Home of the Flatirons, the iconic Pearl Street, and the CU Buffs, Boulder, Colorado, is vibrant, energetic, and packed with a ton of attractions and activities. But to get the most out of your visit to this wonderful Colorado college town, be sure to escape the city on some of the best day trips from Boulder.
Although the high-altitude town has plenty to see within its city limits, Boulder is surrounded by spectacular landscapes, state parks, rugged peaks, and natural wetlands, as well as fascinating cities and towns.
Roam the lakes and forests of Rocky Mountain National Park or carve the slopes at famous ski resorts like Breckenridge and Vail, all within a few hours’ drive. Or head just south of Boulder to soak up the big city vibes of Denver with its world-class museums, top-notch breweries, and historical landmarks.
Ready to venture into the Rockies? Add some of these top-rated Boulder side trips to your Colorado adventure!
Top-rated Boulder side trips
Rocky Mountain National Park
Home to incredible natural landscapes of rugged mountains, tranquil lakes, and dense forests, Rocky Mountain National Park is nothing less than breathtaking. If you love hiking, this picture-perfect park is heaven: There are over 350 miles of hiking trails, from gentle tracks through the forests to exhilarating treks high into the mountains.
If you want a real challenge, try the Keyhole Route. The trail leads up the park’s tallest mountain, Longs Peak, and has some pretty hairy vertical rock face climbs.
Prefer something less life-threatening? Take a drive along Trail Ridge Road for some spectacular vistas. The park is packed with wildlife, so along the way, keep an eye out for everything from chipmunks to herds of majestic elk roaming the alpine tundra.
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Winter in Rocky Mountain National Park is a snow-sport enthusiasts’ paradise with snow-carpeted landscapes ideal for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. Ice climbers can traverse the frozen faces of the mountain peaks, while hikers can enjoy winter hiking through the park.
Looking to experience small-town Colorado? The scenic mountain town of Nederland has a fascinating history and is well worth a visit on your if you’ve got an extra day in Boulder.
Located 17 miles west of Boulder, Nederland was founded as a trading post between Ute Indians and European settlers in the 1850s. It developed into a mill site for nearby silver mines and tungsten ore during World War I. Today, the small town is known for its picturesque scenery, cool music scene, and an array of recreational sports.
Make your first stop at the Nederland Area Historical Society’s Mining Museum to learn about the rich history of the area. Then take a stroll to the visitor center in the heart of town to find out about what to see and do.
In town, there are plenty of antique shops, bookstores, and clothing boutiques to explore, as well as casual cafés and restaurants. Harken back to the days of old with a ride on a beautifully restored 1910 carousel to the tunes of a 1913 Wurlitzer band organ.
You’ll find fantastic hiking trails and nature programs at the Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center, or pack a lunch and burrow in at Barker Meadow Reservoir, the perfect place for a family picnic.
If you’re visiting Nederland in March, don’t miss the Frozen Dead Guy Days, a quirky festival that celebrates a Norwegian man who was cryogenically frozen in the 1980s.
Best known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding slopes in winter, Breckenridge, or Breck, as it’s fondly called by locals, is a snow sports mecca. But there’s so much more to this beautiful Colorado mountain town than fun in the snow.
Established as a mining town in 1859, Breckenridge has a rich history and beautiful Victorian architecture. Among the best things to do in Breckenridge is to wander around the charming Breckenridge Historic District to take in the town’s pasts or take a tour of one of the nearby disused gold mines.
Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range, Breckenridge is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Soak up the breathtaking vistas with a drive along the scenic Boreas Pass Road to the Continental Divide. It’s also the perfect playground for outdoor lovers.
In winter, hit the slopes at the Breckenridge Ski Resort for skiing and snowboarding. Take a scenic ride across seven miles of snow-capped peaks on the Imperial Express Superchair.
Summer also packs a punch with world-class hiking and mountain biking trails, horseback riding, and camping. If you’re visiting in July, another must-do is the Breckenridge Food and Wine Festival.
Nestled at the foot of Vail Mountain, Vail is another Colorado ski mecca and is best known for the massive Vail Ski Resort. Modeled on an alpine Austrian town, Vail has oodles of charm and offers loads of activities in both summer and winter.
Meander through the picturesque Vail Village and admire the captivating European architecture. Spend the morning browsing and shopping before wandering on to Lionshead Village, another gem in the Vail Valley and one of the most popular places to go in Vail. After soaking up the charm of the villages, head into the breathtaking landscapes surrounding them for some outdoor fun.
Boasting over 5,000 acres of skiing heaven, Vail Ski Resort is the go-to place in winter for all kinds of snow sports, from skiing to snow tubing.
When the weather warms up, head into the Vail Valley for incredible hiking and mountain biking trails, camping, and fishing. There are also several 4×4 trails around town and top-notch golf courses.
Don’t miss a one-of-a-kind experience on the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, a self-driven and speed-controlled rollercoaster. Zip or glide 3,400 feet through the alpine terrain and see the Mount of the Holy Cross and Beaver Creek as you slide by.
Golden is another little gem tucked away in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains worth visiting for a day. Named for the gold that was discovered in Clear Creek in the mid-19th century, the City of Golden is rich in culture and history, picturesque scenery, and outdoor activities. It’s also home to the Coors Brewery, the largest single-site brewery in the world so brew tasting is on the list.
