Day Trip Delights

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Griffin Paul

Colorado’s Front Range earns worldwide attention with its outdoor adventure focal points (think the Flatirons, Rocky Mountain National Park, Brainard Lake, and more) and for good reason. Photos of these places can inspire vacations and draw hefty crowds. We’re here to remind you that for every sought-after summit and vista, there are at least three you can have all to yourself. Next time you’re looking for a Boulder-area (Héétoh-bíí3oonóó’, Arapaho name) day trip, here are a few ideas to try in places you may not have visited… yet. 

Lyons, CO
Mix and match activities for a full-day adventure.

Drive Time: 25 min
Activity: Creek hangs in the summer, Hall Ranch/Heil Valley Ranch Open Space, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking

Food: Mojo Taqueria, Lyons Classic Pinball, Stone Cup, Oskar Blues, Spirit Hound Distillers

A short and vista-filled drive north from Boulder leads to the small but vibrant town of Lyons. Nestled up against the foothills at the confluence of the North and South Saint Vrain creeks, this little pocket of Front Range goodness has much to offer. Multiple creekside parks offer accessible and refreshing relief from summertime heat. Venture up Highway 7 to the southwest of town and find far more than a day’s worth of rock climbing and fishing in the South Saint Vrain drainage. Just outside of town, miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking await in the Hall Ranch and Heil Valley Ranch open spaces (Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute ancestral homelands). For bikers looking to catch a little air time, Lyons boasts its very own dirt jump track at Bohn Park. Visit in the wintertime for an evening of ice skating at LaVern Johnson Park or stop by Lyons Classic Pinball for some arcade fun on the way to or from any of these options. No adventure is complete without a taste of local food and drink. We recommend The Stone Cup, Mojo Taqueria, Oskar Blues Brew & Grill, and Spirit Hound Distillers to satisfy all your cravings.

Photo: Griffin Paul.

Pinewood Springs, CO
Skip the hustle and bustle in Estes Park at only half the drive.

Drive Time: 40 min
Activity: Lion Gulch Trailhead and Coulson Gulch Trailhead, Button Rock Mountain Loop (Longs Peak/Meeker and Ralph Price Reservoir views), dog friendly, horseback riding, wildflowers
Food: Colorado Cherry Pie Company

Ever heard of Pinewood Springs, Colorado? Didn’t think so. You pass right through on the way to Rocky Mountain National Park from Boulder. Blink at the wrong time and you’ll miss it. We like it that way, so why not avoid the summertime Estes Park tourist trap (and cut your drive time in half) to have just as much fun? Right outside of town one can find plentiful dog-friendly hiking and horseback riding trails. Enjoy glimpses of resident deer and elk populations, native wildflowers and gurgling creeks on either of the out-and-back style trails offered at the Lion Gulch and Coulson Gulch Trailheads. If you’re a summit seeker, try the Button Rock Mountain Loop for a spectacular panoramic view of Longs Peak (Neniis-otoyou’u, Arapaho name) and Ralph Price Reservoir. Finished hiking? Well, any trip through Pinewood Springs isn’t complete without a visit to the Colorado Cherry Pie Company. This is a year-round ritual for us, and we strongly suggest you subscribe. Seasonal fresh-baked pie offerings paired with a scoop of ice cream? Yes please. Milkshakes, malts and coffee delights? Yep. No sweets? Try a savory bison pot pie or the soup of the day.

Photo: Griffin Paul.

Rollins Pass, CO
Alpine access and views on your terms.

Drive Time: 60 min
Activity: Mountain biking, fishing, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, 4X4 driving
Food: Khathmandu and New Moon Bakery in Nederland, Stage Stop Pub in Rollinsville
Extra Credit: Ride the Carousel of Happiness 

The high peaks of the Continental Divide offer year-round fun, from winter time snowy adventures to summer time peaks and trails. Try the Rollins Pass area (Houusoo-no’ tih’ii-ceneni-i’, Arapaho name) for endless 4×4 off-road trail offerings, as well as a classic mountain bike outing up to the pass for a view down into the Fraser Valley. In this zone you will find alpine lakes full of trout, abundant wildlife and flowers, as well as numerous options for snowshoeing/skiing in the winter months. On the way home, check out the Stage Stop Pub in Rollinsville for a hangout spot with hard-to-beat views of the Continental Divide. Or, venture back to Nederland to try Kathmandu Restaurant for delicious Himalayan cuisine. Also, New Moon Bakery has a host of tasty breakfast and lunchtime offerings. Sample the carrot cake and you won’t be disappointed. Finally, for extra credit to an already epic outing, stop in for a smile and a ride on the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland, a joyful place with a remarkable story.

Photo: Griffin Paul.

Buchanan Pass, CO
Enjoy an ‘in-between’ part of the Front Range.

Drive Time: 50 min
Activity: Start from Beaver Reservoir or Camp Dick, Buchanan Pass, Sawtooth Mountain, Red Deer Lake, Hiking, Biking, 4×4 driving
Food: Jamestown Mercantile

One of the ‘in between’ and less visited zones of the high peaks along the Continental Divide is the Buchanan Pass area (Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute ancestral homelands). If you’re up for a long hike, mountain bike ride or exciting 4×4 adventure, take note. Starting at either Beaver Reservoir or Camp Dick off the Peak-to-Peak Highway, one might find themselves taking an invigorating swim in beautiful Red Deer Lake, enjoying a multitude of wildflowers or even crossing paths with a moose (please keep your distance, as moose can be dangerous and unpredictable). The ambitious hiker has the opportunity to crest Buchanan Pass, or even soak in views of Rocky Mountain National Park to the north and the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the south from the remote summit of Sawtooth Mountain (Nii’eihii-nohuux, Arapaho name). On the way back home, try visiting the Jamestown Mercantile in the foothills above Boulder for a bite and brew. Check out the Merc’s calendar for weekly summertime outdoor music offerings and enjoy the Colorado sunshine. 

INFO. For more information about indigenous names and the ancestral homeland regions of tribes indigenous to Boulder Valley, see the Center for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the West, Arapaho Language Archive, Place Names, from CU Boulder. (colorado.edu/center/csilw/language-archives/arapaho-word-lists/place-names)