33 Magical Things to Do in Kona (+ Day Trips and Tours)

Kona is on the west side of the Big Island of Hawai’i, where most flights arrive on the island. 

It is the most lively part of the island, offering numerous bars, restaurants, resorts, and beaches. 

So when you come to Kona, you are coming to a city in one of the most beautiful places in the world, the island of Hawai’i!

There will be opportunities to swim with manta rays and Hawaiian spinner dolphins. You will get to explore pali (cliffs) and valleys. 

You will most likely see at least one rainbow; they are on the license plate for a reason! 

Finally, you will immerse yourself in the aloha spirit. 

In a word: Hawai’i is pono. Pono is the Hawaiian word that denotes integrity and balance. It is righteousness—the perfection of all creation in all its imperfections.

Ua Mau Ke Ea o ka ʻĀina I ka Pono is the motto of the state of Hawaii. It means, “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

Remember this attitude when you visit Hawai’i. 

Move with aloha, deep love connected to spirit energy—the deep love of self, others, and the aina (land). Leave no trace when you visit wild places. Treat the land and the people with respect.

Top Things to Do in Kailua-Kona 

Start your journey by checking out some of the local beaches.

ocean waves crashing on the shore in kailua kona

One great feature of Kona is the access to beaches from the main downtown area along Ali’i Drive. You may walk to one or more of them depending are where you start or go by car.

Magic Sands Beach Park is a popular choice and is easily walkable from one of the most lively areas of downtown Kona.

If you continue north down Ali’i’ Drive, you will arrive at Pāhoehoe Beach Park

It would be a bit of a walk (close to an hour) from the main downtown area but still doable depending on where you start.

There is no ocean access here, but it is a great picnic spot.

Another walkable beach from downtown Kona is Kahalu’u Beach Park, again depending on where you start. You will find the best snorkeling in Kailua-Kona here! This beach is south of Magic Sands Beach Park.

view seen from half under the water half above the water near the beach in kona

Head all the way north to the end of Ali’i Drive to stop at Kamakahonu Beach. This beach is sometimes referred to as “Keiki beach,” meaning “kids beach,” because of the calm waters. 

The beach is an excellent spot for water sports. It is also within proximity to Kailua Pier.

At Kamakahonu, you will also find Kona Boys Beach Shack

They offer all sorts of rentals, including: snorkels, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards (SUP), body boards, chairs, umbrellas, coolers, life jackets, bikes, and dry sacks, right from the beach!

a hawaiian canoe on the beach with palm trees

You can reserve your gear ahead of time on their website, too.

Another way you can get to the beaches besides walking or driving is to take the Kona Trolley to reach the pier. It is only $2.00! 

The trolley also stops at Magic Sands Beach ParkKahaluu Beach, along with restaurants, hotels, and Water Front Row. It is super convenient!

You can also rent a bike to make getting to and from the Kailua-Kona beaches even more accessible!

Go on a helicopter tour to see lava flows from above.

lava flows in hawaii as seen from a helicopter

One of the coolest things to do in Kona is embark on a helicopter tour which will take you over Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!

​This is a great way to see the island from an entirely different perspective.

Melt your stress away with a hot tub spa experience.

Before you leave the island, you can reset your system in a relaxing hot tub with a massage.

There are multiple places to get a massage and soak in a hot tub. I just love Mamalahoa Hot Tubs, south of Kona in Kealakekua.

The saltwater teak hot tubs are outside, with the option for a night soak under the stars. You will enjoy plenty of privacy as little thatch huts surround these teak tubs. There are also lovely outdoor showers.

The hot tubs are a great option if you are on a budget as it is only $50 for two people, or $60 for a night soak. If adding a massage is too pricey, you will still have the chance to relax and detox.

To boost your healing, they also offer many methods of massage, including hot stone. Massages are a great way to ease muscle tension and release toxins in the body.

Go kayaking or paddleboarding.

woman kayaking in a yellow kayak on brilliant clear water

One of the coolest ways to experience Hawai’i is from the water!

Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at one of the many water sport outfitters which will prepare you for all manner of aquatic outdoor activities!

Marvel at the beautiful and historic Hulihee Palace.

yellow toned historic building of hulihee palace on the road with palm trees in front of the ocean

The beautiful oceanfront Huliheʻe Palace is located on Ali’i Drive in Kailua village, and it’s a great place to go to learn a little more about the history of the Hawaiian monarchy on the Hawaiian islands, before the U.S. occupation of the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

Built in 1838, Huliheʻe Palace was once a summer home for Hawaiian royalty such as King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiʻolani. It is home to beautiful traditional Hawaiian architecture such as koa wood furniture and beautiful artifacts from Hawaiian monarchs.

There are guided tours of the palace available, at 10 AM and 1 PM daily. 

Check out Mokuaikaua Church.

stone church with hawaiian foliage in front and a tall steeple

Built in 1820 by two missionaries given permission to operate a church by King Kamehameha II, Moku‘aikaua Church was the first Christian church built on the Hawaiian islands. 

It’s located across the street from Hulihee Palace in a very historic part of Kailua close to Kailua Pier, so it’s easy to pop in and visit. 

The exterior is now built of stone, after the original structure burned several times, and the inside of the church is beautiful with traditional koa wood decorating the interior 

Savor the taste of fresh-caught fish with poke.

tasty and fresh tuna poke with avocado and green onion and cucumber

There are countless poke spots in Kailua Kona. Many of them are right on the ocean along Ali’i Drive! 

One popular spot for waterside dining is Da Poke Shack. There is also one down south in Captain Cook.

Another great Kona poke spot is Umeke’s Fish Market and Restaurant. This restaurant is committed to locally sourcing its food. 

That means the fish, vegetables, fruit, and meat are locally sourced whenever possible! As a result, it will be among the freshest food you will have while visiting Hawai’i.

And finally, we have Pau Hana Poke, a tiny hole in the wall. This is a local favorite and also serve as a fish market. 

The menu can evolve differently depending on what is available. Local fishermen always provide the freshest fish. 

It is take-out only here, so grab some poke and head to a beach.

Snorkel with spinner dolphins at Two Step.

a pod of spinner dolphins under the water at two step beach

Two Step is one of the best places on the entire island to snorkel! 

It is incredible, and you may find yourself swimming among Hawaiian Spinner dolphins. They come to Honaunau Bay to rest, play, and clean their bellies in the sand. 

Never will you have as great of a chance to swim with wild dolphins as you do on the island of Hawai’i! 

It is best to come here in the morning if you want to swim with the pae’a (that’s Hawaiian for dolphin).

Not to mention there are countless fish and coral to view when snorkeling at Two Step. You will also most likely get to see honu (sea turtles).

This spot is south of Kailua Kona by about 40 minutes, but it is totally worth the drive.

Embrace the taste of Kona coffee.

kona coffee farm on a hillside overlooking the ocean

There are numerous coffee farms on the Big Island. You can visit any time of year and you will get to sip on samples of delicious coffee, right from the source!

Greenwell Farms is located out of town in Kealakekua. They were recently voted Hawaii’s Best Farm Tour by Hawai’i Magazine! 

The tour is fun and informative.. plus, they have excellent coffee!

Hula Daddy Kona Coffee is another great option and is convenient to Kona in Hulualoa. They offer tours by reservation and free coffee tastings. 

Even if you do not want a tour, you can come by and try their coffee!

For a farm tour right in town, head up the hill to Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation. They offer tours with off-road vehicles. 

You don’t have to walk on this tour; however, if you do want to hike around a bit, they have lava tubes and trails to explore as well. Plus, you get to sample that glorious Kona coffee!

And finally, we have Hala Tree Organic Coffee Farm. I love this farm because it is not only organic, but the property is lovely. 

You will get to taste your coffee on a lanai (covered porch) that overlooks the Pacific Ocean while you sip your java.  

It is a good idea to call ahead before you visit any of these farms to make a reservation if needed.

Watch the manta rays mesmerize you with a night snorkel tour.

a manta ray feeding at night illuminated by lights on the boat

You very well may have gone on your coffee tour and are feeling quite energized! 

Take that energy and go for a night dive with manta rays. There are many tour outfitters available that will provide this experience.

It is guaranteed you will swim with the manta rays when you take a manta ray night tour in Kona! 

Manta rays are attracted to light, so the tour operators will shine a light in the water to bring the manta rays to you, while you float and snorkel among these gentle giants.

Fun fact: Manta rays are attracted to light because that is where the highest amount of plankton is for them to consume. The closer to the light they are, the more plankton they can ingest. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Grab some beers at the Kona Brewing Company.

a frosty cold beer in kona

A visit to Kailua-Kona offers excellent opportunities for bar hopping. You can bar hop at many places along Ali’i Drive, plus you just have to visit Kona Brewing Company!

A stop at Kona Brewing Company is a great way to start the night. They have an extensive menu in their tasting room! 

This menu has food pairing options to accompany one of their many excellent beers, so it’s a great place for dinner and a drink.

Check out the nightlife along Ali’i Drive.

You can then head on over to Ali’i Drive, which is one of the prime nightlife stretches in Kona. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset!

Not sure where to start? Laverne’s Sports Bar is a popular spot. 

I also have had an awesome time at MY BAR + Pizza and more!- LGBTQ Friendly Hot Spot. This bar is inclusive and super fun! They have karaoke, DJs on the weekends, and pool tables. 

Sam’s Hideaway is also a good spot if you are looking for nightlife. Plus, Humpy’s Big Island Ale House offers live music and a selection of over 30 microbrews — great if you enjoyed Kona Brewing Company and want to keep the craft beer train going!

Additionally, you may want to make the trek to Rays on the Bay, located in the Kailua-Kona Sheraton. 

It is not necessarily a nightlife spot as they close at 11 PM. However, they offer the unique experience of viewing manta rays from their viewing platform after dark!

Gaze in wonder while whale watching.

A rare close-up breach by a humpback whale delights whale watchers

Kona is one of the best spots to see the humpback whale migration, as it is on the west side of the island — which means they swim right past Kona! 

The best time to see whales in Hawai’i is from April to December. The Big Island is the only spot in the US where these whales mate, calve, and nurse their young, which means the humpbacks hang out here quite a lot!

There are many tour companies you can use to get your humpback whale watching tour. You will most likely see other sea creatures like dolphins on this adventure, as well.

Going on a whale watching boat tour is one of the most essential things to do in Kona, so be sure not to miss it!

Appreciate plants at Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.

a hibiscus flower in a garden in hawaii

Come to the Amy Greenwell Botanical Gardens to learn about traditional Hawaiian gardening among a historic site. 

There are sacred grounds to explore and the Pa‘ikapahu Heiau, a sacred temple. There are many rare and almost extinct species of plants preserved here: over 200 native plants, to be more specific!

These gardens are a beloved spot in Kona, primarily because of Amy Greenwall. She was a hula-dancing, plant-loving, and vivacious woman. 

She wanted to preserve the Hawaiian culture, and you can do the same with a visit to this special place!

Sample tasty tropical fruit at a farmer’s market.

Fruit stand at the farmers market in Big Island Hawaii

There are many farmers’ markets in Kailua-Kona. You can find mangos, soursop, rambutan, bananas, and more, depending on the time of years! 

Plus, you can discover sweet breads, honey, local products, and artisan jewelry.

The Kona Farmers Market is located right in downtown historic Kona Village on Ali’i Drive. It runs Wednesday through Sunday, so there are plenty of opportunities to hit up this great market. 

You can get flowers or lilikoi (passionfruit) as you enjoy a day strolling the market in Kona!

The Pure Kona Green Market happens on Sundays in Captain Cook. It is a beautiful market with many wonderful products made by local farmers and artists.

The market is at the Amy Greenwell Botanical Gardens, so perhaps your visit to the gardens could correspond with a visit to this weekly market.

Additionally, the Ho’oulu Community Farmers Market is a great choice. There are fewer purveyors of fruits and veggies than the other markets. 

However, the market is excellent if you are looking for arts and crafts produced by locals. It is held on Wednesdays.

Continue your connection with Hawai’i by learning to hula.

Close up of a hula dancer on a stage, focus on the her feet

There are many studios to learn some hula when you visit Hawai’i! A lot of people confuse hula with Polynesian dance, but hula is a lot less fast-paced than Polynesian dance.

So, what is hula? It is a series of hand gestures that tell a story of the land and people of Hawai’i, following the lyrics and music of a song. 

As you gesture with your hands you rock your hips back and forth creating a beautiful, mesmerizing dance that honors the earth, the sea, and the sacred traditions of ancient Hawai’i.

You can find hula lessons at the Sheraton Hotel, The Four Seasons Hotel, and Mani Lani.

Lehua Rose Weddings also does hula and lei making classes. You can also find free hula lessons at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

Dance into the night at a luau.

three men spinning fire at a hawaii luau

Continue your journey of connecting with Hawaiian culture and the aloha spirit with a luau! There are many options for luau experiences on the island. 

We like Voyagers of the Pacific at Royal Kona Resort as they provide some great hands-on experiences.

You can make a lei, learn hula, and see demonstrations of Polynesian arts. But, of course, a luau is not complete without pig roasted in an imu, an underground oven. 

Your reservation at this luau includes all activities, a dinner buffet, and drinks from the bar.

Try out scuba diving.

a sea turtle swimming above a diver

One of the best ways to see more of the underwater world of Hawai’i is by diving!

Whether you’re already PADI-certified to dive or you’d like to try diving for the first time, there are a variety of scuba schools in Kailua-Kona that can make that happen. 

A few we recommend are Kona Honu Divers, Kona Diving Company, and Big Island Divers.

Shop your heart out in Kailua-Kona.

The Kona Trolley is an excellent resource for a shopping adventure! 

You can make your way to all the major shopping centers via this convenient trolley. 

Stop at areas like Coconut Grove Marketplace, Kona Ali’i Gardens Marketplace, and Kona Inn Shopping Village. 

At Coconut Grove, you can hit up Kanaka Kava, Island Lava Java, and ABC Stores for souvenirs and mini-mart products, or try Ali’i Gardens Marketplace for great eats. And of course, you can’t miss TJ’s BBQ!

Don’t forget to hit Kona Inn Shopping Village, right off Ali’i Drive. It is considered the marketplace with the best view, where you can find boutiques, galleries, clothing stores, and excellent restaurants.

You can also head to The Shops At Mauna Lani, where you can participate in a lei-making class. 

Alternately, check out Keauhou Shopping Center, where you can find bookstores, boutiques, and live music.

