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I-70 Bail Out

When I-70 traffic is awful, make these pit stops.

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There’s nothing ski and snowboard loving Denverites are more familiar with than standstill traffic on I-70. That trek to the high country can be downright brutal at times, even more so with a car full of eager kids. Nothing kills the fun of a snow day like bumper-to-bumper traffic. Instead of just sitting in traffic, why not venture off the beaten path? We’ve mapped out the perfect escape route for I-70 congestion, full of pit stops to keep the whole family happy along the way.

Stop 1: Golden

So you got a late start, the kids are groaning about lunch, and traffic is backed up to the Morrison exit—great. Should you just turn back? Appease hungry kiddos with a pit stop at D’Deli in Golden, which offers classic deli choices mixed with more experimental creations—such as the “Camper,” a decadent sandwich filled with Nutella, peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, marshmallows, bacon, and banana. Kids Meals include a sandwich, juice, and side for $5.50. After lunch, take a scenic drive from Golden up to Lookout Mountain. After making a quick stop at Buffalo Bill’s grave and taking in the scenic views on a short hike in Lookout Mountain Park, your clan will be ready to hit the road again.

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Lookout Mountain
Make a pit stop to admire the views from Lookout Mountain.

Stop 2: Idaho Springs

When I-70 traffic moves at a snail’s pace, Idaho Springs is a great place to stop. The quaint downtown, small-town friendliness, and eclectic shops are the perfect respite from I-70 madness. While you’re there, check out Lawson Adventure Park, a few miles west of Idaho Springs, where families can experience Snow Zorbing—kids and parents are put into a big, inflatable ball and rolled down Lawson’s mountain course. Afterward, refuel with a Colorado-style pizza at Beau Jo’s before heading back on the road.

Stop 3: Empire

Historic Empire, near Winter Park and Loveland Ski Area, doesn’t look like much upon first glance—with a population of barely 250. But this former mining settlement is a must when you’re in need of a sweet treat after a long morning on the road. Lewis’ Sweet Shop has been a landmark in Empire for over six decades thanks to their milkshakes, with a special thick version and flavors like Cinnamon Candy, German Chocolate, and Oreo. The shop also sells baskets of fried goodness like okra, zucchini, pickles, and jalapeño bottle caps, which you can enjoy while playing a round of giant Jenga.

Stop 4: Georgetown

Further down I-70 rests Georgetown, the historic center of the Colorado mining industry. While the spring through fall is a great time to ride the Georgetown Loop, the train isn’t in service in the depth of winter. Instead, try your hand (or foot) at ice-skating in Werlin Park, where skates are provided by the park. Afterward, stop by The Alpine for a panini, wrap, or pizza, where everything on the menu is homemade. Back on the road again and you finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel—because the tunnel is literally just up ahead.

Stop 5: Silverthorne

You made it through the Eisenhower Tunnel. And you seem to have driven into a completely different climate: sunny on one side, snowy on the other. Road conditions are awful, and everyone seems to have forgotten how to drive. Solution: Silverthorne. The Outlets at Silverthorne are worthy of their own day trip, but it’s also a good place to stop on the way to resorts like Breckenridge or Copper. After exploring the outlets, go ice skating at North Pond Park or sled in Rainbow Park. Then, head over to Blue Moon Bakery, which serves breakfast, lunch, and, most importantly, desserts like Thin Mint cupcakes and sticky buns.

North Pond Park in Silverthorne
Ice skate at North Pond Park in Silverthorne. Courtesy of Tripp Faye.

Stop 6: Glenwood Springs

After about three hours in a crowded car (depending on traffic), Aspen- and Snowmass-bound families will be more than ready for this last stop. Mostly known for its Hot Springs Pool, Glenwood Springs is also home to America’s only mountaintop theme park, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Parks. At Glenwood Caverns (open weekends and limited weekdays in January and February), families can fly down Colorado’s longest alpine coaster. Afterward, head to the nearby 19th Street Diner, where you’ll find French toast the size of your head, chicken fried steak, and an abundance of ’50s-themed decor.

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Zip down the mountain at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

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