There are so many towns in and around the mountains here that I can’t even claim I’ve even driven through half of them, let alone stopped to visit. But the handful of towns that I have had the privilege of exploring, I always find enjoyable. Getting out of the Denver Metro area may seem like a hassle, but everyone should do it at least once every three months I’d say (something I need to work on too). Not sure where to go?
Well, you know I love my Grand Lake, as it holds many special memories for me. Even though it’s different than what it was like during my childhood (what? a town can grow and change?!), it’s still a cute and fun town. Grab a caramel apple and/or ice cream from Grand Lake Chocolates, order a hamburger and some chili cheese fries from Miyauchi’s, and then sit along the lake as you watch sailboats, paddleboats, pontoons, and kayaks pass by. Rent a kayak or a boat of your own for a few hours and explore the lake for yourself or just do a bit of swimming on the small beach. Stop by Sagebrush, or one of the other many restaurants, for dinner, and get a soft serve cone from Dairy King for dessert. Grand Lake is right next to the southwest entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park so it’s a great place to stay for a long weekend or week if you plan on hiking.
Idaho Springs, while slightly more of a foothills town, is still close enough to the mountains that I count it. You’ll find Beau Jo’s pizza as well as The Soap Shop, all on the same block, along with an ice cream shop and a pastry shop that I’ve yet to experience. Idaho Springs is also close to Mt Evans so it’s a good stopping point if you plan on driving up that peak.
Boulder, another foothills town, is a bit more like a small city, and is a nice place if you’re into shopping (especially if you’re into shopping for expensive items) or college towns. Pearl St is a pedestrian outdoor mall that stretches for a few blocks and has restaurants, clothing stores, and other knick knack places. Celestial Seasonings Tea is nearby and, pre-covid, they offered free tours of their factory so hopefully they’ll start those up again soon. There are so many places to eat and so many places to hike, including the infamous Flatirons.
There’s also towns like Breckenridge and Fairplay (the infamous “South Park”), that are worth visiting. And Estes Park has the Stanley Hotel (plus the other entrances to the Rocky Mountain National Park are reachable via Estes Park). If you want to do a nice autumn color drive but don’t have 10 hours to go through the Rocky Mountain National Park, do the Guanella Pass road instead – Georgetown to Grant. It will still take you a few hours, but you only need half a day instead of a full one. Georgetown even has a train that you can ride, called the Georgetown Loop, and, in the winter, the town has a Christmas Market. Looks like they offer many other activities that I’ve yet to take advantage of too.
If you’re a little more south, near the Colorado Springs area, there’s Florissant, Divide, Cripple Creek, and Victor. those are lovely areas to see fall leaves as well. Cripple Creek and Victor are tiny little towns and Florissant offers the Florissant Fossil Beds, boasting a giant petrified tree stump. See the stump via a relatively easy 1 mile loop hike. And if you’re going a little more west, there’s Vail and Glenwood Springs that offer skiing and hot springs respectively. I don’t know enough about skiing to even mention all the other places that have ski resorts so you’ll have to do your own research there.
And those are just some of the places somewhat near the Denver Metro area. Colorado is a large state and I haven’t had the pleasure of exploring our towns further south. The farthest I’ve gone is Salida and Buena Vista, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Great camping locations and they have hot springs and hot pools. I’ve heard great things about Gunnison and Ouray too and of course you can’t forget about the Great Sand Dunes (do dunes count as mountains? I’m gonna say yes).
The point is, you’ll find something neat or fun about each town you visit so it’s worth it to go out there and explore.
Check out all the activities and things I love about Colorado here.