Day Trips from Kona

Wind your way up the coast to Pololu Valley and Hawi.

view from the area around hawi on the coast of hawaii

On your way to Pololu, you will pass through the quaint historic town of Hawi. This is one of my favorite spots on the island! 

It is truly magical and worth the one-hour and ten-minute drive up the coast! 

Not only is the town just fantastic, but the drive is also wonderful, too. There is also access to beaches and snorkeling here.

While Hawi is pretty tiny, there are many great shops, galleries, and restaurants to hit. Plus, they have a weekly farmers market.

Sweet Potatoe Kitchen serves some of the best vegan food I have ever had. The food is made with love and care. Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery is also a nice choice for Pacific Rim fare with an artistic flair. 

You can also visit Kohala Coffee Mill. The name of this coffee shop is a nod to the history of this area as it was once the location of a sugar cane mill.

Admire the Pololu Valley.

Polulu Valley remote sea cliffs Hawaii Big island

As you continue your adventure in the Kohala moku (district), you end at the northern tip of the island at Pololu.

You can park near the lookout to view stunning green hills descending into the ocean, but don’t stop there. Instead, hike down the pali (cliffs) into the enchanting Pololu Valley.

Down in the valley, green cliffs, black sand beaches, and ocean views will surround you. They also have swings down here for you to enjoy!

Take note: the hike down is steep. It is slippery and muddy after it rains.

Visit the peaceful Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

Hawaiian style wood carving in Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

There are two historic parks accessible from Kailua-Kona: Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. 

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is south of Kona in Hōnaunau, HI. It has always been a place of peace. 

Puʻuhonua is known as “the place of refuge.” No fighting was allowed to occur here. So much so that criminals who broke the Kapu laws of ancient Hawai’i could come here for refuge — if they could make it. It was beneficial for those that committed crimes with the consequence of death.

You can also visit the Royal Grounds outside the Pu’uhonua. They offer self-guided walking tours and ranger-led tours. 

Finally, take the hike to Ki’ilae Village, an abandoned fishing town for 2.5-miles of mountain views.

See the sacred Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park.

beach of hawaii with a tree

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is a sacred place to Native Hawaiians. 

The inhabitants of Kaloko-Honokōhau lived in this barren land of lava rock for centuries. They revered the land, and it is said that they became one with the spirit of Kaloko-Honokōhau.

They survived by fishing and creating aquaculture ponds, and they were experts at finding fresh water in this desolate area.

Today, you can learn more about the history and view wildlife such as green sea turtles. They like to hang on the rock here; just give them space! 

You can also hop in the water and snorkel here. Please, always use reef-safe sunscreen; it’s the law (and it’s also just the right thing to do!).

Escape the crowds at Makalawena Beach.

the beautiful blue waters of the beach at makalawena

The North Kona coast has a plethora of beaches to explore. Most of them require a little trekking to reach. But once you do, you will find white sand beaches, black sand beaches, and calm waters to swim in!

Makalawena is a treasure. You will want to head towards Mahai’ula Bay between the 90 and 91-mile markers on Highway 19 to reach the trailhead for Makalawena Beach. 

At Makalawena, you can enjoy the calm, blue waters of Pu’u Ali’i Bay. You can also enjoy multiple landmarks and beaches on your 1-mile hike, including Hayden Cove, Mahai’ula Bay Beach, and Pu’u Ali’i Beach.

Check out Manini’owali Beach and Kua Bay.

two colorful beach umbrellas behind black lava rock with beautiful turquoise sea and white sand in the background

This is another one of the most spectacular beaches on the Kona Coast and it’s absolutely worth a day trip from Kona.

It’s a great place for bodyboarding, snorkeling, and just relaxing on the beach and enjoying the contrast between the soft white sand and brilliant blue sea.

Marvel at Kalahuipua’a Historic Park.

fish Pond in Kalahuipuaa Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii

Located in Waimea, the Kalahuipua’a Historic Park is best known for its unique natural fishponds as well as its lava tube.

It’s easy to do a quick hike to explore more of this beautiful area of the park!

Relax on Lone Palm Beach (Keawaiki).

the golden pools of lone palm peach a beautifu natural ecosystem

Lone Palm (Keawaiki) is located in the South Kohala moku

The beach is black sand, and there are beautiful golden pools (which are not suitable for swimming, due to the sensitive ecosystem) along the trail. 

But don’t worry: there is plenty of ocean to enjoy once you reach the beach. Plus, there is a freshwater spring! You will hike across harsh lava fields to reach it, so wear boots.

To reach the trailhead, park at the ʻAnaehoʻomalu Bay parking area and hike south. There are restrooms and showers at this trailhead, too. 

You can also access Lone Palm at mile-marker 79 on Highway 19. From here, you will hike north.

To reach these beaches, you will hike a few miles, but trust me, the hike is so worth it! 

Whichever way you go, be sure to wear reef-safe sunscreen and a hat, as you will be pretty exposed to the sun on your hike. There is no shade.

See some more Hawaiian spinner dolphins at Kealakekua Bay.

the brilliant clear water at Kealakekua bay

Kealakekua Bay is a great spot for water sports, which presents the opportunity to swim with dolphins if you’re lucky, or dolphin watch from land if you prefer not to swim! 

Depending on what you prefer, you can kayak, snorkel, or scuba dive here: all of the above are amazing choices!

Marine life conservation is a focus in Kealakekua Bay. It is also a historic location, as it is where Captain Cook first landed on the island of Hawai’i.

He was the first Brit to land in the islands. But, unfortunately, he was killed in a skirmish right on Kealakekua Bay (to be clear, it was definitely his fault — trying to kidnap kings usually doesn’t go over well).

You’ll find the Captain Cook Monument located on this bay marking this historical site.

Nāpo’opo’o Beach Park, on the southern end of Kealakekua State Park, is where you can find this monument.

There is also a hikiau heiau (sacred temple) on the bay’s east side near Nāpo’opo’o Pier. This temple is to honor the Hawaiian god Lono. 

He is the god of rain, music, fertility, agriculture, and peace. It was said he came to earth on a rainbow… so it is perhaps no surprise that the Big Island of Hawai’i is so blessed with rainbows!

Look in wonder at ancient petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs in Waikoloa Field, on the King's Trail

Get your hike on at the Waikoloa Petroglyphs Reserve and the Puakō Petroglyph Archeological Preserve. 

Both are north of Kona in Kohala. If you are interested in history, these places will be unique!

At both parks, you can see many images etched into the lava rock. You will see sea turtles, human forms, spirals, and more. They have a high concentration of petroglyphs. The exact age of the petroglyphs is unknown, but it could be anywhere from 500 to 2,000 years old.

You can spend an afternoon on a petroglyph tour! So get your hike on and enjoy checking out these historic pieces of art from the ancient Hawaiians.

Plan your trip around a hula festival.

people watching hula dancers in hawaii

If you want to see hula performers, the Big Island has many festivals to enjoy! 

The most famous of these is the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo. It happens the week after Easter every year and is one of the world’s most renowned hula and Polynesian arts competitions.

The Iolani Luahine Hula Festival and Hula Scholarship Competition happens in January or February, right in Kona. 

Another option is the Queen Liliuokalani Festival, which happens in Hilo in September. 

There is also the Moku o Keawe International Festival which occurs on the Kohala Coast in November.

Make the trek down south to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

view of the lava flows at hawaii volcanoes np

If you come to the Big Island, visiting this national park is essential! 

You can get there from Kona two ways. Both take about 2 hours to drive, and there are great stops along the way. 

I suggest getting a super early start and taking the southern route on the way there and the northern route along Saddle Road on the way back.

As you venture south, you will drive past some major landmarks of the Big Island. This includes South Point (Ka Lae)the Green Sands Beach (Papakōlea), and Black Sands Beach (Punalu’u). 

South Point is going to be reasonably accessible as you can drive there from Highway 11. You can also hit Green Sands Beach; just take note it takes 2.5 miles to hike to the beach from South Point.

Punalu’u is easy for a quick stop. You will also want to check out Punalu’u Bake Shop on your way. This place is famous for its malasadas and sweetbreads. Hanahou Restaurant is also my favorite spot for a burger on the island.

Once you reach Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, you will have the opportunity for hiking. Take your pick of what ecosystem to immerse yourself in: there are rainforests, desolate lava fields, and craters.

You can also drive along Chain of Craters Road, where you can find endless hiking trails. Including one with access to petroglyphs. The road ends at the famed Hōlei Sea Arch. 

Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, in the Kilauea Caldera, cannot be missed. It is best to view this at dusk or night. You can view the steaming crater, which glows red from the magma bubbling below.

On your way back to Kona, I suggest stopping at Mauna Kea Observatory for a stunning show beneath the stars. There is no better place in the world than Hawai’i to view the night sky!

Indulge your sweet tooth with a cacao farm tour.

cacao beans on a farm in hawaii

There are quite a few cacao farms on the Big Island where you can tour the trees and taste the chocolate made with the cacao plant. 

Cacao is a tree with yellow oval fruit. The seeds of the fruit are used to make cacao, which is later converted into chocolate. The fruit is also pretty good.

Kuaiwi Farm is a great spot for this activity. While their coffee farm tour is popular, you can also take a candy-making class with unlimited sampling. Yum!

You can also visit the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm.  You can come here for a tour and sample their milk, dark, and rare criollo chocolates. 

There is nothing like organic chocolate right from the source!

***

The Big Island is one of my favorite places in the world. I miss the energy and the views almost every day. You will too after you come here.

You will awaken your senses to gorgeous, sweet-smelling tropical flowers and fruit. You will hike and swim with dolphins over stunning coral reefs. You will eat poke of fresh-caught fish, sip on beers at Kona Brewing Company, or dance hula.

The people will be welcoming and warm, excited to show you aloha and hospitality. Please respect the natives of Hawai’i. This is their island, and you are merely visiting. Treat the land and the people with love.

You will learn the meaning of the aloha spirit. This is the most incredible privilege of spending time in Hawai’i. An attitude of love and gratitude is at the heart of the meaning of Aloha. You will find yourself saying, “Mahalo (thank you)” for encountering such a beautiful sentiment to bring home with you.

A trip to Hawai’i will be eye-opening and cleansing. You will have a renewed sense of presence when you return home. It will live on deep in your soul for years to come. Aloha. Malama pono (take good care).

Your Ultimate Weekend in Boulder Itinerary: 2 Days of Hikes & Hops

Located right outside of Denver, Boulder, Colorado is one gorgeous destination that you’re not going to want to miss! 

From epic hikes to some of the best breweries in the state, Boulder is filled with tons of fun things to do. 

It’s a lively city, in part thanks to the University of Colorado in Boulder, which makes it a fun and youthful college town with ample nightlife.

One weekend in Boulder is the perfect amount of time to scratch the service of this mountain time and enjoy some of the best parts of what it has to offer. 

Boulder also makes a good jumping-off point to other destinations in Colorado such as Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, and Golden. 

Just be sure to stay pretty central when it comes to accommodation so that you won’t have to spend a lot of time on transportation, as that can easily eat into the time you’ve allotted for your weekend in Boulder. (All of our accommodation suggestions are really convenient for this itinerary!)

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what to put on your Boulder weekend itinerary. Here’s how to spend the perfect two days in Boulder, whether you’re visiting on a larger Colorado road trip or on a weekend getaway from Denver!

Where to Stay in Boulder

If you’re staying in Boulder for just a weekend, I suggest going for a hotel over an Airbnb. Once you factor in service and cleaning fees, hotels are often cheaper and a lot less hassle! 

Hotels are also less destabilizing to the local rental economy. Hotel space is planned carefully for in advance, whereas Airbnbs take up rentals from the local community — many of them students — and make the housing inventory artificially low, when really they have been illegally converted into mini-hotels.

Here are my hotel suggestions for Boulder.

LUXURY | For a luxury stay downtown, it’s impossible to beat the St. Julien Hotel. With a stunning view of the Flatirons and a location within walking distance of Pearl Street, all of the landmarks of Boulder are easily at your fingertips. Plus, it has a gorgeous spa and an outdoor area that perfectly encapsulates the love for the outdoors that embodies the Boulder lifestyle!

>> Book it on Hotels.com | Book it on Expedia

HISTORIC | For a cool and quirky place to stay that is historic, central, and beautiful, I strongly suggest Hotel Boulderado! This punnily-named hotel is just a few minutes’ walk away from the buzz of Pearl Street, while maintaining a quiet residential atmosphere. Enjoy expertly-crafted cocktails at the on-site Corner Bar or pick from an impossible number of places to go out along Pearl Street.

>> Book it on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY | For a great place to stay for families, I suggest the Colorado Chautauqua Cottages. They are a little off of the main downtown area but the trade-off is beautiful mountains: not a bad bargain! It is affordable, spacious (can sleep up to six in the 2-bedroom cottages), and it has a kitchen so that you can cook meals in case you are dealing with allergies or special diets, or you can dine at the Chautauqua Dining Hall on site (which serves up an excellent array of food, including kids’ meals!)

>> Book it on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Day 1 of Your Boulder Itinerary

An aerial photo of Boulder Colorado with mountain and hills in the distance

On the first day in Boulder, you’ll be taking the time to see all of the must-see attractions in the town. 

This includes the spots that Boulder is most well known for, including the Flatirons and Pearl Street Mall!

Have breakfast at Foolish Craig’s Cafe.

Photo Credit: Victor Chapa via Flickr

Start the day off right by heading straight to Foolish Craig’s Cafe. 

Located on the other end of Pearl Street, this cafe is known for its delicious crepes that are both sweet and savory! 

Plus, they have tons of other great foods on their menu, too, including chicken and waffles, sandwiches, and even pancakes.

There’s an ample amount of seating at Foolish Craig’s Cafe, including both indoors and outdoors. However, when visiting on the weekend, you want to either call ahead or join their waitlist online because of how popular this place is to eat!

If you’re not convinced yet, Foolish Craig’s Cafe has also been mentioned on the hit Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives! Ever since, it quickly grew to popularity in the Boulder area.

If you forget to make a reservation and the line is way too long, then you might want to consider stopping by Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, which is another fantastic breakfast spot (so good we suggest it on our Denver itinerary too — they have branches in both Denver and Boulder).

 Plus, it’s right next door to Foolish Craig’s Cafe, so it’s an easy back-up plan!

Go on a morning hike in the Flatirons via Chautauqua Park.

The distinctive rock formations of the Flatirons which look like three irons in a row surrounded by trees

No trip to Boulder is complete without hitting one of its many hiking trails and heading to the Flatirons. These are easily one of the most popular spots to visit in all of the Rocky Mountains, so you don’t want to miss them when visiting Boulder!

