If you ask a lot of travel enthusiasts about their plans in the coming months, you’ll hear many use the phrase “road trip”. The good weather and the arrival of spring often come with a surge in road trips domestic and abroad, and one area that is well worth an early summer exploration is Colorado, particularly the scenic region around Vail.
More Than Skiing
If you read that and thought, “Isn’t that purely for skiers?” you are partially correct. Vail is a noted destination for skiing enthusiasts. After all, one expert in the area said, that Vail is “so chockablock with diversions, some visitors might be tempted to check in and never leave the ski resort…But then they’d miss out on some truly spectacular day trips.”
As the weather improves, many of the area’s roads reopen and some of them offer amazing scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventures. There are also many charming towns and villages to visit, parklands, and more. So, here are five great day trip ideas for those eager to get out and enjoy the spring and early summer weather in the Vail region.
Drive from Vail to Aspen
While a day trip to Aspen is an easy and smart option for those who have booked a luxury rentals in Vail, the road trip from one town to another is a day trip all its own. You will want to head south towards Leadville as this takes you along Highway 24, also known as the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway.
If you have an issue with heights you may find this route somewhat overwhelming as it brings up to more than ten thousand feet in elevation. However, it is a charming and safe route that brings you to Leadville, a former mining town and once one of the most populated cities in the state. The Historic District is a photographer’s and historian’s delight, and there is even a scenic train ride (it does take more than two hours) that runs in the spring to fall season.
Head to Aspen after that and learn why it is the playground of the rich, famous, and elite. There are galleries and boutiques, delicious dining options, and more. Consider spending a night here and then heading to the next destination on the list – Glenwood Springs.
A great day trip from Vail, as it takes only an hour of driving west of town, is to Glenwood Springs. Famous for mineral hot springs, it is powered by Yampah Spring that ranges from 90 to 104 degrees in temperature, and is divided into two large pools. Nearby to the springs (which encourage swimming and soaking, is the Glenwood Caverns Park with a tramway, a 4D (yes, that said 4D) theater, and lots of dining options.
Driving Summit County
Another day trip option, and one less specific than those above, is to do an exploration of Summit County that is around 45 minutes east of the city of Vail. This brings you into the most famous ski areas, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, and Arapahoe Basin. Full of summertime fun as well as all the winter skiing, you can visit Breckenridge for its shops and breweries, or just enjoy the photo-friendly Main Street area.
There is also the town of Frisco in this region and it sits along the enormous Dillon Reservoir where you can rent a paddleboat and enjoy the amazing views. If you want to get your shopping bug taken care of, the Silverthorne area just outside of Frisco features a massive outlet mall!
Not far from Vail, Boulder is a remarkable spot tucked into the Flatiron Peaks. Denver residents look to Boulder as the ultimate retreat for its amazing shopping, dining, hiking, and laid-back atmosphere. While the city itself is a great day trip idea, in the early and cool spring weather the 48 miles of hiking in Chautauqua Park are not to be missed. They feature the Enchanted Mesa Trail and the Royal Arch Trail, both of which are ideal for hikers of any capabilities and those who love the scenery.
If staying in Boulder during a day trip, the Pearl Street pedestrian mall is similar to that in Denver, but somehow even better. It features street musicians, lots of kiosks, and even more shops. It has an authentic Art Deco theater and great restaurants.
Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
Technically in Vail, these are the highest botanical gardens in the world and feature some of the most stunning displays imaginable. As the travel experts from Conde Nast explain, the gardens are 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…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.”
Perhaps you are looking for more than a day trip? If so, it is into the Rocky Mountain National Park area and towards Estes Park that you will want to head. The roads you follow can include the Peak to Peak trail that lets you see some of the state’s most amazing sights and scenery. While you can find plenty of challenging hikes and trails, this is also a day-trip friendly route with a few lakes lined with charming trails and some drives that can take you to little rustic mountain towns. Many head here to see Sprague Lake or take the drive along Trails Ridge Road where breathtaking scenery and amazing photos are promised.
Staying in Vail, Colorado is more than enough for the average traveler, but if you get an itch for a road trip or two during a lengthier visit, we recommend those five trips above as some of the best.