always looked interesting to me; this area feels very mountain-y in a local way, not in a "contrived for tourists" way.* I doubt the lake will be frozen over that early, so no ice-skating, but if it is really snowy there's good snowshoeing. You could stay at the Brook Forest Inn or Highland Haven (looks like rooms start at about $150). Google around, I always see a ton of little cabin-y or motel-y places up there.

--If you're staying anywhere near Evergreen, it's a pretty quick hop over to Mount Evans. Hiking isn't quite as totally awesome as RMNP but then again, November isn't really great hiking season anyway and this will certainly scratch your itch to be walking uphill in pretty terrain.

--Just a bit up from Evergreen on I-70 are very awesome little towns with a lot of surviving houses and businesses from the gold rush era (thinking mostly of Georgetown and Idaho Springs here). If the weather was too cold to hike, I could easily spend a few hours walking around these towns, popping into shops, and eating lunch. Unfortunately I think you're just a little too late for the Georgetown Loop Train, but you could tour the Argo mine and relax in the (smelly but fun!) hot springs. Tommyknockers brewery is also in Idaho Springs, as is the great Beau Jo's pizza.**

--If you wanted to make a loop of it (and the weather cooperated), you could do Tuesday hiking and exploring Mount Evans / Georgetown / Idaho Springs, followed by a night in that area or in Evergreen/Conifer, then the next day drive to Boulder via Central City--a very fun detour and worth seeing even if you don't gamble, PLUS they quite improbably have an opera. (AN OPERA.) The route is pretty easy to see on Google maps; you catch the Central City Parkway right off of I-70 near Idaho Springs, pass through Central City and continue on 119/Peak-to-Peak highway for another hour (with GORGEOUS VIEWS of snow-capped mountains) until you hit Nederland, a funky little mountain town directly up the canyon from Boulder. Either take a break to check out Nederland or drop down 119 through the Boulder Canyon to Boulder proper. You could definitely have a nice dinner (or even lunch, if you get an early start) here, stroll down the Pearl Street mall and catch any street performers that might be out, then have an easy 45-minute drive back to Denver.

*GRAIN OF SALT: I grew up right around here so that may color my view of it.
**GRAIN OF SALT: I usually eat this after hiking or skiing all day, not sure how it holds up if not ravenously hungry!
posted by iminurmefi at 1:21 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

@iminurmefi: PERFECT! that's exactly what we were looking for. Thank you so much!!
posted by waylaid at 7:07 PM on October 14, 2011

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