A Colorado road trip up I-70 can take you to world famous mountain towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen. Yet, when it comes to Colorado highway travel, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “life is a journey, not a destination.” I-70 encompasses a spectacular stretch of smaller historic mountain treasures and natural wonders to discover from Denver to Fruita. Hop off the highway honey! You won’t regret it!
We know you don’t have all day, and time is precious. Hoping this guide helps you make the most of your detours without missing the good stuff. Recommendations are carefully curated to help you navigate a fun stop worthy of the journey and mindful of your time. Follow on instagram @denverilove for more pictures and ideas.
Highway Hop Offs Along the Front Range: Part I from Denver to the Rocky Mountains
Part I of this Colorado road trip travels from Denver to the Eisenhower Tunnel with great stops along the way: Golden, Idaho Springs and Georgetown. The three mining towns flourished during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 and today have become each their own unique epicenter of outdoor activities, notable restaurants and mountaineering spirit.
HOP OFF IN GLORIOUS GOLDEN
Golden is less than a half hour drive from Denver and beautifully situated at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Too soon to hop off the highway? Oh, but it’s well worth the detour!
Golden History – From Gold Mine to the Beer Capitol of the World
First a hunting ground for the Ute Indians, Golden changed forever with the Gold Rush of 1859. Originally called “Golden City” for prospector Thomas L. Golden, it was the capital of the provisional Territory of Jefferson from 1860 to 1861 and the official Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1867. In addition to gold, Golden’s industry thrived with brick, coal, clay…and BEER!
In 1873, Adolph Coors and Denver confectioner Jacob Schueler converted an old tannery into the Golden Brewery. Coors purchased Schueler’s interest and renamed the brewery the Adolph Coors Golden Brewery. Around the same time, Colorado became a state, and the capital moved to Denver.
Also of note: Jolly Rancher candies were founded in Golden. Jolly Rancher was originally an old fashioned western candy store started in 1949 by Bill and Dorothy Harmsen. Located on Golden’s main street Washington Avenue, all the ice cream, chocolate and hard candy were made in house. Today, Hershey owns Jolly Rancher.
Golden Festivals: Colorado Road Trip
Golden hosts a number of festivals throughout the summer starting with the Golden Games in May. Other summer festivals like the Buffalo Bill Days is a totally unique way to experience colorful Colorado!
Buffalo Bill Days at the end of July is a special Colorado tradition with lots of fun activities including muttin’ bustin’. The first Buffalo Bill Days took place in 1940 with a trail ride up Lookout Mountain to Buffalo Bill’s grave. Over the past 75+ years Buffalo Bill Days has become one of the premiere events of the year.
The annual Golden Fine Arts Festival, is one of the Front Range’s prestigious juried summer art shows. Drawing over 35,000 people in two days, the festival celebrates with art, live entertainment, beer and wine gardens, food vendors, and children’s activities, and the best part…free admission for all.
Fun Things to Do In Golden
There is no shortage of fun to be had in Golden! From digging for dinosaurs to fine art and majestic hiking trails, Golden has tons of Colorado activities for all ages. A few recommendations to help navigate this large playground:
1. Take a Tour of a the World’s Largest Single Site Brewery
Golden, Colorado brews more beer than any other city in the world! In fact, Coors Brewery is the largest single site brewery in the world! Daily tours of the malting, brewing and packaging processes at the Coors Brewery is a great Colorado activity.
Watch thousands of cans being filled with beer and slotted into six pack holders. Beer samples in branded recyclable take home aluminum cups are included with the $20 tour ticket for visitors over 21 years old.
13th & Ford Streets, (303) 277-BEER (2337), Tour Info – (866) 812- 2337
2. Meet Thomas the Train or Ride the Rio Grande’s “Galloping Goose.”
Stopping at the Colorado Railroad Museum is a great Colorado adventure! In the summer months, you can take a historic train ride (Thursday through Sunday) and experience the Rio Grande’s “Galloping Goose” motorcar. Saturday train rides run through the end of October.
