There are so many incredible places to see in Colorado so we’ve put together a list of our favorite family friendly weekend trips from Denver, Colorado.
Distance from Denver: 3.5 hours
Aspen is a beautiful year-round destination, and only a short drive away from Denver! It’s one of our top choices for a Colorado weekend trip since it’s so close to Denver, has a mountain town feel with lots of things to do, as well as spectacular views in every direction.
Although Aspen is famous for its golden Fall foliage and world-class skiing, I think this place is stunning year-round. There are lakes, rivers, bike paths, gondolas, kids areas, tons of hikes and really great food.
Some of our favorite Aspen hikes:
- Crater Lake Trail
This is the trail that will take you through the lower loop of Maroon Peaks and up towards Crater Lake. It’s a moderate, 3.8 mile in-and-out hike with lots of beautiful mountain and lake views.
- The Grottos Trail
The Grottos is a much easier trail with lots of options and variety. It’s only about 0.6 miles but here you can find caves, cascading waterfalls and a dip your feet in the beautiful creek.
- American Lake Trail
If you’re up for a more challenging hike, American Lake Trail is a 6 mile in-and-out hike that involves a 2000′ elevation gain. The reward is a beautiful lake at the end.
For more information on Aspen, read our roundup of things to do in Aspen with kids here!
GOOD TO KNOW: Since Aspen is a very popular destination and one of the most common weekend trips from Denver, accommodations fill up fast and are not cheap. For more affordable accommodation near Aspen check out nearby Snowmass Village.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Distance from Denver: 4 hours
The variety of nature in Colorado blows me away to this day. I wasn’t expecting to find such stunning steep cliffs in the mountains, but here we are!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a National Park in Southwest Colorado. This is one of the easier weekend trips from Denver since it’s only 4 hours drive away. You can approach it from either the North or the South rims. Although the shortest distance between the two rims is only 40 feet at the base, it takes about two hours to get from one rim to the other by car. This canyon is one of Colorado’s least visited parks due to its remoteness and lack of nearby accommodation, and I feel like it is also one of the most underrated. Check out this post for more things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
There are limited camp sites, and the closest towns are Montrose (30 minutes from the South Rim) and Crawford (40 minutes from the North Rim.)
While the South Rim has a pretty well-serviced visitor center that accommodates, let’s just call it, lots of visitors, the North Rim only has a ranger station and – you guessed it – NO VISITORS. We ran into at most two other couples during our time there. I’ve never seen such a stunning, and better yet, empty, National Park.
We drove past Montrose on our way to our next destination and were glad we spent the night at Crawford instead.
Airbnbs in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
We opted to stay in Crawford since we wanted to see the North Rim. This was a pretty great choice – we found a beautiful farm-style Airbnb with horses that our toddler was able to pet and feed. The owners were incredibly sweet and even waited for us to arrive before feeding the horses so that our toddler could get a chance to interact with them! We also had a beautiful head-on view of Needle Rock right from our bedroom window.
Another great Airbnb option near Black Canyon of the Gunnison is this Mountain View Getaway in Crawford
This place was a little more spacious and had views of Needle Rock, as well as a patio outside where deer walked around us while we were having our meals!
Distance: 6 hours
This was truly a gem. No crowds, fresh mountain air, and unbelievable skies! Ophir is a tiny mountain village of about 200 people, just 30 minutes from Telluride. It’s at 9500′ elevation and sits right at the entrance to Ophir Pass. Since Ophir Valley is a fairly remote town, the stars are incredibly bright here and you can see the Milky Way rise right behind the Colorado mountains. For tips on how to shoot the Milky Way, visit our beginner guide with lots of tips and tricks on how to photograph the night sky.
Although this is one of the further and more challenging weekend trips from Denver, it’s probably one of the best. We stayed at a very cozy Airbnb and had incredible views right from our window. This Airbnb came with access to a hot tub which we definitely made the most of after putting the kids down to bed 🙂
You can either take a 4×4 up to Ophir pass or hike it since it’s only about a 2 miles. The only issue with hiking is that it’s all uphill and the starting elevation is at 9,500′! We had to turn around because I’m apparently way too out of shape to carry a baby up this particular mountain.
