Spontaneous trip to Colorado?
July 15, 2013 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Planning a spontaneous, very-short-notice 6-day trip to Colorado. I'll arrive at DIA and will rent a car. Looking for killer outdoorsy itinerary suggestions!
posted by perissodactyl to Travel & Transportation around Denver, CO (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Rocky Mountain National Park. If you sleep in the park overnight the elk will wake you up (in a good way!).

Garden of the Gods is also fun for a daytrip.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2013

Mesa Verde! Take the tour into the ruins. Learn about the fascinating history of this place and the people that lived there.
posted by bricksNmortar at 8:11 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I loved Garden of the Gods and there are a bunch of nice little motels out in Manitou Springs to stay at.
posted by jessamyn at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2013

Some friends of mine in Denver went to Dinosaur Ridge the other weekend and saw real honest to god dino footprints and my inner 8 year old was SO JEALOUS.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:21 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Devil's Causeway in the Flat Tops Wilderness is pretty incredible and can be done as a day hike (or a 1-2 night loop). (Some of the pics I took)
posted by czytm at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2013

Long (long) time Coloradoan here. Can you give more info on the kind of stuff you like? What sort of experience you like?
posted by ecorrocio at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2013

Trail Ridge RoadIf you go to RMNP, go all the way over Trail Ridge Road to the little town of Grand Lake, and see the largest (very deep, but not very big around) natural lake in Colorado.
Continue on through Granby, Frasier (once the "nation's ice box"), and on to Winter Park ski area, where you can rent mountain bikes and bike the ski trails. After that, go over Berthoud pass and descend back into Denver, with a turnoff to Red Rocks mountain park on your way in.
posted by dbmcd at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: eorrocio: I like hiking and wilderness areas and cool small towns ringed by mountains. Logistically, it may be tricky to manage overnight hikes given the short time I have to get things together, so town(s) I could use as a base of operations for day hiking would be ideal.
posted by perissodactyl at 9:15 AM on July 15, 2013

There's a ton of nice hiking with-in a fairly short drive of Denver (most of them have campgrounds around them too).

My folks just had a blast at Jefferson Lake, and I also like the hike to Chicago Lakes, or you could do the drive up the to the summit of Mt. Evans too. Closer in, and lower down are Golden Gate State Park, Waterton Canyon, and really just a whole lot of places. Be aware we are in the middle of thunderstorm season, so just about every afternoon the high country gets hit. It comes up fast, and it's easy to be caught unaware, at the very least you'll want a rain jacket. I'd actually recommend a light rain jacket and something medium weight you could put under that. Oh and hat and sunscreen, we've got less air to filter out the sun here. Altitude sickness sucks, so go slow, and drink all that water you're bringing.

If you're looking for more touristy stuff, any of the ski towns will a nice down town area to wander around in, but thing'll be pricey (especially Vail), or Denver and Boulder both have walking malls, Evergreen has a nice touristy area (plus a reservoir) and seems like there's at least one festival just about every weekend.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:19 AM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

You'd lose a day each way on the (7-ish hour) drive, but with 6 days I'd be tempted to head for the southwest, Ouray or Ridgway or Telluride. The I70 corridor ski towns leave a lot to be desired, at least for me. I'd do at least one of the drives via Monarch Pass (or one of the smaller mountain roads).
posted by genug at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2013

Poudre Canyon! Looks like they've been having some mudslides, though. If you're looking for a cool little mountain-ensconced town, Nederland sure fits the bill. (Seems they've been having some flooding, though. Hmm.)
posted by désoeuvrée at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2013

Nthing the Cache la Poudre river basin and in particular Grey Rock. Not the easiest hike but definitely one of the most amazing vistas I've ever encountered. Full day hike, at least. For 4th of July 1999, we camped at the top and watched fireworks from Pueblo on up to Cheyenne.

Oh, no! I was going to suggest a drive on highway 50 from Canyon City to Salida and on up through 285 or 24 with a stop at Royal Gorge and any of the many things on that route, but the Gorge is closed due to the recent fires. Anyway, that route is stunningly gorgeous with tons of old-timey buildings, old graveyards, abandoned and still thriving mining towns (Battle Mountain Pass, Leadville), amazing views, great people.
posted by dozo at 11:28 AM on July 15, 2013

For Rocky Mountain NP, Boulder or Estes Park on the eastern edge of the park are good base camps for your trip.
posted by mmascolino at 2:15 PM on July 15, 2013

From Manitou Springs (less than 2 hours south of Denver) you can access a ton of hiking trails, including:

Garden of the Gods - free

Red Rock Canyon Open Space - free

North Cheyenne Canon - free

Manitou Incline - not for the marginally-in-shape - free, but parking fees

Within 30 - 60 minutes: State Parks

State parks daily passes generally between $7 - $8 per vehicle; $3/day walk-in

Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Mueller State Park
Eleven Mile State Park
Spinney Mountain State Park

Feel like driving 3 hours or less:

Great Sand Dunes National Park - 2.75 hours

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests 3 hrs

Other interesting things to do:

Pikes Peak Highway (19 mile highway leading to the top of Pikes Peak) Includes Barr Trail, North Slope Recreation Area.

Cave of the Winds - because really - after going 14,000+ to the top of Pikes Peak, why not go 200' below ground too?

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

The reason to live in southern Colorado is access to outstanding outdoor recreation - you can also go whitewater rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking....

Hope that helps!
posted by faineant at 5:14 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is just a gazillion things to do but if you take a ride to Boulder and then come back through Nederland (just avoid the traffic) you will find enchanting areas without more than a day...and there is a great baseball park as well....and you can't miss the Mexican food....so drive north south and west...yes, I skipped east...it's just like Nebraska....
posted by OhSusannah at 6:11 PM on July 15, 2013

Sorry for the late follow up-- I was out all day. Here's a specific itinerary that I think would be very nice:

1. From DIA head north on 470 to I-25, to exit 243 west to Lyons. Lyons is a nice small town in the foothills, great for lunch and a look around.

2. Take highway 7 (left out of Lyons)-- up the St Vrain canyon, check out Allenspark, then to Meeker Park. Meeker Park Lodge has affordable cabins and rooms -- nothin' fancy, but clean good lodging. Horseback rides with Patty are great. There's great hiking nearby in the Wild Basin area of RMNP. Keep you going for days if you want - but get there early in the day because parking up the road fills up.

3. Farther up hwy 7 there's Charlie eagle plumes shop (real Indian art and craft); then aspen lodge (stay/eat/ride/swim); then Lily Lake- nice for an easy walk.

4. Down the hill and you are into Estes Park. Very touristy, but fun. Lots of places to stay. Taharaa south if town, Mary's Lake Lodge, or the Black Canyon Inn are all pretty nice.

5. You'll want to drive up Trail Ridge Road in RMNP. Great high altitude drive. The Bear Lake area in RMNP is scenic, but very crowded and sometimes accessible only by shuttle. I'd give it a pass. Better to head all the way over to Grand Lake.

~ Lyons has a fun pinball arcade if it's open.
~ Fall River road in RMNP is also a fun drive - all uphill, one way dirt road to the top of trail ridge.
~ Endovalley is good picnic area in RMNP
~ Village Pizza and the Notchtop in Estes are good for quick meals.
~ For fancy eatin' try the Twin Owls Steakhouse
~ if you want to fly fish, go to Kirk's in Estes and they'll set you up.

.... from Estes or Grand Lake you can make your way other places, but if you stay a day or two in Meeker, a day or two in Estes... you may want to head back to Boulder or Denver for a look around.

Happy travels!
posted by ecorrocio at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

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