Under two hours north is one of Colorado’s most popular mountain towns, and it’s no reason why. Not only does this city sit at the base of one of the state’s most noteworthy mountain ranges—the Flatirons—its cultural experience is hard to beat. Boulder has a youthful spirit, home to the University of Colorado Boulder and bountiful outdoor recreation.
If you and yours are of the active type, Boulder should be near the top of your list. Hiking trails abound as do bike paths. Rent a ride, road or gravel, and explore the area’s plentiful cycling routes. Mountain biking that you’re after? Head to Betasso Preserve or Walker Ranch for a plethora of trails ranging in difficulty. After you’re done, rent a tube for a lazy float on Boulder Creek or paddleboard on Boulder Reservoir. When you get tired, head into the city center for some grub.
Boulder’s acclaimed Pearl Street boasts numerous art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and street performers. One could spend an entire day hopping from cafes and bookstores and not get bored. With tens of craft breweries and hundreds of fantastic restaurants, it’s hard to go wrong. Try T/aco, Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, Sherpa’s Adventure Restaurant & Bar, Pizzeria Locale, and Lucile’s Creole Café for breakfast. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during the Boulder County Farmer’s Market, head down to 13th Street for some fresh produce and local artisan crafts.
2. Estes Park
Just an hour north of Boulder (around two and a half hours from Colorado Springs) is Estes Park. At 7,500 ft. and a population of around 6,000, this Rocky-Mountain town is quaint and sits at the foot of the alpine. Some may associate Estes Park with the infamous Stanley Hotel from the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film “The Shining,” of which rooms can be rented today. Others may think of it as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Indeed, Estes Park acts as the headquarters for this gem. Here, you can spend days searching for wildlife, enjoying splendid mountain views, or exploring the area’s 300 miles of trail.
To add some thrill to your tour, check out the Open Air Adventure Park where one can navigate rope bridges, tight ropes, and swinging logs while suspended in mid-air. If you’d like to experience the heights with a bit more security, ride the Aerial Tramway from the center of town 1,100 ft. up to the top of Prospect Mountain. Go early in the morning or later in the day for optimum photo light. Note, that the tram closes down for the season at the end of September.
To tack on some more scenic miles, drive Trail Ridge Road (US Hwy. 34) through the national park, up and over the Continental Divide, and down to Grand Lake. This route is the highest continuous paved road in North America, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. Back in town, grab a meal at Bird & Jim on the west side, or, choose from a wide variety of restaurants more central such as Claires, the Grubsteak, or the Big Horn.
As we’ve described, there are plenty of options to the north, but how about to the west? From Colorado Springs, Aspen, one of Colorado’s most prestigious resort towns, is a three-and-a-half-hour drive. Make sure to bring your shades with you, though, as there are claims that the area receives over 300 days of sunshine per year. And there’s no shortage of things to do.
Go on a hike up Smuggler Mountain or take the Ute Trail all the way to the top of Ajax. Try canoeing in the North Star Nature Preserve or hire a guide and run the Roaring Fork River in a raft. For history buffs and museum fanatics, head to the Aspen Historical Society. Looking to see a stunning live performance? Seek out a show at the fabled Wheeler Opera House, built in 1889. Aspen’s not just a place to visit in the summer either. Come in the winter to take advantage of oodles of snowshoeing or snowmobiling trails. Or, get tickets to one of the town’s illustrious ski resorts: Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Aspen Mountain all provide.
Now, this may be an American mountain town, but Aspen offers an abundant variety of international food. Explore your European palate at French eateries like Betula Aspen or the Wild Fig. Or, go south of the border with Mexican restaurants such as Mi Chola, Su Casa, and Venga Venga. For those searching for a little nightlife out, check out local haunts such as Belly Up, Aspen and Escobar Nightclub.
4. Arkansas River Rafting
The above options are all great in their own regard. But if you want to stick a little closer to town, look no further than the Arkansas River. Just an hour south of Colorado Springs is Canon City, a premiere whitewater destination. The river runs right through town, and upstream lies tens of miles of world-class floating opportunities. From sweeping scenery and playful waves in Bighorn Sheep Canyon to rip-roaring class IV+ rapids in the Royal Gorge, this waterway has something for everyone. Arkansas River Tours, located in Canon City, is a great resource to help figure out which trip is right for you.
For those less inclined to hit the river, check out the Arkansas River Walk Trail or the impressive Royal Gorge Bridge—the highest suspension bridge in the country! There’s plenty to do in town, too. The Fremont Center for the Arts offers gallery tours, workshops, and live music. Feeling hungry? Choose an eatery with cuisine from the culture of your choice. DiRito’s Italian, The Lost Cajun, Los Compas Mexican, and Canon City MUGS all offer fine food depending on your taste.
So there you have it. Four prime-time road-trip destinations all within an hour’s drive of Colorado Springs. Get after it!