Dillon Reservoir (credit: Dona Klein)
Whether seeking a fun family excursion or romantic getaway this summer, traveling has become more expensive with climbing gas prices and airfare. Our own backyard has a plethora of destinations and activities, many of which are within a couple hours of downtown Denver. From interesting tours to fantastic foodie fare and great shopping to world-class art exhibits, we bring you the top day trips for under $100 in the Denver area.
Golden is about 30 minutes west of Denver. Home to the internationally known Coors Brewery, the tour begins with a quick jaunt through downtown Golden with interesting facts about the city. Free samples are available to 21+ guests and makes for a great way to start the afternoon before heading to lunch at nearby Indulge. This new restaurant is modern and chic. With a menu that changes seasonally, the fresh produce and wonderful atmosphere only is furthered by the friendly service of this family-owned restaurant right on Main Street. The Foothills Art Center rounds out the day with world-class exhibitions. Previous shows have included the works of Dale Chihuly, Degas and other well-known artisans.
Traveling northwest of Denver, Westminster is another quick trip out of the city. Begin the day with a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion. Whether enjoying the flying specks of color or holding Rosie the tarantula, there is something for everyone here. The education programs include interesting facts on insects and the impressive display of delicate chrysalis leaves guests fascinated as the caterpillars transform into the beautiful butterflies. After the Pavilion, head to Kachina Southwestern Grill for lunch at the Westin Westminster. Kachina is contemporary southwestern food and the décor makes guests feel as if they have been transported to New Mexico or further. The Navajo Tacos are especially good, served in a Native American flatbread. Once your appetite has been satisfied, head to FlatIrons Crossings. The mall is home to not only a wide variety of shopping, but summer concert series, movie theaters and additional restaurants for an escape from the city.
The quiet mountain town of Evergreen is about 40 minutes West of Denver nestled in the foothills. The historic Hiwan Homestead is an intimate look into the homesteaders who owned land from Central City to Colfax in Denver as you learn about the Buchannans through a guided walking tour. The quiet, pine-lined grove adjacent to the homestead museum is an idyllic place to reflect on those who preceded us or simply take in the cool mountain air and sunshine. For lunch, head to Creekside Cellars in downtown Evergreen. Overlooking Bear Creek, the family-owned operation creates its own fine wines from grapes that grow on the Western Slope. Whether enjoying a wine flight with lunch or a bottle for later, the sommeliers will help you decide on the perfect vintage. The paninis at lunch are delicious, but orderer beware — a full sandwich is enough for lunch and dinner; half orders are available for more manageable-sized portions. Once finished at Creekside Cellars, take a walk around Evergreen Lake. The majestic Lake House and centerpiece of Evergreen is home to a waterfall at the dam and canoe, kayak and paddleboat rentals are available as well.
An hour south of Denver, Colorado Springs is one of our most well-known neighbors. Starting the day at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, collections will fascinate at this world-class fine art museum and performing arts complex. A variety of guided and self-guided tours are available through the collection and kids programs are a popular addition to the event calendar. Next on the agenda is lunch at the recently renovated Broadmoor Tavern. The French-inspired garden theme is at home at the beautiful Broadmoor property and the fresh-made breads and summer menu items are well-deserved after a walk through the art museum. Taking in the grounds at The Broadmoor is an adventure in and of itself, from strolling with your sweetheart to watching the wonder of children’s eyes as they watch the swans glide across the lake. For even more animal excitement, the next stop is the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo where everything from feeding giraffes to taking a gondola ride will make you feel in another world at the highest zoo in the country.
An hour and a half west of Denver, Summit County is an outdoor enthusiasts’ playground. Starting the day at the Dillon Marina, day-trippers can take the water taxi from Dillon to Frisco. Floating along the beautiful Dillon reservoir, surrounded by mountains and islands alike, the clear blue mountain skies open above day trippers to the area. Stopping at the docks in Frisco, the Island Grille rooftop patio is a prime lunch spot overlooking both water and surrounding mountains in the low-key restaurant and bar. Following lunch, Frisco Main Street beckons with unique and quirky shops, charming gardens and a few ice cream selections for those with a sweet tooth.
Skip the airfare this year and spend the extra dollars on making the day trip into a few-night vacation. With several lodging opportunities from budget to luxury at each of the above locations, vacation is still a possibility this summer right here in Colorado. Many hotels and resorts also create packages that can further the savings and extend the experiences for each area as well. Enjoy your summer getaway!
Chad Chisholm is an avid globetrotter and brings the best of travel secrets and expert insights to his readership. A Denver-based travel writer and photographer, Chad’s travels have taken him to five of the seven continents in a passionate love affair with the world of travel and the outdoors. His work can be found at Examiner.com.