Learn about the history of the town and region at the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum and check out some beautiful vintage trains at the Colorado Railroad Museum. Pay tribute to the cowboys and Indians of the Wild West with a visit to the fascinating Buffalo Bill’s Grave and Museum.
Spend the afternoon at Clear Creek, where you can hike the eponymous trail or fish in the river. Take on the white-water rapids on a kayak at the Clear Creek White Water Park and enjoy a relaxing picnic on the banks.
The last Colorado outpost before Wyoming, Fort Collins is best known for two things: being the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest and being the craft beer capital of Colorado. Spectacular scenery and craft beer: What more could you want?
But there’s much more to the mountain town than pilsners and pints. The charming Old Town historic district is lined with beautifully restored 19th-century houses, specialty shops, and restaurants. One of the top-rated things to do in Fort Collins is to trundle around the area on a vintage trolley to get a feel of what life was like in the 1800s.
Fort Collins has a thriving art and cultural scene and plenty of great spots for live music and comedy. One-of-a-kind museums like the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures and the Totally 80s Pizza & Museum shouldn’t be missed.
Head west of the city to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, where you can hike, marvel at the peak’s distinctive Horsetooth Rock formation, and cool off under the Horsetooth Falls.
Old meets new in Denver to create a bustling modern metropolis with Old West appeal. Situated in the South Platte River Valley, the capital of Colorado has it all, from world-class cultural attractions to a red-hot music scene. In the Mile High City, you’ll find a thriving foodie and craft beer culture with breweries and chef-driven eateries on every corner and it’s a jumping-off point for a wealth of outdoor adventures.
Start exploring Denver in one day at the city’s oldest block, Larimer Square, boasting meticulously maintained 19th-century buildings. Continue your historical journey by visiting other top Denver attractions like the Colorado State Capitol or the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown. A wealth of cultural attractions like the Denver Art Museum and family-friendly spots like the Denver Museum of Nature & Science also await.
If you’re a music lover, then Denver will have you in a frenzy to catch a concert at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, located 30 minutes outside of the city, or trawl jazz clubs in Five Points.
With the majestic Rocky Mountains just a short drive away, Denver is a year-round paradise for outdoor adventurers. Head into the Rocky Mountain National Park for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, rafting, and rock climbing. In the winter months, you’ll have a choice of top-notch ski resorts right on your doorstep.
Overlooked by the towering Rocky Mountains, Estes Park has loads of charm and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful year-round, with blossoming wildflowers in spring and vibrant foliage in the fall. Winter is a wonderland of snow and ice; however, it’s in summer that the town really shines.
You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Estes Park, from sampling Colorado craft beer to shopping for souvenirs. Visit the setting for the horror film The Shining and marvel at the stunning architecture of the 1913 Park Theater. Enjoy the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival and the wild and western Rooftop Rodeo in July.
Ride to the top of Prospect Mountain on the Estes Park Tramway and soak up spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Take to the waters of Lake Estes for fishing and kayaking.
Head into the Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy world-class cross-country skiing, fishing, and rock climbing. Don’t miss the enchanting Elk Fest in October that celebrates herds of elk that call the area home.
A classic mountain town with all the beauty and charm that is unique to Colorado, Frisco is another jewel in the state’s crown. Dating back to the late 1800s, Frisco has both small-town charm and big resort character.
Tucked between rugged mountains and a lake, Frisco offers a wealth of outdoor activities to enjoy year-round. From skiing and snowboarding at one of six world-class ski resorts in winter to fishing, paddling, and sailing on the lake in summer, Frisco has it all.
The captivating Main Street has lovely locally-owned shops and restaurants and you’ll find a fair share of craft beer breweries in and around town. The Frisco Adventure Park offers year-round entertainment with skiing, snow-tubing, cross-country skiing, and horse-drawn sleigh rides in winter. When the snow melts, the kids can burn off energy at a bike and skate park or enjoy a round of disc golf.
Several trailheads for hiking and mountain biking begin in town and meander into the foothills of the surrounding mountains. Pack a picnic lunch, grab your walking stick, and head for the hills.
Encounter some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world with a drive to the summit of Pikes Peak. Hailed as “America’s Mountain,” the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak is one of the highest summits in the Rocky Mountains.
The easiest way to reach the summit is to drive along Pikes Peak Highway. This 19-mile paved toll road winds its way to the top past dense forests, mountain lakes, and alpine terrain surrounded by spectacular panoramic vistas.
Celebrate your summit with lunch in the picturesque mountain town of Manitou Springs at the base of the peak. Known for its mineral springs, the charming town boasts a historic downtown district filled with art galleries, specialty boutiques, and one-of-a-kind gift shops.
Soaking in warm, mineral-rich water surrounded by the beauty of nature – what could be better? Named for the geothermal springs in & around town, Idaho Springs is a great place to head for a day of relaxation.
While the mineral springs may be the drawcard for many visitors, the town also has a rich and storied history worth exploring. Idaho Springs was the first place in Colorado where gold was discovered in 1859.
Discover the story of the town’s gold mining industry with a tour of a working mine and try your hand at gold panning. Pop into the Heritage Museum and Visitor Center to get more ideas for exploring the area.
When it’s time to rejuvenate, head to the Indian Springs Resort, where you can relax in one of several mineral pools fed by geothermal springs. Post-soak, why not sample some of Colorado’s finest craft beer at one of several locally-owned breweries in town? It’s the perfect end to the day.