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  • A sampling of menu items from Smokin' Yards BBQ in Denver, Colorado
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    Denver: Creative and Diverse Dining

  • The Royal Gorge Bridge near Colorado Springs, Colorado
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    Colorado Springs: Sports, Nature and Dining

  • Sightseeing at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado
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    Morrison: Home of Red Rocks

  • Hiking with views of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado
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    Boulder: Low-key Town, Big-time Eating

  • Aerial view of Estes Park, Colorado
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    Estes Park: Food and Outdoor Fun

Driving along Sheridan Street in Denver, Colorado
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Denver to Estes Park: Delicious Dining Tour of Colorado

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    504.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Colorado’s stunning natural scenery is rivaled only by its mouthwatering culinary scene.

The western state of Colorado is a beacon for outdoors enthusiasts and adventure seekers of all types, from mountaineers to river rafters to those just seeking tranquility under the wide-open sky. All of that activity is fueled by Colorado’s delicious dining options, a culinary scene worthy of its very own road trip. Get behind the wheel for this foodie adventure of mouthwatering proportions.

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A sampling of menu items from Smokin' Yards BBQ in Denver, Colorado
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Denver: Creative and Diverse Dining

Denver International Airport (DEN) is a convenient hub to fly in and pick up a rental car (check Avis for a variety of vehicle styles). Denver, nicknamed the Mile High City, offers an appealing mix of urban attractions and a laid-back, outdoor lifestyle. As a beer-lovers’ haven and farm-to-fork mecca, it also happens to be a tasty first stop.

Larimer Square, Denver’s shopping and dining center, is nicknamed Denver’s Most Historic Block – it’s essentially where the city began – and serves up a plethora of dining options: French, Mediterranean, seafood and craft cocktails to wash it all down.

Beyond Larimer Square, check out Biker Jim’s for gourmet hot dogs with unusual toppings – think reindeer or wild boar sausage topped with roasted cactus or meaty chili. Pete’s Kitchen on East Colfax still has the original neon sign from when it opened more than 50 years ago. Go here for old-fashioned counter service and diner food. Enjoy slow-smoked pork and beef brisket at Smokin’ Yards BBQ.

Stay an extra day for adventure at Elitch Gardens. This theme park began as a garden in 1890 and now features thrill rides and a water park. Rest up for tomorrow’s trip to Colorado Springs.

111 km
1.25 hours by car
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The Royal Gorge Bridge near Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Colorado Springs: Sports, Nature and Dining

Stretching before you is a long-range view of Colorado’s green and rural regions as you make your way to Colorado Springs. Dubbed Olympic City USA, Colorado Springs is home to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center and 20-plus other National Governing Bodies of sports. Tour the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center to see where Olympic athletes train.

Ready to check out the food scene? Juniper Valley Ranch’s menu of skillet-fried chicken, baked ham and hot biscuits hasn’t changed since it opened in 1951. The restaurant is open seasonally; be sure to request a reservation. At The Skirted Heifer, pleasingly messy burgers are made with locally raised beef, homemade condiments and scratch-baked bread.

Ready to burn off some calories? Hike amid otherworldly sandstone rock formations at Garden of the Gods Park, backed by breathtaking views of 4,300-meter Pikes Peak. An hour from Colorado Springs, dare to go for a zipline adventure and a walk across Royal Gorge Bridge. It’s the highest suspension bridge and zipline in the USA. For lodging, you’ll find Colorado Springs to have fun and memorable options, from cowboy dude ranches to cozy mountainside cabins to nearby casino-hotels.

122 km
1.25 hours by car
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Sightseeing at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado
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Morrison: Home of Red Rocks

Skirt around the south side of Denver on the way to Morrison, a tiny town nestled in the foothills. Morrison was founded by a quarryman (several of his original stone building still stand) and is best known as the home of Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre. Music’s biggest acts, from The Beatles to Twenty One Pilots, have played at the world’s only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater. Hike the park’s scenic trails, visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and stand at the top of the amphitheater staircase for photo-worthy vistas.

Morrison’s downtown is small but charming, with several shops and bars to grab a drink. At the Morrison Natural History Museum, take a guided tour and even see a working paleontology lab. Follow that with a hike alongside real dinosaur tracks preserved at Dinosaur Ridge.

The Fort is Morrison’s signature eatery. The restaurant (which does, in fact, look like a fort) incorporates ingredients that were used in 1830s Colorado cooking. Order a buffalo steak, elk medallions or dry-aged beef. The next stop, Boulder, is a short 45-minute drive.

47 km
0.75 hours by car
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Hiking with views of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado
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Boulder: Low-key Town, Big-time Eating

En route to Boulder, stop in Golden to tour Coors Brewery, the world’s largest single-site brewery. Boulder is Denver’s smaller, mellower cousin. Here, you’ll find active families, mountain scenery and a “shop local” ethos in places like Pearl Street, lined with funky shops and independent boutiques. Best of all, Boulder has been recognized as “America’s Foodiest Town” by Bon Appetit for its diverse eateries and 20-plus craft breweries.

Start the day at Village Coffee Shop. This popular diner serves food all day, but it’s best known for its hearty breakfasts like syrup-drenched pancakes and stuffed omelets. Take the short walk to Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. A local staple, the teahouse was hand-built in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and gifted to its sister city halfway around the world.

Also in Boulder: See how tea is made at the headquarters of Celestial Seasonings. Hike the Royal Arch Trail for picturesque views of Boulder and the Flatirons, the sheer-faced mountains that dominate the city skyline. At the foot of the Flatirons is the Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark that hosts special events and has quaint cottages for rent. Final stop: Estes Park.

60 km
1 hour by car
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Aerial view of Estes Park, Colorado
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Estes Park: Food and Outdoor Fun

The road out of Boulder is flanked on both sides by thickly forested mountains. It’s a beautiful drive that leads to your last food-centric stop, Estes Park. Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), a UNESCO-designated World Biosphere Reserve. Enjoy nearly 500 kilometers of hiking trails, winter sports and abundant outdoor recreation ranging from biking to rock climbing to camping. Don’t miss the winding, high-altitude drive along 77-kilometer Trail Ridge Road.

After a full day in the mountains, it’ll certainly be time to refuel. Nothing beats a filling plate of American comfort classics and homemade pie from Estes Park Pie Shop & Diner. Head to downtown Estes Park to purchase those last souvenirs and relax with a drink; there are more than 200 shops, restaurants and bars to browse. Make sure you leave room in your itinerary for an overnight stay at the Stanley Hotel, the historic hotel that inspired Stephen King’s thriller, “The Shining”. Denver is 1.5 hours away for your return flight home.