The Flatirons got their name because this part of the mountains looks like three different irons! It takes a second for you to see it, but once you do, it’s impossible to see the mountains any other way.

All of the trailheads for the Flatirons begin in Chautauqua Park, so that is where you will want to get to. 

Depending on the time of year that you’re visiting, you may also be able to get a free shuttle to the park from downtown so that you won’t have to drive there and fight to get a parking spot.

There are many different trails that you can do along the Flatirons, depending on your experience. 

I suggest checking in with a ranger if there are any there because they usually work on the weekends especially and will stand in the general trailhead area. 

Otherwise, head to one of the maps and pick a trail that’s great for you!

Head to the Boulder Farmers Market.

One of the most fun things to do in Boulder on the weekend is to head to the Boulder Farmers Market. 

It’s only open on Saturdays and takes place in Central Park in downtown Boulder. After that hike, you’re probably ready to take it a bit slower for the rest of the day!

At the farmers market, there are tons of local vendors selling everything from fun snacks to souvenirs. Honestly, even if you don’t plan on buying anything, it’s fun just to walk around. You never know what you may find!

If you’re driving, there are also quite a few parking spots near the market. The most popular place to park is at One Boulder Plaza, where you could try to stay for the rest of the day.

 Everything else on this Boulder itinerary is pretty much in this same general area of downtown Boulder!

Sip on a tea from Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

Intricate painted detailing of the Boulder Dushanbe teahouse

After exploring Boulder Farmers Market, go over to the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. You’re most likely ready to sit down now after a pretty eventful morning! 

While they do serve lunch here, try just to grab one of their traditional teas instead because an even better lunch is up next on this weekend itinerary!

This teahouse is unlike any other teahouse that you’d find in the United States. The building itself was even built and then taken apart in Tajikistan and then shipped to Boulder, where it was rebuilt. How cool is that?

The inside of the teahouse feels very authentic to the typical Tajik style, and there’s tons of seating and ornate detailing everywhere. Be sure to pay close attention to the interior because it’s incredible!

Indulge on lunch from Post Brewing or Bohemian Biergarten.

tasting flight of different beers

After a little late morning/early afternoon tea, head over to 13th Street near Hotel Boulderado.

There are two fantastic restaurants for you to choose from for lunch on this avenue near Pearl Street: Post Brewing or Bohemian Biergarten. The only reason I’m mentioning both is that they’re right next door to each other!

Post Brewing is the place to go if you want to try some local brews with your launch. They also serve some fantastic food, ranging from fried chicken to green chili macaroni and cheese (which I highly recommend!). 

They have a lot of both indoor and outdoor seating, and dining here feels like you’re enjoying the best home-cooked meal of your life.

Then, there’s Bohemian Biergarten, which is precisely what it sounds like! 

They don’t have as much seating as Post Brewing does, but their traditional Czech-style food makes up for it. 

Plus, they have tons of fantastic drinks on their menu and occasionally will have live music too.

Shop on Pearl Street.

Once you’re done enjoying lunch, take a short walk to Pearl Street just to do some people-watching, check out the street performers, or peruse some of the local stores. 

Pearl Street is a bit like Boulder’s version of the 16th Street Mall if you’ve been to Denver before.

It’s essentially a pedestrian-only area on the street surrounded by tons of shops, restaurants, and more. 

It honestly only takes an hour or two to explore the whole area, depending on how quick of a walker you are.

Of course, there are a few shops you should stop by. For all of your souvenir needs, head to Where the Buffalo Roam.

You also can’t miss out on Boulder Bookstore, one of the top independent booksellers in the entire country. It’s located inside of an old historic building, and some of the books are even stored inside of old ballrooms!

If it’s super hot during your trip, you could also stop by Gelato Boy for some of the absolute best gelatos you’ve ever had.

Have dinner at SALT The Bistro.

The facade of Salt the Bistro in Boulder Colorado
Photo Credit: Kent Kanouse via Flickr

After spending the afternoon exploring Pearl Street, you’re probably ready to start winding down for the evening. So, head to SALT The Bistro for an excellent dinner.

This is a higher-end restaurant, but it’s right on Pearl Street, and the food is terrific. It instantly grew to popularity in Boulder because it focuses a lot on serving farm-to-table meals. Plus, a lot of what’s on their menu is local!

There are many indoor and outdoor seating here, so you can easily sit outside and enjoy the beautiful Colorado weather. When you’re visiting on the weekend, you may also want to try to call ahead and make a reservation to ensure that you can eat here.

If you, unfortunately, find that there are no reservations available, don’t worry! Pearl Street is filled with so many restaurants that you’ll easily be able to find a different one to go to.

A few other suggestions for where to eat on Pearl Street include: Frasca Food & Wine for upscale Italian cuisine, West End Tavern for tasty burgers, and The Kitchen for contemporary American fare. 

See a show at the Boulder Theater.

Photo Credit: Jesse Varner via Flickr

One of the best ways to start to wind down in the evening in Boulder is to see a show at Boulder Theater if there are any playing during your trip! 

This beautiful theater is located right next to the historic Hotel Boulderado and it’s a great addition to your weekend in Boulder if you want to see a little of the local culture scene.

The Boulder Theater has an art-deco-inspired architectural style, which you can immediately see even from the outside. 

It opened in 1906, and while it is a smaller theater, it’s become a popular staple in Boulder. The theater is even one of the most popular spots to host weddings in the area!

Throughout the year, they play different films and also host lots of artists for live music. Be sure to check online to see what sort of fun show you may be able to catch during your trip!

Grab drinks at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery.

Photo Credit: emerson12 via Flickr

Finish the night off right by going out for drinks at the Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery

Located right on Pearl Street, this pub serves delicious drinks and often has live folk music. It’s quite a lively place to go in the evening, especially on a Saturday night.

Mountain Sun has about 75 different craft beers that they make throughout the year, so they are constantly rotating what’s available at their pub.

If you’re unsure of what’s worth ordering, be sure to ask one of the bartenders. They’re always willing to help you find something that you’d like!

After having drinks, head to bed! You’ll need rest for your second day in Boulder, which is just as busy as the first!

Day 2 of Your Boulder Itinerary

On your second day in Boulder, it’s time to see some of the attractions that most people overlook when visiting. 

On the first day, you did the touristy stuff; now it’s time to experience Boulder like a local! You’ll also go on a great tour run by a local.

Get your morning coffee from Ozo Coffee Company and catch the sunrise.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Reyes via Flickr

First thing in the morning, before the sun is even up, head to Ozo Coffee Company. Ozo opens right at 6 AM, depending on which location you go to! 

They are a popular local coffee chain in Boulder with quite a few locations.

After you grab your coffee to start waking yourself up, make your way to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. You may be thinking, why am I going to this center super early in the morning? 

And well, the answer is simple. It’s because you’re going to catch a classic and beautiful Colorado sunrise! 

You can drive up to the top of the hill here and watch the sunrise over the Flatirons. Seriously, the view is incomparable! 

There’s a parking lot at the top, or you can walk a bit from the parking lot if you want more of an unobstructed view. It’s entirely up to you.

Have breakfast at Chautauqua Dining Hall.

Photo Credit: Josh Montague via Flickr

You’re most likely pretty hungry after waking up super early to catch the sunrise! So, head to one of the best local places for food in Boulder: Chautauqua Dining Hall.

This remarkable place has tons of seating both indoor and outside. Plus, they have delivery and take-out if you’d rather eat somewhere else! 

This dining hall first opened in 1898, and while they are open for lunch and dinner, people often overlook that they’re also available for breakfast on the weekend.

The dining hall is situated right by the Flatirons, so the view is incredible no matter where you sit here. 

For breakfast, they have everything from traditional beignets to eggs benedict. They even have avocado toast and acai bowls. Seriously, they can satisfy even the pickiest eater here!

Keep in mind that the dining hall opens at 9 AM. Consider getting there right when they open to ensure that you get a great seat. 

If you want to sit outside, but it’s a bit cool, don’t worry. They have heated outdoor seating as an option too!

Rent bikes from Boulder BCycle.

Signs for bicycle paths around Boulder Colorado

After breakfast, it’s time to be adventurous like most Coloradans are and do some biking around the city!

Rent a bike from Boulder BCycle. This works like a lot of other city bike experiences do. 

There are different parking areas where you can just grab a bike and go, and you pay based on how long you ride the bike for.

Be sure to download the Boulder BCycle app to do this! As a first-time rider, there are also sometimes deals where you get $5 off your first ride or something like that, making this an even more affordable fun activity to do in the early morning.

There are quite a few different trails around Boulder, but one of the most popular is the Boulder Creek Path

You could also consider just riding around downtown, which is super lovely in the morning. That’s what I love doing on my mornings in Boulder, at least!

Go on a tour with Banjo Billy.

Photo Credit: Tee La Rosa via Flickr

You may be thinking, who the heck is Banjo Billy? Well, you’re in luck; this Banjo Billy Bus Tour is one of the most unique experiences that you can have while visiting Boulder for a weekend.

Essentially, the Banjo Billy Bus Tour takes place in a funky-looking bus painted red that’s made to look like a hillbilly shack. Yes, you read that right! But that’s what makes it such a fun and unique tour.

You have the choice of what type of guided tour you’d like to do with this fun tour group. They offer history tours, ghost tours, and brewery tours. Some of the tours are walking only, and some include rides on the fun Banjo Billy bus! No matter which one you choose, you’ll have a blast.

Most of the tours are two hours long. Some of them only occur in the evening (like the ghost tour), so you may have to rearrange your Boulder weekend itinerary slightly.

Have lunch at The Buff.

For lunch after your busy morning, head to The Buff. This excellent restaurant in Boulder is known for its breakfast and lunch menus. 

They have an old-school charm at this place, serving up drinks in mason jars and the like.

The restaurant first opened in 1995 and has been a family-run business ever since. The location that they are at now has been a Boulder staple since 2014. 

The menu also features tons of great local vendors, including Ozo Coffee, Sherpa Chai, Polidori Sausage, and Odell Brewing Co. Eating here is a great way to support locals!

On the menu, you’ll find everything from skillets to grilled sandwiches. They mainly only offer a combined brunch menu, so if you still want more breakfast, then you’re in luck. It’s all on the menu!

Drive Flagstaff Road.

Flagstaff Road in winter on a scenic drive in boulder

Once you’re done enjoying lunch, it’s time to take in the views of the Flatirons in a different way: by driving Flagstaff Road, a beautiful scenic drive in Boulder!

This is something that you can only do if you have a car while visiting here, unfortunately, but it’s very much worth it. You could even consider renting a car just for this afternoon!

While driving Flagstaff Road, you’ll be around 7,000 feet high in elevation. So, as you can imagine, the views are epic.

Along the road, there are a few pull-off spots so that you can stop and enjoy the view. No need to rush the drive, or else you’ll honestly miss some of the best viewpoints! 

Some fun spots to pull off at include the Green Mountain Lodge, Flagstaff Nature Center, and the Halfway House along the drive.

There’s also the Flagstaff House, which would be a good lunch spot if you want something fancier, as it offers elegant American dining with stunning views.

Spend the afternoon at Boulder Reservoir.

From driving Flagstaff Road, stay in the car and make your way to have a chill afternoon at Boulder Reservoir. 

It’s located in northern Boulder and consists of a huge body of water set against the mountains. The view is breathtaking.

Here, you can go swimming, have a picnic, relax by the water, or even rent a boat to go kayaking or paddleboarding. Honestly, the possibilities are endless! 

This is a great way to enjoy some of Boulder’s nature while also relaxing at the same time.

If the weather isn’t great during your visit, you could consider checking out the Boulder History Museum or the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art instead for your last afternoon here.

Wind down with dinner from Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr

Once you’re done with your afternoon, it’s time for dinner at one of the best restaurants in Boulder: Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant. This Tex-Mex restaurant serves tons of amazing appetizers, entrees, and more… and even better margaritas!

While it’s not necessarily a “Boulder local restaurant,” it is a chain in the Boulder area. It’s a pretty popular place to eat, especially for lunch or dinner. Plus, if you love this place so much, they also have a Denver location!

You can find dishes like chile con queso, churros, chicken quesadillas, and more on the menu. Everything on the menu is relatively affordable and tends to cost $10 or less, so you’ll be enjoying delicious food without breaking the bank.

It’s up to you whether you’d like to order drinks here, but your last stop on your Boulder weekend itinerary does include a visit to another of Boulder’s best breweries that you won’t want to miss out on.

Have one last pint from Avery Brewing Co.

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad via Flickr

Celebrate your last night in Boulder with a bang at Avery Brewing Co! This is one of the top-rated breweries in Boulder, and for a good reason. 

While they do serve some fun eats to go along with your drink, their brews are the real star of the show.

Some of their top-rated year-round drinks include their Avery IPA, White Rascal, and Liliko’i Kepolo. They also have many different brews that they serve on rotation throughout the year, depending on the season.

If you’re not sure what to order, don’t worry! Feel free to chat with some of the bartenders because they know everything there is to know about all of the drinks on the menu. 

Honestly, no matter what one you try, you’ll most likely enjoy it. This is one of Boulder’s best breweries for a reason!

What to Do with More than a Weekend in Boulder?

Explore more Boulder County hikes. Hikers will love all that there is to do in the immediate Boulder area — more than just the Flatirons! Here are a few of the best hikes near Boulder.  

Take a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s so easy to take a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes just under an hour to get there by car, or alternately, you can make it even easier on yourself and just take a guided day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, where they’ll handle all the logistics: you just bring your camera and comfortable shoes and enjoy!

Take in a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Located in Morrison, CO just east of Denver, a trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater is absolutely worth the admission cost! It’s one of the most brilliant concert venues in the entire country. 

Other Colorado Travel Guides

I have a great team of Colorado-based writers crafting incredible content on this beautiful state!

Denver

How to Spend A Weekend in Denver
13 Best Day Trips from Denver
The Best Dog-Friendly Hikes Near Denver

Colorado in Winter

21 Delightful Things to Do in Denver in Winter
9 Great Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter
How to Visit the Dillon Ice Castles in Colorado

General Colorado

12 Incredible Colorado Road Trips

9 Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter wonderland located outside the adorable mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado.

The park is 415 square miles and only a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado, making it an excellent day trip from Denver or an easy addition to your Denver itinerary.

Rocky Mountain is known for its snowy winters and massive peaks. Snow normally begins in late October and ends well into the middle of May.

This pattern attracts ski bums and winter enthusiasts to the area each year. Ice climbing, cross country skiing, and winter hiking are the most sought-after activities here, in this national park that is known for being a winter playground with stunning views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

The activities are limitless and this guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter will help you navigate them all!

