1. Red Rocks Amphitheatre
We’re somewhere around 8 months away from hitting the road, so it doesn’t make the most sense for us to be spending money on flights to go places we’ll hit when we’re on wheels. But when Ween played a three-night revival at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado became an exception. Plus, we have a buddy who moved into town not long ago, affording us a place to crash for a few days. If you haven’t heard Ween, we’d recommend. They span a broad and confusing number of different genres, and they also play an amazing show.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre lies in the Red Rocks Park District, managed by the city of Denver. The amphitheatre is flanked by two outcroppings of red sandstone that funnel your view down toward the stage and out across the city.
Fun Red Rocks Fact: The color of the rocks is the result of iron oxide (the same compound that gives blood and rust their rouge) and there is a 100-foot elevation difference between the top row and the bottom row of bleachers.
Fun Ween Fact: In association with Ween is “The Boognish”. According to legend, this demon-god appeared to band members Dean and Gene Ween, offering scepters of wealth and power. But we’ll get back to demons later on in this post.
2. Garden of the Gods
We made it a point to get to Garden of the Gods, a little over an hour away in Colorado Springs. This place sprouts curious rock structures from its grassy topcoat, such as the Three Graces and Kissing Camels. It’s perfect for a day jaunt from Denver, and it’s a fairly short walk that can accommodate just about any level of fitness or dedication to an outdoor undertaking.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
We love ourselves a national park, and Rocky Mountain did not disappoint. A little under 2 hours away from Denver, this is an easy day-jaunt and 100% worth the trip. There are trout in the lakes, whooshing grasslands and creeks, and elk in the alpine tundra. Alpine tundra, you say? That’s right. Fill up your tank, give yourself a couple of hours, and drive the Trail Ridge Road up past the treeline and into the alpine freaking tundra.
Equipped with a Park Map, we drove to the Bear Lake trailhead and made our ascent to Emerald Lake by way of Dream Lake (which was just dreamy) and Nymph Lake. This is a 3.5 mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of 650 feet.
Fun Alpine Tundra Fact: The Trail Ridge Road quickly climbs over 4,000 feet to an elevation of 12,183 feet. For comparison, Denver is only one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level. Therefore, you may experience Acute Mountain Sickness (altitude sickness). I was near-barf nauseous on the hike up to Emerald Lake, and talking to each other was tough at times due to shortness of breath. If you have the time, spend a day or two getting acclimated before tackling the hikes.
4. Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is a sleepy little mountain town, and birthplace of SmartWool performance apparel. Its main drag hosts a variety of trinket shopping opportunities, hiking and biking (try Fish Creek Falls) and a few microbreweries, to include Storm Peak, Butcherknife, and Mahogany Ridge. We stopped into Mahogany Ridge and picked up some $1 appetizers and happy hour beers. If you’re a famished vegetarian or vegan, their menu is very doable.
Steamboat Springs is about a three hour drive from Denver. We drove back the same day on account of limited economic hotel options within the town itself or nearby, and our tiny KIA Soul rental car wasn’t much for snoozing space.
Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a beautiful spot about 15 minutes outside of Steamboat. Complete with multiple pools of varying heat, water from natural springs flows down from pool to pool.
This place only takes cash for entry. We learned this at the last minute and had to stop into a bank 5 minutes before closing to take out a cash advance on a credit card (we also learned this is something you can do in a pinch on the road if you find yourself without cash or a debit card with which to procure cash).
Strawberry Park has some great benefits that overshadow many other natural hot spring attractions:
- These ones don’t smell like sulphur.
- The construction of the pools preserves the natural ambiance.
- It gets pitch dark out here, and the stargazing is amazing. Once dusk hits, bats begin zigzag flights over the pools.
- The price is $15/person, and I don’t believe there is any limit on time. Once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no re-entry.
Fun Fact: After dark, clothing is optional.
On our drive back from Steamboat Springs in the deepest dark of the night, we had a near-miss with something streaky and eye-bulgey.
Me: “Gasp!” (I saw it well before she did.)
Liz: “Aaagh!” (Car swerves, narrowly missing a nature-thing.) “What was that?!”
Me: “It was a bunny.”
Liz: “No it wasn’t, that was a f%$#ing DEMON! Are there demons out here?!”
Me: (Dying with laughter) “It was definitely a bunny.”
Liz: “No it was not. Did you see it? It was fat!” (Because apparently there is a strong weight discrepancy between demons and cottontails.)
She spent the rest of the drive convinced there were demons chasing us down the Colorado highways.
Fun Fact: If you’re driving from Steamboat back to Denver, there are a truly wild number of signs telling you you’re probably gonna die by majestically leaping antlered things. Exercise extreme caution, especially at night to avoid whatever’s out there; antlered, long-eared, demonized, or otherwise.