With its proximity to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver is an ideal arrival point for outdoor enthusiasts. Colorado’s picturesque small towns provide excellent winter sports facilities, historical buildings to explore and a stream of festivals and events throughout the year. Our best small towns near Denver are within easy reach for day trips and well located for scenic road trips across Colorado.
1. Cripple Creek
Historically a gold rush town, visitors are still seeking to strike it lucky in the many casinos in Cripple Creek. Get fascinating insights into the town’s history in both the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum and the Cripple Creek Jail, both giving you insightful information about the gold mining era. This is a great town for a family day out; we highly recommend the steam engine ride on the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad to entertain the kids and get a fantastic view of the surrounding scenery. Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain are nearby, and you can reach the town from Denver by driving on I-25 south for about 2 hours.
Mountain lakes, lush forests, and meadows studded with wildflowers provide the perfect getaway from Denver’s hustle and bustle and Evergreen is only 29 miles to the west. The beautiful Evergreen Lake hosts a huge variety of watersports throughout the year, from pond hockey in the summer, to ice skating as the lake freezes over in the winter months. There are many historic parks and ranches dotted throughout the town along with galleries and craft centers to visit. For excellent food and awesome entertainment, check out the famous Little Bear Saloon on Bear Creek Road. The restaurant has regular live music nights with local acts.
3. Estes Park
Head north on I-25 and take scenic US Highway 36 west to reach Estes Park in about 1.5 hours. A popular base for visitors inside the Rocky Mountains National Park, Estes Park has instant access to the wilderness with miles of trails and even a direct aerial tramway to the top of Prospect Mountain. The town’s pretty cottages and cabins provide excellent accommodation if you’re looking to stay overnight. There are also many events, restaurants, and boutiques to provide entertainment in between adventures in the great outdoors.
Take I-70 west for about 45 miles and you’ll reach this historic gold mining town. Georgetown has fantastic museums, several excellent trail networks and direct access to the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The byway takes you on an extraordinary 22-mile scenic tour of the Rockies, from Georgetown’s south side to Grant in Geneva Creek Valley. Make sure you check for closures in the winter months. The pass is high and can be exposed to heavy snowfall.
5. Idaho Springs
Also on I-70 W, nestled in Clear Creek Canyon and surrounded by mountains, Idaho Springs is a great destination about 40 minutes from Denver and close to Mount Evans. This is the highest of the Chicago Peaks and just 28 miles south. You can learn about the history of the town at Argo Gold Mine and Mill and we also recommend checking out the Charlie Taylor Water Wheel that dates to the 1800s and has been lovingly restored.
Denver, with some of the world’s most beautiful mountains and scenic views in the world has a lot of offer to travelers. However, a number of road trips are also possible because of its central location. Check our road trip guide from Denver to other popular destinations such as Moab, Yellowstone and Vegas.