Boulder, Colorado is a charming college town tucked into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, just 30 minutes away from Denver. It’s also one of the best jumping-off points for anyone looking to explore Colorado’s many attractions.
When we visit Colorado, we frequently base ourselves in Boulder for a few reasons: it’s a bit cheaper but with nearly all of the amenities of Denver; it’s sooo close to mountains (they’re RIGHT THERE), hiking trails, and myriad outdoor adventures; and most importantly, one of my best friends has lived there for several years, so we’ve had an excellent excuse to visit many times.
Through all those visits over the years, we’ve had the chance to explore many of the incredible towns and parks surrounding Boulder. This list of the best day trips from Boulder includes all of our favorites, plus a few that we haven’t had the chance to explore yet!
One notable absence? Denver. I left it out because A) it’s too obvious and B) Denver really deserves its own post, because there is SO much to see and do there. But if you’re looking for a few Denver suggestions, we’ve got some in our Colorado getaway guide!
This post was created in collaboration with my local bestie, who I visited this past May on a BFF Colorado getaway. So if you’re a regular reader and you’re like “um, where the f*** is your husband and also when did your hair get so good?” It’s because Jeremy stayed home this trip and I spent most of my time behind the camera. For the rest of you who have never read our blog before, this is completely irrelevant information. Carry on.
Table of Contents
Hey, are you looking for more amazing destinations in & around Colorado? Check out these posts:
- The 14 Best Weekend Getaways in Colorado: from Hiking to Hot Springs
- The 8 Best Day Hikes Near Denver (That Nobody Knows About)
- The 8 Best Camping Spots in Colorado
- Distance from Boulder: 30 minutes
Not to be confused with The Netherlands, which is not in Colorado (or the United States), Nederland, Colorado is only 30 minutes from Boulder and makes a charming day trip from Boulder – especially if you like frozen dead guys. Wait, what?
So, here’s the thing: Nederland’s claim to fame is a fantastically weird festival called Frozen Dead Guy Days. The story behind the festival involves a Norwegian smuggling his grandfather’s cryogenically frozen corpse into a shack in Nederland, Colorado. He was later deported, but left his grandfather’s body behind. His mother stayed there to watch over the shack, living without electricity or plumbing (that seems… cold) until she was evicted. Upon her eviction, she petitioned the courts to allow her to keep her father’s frozen body in its shack home, even though legally, you can’t just like … keep dead bodies in shacks.
But this being Colorado, the city was like “this seems legit” and created a “Grandfather Clause” (ha HAAAA!) allowing her to keep the body. Grandpa Bredo has stayed frozen ever since, gaining a reputation, a new shack and even a new caretaker over the years.
Nederland celebrates its frozen resident annually with a fabulously strange festival. Activities include a slow-motion parade, a Frozen Dead Guy look-a-like contest, coffin races, a polar-bear plunge, and a dance titled, adorably, “Grandpa’s Blue Ball.” Do you love this place, or what?
Other than the festival each March, there are few other awesome things to do in Nederland, which is actually really adorable and not at all as weird as I probably just made you think it was.
- Get coffee and donuts in a train car: Stop by Train Cars Coffee to pick up some mini donuts and yummy coffee. Finding it isn’t hard: just look for a train car in the middle of town. The 3 converted train cars are all authentic historic coaches, dating from 1872 – read more about them here. Trains are a crucial part of Colorado’s history, so you can feel cultured while you chow down on donuts.
- Ride a historic carousel: Speaking of historic things that are also really fun, one of the best attractions in Nederland is the Carousel of Happiness. This authentic restored carousel dates back to 1910, so hop on one of the hand-carved animals and pretend it’s the early 1900’s – you know, the good old days, before the World Wars and the sinking of the Titanic and woman’s suffrage. Watch the carousel from the observation deck, enjoy a show in the puppet theatre, and embrace your inner turn-of-the-century child!
- Go hiking through mountains and lakes: Colorado is filled with excellent hiking trails, and Nederland is no exception. A few miles outside of town you’ll find the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, which is chock full of excellent spots to hike.
Estes Park + Rocky Mountain National Park
- Distance from Boulder: 1 hour
You can’t talk about day trips from Boulder without mentioning Rocky Mountain National Park. For that matter, you shouldn’t talk about Colorado at all without mentioning one of its most stunning attractions! This incredible national park is one of the most beautiful in the United States, which is saying something because this country is nothing if not filled with stunning national parks. 27 of which are currently in danger and badly need our protection thanks to an administration that doesn’t particularly care about the environment. Ahem. I digress.