Special train events run throughout the fall and winter. September train rides require special advance tickets a Day Out with Thomas. In November and December, hop aboard the Polar Express for a fun holiday cabaret show, hot chocolate and a full theatrical reenactment of the Polar Express journey to the North Pole, ending with a visit with Santa Claus.
The Colorado Railroad Museum also offers FREE days on select Thursdays in partnership with the SCFD (Scientific and Cultural Facilities District). Advance tickets are still required to secure a spot. The next free day is October 6, 2022.
17155 W 44th Ave, Golden, CO 8040 (303) 279-4591
3. Go Back in Time to The Wild Days of Buffalo Bill & Annie Oakley
A great short stop along I-70 is the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, located at Lookout Mountain Park. Bill Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, was a pony express rider and energetic promoter of his Wild West shows. The City of Denver runs the museum and offers FREE ADMISSION EVERY DAY for kids with an accompanying adult and a My Denver Card.
It doesn’t take too long to see the whole museum and there are scenic little trails out back to move your legs!
987 1/2 Lookout Mountain Rd, Golden, CO 80401 (720) 865-2160
4. Make a Big Splash and Build a Sandcastle
In the summer, Splash at Fossil Trace is a fun place to cool off and play in the biggest sandbox in Jefferson County. Don’t forget your shovel and bucket. For under $10 a person, you can soar down Splash’s water slides from May through August.
3051 Illinois Street, Golden, CO 80401 (303) 277-8700
5. Hike, Bike and Horseback
Golden is home to one of Denver’s most treasured mountain parks, Lookout Mountain Park as well as Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Colorado road trips don’t need to be lengthy to find spectacular hiking trails and paradise-like bike paths.
6. Dig for Dinosaurs
Did you know, the world’s first dinosaur bones were discovered near Golden in 1877!
Golden’s Dinosaur Ridge is the home to the first Stegosaurus discovery ever! Now a world famous geological and paleontological outdoor museum, Dinosaur Ridge contains more than a hundred dinosaur tracks and is a National Natural Landmark open 7 days a week from May through October.
State Highway 26 (between C-470 and Highway 93), (303) 697-DINO (3466)
Golden Food Recommendations
On your Colorado roadtrip, you can find a great variety of excellent food from all of over the world with a short highway hop off in Golden. Schnepf’s Restaurant at Fossil Trace, Sherpa House Restaurant and Cultural Center, Abejas and Thai Gold are a few good ones to try. For some of the world’s best sub sandwiches, don’t miss D’Deli!
D’Deli is locally owned and no ordinary sandwich shop! The “Bommy Mommy” is absolutely epic with turkey, cream cheese, Craisins, sunflower seeds, sprouts, cucumbers and tomatoes. If you like chicken salad, you will LOVE D’Deli’s special recipe!
Another great place to eat in Golden is The Golden Mill food hall. Golden Mill boasts five delicious food options, a self pour tap wall, live music and spectacular views. The food choices range from tacos, to sushi to ice cream! We love the sashimi at Sushi Sora, one of local Denver chef Jesus Silva’s newest restaurants, located inside Golden Mill.
HOP OFF IN HISTORIC IDAHO SPRINGS
Up the road a few miles, you will see three exits to Idaho Springs. For a tiny town, Idaho Springs has an extraordinary number of good places to eat, fun shops, breweries and activities to enjoy. Victorian architecture lines Main Street dating back to when Idaho Springs was a major gold vein. Idaho Springs is a favorite hop off on a Colorado road trip.
Idaho Springs History
According to the trusty Colorado Gov. site, “Idaho Springs is the site of the first significant discovery of the Colorado Gold Rush.” My favorite historic site in Idaho Springs is the Charlie Tayler waterwheel. The wheel was refurbished in 1988 and stands as a relic of Clear Creek County’s mining history.
