From Rocky Mountain National Park to Vail ski country to Boulder, here's how to do short getaways from the Mile High City.
A proper visit to Denver is worth at least a weekend in its own right, but if you've got the time, it’d be a shame not to check out the rest of colorful Colorado. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to experience the splendor of the Rocky Mountains or any other top town; dozens of options are within a two-hour drive from downtown. From panoramic hikes to some of the best food in the state, we picked three of the best day trips from Denver. Whether you're interested in the gateway to Colorado ski country and head to Vail; or just want to go 45 minutes to find Boulder, the chic yet hippy city that basks in the glory of its red Flatiron peak; or need the fresh air and beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park, here’s where to go when you want to explore—and what to do when you get there.
As the gateway to Colorado ski country, Denver has more than a few awesome ski towns within driving distance. But for a short getaway, we like the iconic town of Vail, two hours away. With a walkable, Austrian-inspired pedestrian village and plentiful activities, Vail feels like a vacation from the big city. Don’t miss the hiking in the summer, and of course when the snow piles up, skiing the back bowls is hard to beat. It also has more than meets the eye; locals and tourists keep coming back for the innovative restaurants and distilleries, dozens of kid-friendly activities, and the highest botanical garden in the world.
The Sebastian – Vail, a boutique hotel in Vail Village, welcomes you with a contemporary take on mountain chic; a sleek, modern fireplace greets you in the lobby, stone and woodwork are accented by funky sculptures, and hip, though-provoking art hangs on almost every wall. It’s a hotel that cares about the small things, including a hot chocolate bar at the front desk. The expansive rooms were recently remodeled; all feature curated artwork and a separate sitting space. Four-hundred thread count Egyptian cotton and fluffy down duvets make for plush beds, and each room comes with posh bathrobes and slippers. You simply can't beat the large, comfortable rooms, top-notch stone pool, and convenient location in the heart of Vail Village.
Vail Ski Resort is great in all seasons. Head to Gondola One at the base of the faux-Bavarian Vail Village, or the Eagle Bahn gondola in nearby Lionshead Village, and ride the lifts 2,000 vertical feet up the mountain. In summer and early fall, you can mountain bike, hike, and explore the activities at Epic Discovery—adventure courses, ziplines, a mountain coaster, tubing hills, and a climbing wall await. Come winter, it’s all about (duh) skiing. Vail’s 5,289 skiable acres are some of the best in the state, with back bowls, trees, and well-groomed beginner areas.
Walk up the stairs to Almresi, a second-floor restaurant located just steps from Vail’s slopes, and it feels like you’ve taken the train to the Alps. Rustic wood tables, red-checked napkins, and cozy candles on pedestals were almost all imported from Germany or Austria, making this intimate and cheery establishment feel more authentic than most of Vail’s faux-Bavarian schtick. Fondue, red cabbage, and even sauerkraut go beyond cliche. And interactive tabletop options, including the chicken and beef fondue, are great for spurring conversation among groups. Almresi works for just about every occasion in Vail.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
The highest-elevation botanical garden in the world is a pleasure no matter the season, thanks to well-planned landscaping and a window-filled education center. It’s free to visit, and in the spring, summer, and fall you’ll see streams, waterfalls, and a vast array of wildflowers. In the winter, grab some snowshoes and follow the tree trail to see a magical wonderland of pines, conifers, and the glistening mountain above. The gardens are free to visit, although feel free to leave a donation if you’d like. Anyone looking for a break from the busy center of Vail will like the calm environment; for families, the alpine gardens and Ford Park are not to be missed.