One of the most exciting things about moving to a new city is exploring the surrounding area, but analysis paralysis can quickly overwhelm in a place like Denver. Looking to just get in the car and go? Here are four half-day getaways that require little to no planning.
A stunning drive through Boulder Canyon lets you out near Ned’s famed Carousel of Happiness, where $1 rides on a hand-carved merry-go-round spark joy. Hit the Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt Company for sustenance and play; kids will love the house-made mini donuts and the lofted lookout seat accessible by ladder. If there’s still energy to spare, head across the parking lot to the free Wild Bear Nature Center, or dig in the sand and throw rocks at Barker Reservoir. Best for: Ages four to six.
If the weather’s fine, head to the Colorado Railroad Museum to see more than 100 rail cars—some of which kids can go inside—as well as several indoor exhibitions. Next head downtown, grab a scoop of ice cream at Golden Sweets or grab a coffee and snack from newly renovated Café 13. Let the kids choose which of its quirky seating areas they like best, or take the food to go and head to Lions Park playground overlooking Clear Creek. In summer, sit on the rocks and watch the tubers. Best for: Ages two to six.
A morning taking laps on the miniature railway and wandering among the one-sixth scale buildings of Tiny Town makes the Morrison area—most famous for being home to Red Rocks Amphitheatre—a can’t-miss for kids. Tiny Town is open May through Labor Day. Bring a picnic and eat at a shady table right among the “town.” Best for: Ages three to five. (For winter and spring visits, Morrison’s Dinosaur Ridge, with fossils and tracks on display, is open year round and most enjoyable for school-age kiddos.)
Hemmed in on three sides by the North St. Vrain Creek and sandstone cliffs, LaVern M. Johnson Park features both a stunning natural landscape and exciting, modern play area perfect for warming weather. Bring swimwear so little ones can splash in the ankle-deep water feature in lieu of the actual creek, which roars in the summer. The nearby locals haunt The Stone Cup, a happening must-stop for a nosh. If you’re seeking sweets, you can’t miss spotting Lyons Dairy Bar on the way into town: It’s painted like a cow. Best for: Babies to age eight.