Bonus: If you’re into old abandoned buildings, only 30 minutes away from Ophir is a ghost town called Alta. This abandoned mining town sits at 11,800′. The drive here is quite bumpy and I considered turning our Accord around after only seeing 4x4s drive past us. But we made it, and, with sheer luck, no tires were hurt in the making of this trip 🙂
Distance: 1 hour
Estes Park is probably the most common suggestion you will hear for weekend trips from Denver, given its proximity. There’s no shortage of things to do: from strolling down Main Street, to frequenting the many cafes and playgrounds, to going on many a hike in the surrounding nature.
There are a few hikes here that are technically part of Rocky Mountain National Park but are accessed without driving in through the main entrance. These particular ones don’t require a fee and don’t have the same amount of foot traffic as the proper Rocky Mountain National Park hikes, and are just as magnificent!
There are also a TON of these guys roaming the streets and stalling traffic. If you’re after some wildlife spotting, this is the perfect spot!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 1.5 hours
Just a little further past Estes Park is Rocky Mountain National Park. We usually combine a trip to Estes Park with a visit here. There are countless trails, lots of wildlife, mountains galore and a whole lot of elevation 🙂
Most hikes at this park start around 9,500′ with an ascent to climb even higher. Make sure to take this into account if you’re arriving from sea-level! This is really high, and nearly double the elevation of Denver. If you’re not acclimatized you can experience altitude sickness fairly quickly and may have a less than ideal time.
Despite the altitude, this park is insanely popular and makes for one of the most sought-after weekend trips from Denver. Bear Lake Trailhead is a local favorite and the parking lot here gets full by probably 7 or 8 am in the summer. You’ll most likely need to park at the park n’ ride and take a shuttle up if you arrive later. The shuttle is pretty great, but can take a fairly long time to get on (sometimes up to an hour or more) if it’s a busy weekend. All the trails can be found here.
Distance: 6.5 hours
Never-ending art and music festivals, mountains in every direction, herds of elk posing in the meadows, and free gondola rides! This is as Colorado as it gets.
This is yet another beautiful year round destination and has a ton of things to do nearby. Our toddler’s highlight for this trip: (free) gondola rides to Mountain Village! Our highlight: free, unlimited toddler entertainment 😉 It’s one of the further weekend trips from Denver you could take, so it’s good to add on an extra day or two to make the drive worth it!
But also the views, of course.
We happened to get here in the middle of Plein Air, a festival where nationally acclaimed artists from all over the US come to Telluride and paint the beautiful scenery out in the open. You can come watch, chat and pose (ok maybe not that last part), and see the different styles and art come to life. What a cool experience!
One of the highlights here for me was Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are visible from the Main Street and look quite impressive from a distance. To see them up close, you can park at the bottom just past Pandora Mill and hike up the switchbacks by foot. If you have a 4×4 you can also opt to drive up this road right to the falls. We didn’t go all the way to the mill since the best view is best caught from the second-to-last switchback. For true adventure-seekers there’s also a pretty cool Via Ferrata that we got see bits and pieces of which splits off near the start of the trail.
The town itself is gorgeous. There are a lot of great cafes and restaurants, but one of our favorites was a cafe with a playground attached called The Butcher and the Baker right off the main street.
Everything is walking distance so it doesn’t really matter where you stay. Although if you pick right, (and stay on the East-most end of town in) you can catch a glimpse of the Milky Way right outside your bedroom! This Telluride Airbnb is a great option for that.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Distance: 4 hours
Did you know Colorado has the tallest sand dunes in North America? I didn’t even know Colorado had sand dunes! But this place is truly unique. It really feels like you’re in the middle of an African desert!
The dunes are located just 4 hours south of Denver and are easily accessible by car. The main sites do not require a 4×4, but if you’re feeling adventurous there are plenty of areas to explore on an all wheel drive.
We stayed at this Crestone Airbnb when we visited, an hour outside the park. There aren’t too many options for staying closer, unless you’re planning on camping.
One of the highlights here for us was sandboarding down the dunes. Our toddler was scared at first, but after the first run did not want to leave the park! I was quite pregnant at the time with our second so I couldn’t bring myself to hike up so many sand dunes, but I promised it looked like loads of fun! You can rent the boards at Great Sand Dunes Oasis, right outside the park entrance.