During our day trip from Boulder to Rocky Mountain National Park this May, I was treated to an abundance of awe-inspiring natural wonders: from big-horn sheep and elk, to a sunny valley dotted with glistening lakes, to a blizzard-topped mountain peak – all just in a few hours of casually driving around. Most of the park wasn’t even open. We didn’t even go hiking, although there are roughly a zillion excellent hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (here’s a comprehensive list). We literally just drove around in our rental car, and it was incredible.
Rocky Mountain National Park is well worth a trip even if you won’t be back-country camping (although we do have a camping recommendation for the park in our Colorado camping guide!) or mountain climbing or anything else particularly active or rugged. Spending the day driving around and gawking at the majesty of this stunning park is a fantastic way to explore!
We recommend renting a car that can handle windy, steep mountain roads and inclement weather – you never know when you’ll round the corner and run into a blizzard, which definitely happened to us at one point.
- Psst: If you’re planning to visit multiple parks this year, we recommend picking up an America is Beautiful National Parks Pass. The pass is valid at over 2,000 National Parks and 10% of the sale proceeds are donated to the National Park Foundation, helping to keep our parks beautiful! The average cost of admission to a National Park is $35, which means that the pass quickly pays for itself after just a few visits. AND you are supporting the National Park Foundation. Win/win! You can pick up a pass online at REI or in person at any National Park.
To round out this fantastic day trip from Boulder, here are a few more must-do activities:
- Explore Estes Park: This town at the entrance of the park is the perfect spot to base yourself for a weekend getaway, but even if you aren’t planning on staying overnight, it’s a great place to walk around and explore. Check out this excellent guide to things to do in Estes Park on Pages of Travel!
- Tour the Stanley Hotel: Ever heard of a little book or movie called The Shining? It’s based on this stunning hotel, located in Estes with a stunning view of the snowy peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. You can take a tour of the hotel to learn about its history and its ties to pop culture – not only was Stephen King inspired by the hotel, but Dumb and Dumber was filmed there too, which is … an interesting combination. But let’s be real – what you REALLY want is to be scared out of your mind by some haunted a** little kids, so you should skip the fluff and head straight for the good stuff: the creepy Night Spirit tour. Ghost encounters are not guaranteed, but you’re bound to get the heebie-jeebies anyway.
- Refuel at Bird & Jim: Located a little way out of Estes Park, you might drive right by this understated bar without noticing. But we recommend stopping and getting some farm-to-table food and some a fancy cocktail! With stunning views of the snowy peaks, this is a great place to unwind after a day of exploring and before your drive back to Boulder. We recommend trying the Bird & Jim poutine, topped with pork green chili and cheese curds, and the Baller Bologna Bites, which are like little grilled cheese sandwich bites made with salami, raclette cheese, and bechamel sauce. Yummmm!
Crestone, Colorado is nicknamed the “Shambala of the Rockies.” It’s a spiritual mecca, a sacred land hidden in the San Luis Valley in the middle of Colorado. Weird, unexplainable things happen here. There’s a certain “vibratory frequency,” an eerie quietness, an inexplicable feeling of peace and zen. Crestone has the most spiritual centers per capita than anywhere else in North America. All of which, to me, makes Crestone ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING and one of the coolest, quirkiest day trips from Boulder!
Visiting Crestone, you might see nothing weird at all… or you might see an open-air cremation and leave a tribute to passing aliens. Or perhaps you might never leave at all: there’s a local myth that people who visit Crestone get stuck there. In my friend’s case, the myth came true when her van broke down after her first visit. Crestone wanted her to stay!
What is the source of Crestone’s mystical powers? Some say it’s the aquifer underneath the town, which sits atop of glittering quartz crystals. Some say it’s the mountains, full of gemstones and quartz, which surround the town in just the right way to create a “metaphysical vortex.” And some say the town is a gateway to higher realms: a portal to the universe, an entrance for galactic beings.
One thing’s for sure: if you do visit Crestone, do so respectfully. The community is small and tight-knit, and a bunch of gawking tourists looking for weird stuff isn’t exactly on their wish list. Feel free to explore, but do so with an open mind. Also, spend your money at locally owned businesses and don’t be a d**k to any locals you encounter. Those are just like … general travel tips to follow everywhere you go.