Rocky Mountains Winter Packing List

Landscape view of Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado with trees in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Locals joke that you need to pack for every season when visiting or hiking in Colorado… well, that joke is actually true!

Sometimes you might start your hike with the weather being sixty degrees and sunny, but as you climb, the higher your elevation is, putting yourself in more extreme weather situations.

The temperature can drop to single digits, with added wind chills on top of it. Layers, layers, and even more layers are the key to staying warm!

Your first layer should be your base layer. Merino wool is known to keep you the warmest and is very comfortable and breathable — we suggest these ones by Merino.tech (leggings + top layer), which use 100% merino wool from farms in New Zealand.

Your middle layer is your insulation layer, which helps you retain body heat. Using fleece (like this one from North Face) as your middle layer is highly recommended and extra comfortable.

Your outer layer is your final layer and where you will be spending most of your money. Heavy winter jackets with protective layers and a hood are preferred — I also use North Face for this layer, in particular, their insulated Metropolis parka (which I’ve had for 15 years and loved!).

In Colorado, you want to make sure you have a reliable windshield in your outer layer, as the wind chill above the treeline or mountains cuts you totally differently. If you also get caught in a snow or rainstorm, this will help keep you dry and protect your other layers.

It is okay if you do not wear all three layers at the start of your adventure — just have them available, as the higher you get, the colder it will get.

That is why it is recommended to have all of these options in your backpack, so you can easily add or remove layers, depending on the weather.

Happy family with arms around each other enjoying beautiful mountain view on winter hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A warm winter hat and insulated, waterproof gloves are a must-have. Use fabrics that will not get soggy when wet.

Multiple pairs of socks (preferably wool socks) should always be in your backpack. This is important in case you step into a heavy snowpack or puddle when hiking.

Your socks could become frozen, risking hypothermia or frostbite. Having multiple pairs of socks you can layer up with if you get wet or extra cold is key. It is an extremely lightweight but important hiking hack for winter.

Always remember that when it comes to playing in the winter snow, you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Being over-prepared could save your life — or others around you.

Microspikes and/or snowshoes (depending on the amount of snow on the ground) are needed when attempting any winter hiking.

Microspikes help keep your grip with chains or small spikes that slip over your hiking boots. They help you stay grounded on icy trails and will prevent you from falling. I used and loved these Yaktrax while hiking in Arctic Norway.

They are a lifesaver and it is rare to spot hikers without them! There is nothing worse than losing traction and sliding down an icy mountain.

In addition, after a heavy snowfall, you will need snowshoes. The mountains get pounded with multiple feet of snow and it takes a while for it to become packed down.

In these conditions, one wrong step could have you post-holing, covering your body in the snow!

Snowshoes will keep you above the soft snow instead of having you fall through it out.

Most of the time, you will start off with microspikes until you reach a higher elevation. That is when you swap them out for the snowshoes. They are a dynamic duo for winter mountain hiking and will make your life ten times easier!

Most hiking trails are not even accessible without them. It is ideal to always bring them with you, even if you think you won’t need them.

Snowshoes can be expensive — you can get a cheap-ish pair on Amazon, or invest in a heavier-duty pair from REI — so many people choose to rent a pair in Estes Park if they don’t plan to hike in the snow frequently.

Avalanche Awareness

Sign reading "avalanche area: no stopping or standing next two miles" with snow in the background

According to reports from the CAIC, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there are over two thousand avalanches in Colorado every season.

It’s important to be avalanche-aware whenever you head out into the winter backcountry.

If you see an avalanche heading towards you, do not try to run away from it. The best thing you can do is move to the side, grab something sturdy, and hold one arm up.

If you have one arm up and get buried, the rescue team will be able to locate you faster, increasing your chances for survival. 

Even though getting caught in an avalanche is slim, it is very important to be prepared!

Having an avalanche transceiver (and more importantly, knowing how to use it) may save your life.

If you stick to more traversed areas of the park, this is likely not necessary, but if you want to go into the backcountry, it is essential.

You are probably wondering how avalanches even start. Simply put, an avalanche occurs when a layer of snow collapses and slides downhill.

There are four factors that cause this natural wonder: a steep slope, heavy snow cover, a layer of snow that is weak, and of course (as all the movies have shown!) a trigger.

Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers are the biggest cause of avalanches, due to the vibrations from machinery and boards. Some other causes are earthquakes or even rain and wind combined with heavy snowfall.

Warming temperatures can be a common factor, causing the melted snow to become heavier.

The CAIC has a map on their website that shows the Rocky Mountain Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It is updated every day in the winter months to display what level of threat is in the area: 1 being the lowest and 5, extreme, being the most dangerous.

It is highly recommended to make this website your winter tool before any outdoor activities in the Rocky Mountains. You can view the conditions map here

Winter Road Closures

Snow Covered Trail Ridge Road in  Rocky Mountain National Park in winter before the closed part of the season starts

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles with an elevation of 12,183 feet at its highest point.

It is one of the most talked-about and famous roads in all of Colorado, and a popular Colorado scenic drive, drawing over 900,000 visitors each month in the summer.

This drive is not for the faint of heart and can be downright terrifying to most people! This is caused by the lack of guard rails and very steep drop-off.

In the summer, you can take the road from Estes Park which is the east entrance of the park, all the way to Grand Lake, which is the west entrance of the park, allowing you to visit both of these Rocky Mountain towns.

Driving the road is allowed in the summer months, depending on when the snowfall declines. It normally reopens around late May to mid-June. 

Don’t worry, you can still explore it during the winter months, but only by foot and by ski! 

The road is plowed up the viewpoint section of Many Parks Curve; cars are not allowed past this point.

Trail Ridge Road is the only road that officially shuts down every winter from October until Memorial Day weekend. The other roads in the park are very well maintained, even after heavy snowfall.

All of the roads are paved and plowed throughout the park, keeping winter visits popular and safe to visitors.

Winter Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

People walking on the frozen surface of Dream Lake in winter on a sunny day in Colorado

Weather can be tricky at Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

Colorado is known for its 300 days of sunshine and also snowy destinations, an odd combination for knowing what to expect.

Weather can — and does — quickly change from fifty and sunny to blizzard conditions frequently!

Checking the weather before your departure is always recommended. Being prepared for all weather conditions is a must.

Snow typically begins falling in October and doesn’t stop until late April to mid-May., but keep in mind that every year is different. 

You can call the Rocky Mountain National Park information line at 970-586-1206 for the latest conditions and snow reports.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Ice climb the frozen waterfalls.

Ice climbing is a hard but popular mountaineering activity in Colorado. This fun winter activity includes climbing frozen waterfalls or large rocks covered with ice.

Luckily, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a remote and scenic ice climbing area, making it a bucket list winter destination for ice climbers.

In the Wild Basin area of the park, you’ll find Hidden Falls, located twelve miles south of Estes Park near the Longs Peak Trailhead.

There will be signs for the horse trail about one hundred yards from the ranger station: that is where the trailhead begins.

If you are interested in ice climbing but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered!

This waterfall freezes in mid-winter, drawing skilled climbers to the region. The trail to Hidden Falls can get very snowy and icy at times. It is recommended to be prepared and have the correct equipment before taking on this challenge.

The American Alpine Institute provides technical climbing education to new students.

This mountaineering school offers courses in ice climbing, rock climbing, glacier skills, and more. They even have an Introduction class to Alpine Ice Climbing, a six-day course led in different locations all around the country.

Whether you want to take on the hobby long-term or just try it out, they are there to ensure you are doing it safely. Check out their courses on their website here.

No time for a long course? The Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park offers one-day intro classes that get you started on ice climbing.

Have winter fun in the Hidden Valley Snow Park.

Once a ski resort in the 1950s until the 1990s, Hidden Valley was a popular spot for locals to ski and snowboard.

Initially, chair lifts were not available at the resort, causing the skiers to hike up the runs and ski down. Later, lifts were built, creating a full ski experience.

However, the National Park Service eventually closed the slopes in the early 1990s.

Today, the lifts are gone and it has become a backcountry skiing and snowboarding destination. The runs are narrow, allowing skiers to alternate turns down the slope.

In order to get there, enter from the Estes Park entrance and drive to the Hidden Valley picnic area. You will see signs for parking, and a lot of people getting ready to enjoy the area!

If snow tubing is more your speed, then Hidden Valley has got you covered. The bunny hill from the old ski resort is now used for sledding and tubing!

After heavy snowstorms, families and large groups flock to this area. Be sure to bring your own tubes and sleds (or rent them in Estes Park before entering Rocky Mountain National Park) as there are no rentals inside the park!

Children riding on an inflatable snow tube in Rocky Mountain national park in winter

Go cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing is a fun sport that involves gliding across the snow while getting a fantastic workout.

Cross-country skiing requires skiers to use a back and forth motion with their legs, as if they are running with skis on. No wonder it’s such a good workout!

In Rocky Mountain National Park in winter, Trail Ridge Road closes to vehicles, allowing cross-country skiers to use the road as their playground, with a stunning workout view at 12,000 feet in the air.

The road is a steady uphill climb on the way up — which makes it even more enjoyable coming back!

Cross-country skiing is a great winter activity in Colorado, and there are lots of options to choose from in RMNP in winter.

If Trail Ridge Road is a little out of your league, you can try Glacier Basin Campground Loop: a beginner-friendly 2.7-mile loop through a forest with stunning views of the surrounding lake!

Tackle some winter hikes.

Dream Lake – Easy

One of the most photographed locations in Rocky Mountain National Park is the famous Dream Lake.

The name fits the scenery and this spot is perhaps even more stunning in the winter! The snow falls around the crevices in the mountain, creating a dreamscape of a winter wonderland.

In cold temperatures — typically by around January — the lake freezes over and is covered with snow, allowing you to walk out to the middle of the lake for that perfect photo opportunity! Note: Be sure to ask a park ranger if the lake is safely frozen over before embarking on this hike

The hike itself is rated as easy and only two miles long. Due to the high elevation of the park, the elevation gain of 426 can be moderate for those sensitive to uphill gain.

Either way, seeing this view in person is worth the extra effort!

You even pass Nymph Lake on your hike back to Bear Lake parking lot, which is another gorgeous place to extend your hike if you want more winter scenery.

Keep in mind that the Bear Lake Parking lot fills up relatively quickly in both the winter and summer months. It is important to get there early as the park rangers will close the road off once it fills up!

The snowy landscape of a frozen-over Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter in Colorado

Emerald Lake – Moderate

About a mile after Dream Lake is Emerald Lake, making it a great addition to your winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to get some extra mileage in with even more gorgeous views!

The trail is 3.2 miles and starts at the Bear Lake parking lot, similar to the previous hike mentioned. Once you get to Dream Lake, you will continue north on the trail around the shore of the lake, bringing you through a very lush pine forest.

You will then arrive at Emerald Lake, where you will be able to see the views of Flattop Mountain! The views become even more breathtaking around sunrise and sunset.

Emerald lake in rocky mountains national park, CO in winter with frozen ice sheet on the lake and snow

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail – Hard

This is a winter hike that is rated as hard but makes it on most visitors’ bucket lists — only tackle it if you are an experienced winter hiker!

Making it to Sky Pond in the winter months is a great achievement for hikers: this 9.4-mile trek through the snow and ice is only recommended to be taken on by hikers with some experience.

If you’ve never hiked in the winter before, stick to one of the previous two hikes, and add this to your Rocky Mountain National Park winter bucket list for future years!

Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot, then begin your journey through the snowy forest.

Eventually, you will reach Loch Lake, which is normally frozen over in the winter months. You can either walk on the lake or around it, depending on how thick the ice is (you may want to ask a ranger before embarking on this hike).

From there, continue on until you reach Lake of Glass. You may think your hike is almost over once you reach this lake, but it is not!

You will then have to climb the falls to the top where Sky Pond is. This can be especially difficult in the winter, but it is doable. It is important to go slow and make sure you have proper hand and footing.

Due to the slipperiness of the icy rocks, it is important that you bring your microspikes!

This hike may be difficult, but the views are breathtaking for the whole 9.4 miles. Be sure to pack some lunch and enjoy it at Sky Pond before heading back.

Hiking Trail to a Frozen Lake Beneath "The Spearhead" in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

Long’s Peak – Extremely Difficult

This is a Colorado 14er that is rated dangerous and sometimes deadly — so only undertake this with sufficient experience.

Be sure to follow all safety guidelines, let people know where you are going, and have an GPS-enabled SOS device on you such as the Garmin InReach Mini, which can send out an alert in case you get injured or lost without cell reception (which you will most definitely not have out on this hike!).

For the uninitiated, a 14er is a mountain peak that sits at 14,000 feet or more. Colorado has 58 of them located all over the state.

For those trying to tackle all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, Long’s is a staple in Rocky Mountain National Park, one that is only encouraged to be taken on by mountaineers who are properly trained — especially in the winter.

20,000 people come to Rocky Mountain every year in an attempt to summit this mountain, but only half of those climbers make it to the top and back down. It is rumored to be the most tried and failed fourteener in the state!

Unfortunately, there have been 58 people who have died while trying to complete this hike since the year 2000, so it is not without its risks (hence our suggestion for a SOS safety device).

The difficulty is due to the distance of 14.8 miles and the scramble at the top. The hike turns into a climb accompanied by very steep drop-offs.

One wrong move can become fatal, so experience in climbing is a must. Since the distance is so long, most hikers get an overnight camping permit to break it up. This can also be dangerous due to the quickly changing weather, especially in the winter months.

Long’s Peak is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it takes most people that long to accomplish it. Even though it can be scary, it is a beautiful peak and a good goal to have for those who take it seriously.

View of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Go snowshoeing.

Hiking trails become snowshoeing trails in the winter in Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park in winter has plenty of trails to bring them on!

It is common to see the above trails filled with snowshoers in the winter. After heavy snowstorms, hiking the trail without them becomes impossible.

Sometimes the snow is too fresh and can be as high as your chest! The snowshoes allow you to stay above the powder, keeping you safe from falling through.

If you are visiting the area you can rent snowshoes at local mountain shops in the town of Estes Park, Colorado for the day.

Explore the cute mountain town of Estes Park.

The east entrance of Estes Park is the most popular entry point in the winter season.

Since Trail Ridge Road connects you to the west entrance, and it is closed in the winter, there are not many winter activities available on that side of the park.

As a result, the already bustling Estes Park gets even more lively in the winter, as it’s the primary access point into the park.

