Denver Roadtrip Escape Plan this Summer

With the summer upon us and the ever need to wanderlust, here are some suggestions for quick get-a-ways via car from Denver that don’t involve driving west on I70. Your kids will love these fun places, too. Of course, COVID has changed how we’ll enjoy our summer. Pools may be closed, hotels will have new rules, and road-tripping could be a bit challenging. The key to summer travel success will be patience and flexibility.

A Few Tips for Safe Road Tripping this Summer

In order to be most comfortable and safe, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

  • Make sure you’ve got extra masks with you
  • Bring cooler full of food in case you can’t find an open restaurant.
  • Pay attention to local announcements in your destinations about their rules for social distancing
  • Be prepared to be flexible.

These road trips listed below are just far enough away from Denver to get you away, but close enough in case you need to get back in a hurry. One is a quick day trip, one is an overnight trip (or one long day), and one is a long weekend trip that could easily become a week if you have the time and inclination. Finally, there is a bonus trip at the end of the article for those that have a week or more to roadtrip and get away from Denver.

Just Across the Prairie to the Southeast

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Paint Mines Interpretative Center: A quick day trip to the east, you’ll love the colors and adventure this kid-friendly get-a-way provides. Getting to Paint Mines is simple. Just go east on I70 and then take a right to go south. Alternatively you could go to Colorado Springs and then turn east. Either way, from downtown Denver, you’re looking at about 90 minutes of driving out in to the Plains.

What will you see when you get there? First you’ll pass giant wind turbines harnessing the wind for power. And cows. Lots of cows. Then you’ll park in a dirt lot and wonder why you’ve stopped. You’ll hike the short trail, head downhill a bit, come around a corner, and Wowza! You’ll see the Paint Mines. Part painted desert, part bluff, and all gorgeous, pink, rose, rust, white, and buff colors scream out from hoodoos, caves, and bridges. This county park isn’t big, but it’s surely a joy that all ages will embrace.

You’ll want to visit this El Paso County Park when it’s cooler but not cold. During the summer, try to catch it in the morning or late evening. Also, you’ll want to avoid it in the rain as it can get quite muddy.

By the way, if you want to add just a little bit of silliness into your trip, stop at the Longhopes Donkey Rescue Shelter in Bennett, CO and scratch the ears of some wonderful cuddlers.


A Bit Further from Denver, and Still a Hoot

Carhenge: A good weekend trip in western Nebraska, where you can see two national historical monuments, Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock. Adults will love the old cars, and the kids will love the prairie life re-enactments.

Carhenge pops up in the middle of nowhere. The site consists of thirty-eight American-made cars and trucks from the 40s-60s, all painted gray, with a layout to mimic Stonehenge. You may even pass it and have to skid to a stop. But don’t miss it. This funky, kitschy pile of artwork in the middle of a Nebraska cornfield deserves a stop. Carhenge is about 4 hours from Denver, and there’s nothing near it except for Alliance, NE, which has one or two hotels and three or four places to eat.

You can make a weekend out of this trip or at least an overnight by also including Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock. Check their websites for current operating hours before heading out. If you have them in tow, you and the kids can relive the migratory walk along the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Utah. Kids can dress up in pioneer clothing and climb over wagons. A section of the trail goes through here; both Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock were and still are large geographical markers that can be seen for miles along the trail. The stories the sites tell will captivate you for a couple of hours.

Keep Going for a Long Weekend or a Short Week

Mount Rushmore: It may be dead presidents cast in stone, but did you know there’s a treasure hunt for old secrets in the base of the statue? Kids will also love the surrounding areas. If you have time, be sure to add on Badlands National Park, where you can hike a trail that has a 20-foot ladder.

Since you’re halfway there, why not just continue your road trip up to South Dakota and enjoy four must-stop places: Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park. Visiting any of these four places this summer might be a bit tricky due to expected crowds who can’t/won’t travel internationally this summer. Then again, they may be less crowded due to fewer international travelers. Who knows? The point is to be flexible. One way to make sure your trip is the best it can be is to stop in the visitor centers at these locations and ask about lesser-known trails and exhibits within the parks. There are lesser-known viewpoints and access points that many are just a few miles off the beaten path, but they’re far enough away for people not to take advantage of.

Getting to Badlands National Park is about a six-hour drive. Again, with not much between Denver and Rapid City except for Carhenge and Scott’s Bluff, make sure you pack coolers of food and drinks. Bring along extra hand sanitizer and wipes, and make sure your masks are readily available. Surely, these public sites will have social distancing in place, so be patient, kind, and polite to the Rangers who are just trying to do their jobs.

You can easily get to Rapid City from Denver in a day. Where you stop and how you continue your trip is totally up to you. For details about enjoying Badlands National Park, read this article.

A Granddaddy of all road trips from Denver

Finally, if you just want to keep going and not return to Denver for a week, the granddaddy of all western road trips, including all the above stops is to continue driving to Devil’s Tour, Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde.

No matter where you go this summer as you exit Denver on a road trip, have fun, carry an abundance of patience, and be kind to one another.