Here are a few of the best things to do in Crestone:
- Have a spiritual experience: Crestone is a spiritual mecca, and there are many, many spiritual centers. Like, a lot. Pick one or 5 and spend an afternoon respectfully learning and meditating in this holy place.
- Admire quartz, gemstones and other stones that rock: The Sangre de Cristo Mountains bordering Crestone are full of quartz and gemstones – but that’s not all. Legend has it that there are veins of pure gold running through these mountains – but nobody’s seen it in years, although some are still searching today for the Lost Golden Ledge of the Sangres.
- Seek lost Spanish treasure in mountain caves: Marble Mountain is home to several caves, including a mythical cave of gold: Caverno del Oro. Why not hike up there and see if you can find it yourself? Marble Mountain is a 13er summit and, according to some professional mountain climber, “a pleasant uphill stroll.” LOL, okay. Here’s their route. If you do opt for some spelunking, please be careful (and don’t litter).
- Have a drink: Local Crestone Brewing Company serves up barrel-aged beers and live music. It’s a great place to relax and maybe strike up a chat with some locals. Maybe one of them knows where that Gold Cave is located …
- Learn how to wrestle alligators (but don’t, though): Yes. This is a real thing. There is a Gator Park near Crestone. Apparently, most of the gators who live there are former pets, which makes sense because why on earth would there be gators wandering around Colorado? Anyway, if you’re so inclined, you can learn how to wrestle them, which… sounds pretty harmful to the animals, tbh. To be fair, the classes (and the center) are focused on education and the point isn’t to hurt the gators but rather to separate them in a fight or to check for wounds or illnesses. But still … we side-eye hard and we feel weird recommending this as an actual activity, so we’re not including a link. But like … if you do it, can you tell us about it? We have questions.
- Explore Great Sand Dunes National Park: Yep, you can slide down some of the USA’s biggest sand dunes right next to Crestone! There are also hot springs. And they aren’t … like, haunted, or anything. It feels weird to have something on this list which isn’t incredibly odd. Here, let me fix that…
- Watch out for UFO’s: Just when you thought the San Luis Valley could NOT get cooler, they went and built a UFO Watchtower. Other than standing watch for UFO’s, you can also leave tributes to aliens in the Healing Garden (and peruse the heaps of junk left behind by other believers). Supposedly, two beings hover in the near vicinity of the Watchtower, and if you leave them a tribute, you get to make a wish. Also there’s a magic bush!? I just … I can’t make this up, you guys. But that’s not all. In the mood for treasure hunting? Keep an eye out for UFO’s – if they hover of a specific spot, that means there’s treasure buried beneath. Apparently, this has been anecdotally successful several times. And if that’s NOT ENOUGH UFO STUFF for you, guess what? The owner of the UFO Watchtower will happily officiate your UFO themed wedding. Yassss!
- Distance from Boulder: 1.5 hours
Even though we cringe every time someone calls San Francisco “Frisco,” Frisco, Colorado is awesome. It’s a beautiful little mountain town with tons of activities for outdoor adventure seekers!
Winter is the best time to visit Frisco, and not just because the town turns into a yummy smelling Christmas wonderland during Wassail Days. There are also scenic sleigh rides (some of which involve hot cocoa … and peppermint schnapps, because we are grown a** adults). Also, Frisco is an excellent place to base yourself if you’re a skiier or snowboarder, with 6 world-class ski resorts located super nearby: Copper Mountain (7 minutes away), Breckenridge Ski Resort (15 minutes), Loveland Ski Area (20 minutes), Keystone (20 minutes), Arapahoe Basin (24 minutes) and Vail Mountain (30 minutes). Damn. That’s pretty freakin’ convenient.
If you’re not exactly the most athletically gifted human (read: me), there are still plenty of wintertime adventures to partake in at the Frisco Adventure Park, like snow-shoeing (it’s SO FUN and way easier than you might think!), snow tubing, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Oh, and Tumble Bubbles. What are Tumble Bubbles? Oh, just GIANT PLASTIC HAMSTER BALLS that you roll around in on the snowy mountain and smash into other plastic-ball people. YASSSSSS!
