Where to recharge in the mountains
As we all know, life’s daily grind can be all-consuming, which makes timely getaways all the more important.
Of course, that’s one of the glories of living in Denver — world-class mountain destinations are just a short drive away.
As Denver populations proliferate, many of our favorite local nooks have become crowded, so I outlined some of my favorite Colorado off-beaten-path destinations to recharge, relax and enjoy the glorious Rocky Mountain summers.
First up, magical Ouray.
Ouray — quintessential Colorado mountain town charm, outdoor activities galore + cozy bars
Driving distance from Denver — Five hours 38 mins on good ol’ 70.
Nestled in the peaks of the Rockies, Ouray is a vibrant nature soup (yes, I did use “soup” there).
Explore the scene on foot, horseback, four-wheel drive, or drive the famous San Juan Skyway, one of America’s most scenic drives. Trust me on that one.
Ouray is truly magical — with sheer mountain cliffs bracketing the small town you feel nestled in a special place far, far away. Which, especially with the drive, you are.
Natural hot springs, sulfur-free water, and mountain basins with wildflowers and waterfalls make Ouray one of Colorado’s most iconic mountain getaways.
There’s also fly fishing, mining, museums, ghost tours, and you can also see vistas where old Hollywood westerns were filmed.
It’s easy to see why this has been such a special place for world travelers for over century; the whole place is a natural, outdoor playground!
To boot, it’s small, quaint downtown offers an abundance of comfort and bars to balance out the busy outdoor days.
Ouray highlight — Whitewater rafting
Visitors can ride the area’s wonderful Uncompahgre River on half-day or two-hour trips from outfitter RIGS.
The more adventurous can also choose inflatable kayak trips from the Ridegway-based guide service.
When out of the water, the area’s standout hikes will also amaze.
Reach out to me with any questions on other ins-and-outs of Denver living or insight into buying or selling.
Cuchara — quiet mountain town, brimming with art and natural backdrops
Driving sometimes looms as an obstacle to vacations, especially out-of-the-way ones, which is why southern Colorado’s ghost ski resort Cuchara shines bright as a Colorado getaway.
It offers an ideal vacation spot with limited foot traffic aided by affordable places to eat and sleep. The county that houses it — Huerfano County — has only two traffic lights, but an unlimited to-do list. (I’m a little wary about letting this secret out! :))
Head three hours south on I-25 for the weekend and experience world-class drives, hikes and family magic.
Driving distance from Denver — Approximately three hours south on I-25.
Nestled between the lush pines of the San Isabel National Forest and the Cucharas River, Cuchara has a true rural mountain setting.
Nearby San Isabel National Forest spans nearly 3 million acres. Many visitors lace up their hiking boots to tackle one of the park’s 19 fourteeners or fish Clear Creek Reservoir.
My favorite part of the area is a summer drive on Independence Pass. Twin Lakes has some great campgrounds, just off the pass.
The area has countless hikes and lakes, and serves as a great basecamp for hikes up Trinchera Peak, which features abundant wildlife and scrambling! Yeah.
The tiny and laid back resort town of Le Veta borders Cuchara; its residents include artists and ranchers. Small music venues and galleries regularly host family friendly events. Hint: book a dinner reservation at Aly’s restaurant; Chef Aly Rome has an ever evolving menu and options for everyone.
You won’t be able to miss the the Spanish Peaks that reach 13,631 feet and hug the Highway of Legends (State Highway 12), which courses through La Veta and Cuchara. I almost don’t want to give this one away. Truly gives some quiet Colorado magic to those who make the trip.
Cuchara highlight — Great Sand Dunes National Park
The great thing about getting out there is that you end up that much closer to similar, out-of-the-way places. Great Sane Dunes National Park, just about 90 minutes from Cuchara, proves the point.
I cannot recommend this day trip enough. If you go with your family, plan on renting gear to sled and sand board on the dunes. It’s a guaranteed, perfect afternoon!
At the end of the day, cool off in Medano Creek, nestled below sand dunes and high peaks.
Living in Denver doesn’t get much better than this and the exploration doesn’t end here!
Cripple Creek — Disappear into another time + maybe find some gold
Looking for a different kind of getaway? I know sleepy little mining towns aren’t exactly what we might think of when we think “vacation,” but this sleepy gem will have you and your family charged up.
