7 Outdoor Adventures Near Denver
With some of the best riding, rafting, climbing and skiing in the world, Colorado's stretch of the Rocky Mountains are a mecca for adventure geeks. The good news is that whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned adrenaline junkie, Denver makes exploring Colorado’s outdoors easy. Here are the coolest daytrips and adventure activities near the Mile-High City. Enjoy.
1. Ski and Snowboard at Vail Mountain Resort
With Vail’s 350 inches of annual snowfall, 3,500 vertical feet of mountain, 31 ski lifts and 5,000 acres of rideable terrain, outdoor enthusiasts can shred everything from long expert runs to powder-filled back bowls. When the lifts stop turning, hit one of Vail’s many watering holes for good barbecue or pub grub. The George restaurant has killer happy hour specials from 3 to 7pm and most restaurants and bars are within walking distance from the 5-star Vail Four Seasons (worth the splurge, as you can practically ski out the back door).
Getting There: Follow I-70 west from Denver into the Rocky Mountains for 97 miles. To avoid heavy traffic, head out before 8am or after 10am, and home before the last lift or after dinnertime.
2. Whitewater Raft the Colorado River
You can’t visit Colorado without taking a whitewater rafting trip. From May to September, Geo Tours (located in Morrison just a 20 minute drive from downtown Denver) provides access, gear and guides who take you down Class IV rapids. The company—in operation since 1981—shuttles you to and from parts of the Colorado River, Arkansas River and Clear Creek, depending on how far you want to raft. It also organizes overnight trips and inflatable kayaking if you’d like a multi-day excursion.
Getting There: Take Highway 6 West to 470 South for 17 miles to Geo Tours in Morrison base for free transportation to rafting locations.
3. Snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park
Ever wanted to float over several feet of powder? At Rocky Mountain National Park from November to April, you can do just that. Rent a pair of poles and shoes from R.E.I. in downtown Denver, and head up to the park entrance. From there, pick your trailhead, strap on a pair of snowshoes and hike over 25-30 inches of drifts and banks. Bear Lake hike, buried deep in the park, cuts across a handful of small mountain lakes, winds around cliff faces and tops out around 10,000 feet with gorgeous alpine views. Hint: the National Park Service salts and sands the roads but 4-wheel drive vehicles come in handy here.
Getting There: Follow Highway 36 northwest for just over 70 miles directly into Rocky Mountain National Park. Take your first left after the ranger station and drive until the road ends at Bear Lake trailhead.
4. Mountain Bike at Buffalo Creek
The Rocky’s front range is a haven for mountain bikers. The crème de la crème is Buffalo Creek, a 23.6-mile trail system an hour west of Denver. It features mostly smooth, rolling singletrack trail which climbs and drops nearly 3,000 feet in elevation. Along a backdrop of massive rock formations and mountain overlooks, you can cruise the buttery singletrack over tabletops and whoop-de-doos for a natural rollercoaster-like rush. The trails intersect in multiple loops so you can tailor your ride to how far you want to go.
Getting There: Follow I-70 West to 470 East to 285 South to Pike National Forest where you can pick up the trailhead from the Buffalo Creek Campground parking area.
5. Backcountry Ski in Estes Park
From Estes Park, you can access some of the most dramatic skiable mountain terrain in the lower 48 states. But you won’t find manicured runs or resorts here. This is all about Rocky Mountain National Park backcountry. ClimbingLife, an outfitter in Estes, leads guided expeditions with varying degrees of difficulty and experience, tapping into the best backcountry east of the Continental Divide. From November to July, it's possible to summit peaks with altitudes from 9,500 to 14,200 feet, and your experienced guides will take you over the best and safest snow routes.
Getting There: Follow Highway 36 northwest for just over 70 miles to Estes Park.
6. Ride Horses Under a Full Moon
If you want a true taste of the Wild West, go horseback riding in the Rockies. You don’t need to have cowboy skills to ride—tours from A&A Stables will provide all the information and guidance you need. A&A offers unique packages beyond traditional out-and-back rides, that include overnight camping trips and fireworks shows. The trips allow you to ride and experience the best of Colorado mountain towns. We recommend the full moon ride: a 6-hour tour that starts in daylight, takes you past an old mine to Central City where you can wine, dine and gamble in a setting reminiscent of the Wild West. Later that evening, you'll ride the horses home in the moonlight.
Getting There: Drive I-70 West for 40 miles and take exit 243 toward Central City.
7. Boulder the Flatirons
Known as the Flatirons, the enormous rock formations jutting up from the Rocky Front Range south of Boulder provide some of the best short technical climbs near Denver—and you won’t even need gear. The softer sandstone rock makes for challenging, but doable, bouldering ascents with holds varying from open ledges to tiny crevices and deep fissures. The slanted slabs at Flagstaff in Boulder Mountain Park are best for beginner and intermediate climbers. These can be reached via dozens of access points from the network of hiking trails. Hint for holds: the darker rock is strongest.
Getting There: Follow 36 North to Boulder and exit at Baseline heading west into Boulder Mountain Park.