During the summer, Frisco becomes an outdoor lover’s playground. Here are some of our favorite summer activities in Frisco:
- Take in the scenery on a hike: The best way to explore Colorado is on foot, and Frisco is no different. Check out these scenic hikes and explore the beauty surrounding Frisco!
- Play in the water at the foot of some epic mountain peaks: Rent a kayak or Stand-Up Paddleboard and splash around the Frisco Bay Marina, admiring the stunning peaks around you.
- Practice your adventure skills: Frisco is a fantastic training ground for aspiring outdoor enthusiasts who want some training wheels before they jump in (again, me). You can practice your white water rafting skills at the manmade rapids in the Kayak Park, or practice skiing and snowboarding (yep, even in the summer) inside the perfectly safe Woodword Copper Barn.
- Distance from Boulder: 2 hours
If you drive through Frisco and keep going up, you’ll soon reach Breckenridge, Colorado. Located at a heart-pounding 9,600 feet above sea level, chances are you’ll feel the altitude just walking around town. If you’re visiting from somewhere closer to sea level, you’ll want to make sure you drink more water than usual and give yourself some time to acclimate before trying anything athletic, like walking up a flight of stairs.
Breckenridge is primarily a winter destination best known for its excellent Ski Resort, but there’s plenty more to do aside from skiing! In the winter, you can go snow shoeing, tubing, and if you time your trip just right, you can even catch the international Snow Sculpture Championships. Those folks aren’t just playing around with snow, y’all.
In the summer, Breckenridge is a fantastic place to get outside and play. There are tons of water activities like kayaking and white water rafting, and the summer snowmelt makes for some fantastic waterfall hikes.
Here are our picks for even more awesome things to do in Breckenridge:
- Fly down the mountain on an alpine coaster: One of the best year-round activities in Breckenridge, the Gold Runner Alpine Coaster is the best way to get your heart pumping and race down a mountainside without actually like, having to balance on tiny sticks of wood or whatever. Full disclosure: I was terrified on this coaster. Like, it’s perfectly safe, but it’s also just fast enough to be thrilling. Thankfully for us scaredy cats, there’s a brake, which I used the entire time. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys a good adrenaline rush, leave that brake alone and hold on!
- Hike Quandary Peak: This challenging hike makes for a good “introductory” 14er. Plus, there are mountain goats! Read up on the hike.
- Experience the Old West in a gold mine: Take a tour and even go gold panning at one of Breckenridge’s several historic gold mines!
- Take advantage of your elevation-lowered tolerance: Breckenridge sits at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, which means you can save hella skrill on booze because your tolerance is going to be as low as mine was back in college. They didn’t call me “One Shot Lia” for nothing. Actually, OK, nobody called me that, but if they did, it would have been accurate. Take advantage of your newfound fortune at Breckenridge Brewery, Breckenridge Distillery, or Continental Divide Winery. If you REALLY want to go ham, plan your trip to coincide with Breckenridge’s annual Oktoberfest. Just like … drink a lot of water, OK?
Fort Collins, Colorado
- Distance from Boulder: 1 hour
It may seem weird to recommend visiting another college town as a day trip from Boulder, but Fort Collins is worth the college town double-up. Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, and it’s an adorable college town: in fact, its picturesque Old Town inspired many of the buildings on Main Street USA in Disneyland!
Another of their claims to fame is as the Craft Beer Capital of Colorado, producing a whopping 70% of Colorado’s craft beer. You can’t help but wonder: do the college students drink craft beer too? Like, in my day, college parties consisted of a few cases of Natty Light and maybe a Keystone keg. Are CSU students beer snobs?! One of life’s great unanswered questions, I guess.
Anyway, because you’re a grown-up adult, you can go tour some of these craft breweries. Like Odell Brewing Company, the first craft brewery in Fort Collins. Or New Belgium Brewing Company, who make Fat Tire Amber Ale, the beer that everyone I know credits as their introduction to craft beer.The best way to hit a bunch of craft breweries in Fort Collins is with a Craft Brewery Tour. Or, better yet, a Biking Brewery Tour – Fort Collins is insanely bikeable!
But that’s not all you can do at the craft breweries in Fort Collins: you can also do yoga. Yes. Brewery yoga is a thing. Welcome to 2018. Honestly, it makes sense: to stay zen in this day and age you really do need the combined powers of yoga AND booze. New Belgium Brewery, Horse and Dragon Brewing, and Zwei Brewing all offer yoga classes.