There are crop fields all around the park, which look pretty cool from above:
If you time your visit right, you can also catch the seasonal Medano Creek. This creek usually peaks around May and only lasts until July. It’s great for toddlers to splash their feet and float around on floaties and tubes.
Mesa Verde National Park
Distance: 6.5 hours
Known for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde is quite a unique National Park. This is the largest archeological preserve in the US, and has about 600 of these cliff dwellings sprinkled around 50000 acres of land. The Ancestral Pueblans inhabited these dwellings for 700 years, between 550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.
Today, you can take a guided tour down to some of these dwellings and see them for yourself. There are three cliff dwellings that are accessible via a guided tour, and guided tours are the only way to see them. That’s probably the only part we didn’t like about the whole thing. We had to spend a full hour on the tour, but there’s only about a total of 400 meters of distance to cover.
There was a lot of standing around and “listening to the surroundings”, “soaking in the views”, “imagining what the people who lived here were like”, and “waiting for the other group to finish doing the same thing”. This is nice and all, but not when you have an impatient toddler who wants to climb all of these cliff dwellings that are not to be touched.
That’s all folks! If you liked our list of Weekend Trips from Denver, save this post for later 🙂
Great list and stunning photos. I also enjoyed the elk at Estes Park and the crop circles from above!
Gorgeous photos! I didn’t realize there are so many incredible places near Denver.
Hello again! We are actually going to Estes/Rocky Mountain National park during the New Year. I’m not even sure if any part of the park is open during that time, but do you know of anything we can do there during the winter? I also read on your blog the altitude is really high there and we are from southern California and our infant will be 9 months old so a little worried about that! Are there alternative spots that are not high altitude in that area (Estes/Rocky Mt)? Thanks so much!
There will be lots of road closures around that time, especially since we started getting snow since the beginning of October this year! You can check the road status here https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/road_status.htm. Trail Ridge Road is already closed for the season. You should still be able to get to some areas of the park if you wanted to try some snowshoeing of cross-country skiing. There are several winter festivals that go on around that time, you’d need to check the specific dates for this year. If you’re interested in venturing a bit outside of RMNP/Estes Park, here are a few suggestions: Georgetown Loop holiday lights train, Denver Zoo lights, Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanical Gardens, skiing in Breckenridge/Vail/Copper/etc, hotsprings in glenwood springs. There will also be lots of Christmas parades and “lighting of …” around the Boulder County area.
Hope this can get you started on some ideas!
As for altitude – Estes Park is at about 8000′, and RMNP is 9000′-14,000’+, depending on where you are. It obviously affects everyone differently, but I’ve heard of multiple cases of small kids not doing well at this altitude – babies turning blue, toddlers vomiting, and mine is prone to fainting! But the good thing is that if you notice any elevation-related symptoms, you just need to drive back down to lower elevation and symptoms go away instantly. I’d highly recommend spending a few days acclimatizing at lower elevations (Boulder area) before going higher up or doing any hikes at RMNP.
I hope that didn’t scare you – RMNP is beautiful year round, and elevation sickness is just something to be aware of and look out for, and may not affect you at all!
Hello, What camera did you take these pictures with?
Hi! I use a Canon 5D Mark 4
Your photos are beautiful! It looks like there are some amazing places to visit in the Denver area 🙂
Thank you so much!! Colorado is absolutely stunning 🙂
LOVE your photos and tips!!! Would you mind sharing where you stayed in Telluride and (Durango area) when you saw Mesa Verde?
Thank you so much!! In Telluride we rented a place through Vacasa (had cheaper options than Airbnb at the time) and we found a 1bdr on S Willow Street. It was walking distance to everything – Main Street, the Gondola to Mountain Village, food and restaurants etc.
For Durango we stayed on the west side of town, right across the river off the 160. We found a place through VRBO.
Hi! Love the photos in Ophir Valley, do you have a link where you stayed there?
Hi! This is the Airbnb link https://www.airbnb.com/associates/76460?s=67&c=.pi115.pk0_9&a4ptk=14694_0_9_76460&af=115