In the winter, Estes Park resembles a picturesque snowy postcard, filled with mountain views and wildlife. Moose are commonly spotted roaming the streets downtown and outside lodging facilities!

Restaurants and shops line the streets of their quaint downtown area to enjoy after your action-packed day.

Estes Park downtown in winter with plowed streets and the city covered in snow

Enjoy accommodations in the area such as cozy winter cabins or their spooky Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel is famous in the area, known for its haunting encounters. Author Stephen King stayed at the hotel, which inspired his book and (that was later turned into the famous movie) The Shining.

You can even tour the Stanley Hotel during the day if staying overnight is out of your comfort zone!

Local ranches and farms offer horseback riding activities, even in the winter.

You will drive through the downtown area of this town when leaving and entering Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even if you’re just passing through, it is a convenient place to grab snacks or gear prior to spending the day in the park.

End your adventure by spending some time at Lake Estes, a 185-acre lake with views of Rocky Mountain National Park from afar.

It’s also a great place to visit in the holiday season when the lights are up all over town!

Rocky Mountain National Park Tips

With endless winter activities and stunning views, Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter lover’s paradise!

Making sure you have the proper equipment and gear for winter activities is beyond important in Colorado. A well-stocked hiking backpack will be your best friend in these adventures!

There is a $25 vehicle entrance fee into the park, but if you are planning on visiting multiple times over the course of the winter or multiple national parks, I suggest you buy an America the Beautiful Pass.

It’s just $80 for an annual pass (good for one entire vehicle!) for all the national parks and 2,000+ federally-managed sites!

Buy your America the Beautiful pass online at REI!

Finally, Rocky Mountain National Park is requiring reservations from May 28 to October 11, with their new timed entry permit system. If you are visiting in that time frame you will need to make a reservation online.

It is not stated if they will be extended into the winter months as of yet, but be prepared for that to be a possibility.

The Rocky Mountains are waiting for you to explore their snowy peaks. Come see this real-life winter wonderland for yourself.

7 Tips for Visiting the Dillon Ice Castles in Colorado

The Dillon Ice Castles are a magical place to visit! Located in the heart of small-town Dillon, the Ice Castles are a must-see. 

They are a great place for a romantic date night out, a night of family fun, or a great place to visit with friends.

The Ice Castles are the main attraction in Dillon in the winter months, and it’s a popular winter Denver day trip!

Dillon is just one of the four locations in the US that hosts the construction of these gorgeous man-made ice castles.

How Are the Dillon Ice Castles Made?

Magical ice castle made entirely of water and ice and snow in the sun on a winter day in Colorado

The Ice Castles are hand-built by ice architects! These masters grow then place icicles one by one in the design they want. After, these icicles are sprayed with water. 

They repeat that process many times over the span of two months until the castles grow to the size of their liking. Typically, this requires about 25,000 tons of ice!

Where Are the Dillon Ice Castles?

Area around the Ice Castles in Dillon with trees and mountains behind the castle formation

The Ice Castles are located off of Highway 6, on Lake Dillon Drive in the Dillon Town Park. 

The outside of this attraction can be seen from the streets throughout town, but the inside will blow you away!

From a distance (in the daylight) the castles will look blue because of their density, but as you get closer the intricacies will have you taking a second look. 

Once you walk inside, you enter into another world!

In this article, I am going to give you some tips to make visiting the Ice Castles a smooth trip!

7 Tips for Visiting the Dillon Ice Castles

Get your tickets online in advance.   

The beautiful ice formations in a brilliant turquoise pale blue color against a cloudy winter sky

Getting your tickets online in advance will guarantee you entry into the Ice Castles on the day you want. It is $17.99 to get in during the weekdays and $22.99 Friday through Sunday. You can buy tickets online on their website here.

There are lower prices for children’s tickets as well and children under 3 are free. If you buy tickets the day of, the prices are typically more expensive, and there is no guarantee they won’t be sold out.

When you purchase tickets, you are not only purchasing a ticket for the date you want, but for the time you want to go as well.  No matter what arrival time you purchase tickets for, you can stay as long as you want.

Opening and closing days do vary each year at the Ice Castles due to weather conditions.  Getting tickets online will also ensure that the Ice Castles will be open.

Typically in Dillon, the castles open in late December or early January and close at the end of February or in the first few weeks of March.

Arrive early.

Close up detail of icicles at the Dillon Ice Castles

When you purchase a ticket for the Ice Castles, you are buying an arrival window.  For example, if you purchase an arrival window from 5 PM – 5:30 PM, you can enter the castles anytime between those times and stay as long as you want.

If you arrive before your time slot, you will just have to wait to enter. If you arrive after your time slot, you may lose your ticket and not be able to enter at all. 

You may have to wait in line to enter into the Ice Castles during the more popular times from 4:30 PM – 7:00 PM, so arriving early will ensure you have enough time to wait in line and still enter during your arrival window.

It is also important to arrive early because parking can be scarce. There is a pretty large parking lot right on Buffalo Street in front of the Ice Castles. This is prime parking and it fills up very quickly!

If that lot is full, there is some overflow parking in the Town Hall parking lot. If both of those lots are full, you can find some parking along Lake Dillon Drive, which will leave you a short walk to the castles. Make sure to obey all parking signs in town and only park in designated areas.

If you are looking to avoid the parking situation, look into taking the free Summit Stage Bus from anywhere in the county. The Summit Stage bus drops you off and picks you up right on Buffalo Street.

You can get off at stop number 193 on the schedule if you’re taking the bus from Silverthorne or Keystone. Typically the bus comes every 30 minutes and runs on time.

If you are taking the bus from Frisco or Breckenridge, be sure to check out the Summit Stage schedule online.

Dress appropriately.

Person wearing a jacket and gloves while visiting the Dillon Ice Castles

The winter months in Colorado can be frigid! When visiting the Ice Castles, be sure to wear the correct clothing to ensure your comfort.

I recommend that everyone in your party wears snow pants, base layers (like this merino wool top and bottoms) and mid-layers (like this North Face fleece, one of my winter staples), a winter jacket (I also suggest a North Face parka), and a hat and gloves.

The Ice Castles hardly shut down due to adverse weather so be prepared for anything!

You will be standing on cold snow and ice mixture the whole time, so wearing warm winter socks and boots will help you stay warm. The only kind of boots that will keep your feet sufficiently warm is snow boots (I love these Sorel boots), which will be perfect for the 30-60 minutes you may be in the castles.

Packing some hand warmers in your pockets will allow you to enjoy your stay longer if you do start to get cold! I suggest these Karecel rechargeable hand warmers as they are less wasteful than the disposable ones, and they’re very affordable!

Bring a nice camera.

I know that many of us have really nice cameras on our smartphones that we bring everywhere!

If you really want to capture the intricate details though, I recommend bringing a nice camera and visiting the castles in the daylight to capture each individual icicle in a photo that will last forever.

If you plan to arrive around 4:00 PM, you will be able to see the castles in the daylight, catch the sunset over Lake Dillon, and enjoy the ambiance that darkness creates!

Ice Castles lit up at night with blue light and icicles

Take care of your bodily needs before you enter!

As a ski instructor, we always say “NO PEE, NO SKI” before we take the kids outside to ski. Well, the same goes for the ice castles!

Even though you aren’t going skiing, it’s almost the same in my eyes because there are no bathrooms inside. 

There is also no reentry allowed if you have to leave to use the bathroom. I am just trying to say that you should plan ahead!

No food is allowed inside.

Unfortunately, food is not permitted inside the Ice Castles. Plan to have eaten before you go inside, or plan a meal for afterward. 

Your journey inside can last a long time, especially if you’re into photography and capturing every last detail, so be prepared for anything! 

If you are planning to eat in Dillon afterward, both Pug Ryan’s and Arapahoe Cafe are within walking distance of the castles and have great offerings.

Take your time inside.

One room of the Dillon ice castle with blue, orange, and purple lighting creating a unique ambiance

As soon as you walk into the castles, you will be greeted with so much to look at: beautiful walls, archways, rainbow-colored lighting, and carved ice sculptures!

There are many different rooms to explore all with something different to offer. The castle is lit up with all different colors inside creating a different ambiance in each room.

Insider Tip: If you are looking for a nice romantic or private getaway, be sure to book a VIP experience in a private alcove!

If not, you can explore multiple different rooms, ice slot canyons, and walk under the many arches. Be sure to look up when you’re under the arches, to see what looks like a beautiful ice chandelier!

Looking up at the icicles under one of the arches in Dillon Ice Castles

Don’t forget the ice slides.

If you’re looking for more action, make sure to visit the ice slides inside.  There are ice slides of different sizes throughout the castle.  Believe it or not, many slides are both adult and kid-friendly!

The lines can get long at the slides so make sure to keep your eyes on it. Visiting during the middle of the week and at unpopular times can help you avoid these lines.

If you’re not seeking the adrenaline rush the slide has to offer, you can slide your way through ice tunnels of all different sizes!

They are adult and kid-friendly as well.  As the darkness sets in, the tunnels will light up with all different colors.

Colorful ice castle lit up at night with bright colors of purple and pink

If traveling with kids

If you have young kids, I recommend bringing a sled to tow them around!

Strollers are not permitted in the castles and would be extremely hard to push through the snow. Bringing a sled will allow you to stay longer even if the young ones start to get tired.

***

No matter how you choose to enjoy the ice castles, it will be a great time! 

The Ice Castles are so easy to look at, that you may spend hours wandering around looking at every little detail. 

The architects do an amazing job every year creating these castles bringing something new and different each year to the design. 

I highly recommend planning some time for the Dillon Ice Castles when you are planning your trip to Denver in winter.  This is an experience like no other!

Badlands National Park Itinerary: 1, 2, or 3 Days of Adventure!

The prettiest formations of rock in the Badlands!

South Dakota is seriously one of the coolest states in America. It doesn’t seem to have that reputation, but it is true! 

The Black Hills and Custer State Park are gorgeous and full of wildlife. The Cathedral Spires are one of the most prominent rock climbing destinations in the United States.

As the state is full of exciting wildlife and rock features, you cannot miss a visit to Badlands National Park

You will be awe-struck by the colorful rock features and spires. Imagine reds, yellows, oranges, and white striped mountains and spires!

Small hills in the Badlands National Park at sunset with light falling on the rock formations
PLANNING BADLANDS AT-A-GLANCE:

When to Go: Mid-summer brings heavy storms -- and crowds. Best time to visit is late spring/early summer or in the early fall.

Where to Stay: The best place to stay is in Wall, SD, near the Northeast Entrance to the park. I suggest the Best Western Plains Motel (mid-range, best-rated) or the Peaceful Country Living Home (vacation rental by owner).

More options: Days Inn (mid-range), America's Best Value Inn (mid-range with pool)

How to Get Around: You'll want your own car to travel around Badlands National Park, as there is no shuttle or public transit through the park. If you're renting a car, compare prices for car rentals from Rapid City Airport here.

Don't want to drive or plan? This private one-day Badlands tour departs from Rapid City, SD and will cover all the highlights without you doing any legwork.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: A sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. You'll want binoculars to spot all the beautiful wildlife -- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. If you're hiking deep in the backcountry (this is an Open Hike Park!), you'll want something enabled with GPS and satellite SOS, like the Garmin InReach Mini. 

Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site. 
Striated red and tan rock and grasslands in the Badlands of South Dakota

This national park is one of the most extraordinary examples of prehistory in America. It used to be underwater, and some of the remaining rock seems to be still moist. 

You can see fossils and imagine how this land looked when it was still immersed under the ocean 45 million years ago.

Not only is the prehistory of this park enough to pique your interest, but it has a long history of Native American culture.

It is flourishing with plants and animals for anyone to have the opportunity to thrive off the land here. There are prairie dogs, Badlands bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and bison roaming throughout the park. 

In addition, you will see edible and medicinal plants such as wild sunflowers, licorice, and juniper.

The Lakota, Sioux, and Cheyenne Native Americans once thrived in this wild land. They were among countless other tribes who learned the lay of the land and survived for hundreds of years before white settlers took the land from them.

As always when visiting stolen land, and particularly national parks, keep in mind the history of the land. The various Native American tribes of this area were true masters of the land. Remember this when you come here. The energy is palpable, and you can feel the ancient wisdom in the air.

Rock formations in Badlands National Park with shadow and light coming into play

How to Get to Badlands National Park

From Rapid City

From Rapid City to Badlands National Park, it takes about an hour drive to get to the park. There is a small regional airport at Rapid City.

There are direct flights to the Rapid City airport from Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and Dallas.

From Sioux Falls

It’s a bit of a long drive between Sioux Falls and Badlands National Park, which is about a 4 hour drive via I-90, but it’s an airport that has a little more options than Rapid City.

There are direct flights to the Sioux Falls airport from Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis.

On a South Dakota Road Trip

I’m in the process of writing a post for a South Dakota road trip, but here’s a quick little overview for you.

Your road trip itinerary should include Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, the Black Hills and the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore, all of which are clustered close to the Rapid City Airport. 

Other places that might be of interest are Deadwood, SD and Devils Tower National Monument in nearby Wyoming.

Below is a map that shows a rough South Dakota road trip itinerary.

On a Larger American Road Trip

South Dakota’s two NPS sites (Wind Cave and Badlands) pair well with Mountain West or other Midwest national parks.

One example would be a road trip that includes Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mt. Rushmore, etc. You can see both Wyoming and South Dakota on a single road trip.

You could also pair with Colorado national parks or Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park with blue geothermal waters

Entering Badlands National Park

There are three main entrances to Badlands National Park: the Northeast Entrance (close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center), the Pinnacles Entrance, and the Interior Entrance (near the White River Visitor Center and Cedar Pass Lodge).

Either way will allow you to see a lot of the park, but the White River Visitor Center is more on the way if you are doing a South Dakota road trip as it’s easier to go to Custer State Park, the Black Hills, etc. from there.

You can enter one way and exit another or return via the same park entrance you came.

Entering Badlands National Park costs $25 per vehicle, or if you have the America the Beautiful Pass, entrance is free!

NPS Sign reading "Entering Badlands National Park" in the late afternoon sunset light

Travel Tips for Visiting Badlands National Park

Preparation for Visiting the Badlands

An important thing to note before we get into all of the options you have to explore the Badlands is that there are limited amenities. So make sure you fill your gas tank before you head into the park!

You should make sure that you bring plenty of food for 1, 2, or 3 days in the park. Packing a lunch that needs to stay cool? Skip the bulky cooler — we suggest this awesome insulated tote from Hydroflask for your picnic needs.

You can also get food at the restaurant at Cedar Pass Lodge near the south edge of the park (Interior Entrance).