Other than drinking beer until the bison come home (get it, because you’re in Colorado? Get it?! Cows… bison? GET IT!??!!?), here are some other awesome things to do in Fort Collins:
- Get a damn fine cup of coffee. Beer isn’t the only boujie craft trend Fort Collins dabbles in: there’s also a killer third wave coffee scene! Since we’re both coffee AND beer snobs, this makes us very, very happy. Get your fix at Harbinger Coffee, The Bean Cycle, Bindle Coffee, or Everyday Joe’s.
- Raise your spirits … at a high-elevation distillery. Get it?? Man, my Dad Jokes are on FIRE today. Anyway, Fort Collins rounds out the craft drink trifecta with FIVE local distilleries: Feisty Spirits Distillery, CopperMuse Distillery, Old Elk Distillery, Mobb Mountain Distillers, and overachiever Elevation 5003 Distillery, which does everything on their own from grain to bottle. Dayumn, that’s a lot of booze.
- Pair your artisanal craft drinks with some artisanal craft everything. Beer, coffee, and spirits doesn’t even cover it: Fort Collins kills it in the artisanal craft department. There’s bean-to-bar craft chocolate at Nuance Chocolate and artisanal popsicles at Revolution Artisan Pops. There’s Trimble Court Artisans, an art & craft co-op right in downtown Fort Collins. There’s even a farm/village/marketplace devoted to artisanal craft goodies, Jessup Farm Artisan Village, which looks like what would happen if all of my Pinterest boards created a commune together. Amazing.
- Another pun about spirits, but this time I mean ghosts. Look, sometimes my puns are fire, and sometimes I just phone it in. We can’t all be funny on demand, okay?! Anyway, ghosts. So, apparently Fort Collins is hella haunted. From a ghost named George who hangs out at the art museum to “The Walrus Man” who lives in the basement of an ice cream shop and has a hair-pulling fetish, there are plenty of grizzly ghouls to get your heart racing in Fort Collins. Meet them all on a budget-friendly Fort Collins Ghost Tour!
- Go white water rafting in the wilderness. Did you know that rivers have their own protected status, just like parks do? A “wild and scenic” river is like the river equivalent of a national park, and less than one-quarter of one percent of the nation’s rivers have obtained this designation. In laymen’s terms, a “wild and scenic” river is guaranteed to be freakin’ gorgeous, and there’s one running right through Fort Collins: the Cache La Poudre River. Other than being freakin’ gorgeous, the river is home to the best whitewater rafting near Rocky Mountain National Park. Book with A Wanderlust Adventure, not only because they’re a great tour operator but also because they kinda sound like a travel blog, which earns them major bonus points in our (very biased) opinions.
Bonus: Eldorado Springs, Colorado
- Distance from Boulder: 20 minutes
Located just outside of Boulder, Eldorado Springs is the closest day trip to Boulder on our list, and it’s going to be your favorite if you’re visiting Boulder in the summer! The town is home to one of the best swimming pools in Colorado, filled with sandstone-filtered, totally natural artesian water. Like, the kind of water you’d have to pay extra for at the store, only warmed to 80 degrees and swimmable. Colorado is boujie about their water, for real. The swimming pool has been a beloved tourist destination since 1905, and was once known as the “Coney Island of the West.”
Next to the pool – in fact, so close that it shares a parking lot – is Eldorado Canyon State Park. The park is best known for it’s amazing rock climbing, but if you’re not a climber, you can still take advantage of the park’s beauty with a hike, like Rattlesnake Gulch Trail. The moderate hike serves up more than just incredible views: you’ll also find the remains of a luxurious but doomed hotel that burnt down in 1913. Oh, and a train, because you’re in Colorado.
After your hike, jump in that pool!
There are so many amazing places for a weekend getaway in Colorado, and honestly, this list barely even scratches the surface!
Hey, are you looking for more amazing destinations in & around Colorado? Check out some of our other posts:
- The 14 Best Weekend Getaways in Colorado: from Hiking to Hot Springs
- The 8 Best Day Hikes Near Denver (That Nobody Knows About)
- The 8 Best Campgrounds in Colorado
Which of these day trips from Boulder are you most intrigued by? What would be the first on your must-do list? Drop us a comment below!
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Disclaimer: During my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I was provided with a complimentary vehicle from Mitsubishi.