Here’s a teaser: Descend 100 stories into the Earth, meander through historical buildings and take in stunning views of the Rockies.
Driving distance from Denver — Two hours and 30 minutes south on I-25
The cities of Cripple Creek and Victor reside in Teller County, near the heart of the Cripple Creek Mining District.
Victor’s historic city boomed when gold-hunters struck a lode gold was discovered in 1880 and the rush hit, bringing thousands to the area — one of the West’s largest gold booms.
Today, Victor (and Cripple Creek) run gold mine tours, steam engine rides, and a variety of historical museums, such as the Lawmen Jail Museum!
If history leaves you and the family dull-eyed, take advantage of the climbing, the area offers an abundance of off-roading, canyoning and camping spots. It also has plenty of casinos, restaurants and shopping. (A little something for everyone in the family!)
These little mining towns have become havens from city life, they have Airbnbs and funky hotels proliferate, giving them a cozy charm. Carr Manor — a late 19th century Victorian high school converted and repurposed into a hotel in 1983 — stands as one great example.
Cripple Creek Highlight — Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tours
An ode to the old industry of many Colorado towns, this mining tour dazzles with interaction. It takes you on an underground mine railway, but, more exciting, the tour guides demonstrate how mining tools (like dynamite!) are used.
And, of course, keep your eyes peeled for any overlooked, or newly unearthed, gold nuggets!.
Manitou Springs — A healing experience + an insane incline
It’s not always feasible to drive to mountain towns like Cuchara or magical Ouray. Thankfully, Manitou Springs sits right in our backyard! (Ideal for those spontaneous adventures.)
Manitou’s central location puts you right in the heart of hot springs, leg-aching hikes and an unforgettable National Natural Landmark.
Driving distance to Denver — One hour and 20 minutes south on I-25.
Located just six miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, Manitou is a quiet, historic town known for its magical mineral waters, vibrant artisan community, and holistic quality of life.
The Ute, Cheyenne and other Native Americans considered this area sacred for its healing springs and clean mountain air.
Manitou even has hot springs you can swim in at night!
Besides the holistic aspect, Manitou Springs also features the insane Manitou Incline, an extreme hiking trail that gains almost 2,000 feet of elevation within a mile.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, Pikes Peak trail head, one of the famous Colorado 14ers, sits an hour from Manitou. Hikers of any level can find an accessible trail nearby. Just looking at Pikes Peak might inspire you to crush that 14er next season!
Manitou Highlight — Garden of the Gods
I highly recommend taking the 14-minute drive to the Garden of the Gods. Pack a lunch and walk under epic rock formations. I promise, you haven’t seen anything like these rocks. It’s a Colorado staple.
Every Thursday evening from 4 to 6, the park hosts “Gallop in the Garden.” If you’re interested, sign up for the 5K on the park’s website. Prizes are always handed out at the end, so be sure to bring the whole family!
Leadville — Classic Colorado adventures + outdoor fun
Next up on my CO getaways, mountain adventures abound!
More than just the Leadville 100, the area is absolutely jam-packed with activities. I mean it; you’ll have to go back. Or maybe pack a tent and stay!
Driving distance to Denver — One hour and 40 minutes west on I-70.
Nestled in the stunning Colorado Rockies, Leadville is a historical town rich with silver mining history.
In its hay day, Leadville flourished from industrial growth, attracting writers, politicians, and outlaws of all kinds.
Today, the natural environment beckons those looking to explore quieter pockets of Colorado.
Not only is Leadville right near the gorgeous and underrated San Isabel Range (National Forest), but also the Twin Lakes, Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, Mosquito Pass, and the Mayflower Gulch. (Just to name a few hot destinations.)
Leadville highlight — Boats and bikes galore
Dust off your kayaks and motor boats, and drive 25 minutes south to Twin Lakes. You really shouldn’t miss an afternoon at these glacier lakes. And the best part? Twin Lakes still remains as one of CO’s best kept secrets!
If you would rather white-knuckle down-hill, check out the Mitchell Creek Loop. The trail takes you through dense alpines and across a beautiful ridge.
With all these adventures so close-by, you’ll be teaming with excitement over your next trip.
Living in Denver gives you access world-class destinations. I love the Colorado lifestyle and I would be happy to answer any of your questions! Let’s talk