Idaho Springs Festivals: Colorado Road Trip
Idaho Springs also has lots of fun festivals. The RapidGrass Bluegrass Music Festival takes place in July. The Grillin and Chillin Music & Beer Festival is in August with two days of live music, great spirits, and more. In September, there’s the Dynamite Days Street Festival, a celebration of Idaho Springs rich mining history with free family fun, live music, food, beer, a chili cook-off AND a steak cook-off!
You can find dates and information about the Idaho Springs Festivals on the Clear Creek County Events Calendar.
Fun Things to Do in Idaho Springs
1. Tour a Mine
So many gold mines, so little time! When choosing which gold mine to tour, there are some differences.
At the Phoenix Gold Mine you can tour a working gold mine and venture down a real mine shaft. Afterwards, try your prospecting skills panning for gold in the stream. If you find gold you get to keep it! The mine is also known for its ghost tours exploring the legends of paranormal activities in mines.
Another excellent mine tour is the one hour Argo Mill and Tunnel Tour. The Argo Mine, built at the entrance of the Argo Tunnel, is one of Colorado’s most famous gold mines right in the heart of Idaho Springs. Notably, the Argo Gold Mine processed over $100 million worth of ore when gold was $18-$35 and ounce. Today, the Argo Mine is a National Historic Site.
2. Raft the Rocky Mountain White Water Rapids
Clear Creek runs through Idaho Springs with fierce class IV and V rafting rapids and great fishing. This isn’t a ride at Disneyland though. Good safety and a trustworthy guide are a must. There are a number of reputable rafting companies. We’ve had a lot of fun with Liquid Descent Rafting.
3. Soak in a Natural Hot Spring
First considered sacred bubbly waters by the Ute and Arapahoe Indians, the Indian Springs Resort has a long Colorado history from miners to presidents. Today the resort offers an indoor swimming pool and outdoor hot tubs.
4. Ride on the Highest Paved Road in North America
Requiring a bit more time than just a stop off, the Mount. Evans Scenic Byway at the Idaho Springs exit takes you up Highway 103, THE HIGHEST PAVED ROAD IN NORTH AMERICA climbing all the way to the peak of Mount. Evans at 14,265 feet above sea level. The road travels through three ecosystems including Echo Lake.
5. Walk in an Ancient Forest
Another great hop off on the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is the Mount Goliath Natural Area. Here you will find the largest, northernmost strand of Bristlecone Pine trees in North America. Mount Goliath Natural Area is home to some of the oldest tress in Colorado ranging from 1600 to 2500 years old. Internationally recognized as one of the purest locations to study alpine ecology, Mount Golliath has Denver Botanic Gardens docents onsite in the summer to answer questions.
Idaho Springs Food Recommendations
There are lots of great places to eat in Idaho Springs, but we always gravitate to the same tried and true local Colorado restaurants Colorado road trips have led skiers and hikers to Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs for many decades. Devouring Beau Jo’s deep crust pizza and piling up a huge salad from Beau Jo’s “bathtub” style bar is a Colorado rite of passage!
HOP OFF IN GEORGETOWN: WHERE PARIS MEETS THE WILD WEST ON YOUR COLORADO ROAD TRIP
On the road again. Heading up the hill on your Colorado road trip, before you get to the Eisenhower Tunnel, Georgetown is a fabulous highway hop off – a grand Colorado treasure not to be missed.
Georgetown, like Golden, was originally home to the Ute Native Americans who hunted game along Clear Creek. It later became the most important Colorado mining town of its time with an air of sophisticated elegance.
Known as “the Silver Queen of the Rockies,” Georgetown thrived in the hustle and bustle of wealthy mine owners and European travelers. The Hotel de Paris even served lobster – no easy feat high in the Rockies in the 1800s.
Colorado road trips hold many ways for history buffs to learn about the old west. Go back in time and tour the Hotel de Paris and the one of a kind Georgetown Energy Museum. The energy plant is an operating museum, still producing electric power with equipment installed in 1906.
Georgetown has won many preservation awards for its historic Victorian style “mansions” and buildings from the late 1800s. Visit Hammil House in the center of the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. To tour with a guide check out Silver Queen Walking Tours.