They have bison burgers, tacos, and vegetarian options. They also make their own fry bread, which is delicious.

Take note: the lodge is only open seasonally. Therefore, if you are coming in the off-season, you will need to bring all the food you need for the duration of your stay.

One of the many pointed rock formations of Badlands National Park with sunset light making shadows

Weather and Timing your Badlands Visit

An important thing to note about Badlands National Park is that the weather changes rapidly. One moment it can be warm and sunny; the next cool and stormy.

There are often high winds that will rip through the landscape. This is especially important to note if you plan on camping in the Badlands. A sturdy, legit tent is imperative. We’ll let you know more about camping in the Badlands later.

Note that summer is an especially stormy time with high winds and frequent thunderstorms…  and rainbows that follow!

The best time to visit the Badlands is in late spring/early summer (April-June, where you’ll get to see wildflowers) or late summer/early fall (September-October). The peak summer months (July and August) tend to have quite volatile weather!

Wildflowers in Badlands National Park at sunrise

What is an “Open Hike” Park?

One of the most incredible things about the Badlands is that while they may have many small trails and overlooks, this park is actually what is called an Open Hike park! 

That means you can hike and camp anywhere you want in the park, even if there are no trails.

If you choose to camp off-trail, you must camp at least 0.5 miles from any trails or roads. So you should be out of sight from anyone on the trail.

Always carry a map and a daypack. See the end of the post for our gear suggestions!

If you hike or camp off-trail, you will have the fantastic opportunity to see ferrets, prairie dogs, Badlands bighorn sheep, and bison.

A bighorn sheep standing looking at the camera in Badlands national park

Be sure to give all wildlife at least 25 yards of berth and do not approach them for any reason, particularly bison, which can occasionally be aggressive.

Note: there is also a presence of rattlesnakes in the Badlands! You should look out for them especially when adventuring off-trail. Always keep your eyes on the ground when walking. You can find them sunning themselves in open areas.

So while there are some great suggestions here, you are free to explore and hike anywhere the wind may take you while you explore the Badlands! 

It makes it a great way to spend time in the Badlands as you travel and explore to your heart’s content.

 Read a bit more about the “open hike” policy here.

Exploring the backcountry of Badlands National Park which is an Open hike park meaning you do not have to hike on trails only

Camping in Badlands National Park 

There are two different campgrounds in the park and dispersed camping in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland outside the park boundary. There is no fee for dispersed camping.

The campgrounds in the park are truly lovely. The first time I came to the park, I stayed at the Cedar Pass Campground

I camped on soft grass with an incredible view of the Badlands Pinnacles, the beautiful rock formations the park is known for. I found myself easily making my way to hike right from the campground for a lovely early morning stroll!

There is also primitive camping at the Sage Creek Campground. You can access this campground from Sage Creek Rim Road. There are no amenities. 

It, however, offers spacious campsites on prairie land. It is gorgeous and will give you a wilderness experience.

To reach dispersed camping, you want to head to the north and exit the park at the Pinnacles Entrance. When leaving the park, there is a dirt road just to the right after you cross the threshold of the park boundary.

You will travel along the road to find countless areas to set up your tent, RV, or sleep in your car. The road is bumpy, so 4-wheel drive is ideal. However, I saw multiple sedans parked along the road, too, so it is doable if you are careful.

Just go slow, watching for potholes, and you should be fine despite whichever vehicle you are driving. The dirt roads of the area can be especially treacherous in the rain.

Despite the roads, it is some of the most beautiful dispersed camping I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. You will have sweeping views of both the plains and the rugged, colorful rock of the Badlands.

Because of the Open Hike Policy, you can also camp anywhere you want in the park. Just remember to stay out of sight and 0.5 miles from any trails and roads while using Leave No Trace principles.

A blue tent out in the wilderness of Badlands National Park backcountry

A Quick Rundown on Leave No Trace Principles

Camping in the park and enjoying Badlands’ Open Hike policy works best when you use Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. 

Leave No Trace should be kind of self-explanatory. I like to think of it as “leave it better than you found it.”

LNT means you should always camp at least 100 feet from any water source. You should also urinate 100 feet away from water sources and 200 feet if you have to dig a cathole.

Carry out any soiled toilet paper. If you have to bury it, bury it at least 8 inches below the surface. This is how deep your cathole should be, but 12 inches is ideal.

Never leave trash anywhere, ever. Never!

Another nice thing to do is to “re-naturalize” your campsite. You can do this by adding debris to the area where you had set up your tent to make it appear as if you had never camped there.

Badlands FAQs

How much time do you need in Badlands National Park? One day in Badlands National Park is enough to get the basics, but two or three days will be even better. We give you options for 1, 2, and 3 day itineraries for this exact reason.

Can do you do Badlands National Park in one day? Absolutely! Start at the Northeast entrance and make your way through the park according to the itinerary suggested and you’ll hit all the Badlands highlights in a single day, or opt for one of the below tours which depart from Rapid City, SD.

What should you not miss in Badlands National Park? Everything on our one-day itinerary are the highlights of the park!

Is there a shuttle in Badlands National Park? No, there is not. You will want to bring your own car or rent a car from one of the airports if you are flying in. You can also take a private guided tour departing from Rapid City, SD if you cannot drive, just don’t want to, or if rental cars are not available.

Beautiful formations within Badlands National Park with green flora and red and earth toned rock

How This Badlands Itinerary Works

This Badlands National Park itinerary is additive, meaning that the first day of the itinerary covers everything you’d want to see if you have only one day in Badlands National Park. 

It is structured in a logical way that reduces backtracking and prioritizes the most important things. 

It also makes sure you get out and do some light hiking, so that you’re not just doing a car-hopping, whistle-stop tour of overlooks without appreciating the nature.

The second day contains the second most important things, and the third day offers some bonus ideas for things to do if you have an additional day to dedicate to your Badlands itinerary.

If you only have one day in the Badlands, you don’t need to read past day one: all the best things are in there!

If you have more than one day in Badlands National Park, continue reading to either the end of Day 2 or Day 3.

The prettiest formations of rock in the Badlands!

Badlands National Park Itinerary: Day One

Take a scenic drive on Badlands Loop Road.

Whichever end of the park you decide to enter from, you will end up on the Badlands Loop Road, a beautiful scenic byway through the park. 

It is the absolute best way to see the park if you only have one day in the Badlands, and it is one of the most scenic drives in all of the state!

Honestly, this park is relatively small compared to other national parks in the USA, so one day will allow you to see the major attractions of the Badlands.

The Badlands Loop Road is just 30 miles. As you traverse along the road, you will be able to hop out to enjoy vistas and some tremendous easy hikes in Badlands National Park!

When discussing this route of trails and overlooks, we will be entering the park from the Northeast Entrance.

Taking the scenic Badlands Loop, driving on an empty road in the Badlands in South Dakota

Make some stops for hikes and overlooks.

Your first stop will be the Big Badlands Overlook. It is a popular stop that offers hikers stunning views of the Badlands.

As you traverse south on Badlands Loop Road, you will find a great short hike at the Notch Trail

This trail is 1.5 miles and not too strenuous. One nifty feature of the trail is the rope ladder which ascends to a stunning viewpoint. It is one of the most popular hikes in the park!

Other tempting short hikes are the Window Trail and the Door Trail. Both of these trails are located at the same trailhead as the Notch Trail, so you can simply add on to your first hike if you have some energy!

In addition, these trailheads are located at the same point for the trailhead to the Castle Trail (more on this trail below), just north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. See the photo below for trailhead information

The Window Trail is 0.3 miles, and the Door Trail is 0.8 miles. Both offer hiking trails along a boardwalk with wonderful views. 

You can also freely hike off-trail anywhere you want along the way: this is allowed within the park, due to their “open hike” policy (unlike other national parks!).

Sign that reads trails "Door, Window, Notch, Castle": 4 trailheads diverging from one point

Take a short hike amongst fossils.

One of my favorite short hikes along Badlands Loop Road is the Fossil Exhibit Trail at the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead. It is a great way to get to know the prehistory of the park!

Plus, the fossil exhibits are hands-on so that you can touch the fossil moldings. You may even find an actual fossil along the trail! 

It is only 0.25 miles to hike this guy, so it’s easy for everyone, even if you’re visiting the Badlands with kids!

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is also an awesome place to check out fossils that have been found in Badlands NP!

Have a picnic lunch with a view, followed by more exploring.

From the Fossil Trail, stop at Bigfoot Pass Overlook for a picnic lunch… this is why I suggested bringing the food you’d like for the day into the park!

Another option would be the White River Valley Overlook, which also has amazing views suitable for a picnic lunch!

Then, hit up Panorama Point for more sweeping views of the Badlands. You will also find grand vistas at the Yellow Mounds Overlook. 

This overlook has lots of little trails leading out from the parking lot. These yellow mounds also contain hues of pink, purple, and orange… not just yellow!

To the right of the parking area, you can ascend a mound to take in the views of the prairie and the classic rock features of the Badlands.

You can also hike down around the yellow mounds to the left of the lot.

Yellow mounds in Badlands National Park with stripes of orange, tan, and pinkish-red with a clear blue sky behind it

View the sunset for an incredible show of color and light.

Sunset is one of the most incredible times to view the beauty of the Badlands! 

The colors of the rock will glow in a myriad of colors as the hues of sunset complement the features of the Badlands pinnacles.

One great spot for viewing the sunset is the Pinnacles Overlook, which you can find at the end of the Badlands Loop Road.

This overlook is a popular spot, as you will see. However, it offers some of the most beautiful sweeping views of the jagged rock of the Badlands.

Striations in the rock formations of the pinnacles in the Badlands national park of south dakota at sunset

Set up camp or stay in the lodge, if overnighting in the park.

Depending on how you are structuring your trip to the Badlands, this may be the point where you turn around and go back to Rapid City or wherever you are staying the night. 

Or you may want to set up camp or head to the lodge (if you have it pre-booked) if you are spending 2 or 3 days in Badlands National Park!

If you are staying overnight in the park, you will most likely be camping (more on that below).

However, there is a lodge that is open seasonally, Cedar Pass Lodge.

Cedar Pass Lodge offers lovely accommodations and a great restaurant. They have a campground as well as environmentally-conscious cedar cabins with all the amenities. 

They also self-describe themselves to be an excellent place to view the moon… or do some stargazing on a moonless night!

The colors of the Milky Way stretching up over the horizon in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands Itinerary: Day Two

Spend some time exploring the area around your campsite.

Once you’ve slept in and made yourself breakfast (or ate a filling, tasty breakfast from the lodge), you will want to explore more of whatever area you chose to stay in. 

If you’re staying only two days in Badlands National Park, you may want to break down your campsite now before continuing on with your day, or if you have three days in the Badlands, you can continue on without taking down your campsite.

The start of the day is up to you! Whether this is hiking on an established trail or taking advantage of the “Open Hike” policy of the Badlands, spend the morning your way.

If you stayed at the Lodge or the Badlands Campground near the Interior Entrance, now might be a good time to tackle the Saddle Pass Trail. 

This is a moderately-rated trail that packs a lot of punch into its short 0.7-mile length. Prepare for some scrambling!

If you stayed elsewhere in the park, you can find off-trail adventures near you or look for the nearest trailheads on your park map if you prefer to hike on-trail.

The easy boardwalk beginning to the moderately-rated Saddle Pass Trail which has some rock scrambling

Hike the Castle Trail for Sunset.

If you are staying for two days in Badlands National Park, be sure to take the time to view the sunset along the Castle Trail! 

Be sure to start this hike in the early afternoon. At 10.8 miles round trip, it is the longest trail in the Badlands. It will take up a nice chunk of an afternoon in the park, so be sure to start plenty early and bring a headlamp.

You will go on a stunning hike and explore the Castle Trail for incredible sunset views. Be sure to start the trail at the west trailhead heading east, across from the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead. This will allow for you to be heading back west for the best views of the sunset.

The Castle Trail is a great option if you really want to get your hike on. It would be a wonderful way to end your last day in the park while you fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the landscape.

Sunset colors at the Castle Trail rock formation at the end of the trail

Alternative: You can camp along this trail if you want to do it the first day, instead. Remember that you have to be half a mile from the path and out of sight. It would be a great way to enjoy the park if you desire to backcountry camp out on this trail.

Other Alternative: If you’re not feeling a long hike, you can also view the sunset at the Conata Basin Overlook or Big Badlands Overlook.

Badlands Itinerary: Day Three

If you have three days to spend in the park, you can add endless backcountry adventures to your Badlands National Park itinerary! 

Perhaps you could spend the first day exploring the Badlands Loop Road, and then head on out to the depths of the park for your two nights in the park.

Twists and turns in the road of Badlands Loop Drive in South Dakota

Adventure in the park’s backcountry.

For your first night in the backcountry, Deer Haven is a great option. It would make the most sense for you to head there after you tour the park on the loop road.

It is only 2.5 miles from the Conata Picnic Area to reach the wilderness section to set up camp. While the trail is unmarked, there is a path you can follow. It will lead you to a grove of junipers, or you can camp on the buttes.

Another option for your first night would be to venture along the Badlands Loop Road and make your way out to Sage Creek Rim Road

The Sage Creek Wilderness Area of the park is another excellent spot for more backcountry adventures on your first night.

Close to the Sage Creek Bason Overlook, you’ll find the Roberts Prairie Dog Town, which has one of the highest concentrations of prairie dogs in the park!

You can find many bison game trails in this area, explicitly leading from the Sage Creek Campground. Explore the buttes or the plains from the Sage Creek Wilderness area for an all-encompassing Badlands experience.

Refer back to the info on the Castle Trail, as this is a beautiful undertaking for your second night out in the park’s backcountry. 

It is a 10.8-mile round trip, the longest maintained trail in the park. It is a nice option if you want to hike a lot while still having some time to check out more overlooks and short hikes in the early part of the day.

As it is an Open Hike park, you can venture out off-trail and explore as you please. Remember to camp at least 0.5 miles from the trail.

Notes on Backcountry Camping

If you want to camp in the backcountry here, you should always be sure to be at least half a mile from any roads or trails. Make sure you are out of sight.

Water is limited in the Badlands, so depending on where you decide to backcountry camp, you should make sure you bring plenty of water. 

Always check with a ranger before you venture out to learn about water availability out in the backcountry. Even with filtration systems, there may not be water available.

Additionally, you should always register at a ranger station before you venture out into the wild. Let them know where you plan to go and for how long. 

You do not want to get stuck out there and find no one is coming to look for you because you didn’t let anyone know where you were going!

