Colorado road trips up I-70 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.
Hit the Road Jack: I-70 Hop Offs Along the Front Range
Part I of this journey travels from Denver to Loveland 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.
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!
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 hosts a number of festivals throughout the summer starting with the Golden Games in May. Two upcoming fun festivals to put on the calendar:
Buffalo Bill Days at the end of July is a special Colorado tradition with lots of fun activities. 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 29th Annual Golden Fine Arts Festival, August 17 to 18, 2019, is Golden’s annual prestigious juried art show. 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 fun activities for all ages. A few recs to help navigate this large playground:
1. Take a Tour of a Brewery
Golden brews more beer than any other city in the world! Miller Coors, the largest single site brewery in the country, gives daily tours of the malting, brewing and packaging processes. Watch thousands of cans being filled with beer and slotted into six pack holders for only $5 if you are a Colorado resident. Visitors over age 21 can enjoy samples in a commemorative glass.
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 well worth it! On Thursdays through Sundays, take a train ride on the unique Rio Grande’s “Galloping Goose” motorcar. The museum also offers an hour of Colorado railroad history on Fridays. Check the website for times. In September, a “Day out with Thomas,” is a big deal. Tickets are already on sale. Click here to purchase.
17155 W 44th Ave, Golden, CO 8040 (303) 279-4591
3. Annie Get Your Gun
A favorite stops 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 occasional SCFD free days – and FREE ADMISSION EVERY DAY for kids with an accompanying adult and a My Denver Card.
987 1/2 Lookout Mountain Rd, Golden, CO 80401 (720) 865-2160
4. Make a Big Splash and Build a Sandcastle
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! Now home to a world famous geological and paleontological outdoor museum, containing more than a hundred dinosaur tracks. Dinosaur Ridge 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:
Within short distances off I-70, you can find a great variety of excellent food from all of over the world. Schnepf’s Restaurant at Fossil Ridge, Sherpa House Restaurant, Abejas and Thai Gold are a few good ones to try.
THE BEST COLORADO ROAD TRIPS START IN IDAHO SPRINGS
Up the road a few miles rolls out 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 many Colorado road trips.
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.” Well that’s worth a hop off, don’t you think?! My favorite historic site in Idaho Springs is the Charlie Tayler waterwheel. The wheel was moved by Bridal Veil Falls in 1948 and stands as a relic of Clear Creek County’s mining history.
Idaho Springs Festivals
Idaho Springs also has lots of fun festivals coming up. The 2019 RapidGrass Bluegrass Music Festival takes place July 19th and 20th. The Grillin and Chillin Music & Beer Festival takes place August 3rd and 4th with two days of live music, great spirits, and more. In September, the 7th annual Dynamite Days Street Festival kicks up more of the same: live music, food and fun.
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 worthy 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 have a friend at Liquid Descent Rafting, and we really like that company. Use this code for a 20% discount: MRC20.
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. Note: the road to the Hot Springs is under construction until September, so this might be one you put off until fall.
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. Echo Lake is part of Echo Lake Park, another of the great Denver Mountain Parks managed by the City and County of Denver. There is a nice trail around the lake and a nearby general store.
5. Walk in an Ancient Forest
Another great hop off on the Mount. Evans Scenic Byway is the Mount Goliath Natural Area. Here you will find the largest, northernmost strand of Bristlecone Pine trees in North America, internationally recognized as one of the purest locations to study alpine ecology. The area is home to some of the oldest tress in Colorado ranging from 1600 to 2500 years old!
Idaho Springs Food Recommendations:
There are lots of great places to eat in Idaho Springs, but we always gravitate to the same two tried and true. Colorado road trips have led skieers and hikers to Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs for many a decade. Known for its deep crust pizza and huge salad bar served in the bathtub, Beau Jo’s is always festive and delicious. A few doors down, the food at the Historic Buffalo Restaurant and Bar is another good option- connected to the West Bound and Down Brewery.
COLORADO ROAD TRIP: GEORGETOWN: WHERE PARIS MEETS THE WILD WEST
On the road again. Heading up the hill before you get to the Eisenhower Tunnel, Georgetown is another favorite I-70 hop off for Colorado road trips – 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.
Colorado road trips present many ways for history buffs to learn about the old west. In Georgetown, 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 even won 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.
Summer in Georgetown is delightful, but the biggest festivals in this town actually come later in the fall and winter: Oktoberfest, October 12; The Big Horn Sheep Festival on November 9th; The Pumpkin Festival at the Train;October 5; and The Georgetown Christmas Market, weekends in December. That said, there is a fun train festival starting August 23rd: Railroad Days at the Georgetown Loop Railroad
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.
1520 Argentine Street, Georgetown, CO 80444, 1-888-456-6777
2. Catch a Fish
Georgetown Lake: Co Rd 306 Georgetown, CO 80444
3. The Georgetown Rock Shop
Family owned since 1971, the Georgetown Rock Shop on 6th always always held great wonder for I-70 travelers. It does not have the big rock tumbler that fascinated me as a child, 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
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 14ers near Georgetown are: 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 between Idaho Springs and Georgetown is Mount. Bierstadt (14,065). Be sure to look for Big Horn Sheep.
5. See How Candy is Made and Taste it Too
Colorado road trips are always 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.
500 6th Street, Georgetown, CO 80444303) 569-2778
Georgetown Food Recommendations:
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. Also try the The Dusty Rose Tea Room for an old-fashioned Victorian Georgetown experience.
Well that wraps up Part I of some ways to make the most of amazing Colorado road trips. 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. Next up: funky Frisco; marvelous Minturn and grand Glenwood Springs. So, be sure to check back soon for lots of mountain festivals, food & fun.