Georgetown Festivals: Colorado Road Trip
Railroad Days at the Georgetown Loop Railroad in August are a great way to squeeze the last fun out of summer in the Rockies. However, the biggest festivals in this town actually come later in the fall and winter: Oktoberfest; The Big Horn Sheep Festival; The Pumpkin Festival at the Train; and The Georgetown Christmas Market.
All the Georgetown festivals dates and information can be found on the Clear Creek County Events Calendar.
Fun Things to Do In Georgetown
1. Ride a Rare Narrow Gage Railroad
Perhaps the most well known activity in Georgetown is riding on the reconstructed Georgetown Loop Railroad—a narrow gauge railroad from 1884. The train is powered by a steam locomotive and travels over the mountaintops to Silver Plume and over the 95 feet high Devil’s Gate Bridge.
The railroad tours are available year round. Exploring the Rockies fall colors by rail is absolutely breathtaking! The Fall Colors Event tickets are on sale through Georgetown Loop Railroad. Georgetown Loop Railroad Holiday Event tickets for November and December are also on sale.
1520 Argentine Street, Georgetown, CO 80444, 1-888-456-6777
2. Catch a Fish
The fishing in Georgetown is some of the best in the Rocky Mountains. Set up a chair on Lake Georgetown to hook a Trout, Brown and Brooke. Fly fish in Clear Creek to bring in some of Colorado’s finest trout. No need to be an expert fisherman to experience Colorado trout fishing. At Beavers Fish Farm, kids can drop in a line and have an exciting catch.
Georgetown Lake: Co Rd 306 Georgetown, CO 80444
3. The Georgetown Rock Shop
Family owned since 1971, the Georgetown Rock Shop on 6th always hold great wonder for I-70 travelers. It does not have the big rock tumbler that us long time Denverites remember so fondly, but it does have many shelves of fun gemstones and geological treasures. The Georgetown Rock shop is a much anticipated stop on every Colorado road trip.
501 6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado,(303) 569-2750
4. Climb a Fourteener
Colorado folks like to refer to mountains over 14,000 feet above sea level as “fourteeners.” There aren’t many places in the world that have as many fourteeners as beautiful Colorado! Climbing a fourteener is obviously not a quick hop off the highway, but with careful planning, it can be the detour of a lifetime.
Two grand fourteeners are located near Georgetown: Gray’s Peak (14,278) and Torreys (14,275). Access the trail heads by taking the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway for a windy 22 miles along an old wagon route. Also nearby is Mount. Bierstadt (14,065). Be sure to look for Big Horn Sheep as you ascend up.
5. See How Candy is Made and Taste it Too
A Colorado road trip is sweeter when you can stop at a local sweet shop. Known for homemade candy, ice-cream and popcorn, Georgetown Valley Candy Company is 100% worth a hop off the highway! Watch the candy being made on big marble slabs and old fashioned machinery.
Georgetown Valley Candy Company has two locations: 6th Street in Georgetown and Miner Street in Idaho Springs, but the Georgetown location is where the taffy is spun and the toffee is made.
500 6th Street, Georgetown, CO 80444303) 569-2778
Georgetown Food Recommendations
With a long history of quality dining dating back the Hotel de Paris serving lobster in the 1800’s, the local restaurants and food shops in Georgetown are all first rate. You can never go wrong eating on the sunny patio at The Happy Cooker! Everything on the menu is fantastic: homemade breads, big salads and a wide brunch selection.
OTHER I-70 HOP OFFS
Well that wraps up Part I of how to make the most of an amazing Colorado road trip up I-70. I thank my family for putting up with all my detours and my dad for always taking time to stop the car and instill in me a love and appreciation for Colorado’s small town treasures. For other fun Colorado road trip detours as you travel west on I-70 from Denver to Colorado’s great mountain towns, subscribe to Denver I Love’s Blog for FREE and follow Denver I Love on Instagram @denverilove.