Rule #1 of backcountry hiking: Always have a plan and make sure someone knows what that plan is.

Blue tent contrasting against the red rock and green grass landscape of Badlands National Park

Alternative Day 2 & 3 Badlands Itinerary

Explore other trails and overlooks.

If you don’t want to do backcountry camping, there are still plenty of ways you can enjoy a multi-day Badlands National Park itinerary.

On your second day in the park, head out to watch the sunrise. You will be awe-struck by the colors and sheer majesty of the park during the early morning hours. 

Again, there are some great options for this. This includes the Castle Trail, as mentioned above.

If you plan to make the Castle Trail for sunrise, you can add the Medicine Root Loop Trail to your hike, which would add 4 miles, making the entire undertaking 14.8 miles. 

This will allow you to spend a whole day hiking in one of the best sections of the park for views and buttes.

Other tempting options for sunrise are at Big Badlands Overlook or on the Door Trail. You will definitely see the sun come up and the beautiful light as it ascends over the rock of the Badlands and the prairie land of the Buffalo Gap National Grassland.

Sunrise falling on a rock formation near the Door Trail in Badlands National Park

If you choose to view sunrise at the Big Badlands Overlook or the Door Trail, you can easily make your way to the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

This trail is 0.5 miles and is sometimes host to bighorn sheep and bison. 

Note: The park asks that you stay on this trail and sway from the Open Hike policy to help maintain this area.

When you have three days in the Badlands, you can truly explore the depths of the park. It is an excellent opportunity to drive along the Sage Creek Rim Road or Conata Road and explore at your heart’s whims.

You may also desire to head down into the Stronghold Unit. The Sheep Mountain Table Road is an off-road vehicle-only road.

If you have a vehicle with high clearance, then this is a stellar option for scenic driving. However, you can also hike this section; it is 2.5 miles to hike it.

Stair trail boardwalk leading to beautiful rock formations amidst a green lush landscape in the Badlands
Remember: the Cliff Shelf Trail is one of the exceptions to the Open Hike policy!

Get out of the park and into town.

Additionally, when you have more time on your itinerary, you can leave the park for a few hours to explore the outlying area of the park. 

For example, you may want to head out to the tourist town of Wall, SD, where there are a handful of restaurants and shops to enjoy.

Wall Drug is one of the big attractions. It is here where you can get handmade donuts and get some free ice water. The ice water was one of the ways that the original owners drew travelers to this town in the “middle of nowhere.” 

You can also find the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site here, which is an interesting place to visit to learn a bit about Cold War history.

A decommissioned Minuteman Missile silo

You can access Wall by heading out at the Pinnacles Entrance of the park.

Additionally, 1880 Town is a fun option. You can get there by leaving the park from the Northeast Entrance and heading back towards I-90.

Movies were filmed in the more than 30 buildings built during the pioneer days—the structures date from 1880 to 1920.

Plus, they have a museum, the ’50s Train Diner, gemstone panning, and live entertainment. It closes at 6 PM so you will want to make this a daytime activity.

1881 Post Office part of 1880 Town in South Dakota

Revel in the satisfaction of an incredible visit to Mako Sica.

Mako Sica is what the Lakota called the Badlands. It translates literally to bad lands. 

The variable weather and sometimes harsh environment are what created this namesake. However, this land is also sacred. It provided sustenance and a beautiful home for countless tribes. 

Remember this and treat this land with the proper respect it deserves. Remember that all National Parks are on stolen land — the same as virtually all of the United States. 

When you come here, you will be blown away by the energy and the beauty. The colors are stunning, and the adventures are endless. 

There is a reason it is nicknamed the “Land of Stone and Light.” As the weather changes rapidly, so does the light.

Embrace the wild and unpredictable movement of the Badlands. Arrive prepared for all kinds of weather. And remember, always leave the land better than you found it, especially in this most precious of landscapes.

Sunset over the Badlands of South Dakota with a sunburst effect and grass in the foreground

Badlands Day Pack Gear List

Badlands Backpacking Gear List

North Rim Vs. South Rim Grand Canyon: Which Side is Right for You?

grand canyon lodge at sunset in the north rim grand canyon

The Grand Canyon is rightfully one of the most renowned landmarks in all of America, and there’s no wonder that it figures high on nearly everyone’s national parks bucket list.

The Grand Canyon was formed by the rushing waters of the Colorado River after many million years of erosion and assisted by plate tectonics which uplifted the Colorado Plateau, creating an even more…. well, grand, of a canyon!

The Grand Canyon National Park site encompasses a massive 1,902 square miles. At its longest point, the Grand Canyon measures 277 miles across, and is up to 18 miles wide… which means that the North and the South Rims are quite far apart!

In fact, to drive from the visitor center at the North Rim to the visitor center at the South Rim takes about 4 hours!

As a result, you’ll likely want to pick one or the other. 

Allison standing at the South rim of the grand canyon
Me standing at the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017

If you are doing a huge, long Southwest road trip and have 2+ more weeks in the region, you can easily see both sides, but frankly, seeing one side of the Grand Canyon is plenty for one trip.

I spaced out my visits to the South Rim and the North Rim, visiting the South Rim in May of 2017 and just completing my visit to the North Rim in July of 2021.

In this post, I’ll quickly cover a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Grand Canyon, explain the difference and pros and cons of the North Rim vs. the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and give some tips to help you pick which side of the Grand Canyon is better for your trip.

I’ll also include things to do on each side of the Grand Canyon, specific to the North Rim or the South Rim.

Finally, I’ll also have some tips on where to stay, including some feedback about the campsite I stayed at as well as suggestions for accommodations.

Grand Canyon FAQs

Which is better to see: the North Rim or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Honestly: either!

If we are strictly talking views, both sides of the Grand Canyon offer exquisite ones. There is no real reason to privilege one side over the other in terms of what you can see.

When I go into whether you should pick the North Rim vs. the South Rim, views aren’t a factor, but itinerary, how far in advance you are planning, and time of year you are visiting the Grand Canyon all are!

Allison at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017
At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near sunset in 2017

Is visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon worth it?

Absolutely! The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is every bit as beautiful as its more popular southern rim. 

However, if you’re already visiting the South Rim for sure, I don’t know that the North Rim warrants a separate journey on the same trip.

I’d suggest picking one side of the Grand Canyon per trip. If you visit the area again on another road trip, then pick the side you haven’t visited before!

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise in 2021

Where is the best view of the Grand Canyon?

Every view of the Grand Canyon is pretty stunning. I’ll list a few of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon broken down between the two rims.

North Rim Viewpoints: Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Walhalla Overlook.

South Rim Viewpoints: Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point.

Yavapai Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Can you drive from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Totally… but it takes time! 4 hours, in fact. 

From the South Rim to the North Rim, you’ll leave the Tusayan / Grand Canyon Village area, drive along Highway 64 until you reach Highway 89 at Cameron. 

From there, you’d drive until Marble Canyon, then take Highway 89A to Jacob Lake. Once reaching Jacob Lake, you’d take Highway 67 the rest of the way.

This driving route would also work in reverse if you were visiting the North Rim first and then going to the South Rim.

However, I wouldn’t really advise this unless you have a ton of time that you only want to dedicate to Grand Canyon National Park. 

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon as part of a larger Southwest itinerary, I’d suggest allocating more time for other destinations and places.

So many places to visit in the Southwest, so little time!

What is the difference between North Rim and South Rim Grand Canyon?

That’s what this post is all about! We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s the TL;DR.

North Rim: Far less crowded (only 10% of the visitors), more remote, fewer amenities, better for a Utah parks road trip, not able to be visited in winter months, better in summer months.

South Rim: Much more crowded (90% of the visitors go here), better for Arizona road trips, better for day trips, more amenities and lodging options, open year-round.

One other thing to keep in mind is the appreciable elevation difference between North and South.

The elevation at the South Rim is 6,804 feet; the elevation at the North Rim is 8,297 feet (and up to 8,803 feet at Point Imperial, the highest point of the Canyon rim).

The South Rim tends to be several degrees hotter in summer as a result. However, hikers should note that the altitude is a little easier to adjust to at the South Rim, whereas hikers at the North Rim will have a little more struggle with the altitude.

Sign that reads "point imperial elevation 8803"
The highest point on the Canyon Rim!

Are there entrance fees to the Grand Canyon?

Yes. Park entrance fees are $35 per vehicle to the Grand Canyon. That grants 7 days of access to both the North and the South Rims, as they are both operated as one National Park Service site.

Both the North and the South Rim are also included in your America the Beautiful Pass, which can be purchased online at REI before your trip.

Which is the best time of the year to go to the Grand Canyon?

It depends! 

If you’re visiting the North Rim, know that it’s only open between May 15 and October 15… and any of those times is a good time to go! The North Rim is not very crowded, so any time will be fine within that period.

If you’re visiting the South Rim, the Grand Canyon is able to be visited year-round! However, the South Rim is very crowded in the summer and even in the shoulder seasons. 

I visited the South Rim in early May and it was packed… I can’t even imagine peak summer!

The South Rim is a popular option if you are visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, as it’s open year-round and is really beautiful under a layer of snow!

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months
Views of the Grand Canyon at wintertime (South Rim)

What is the best place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park?

There are so many options when it comes to where to stay!

North Rim: The Grand Canyon Lodge is the main traditional accommodation option. I went here to check out the sunset and it looked like a fantastic place to stay.

There is also the North Rim Campground, where I stayed — and I loved it! For $20 a night, I literally could see Grand Canyon views squeezed between some pine trees. It was incredible.

South Rim: There are so many options! The main lodges are Bright Angel Lodge, Yavapai Lodge, and the Thunderbird Lodge, but these need to be booked well in advance…. like 6+ months, typically.

There are also lots of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon if all the traditional accommodations and lodges within the National Park Service site are full!

Additionally, you can also stay at the Mather Campground outside of the South Rim.

Note that Bright Angel Campground is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and has limited campsites that can only be accessed via a hike, for which you need a (highly coveted, hard-to-get) backcountry permit.

There’s also the Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well if you are hiking in!

One of the cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim) — almost worth booking a trip for on its own!

Pick the North Rim if… 

… You want to avoid the crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park sees nearly 6 million visitors each year… but 90% of those visitors will only see the South Rim.

Only 10% of people who visit the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim of the park…. meaning that only some 600,000 people a year visit the North Rim, period. 

This means that the North Rim is far less crowded than the South Rim all year round.

I went to the North Rim right after the Fourth of July weekend, and it was really quiet and peaceful. 

Meanwhile, I visited the South Rim a few years back in early May, during the shoulder season before school holidays and summer vacations, and it was extremely busy and crowded.

For me, the serenity of the North Rim makes up for the fact that there are fewer amenities and activities around it. But more on that in a bit!

Views as seen from the North Rim

… You are also visiting Utah national parks.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets a bad rap for being “harder to reach” but I’m not really sure why that is.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open from May 15 to October 15 each year, but within that time frame, it’s very accessible, especially if you are doing a Southwest road trip that involves some of Southern Utah’s Mighty 5.

From Zion National Park to the North Rim, it’s 122 miles and 2 hours and 45 minutes.

From Bryce Canyon National Park to the North Rim, it’s 157 miles and 3 hours. 

Additionally, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty easily accessible from Page, AZ (where you’ll find Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend). 

From Page, it’s just 124 miles driving, which takes about 2 hours, 20 minutes.

However, from other places in Arizona, such as Flagstaff, Sedona, or points along Route 66, the South Rim is more convenient.

sign for sedona arizona with red rocks in the background
If you want to stay in Sedona, I suggest the South Rim, vs. the North Rim!

… You want to see wild bison.

One of the coolest things about visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that the park encompasses a massive bison herd! 

Normally people think they need to head all the way to Yellowstone National Park if they want to see bison… but that’s not the case! 

There is a huge herd of bison living on the Kaibab Plateau, which you’ll find after you enter the NPS park boundary and the entrance station, but before you reach the North Rim.

The bison stay very close to the roadside and it’s very easy to spot them. In fact, on my trip into the North Rim, the bison literally were crossing the road and traffic was stopped until they passed!

On my trip out of the North Rim, coming out the same way we came in, there were still plenty of bison quite close to the roadside. 

Keep in mind that bison are wild animals and you should never approach them or make them feel uncomfortable. Staying in the car is the safest way to observe them, unless they are quite far away.

Stay at least 25 yards away as per the NPS guidelines, and watch for signs of them being uncomfortable (eye contact, raised tails). Bison can and do attack humans, so be careful.

Bison standing by the side of the road along the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the North Rim

Catch the sunrise at Bright Angel Point.

One of the best places to catch the sunrise at the North Rim is at Bright Angel Point, which connects with both the Transept Trail (the trailhead is right in the campground!) and the Grand Canyon Lodge Area.

From the Grand Canyon Lodge, it’s about a 0.3-mile hike one-way, which takes about 10 minutes. The views at sunset are spectacular!

If you’re staying at the North Rim campsite, you can also do a sunrise hike to Bright Angel Point via the Transept Trail. 

Please note that there are no dogs allowed on the trail to Bright Angel Point or anywhere on the Transept Trail.

Sunrise at Bright Angel Point is a dream!

Watch the sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge.

One of the best places to watch the sunset at the North Rim is from the Grand Canyon Lodge area, near the main parking lot for the North Rim.

You can either check out the viewpoints near it, from the dining area in the lodge, from the outdoor patio area of the lodge, or down the stairs there is access to the viewpoint via the Transept Trail.

Seeing the Grand canyon lodge at sunset with brilliant colors in the sky
The Grand Canyon Lodge at sunset at the North Rim is phenomenal!

Walk the Transept Trail.

The beautiful Transept Trail connects North Rim Campground with both the Grand Canyon Lodge and Bright Angel Point.

It’s a serene, easy, and peaceful trail. To the Grand Canyon Lodge from the campgrounds, it’s 1.2 miles one-way (2.4 miles round-trip). To Bright Angel Point, it’s 1.5 miles one-way (3 miles round-trip).

It’s a great and easy day hike option that has you on the rim of the canyon vs. going into it!

walking the transept trail towards bright angel point at sunset with trees and clouds and canyon
Views along the Transept Trail at sunset

Drive the Cape Royal Road.

This beautiful scenic drive is the southernmost point of the North Rim, with the widest panorama of all — 270 degrees of horizon is filled with the beautiful canyon!

The drive is 15 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center along a narrow and winding road, and it’s a bit hair-raising at times — but it’s extremely beautiful, especially as you reach the Walhalla Plateau. 

Once arriving at the Cape Royal parking area, there is a small paved 0.3-mile trail you can take to the overlook, which offers unparalleled views.

You’ll see a number of sights along the trail, including Freya Castle, Wotans Throne, and Angels Window.

Angels Window: one reason to visit the North Rim vs the South Rim!

How to Get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Turn onto Highway 67 once you reach Jacob’s Lake. From Jacob’s Lake, it’s a little under 1 hour drive.

To get to Jacob’s Lake, you’ll be coming on Highway 89A, either from Utah (Kanab area) or from Arizona (Page + Marble Springs).

From Page: 2 hours 20 minutes

From Zion: 2 hours 45 minutes

From Bryce: 3 hours

From the South Rim: 4 hours

From Las Vegas: 4 hours 30 minutes

From Phoenix: 6 hours

the red rocks of zion canyon and hiking trails
Zion National Park is a popular waypoint for North Rim adventures!

Pick the South Rim if… 

… Accessibility is a concern for you and your group.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the far more built-up of the two, which means that there are a lot more accommodations in place for people with disabilities.

However, that’s not to say that the North Rim is inaccessible or not suitable for people with disabilities. 

The Grand Canyon Lodge is wheelchair accessible and the North Rim Campground has 6 accessible campsites, as well as accessible restrooms. Point Imperial and Cape Royal are accessible as well.

Both the Transept Trail and access to Bright Angel Point are not accessible, and the overlook by the Grand Canyon Lodge is definitely not accessible and would be hard for those with mobility limitations (stairs and deep steps).

The South Rim has a lot more accessibility options. Both the Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab Trail are accessible up to a certain point. 

The shuttle buses that service the South Rim are all wheelchair accessible, with ramps and space to carry wheelchairs (up to 30″ wide by 48″ long). The bus can also ‘kneel’ for those who would like a reduced step up to the bus.

Most overlooks at the South Rim are wheelchair accessible and there are also many scenic drive options with accessible viewpoints and plenty of accessible restrooms

An excellent and far more complete guide to accessibility for people with disabilities is available on Frommer’s here; I’ve merely summarized a bit of the information here, but they cover it all!

… You are primarily visiting Arizona destinations.

One of the main reasons why you might want to choose the South Rim of the Grand Canyon over the North Rim is that it is far better if you are following an Arizona road trip itinerary (like mine!).

The South Rim is easily accessible by day trip from Williams, AZ (part of Route 66!) or Flagstaff, AZ. I personally visited the South Rim on a day trip from Flagstaff and I found it perfect, as it was only 90 minutes away by car. Just enough time for sightseeing and a day hike!

The South Rim is also a popular day trip from Sedona, Arizona, which is about a 2-hour drive each way. It’s a little bit of a long day, but it works!

Sedona church next to cactus
Sedona is an easy day trip destination for Grand Canyon adventures!

The only place in Arizona that the North Rim is easily accessible to is Page, AZ, which is right at the Utah border. 

In fact, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon pairs way better with a Utah National Parks itinerary than an Arizona road trip itinerary! 

If you were to do that, I would sandwich it between Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park to minimize your backtracking.

allison looking over the edge of bryce canyon and its orange hoodoos
Bryce Canyon National Park is an easy stop before or after the North Rim!

… You want lots of activity options.

There are so many things you can do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, including a ton of tour options and fun additional activities you can add to your trip. 

Helicopter ride? Those leave right from Grand Canyon Village and there are more helicopter tour companies than you can shake a stick at.

(And if you can afford it, do it — I did a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, and it’s one of my top 5 travel experiences of my entire lifetime).

Book your helicopter tour online here!

Allison in a helicopter taking off for the Grand Canyon
About to take off to check out the Grand Canyon via helicopter!
View over the Grand Canyon via helicopter
Viewing the Grand Canyon from above in a helicopter — priceless!

Small scenic plane tour? Yup, they have those too! 

They cover the Zuni Corridor, Point Imperial, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, and even points on the North Rim such as Point Imperial, the Kaibab Plateau, and Kaibab National Forest.

Book your scenic plane tour here!

Pink Jeep Tour? Absolutely! Pink Jeep Tours is one of my favorite tour companies (I’ve used them in both Las Vegas’s Valley of Fire and in Sedona) and they offer incredible sightseeing tours right from the South Rim.

I didn’t get a chance to do a Pink Jeep Tour on my trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but I wish I had. Judging from past experience, it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon through rose-colored glasses!

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

Allison standing on top of a pink jeep in the valley of fire of las vegas

And these are but three of the many great Grand Canyon activities leaving from the South Rim.

Below are a few other select activities! The below tours leave from Tusayan and Williams, two spots near Grand Canyon Village.

… You are planning at the last minute.

Because the South Rim is so much more accessible and built-up than the North Rim, it’s not a problem at all to plan at the last minute.

If you want accommodations at the North Rim, you have one option inside the park, one option just outside it, one campground, and then a whole lot of nothing until you reach Jacob Lake one hour away (and there’s not much there, either).

If you are visiting the South Rim at the last minute, you don’t really have to worry because there are dozens of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon, plus abundant options in Williams and even Flagstaff. 

The main lodges will likely be booked up well in advance at the South Rim, but I was even able to find campsites at Mather Campground (the big South Rim campground) open with just one-week advance booking in the middle of July, peak season!

one of the lodges at the grand canyon south rim
One of the three lodges at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Walk some (or all of!) the Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail is a mostly-paved, easy trail that stretches between the South Kaibab Trail (which you can take into the canyon) all the way west to Hermits Rest.

The Rim Trail offers 13 miles of paved trail, but you can do any fraction of it and return via shuttle bus at any of the designated stops, so it’s easy to tailor to your own preferences and abilities.

girl sitting on the edge of a brick wall on the paved rim trail looking over the expanse of the grand canyon in mid afternoon sunlight

Take one of the many day hikes available.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a ton of fantastic day hikes you can do — including short hikes into the canyon.

No need to sweat the Rim to Rim hike — there are plenty of in-between options!

Here are 5 of my favorite South Rim hikes including very short options that take about 1-2 hours to complete and can be done by total beginners.

a hike in the south rim of the grand canyon

Take a tough descent to Skeleton Point and back.

The South Kaibab Trail will take you all the way into the belly of the beast, but there are plenty of stop and turn-around points that make your hike in the Grand Canyon a lot less cumbersome.

The hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point and back is a great 6-mile hike that’s hard but not insane. Keep in mind the 2,000+ feet of elevation gain (and loss) when considering this hike!

a sign reading skeleton point halfway down into the grand canyon with expansive views of the canyon everywhere you look
The turn-around marker at Skeleton Point, two thousand feet below the Canyon rim

Check out the Desert View Watchtower.

Take the Desert View Drive 23 miles between Grand Canyon Village and the small settlement of Desert View for a beautiful drive.

It’s also home to a really cool viewpoint on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Note that the Desert View Watchtower itself is currently closed due to the pandemic; however, it’s still well worth visiting for its beauty and the gorgeous drive to get there!

a brick-style watchtower towering over the south rim of the grand canyon; a couple wearing backpacks looking over the canyon off in the distance
The Desert View Watchtower is a popular South Rim viewpoint!

How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona is a great gateway to the Grand Canyon!

Here is where you’ll find the historic and scenic Grand Canyon railway, which is one hell of a way to make an entrance to the South Rim!

Book your Grand Canyon Railway tickets online here!

the historic grand canyon train from a straight-on angle
The scenic Grand Canyon Railway connects Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Driving into the South Rim is also totally possible. You can come in via Las Vegas or via Flagstaff, depending on your trip itinerary.

From Vegas, you’ll take I-11 to the Hoover Dam, where you can check out one of the coolest marvels of engineering in the United States.

Did you know that the concrete in the middle of the Hoover Dam is still not dry nearly 100 years later?

You can also walk — on foot! — between Nevada and Arizona.

the giant dam at the hoover dam, holding in water from lake mead, near the border of arizona and nevada
The beautiful engineering of the Hoover Dam

Then you can continue along Highway 93 into Arizona, then turn onto I-40 / Route 66 in Kingman. Take that to Williams, AZ, where you’ll turn onto Highway 64, which brings you right to the Grand Canyon.

If coming from Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, or any point south in Arizona, first make your way to Flagstaff (likely via I-17)

Then, take either I-40 / Route 66 to Williams then up to Highway 64, or alternately take Highway 180 up to Grand Canyon Junction and then onto Highway 64 to Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim Visitor Center.

What about the Grand Canyon West Rim?

I would advise against it, personally, in favor of the North or the South Rim. 

Yes, there is the Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction, which is $23 per person plus park admission. 

a skywalk deck at the grand canyon west rim, looking over canyon views below
People out on the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim

Other than that there is not too much to see compared to North and South Rims (though there are a few other viewpoints, which you can check out more information on here.)

Plus, it has a separate $45 per person admission fee, as the site is not on national park land, but rather it is owned and operated by the Hualapai Native American tribe. That means your America the Beautiful pass will not apply, either.

In favor of it, I will say that it is beautiful, and it’s convenient if you are coming from Las Vegas, as it’s only a 2-hour, 15-minute drive (and hence it is a popular Vegas day trip!). 

It’s also a popular option for small group rafting trips which can be organized to depart from here.

people rafting on the colorado river which is part of the grand canyon around the sunrise hours
Rafting is a popular activity from Grand Canyon West

It’s a great option if you are coming from Vegas on a day trip and that’s all the time you have for the Grand Canyon. If you want an organized day tour, this is an affordable and easy one that has to option to add the Skywalk.

Book your Grand Canyon West Rim tour here!

But if you have more time, I’d offer that you should pick either the South Rim or the North Rim, especially if it’s your first time at the Grand Canyon!

Pick Both if… 

… You are visiting both Arizona and Utah and have plenty of time.

There is no reason not to visit both the North and the South Rim! 

I am writing this guide targeting people who want to choose between the North Rim or the South Rim, but there’s no law saying you have to visit just one.

If your road trip encompasses both Arizona destinations and Utah destinations, it’s pretty easy to visit both sides without a lot of backtracking!

the brilliant red rocks of sedona arizona, part of a popular arizona road trip itinerary
Sedona is a must-visit in Arizona!

If you want to visit both, this is how I would route it: Nevada / Southern Arizona sights (Las Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix) –> Sedona –> Flagstaff –> South Rim –> Page –> North Rim –> Zion –> Bryce Canyon –> Other Utah National Parks (Capitol Reef, Arches/Canyonlands in Moab).

Obviously the same also works in reverse!

Where to Find the Best Views of New York City

New York City’s skyline is one of the most beautiful and impressive in the world.

The Manhattan skyline is home to the tallest building in the United States and the most photographed building in the world, the Empire State Building.

With so many superlatives, it’s no wonder that there are no shortage of cool observation decks in Manhattan with epic views.

But there are also many under-the-radar places for a great view of the New York skyline!

Because Manhattan is an island, there are incredible views of the Manhattan skyline just about everywhere: in Brooklyn, Queens, and even in neighboring New Jersey!

Here are some of our favorites.

The Best Views of New York City in Manhattan

On a Helicopter Tour

Contributed by Mark and Kristen of Where Are Those Morgans?

New York City is home to arguably the most iconic urban landscape on the planet. You can soak up epic NYC skyline views from several famous vantage points, such as Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But imagine if you could see every single one of the best skyline views NYC has to offer in just 20 minutes?

That’s where a luxury NYC helicopter tour comes in to swoop and glide over Manhattan, the Hudson River and all of its most revered landmarks.

The catch? Taking a helicopter tour over Manhattan is going to absorb a huge chunk of your NYC travel budget. But it is worth eating the expense, particularly if you only have 1 or 2 days in the city.

You can choose flight time, flight route and even whether to fly with doors on or off based on various price points. 

Flights begin at around US$ 140 per person but that’s just a basic tour. Factor in more like US$ 250 – 400 each if you want the full experience.

Tours take off and land in both New Jersey (Kearny, Linden) and Lower Manhattan (Pier 6) throughout the day but advanced reservations are recommended due to high volume ‘walk in’ demand creating long lines.

You can fly over the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, One World Observatory and Downtown Manhattan, Empire State Building, Times Square, Edge at Hudson Yards, Central Park and even as far north as Yankees Stadium.

Photography can be challenging from a bumpy helicopter so be sure to crank up your shutter speed to at least 1/4000s for best image quality.

If you’re looking for one of the very best things to do in New York City, take a bucket list helicopter tour right over the top of the entire city!

Metropolitan Museum of Art Rooftop

Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting

One of my all-time favorite views in New York City is from the rooftop terrace of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).  

The terrace occupies the southwest corner of the museum and has incredible views over the treetops of Central Park, and of the historic apartment buildings along Fifth Avenue and the towers of Midtown.  You can see the Plaza hotel and the new super narrow skyscrapers along and near Central Park South perfectly framing the park.

The rooftop is one of the Met’s best-kept secrets.  Access to the rooftop terrace is included in the museum’s admission fee, which is $25 for adults unless you are a local resident.  The terrace is only open in the summer months.  During this time, there is an art installation that changes each year.  

There is also the Cantor Roof Garden Bar on the terrace, and you can get a glass of sangria and a snack while you enjoy the views. (This is temporarily closed in 2021 due to Covid). There are some benches, but seating is quite limited, so I recommend getting there early to secure a spot. 

To get to the terrace, there is one elevator in the American Decorative Arts section on the first floor.  It goes express to the fourth floor, and from there you walk up to the fifth floor.  The museum is currently open Thursday to Monday, 10 am–5 pm.

Whitney Museum

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

New York City is one of the most photogenic cities in the world and you can find amazing views of NYC from literally every corner, and even in museums! 

If you are into art you may want to explore the Whitney Museum where you can enjoy not only the most unique contemporary art expositions but also catch some incredible views from its terraces.

On every floor of the museum you have the chance to get out on the terrace and see New York from a different angle, but the best one is obviously on the top floor with an almost 360° of the city including the Hudson River and the brand new Little Island with its manicured gardens and pathways, which is one of the most instagrammable places in NYC.

You can also have a glimpse of the start of the popular Highline, another great viewpoint, the majestic skyscrapers that populate the city, and the gorgeous rooftop terraces.

The Whitney Museum is located at the north end of Greenwich Village, one of the most historical areas of NYC that you cannot miss even if you are visiting NYC for a short time, so that it can definitely fit in your New York itinerary.

The entrance of the Museum is $25 but if you manage to go on a Thursday, you can make your own offer which can be as little as $1. In any case, it’s completely worth the price both for the incredible views and the unique artworks. Make sure you pick a sunny day though!

New Museum of Contemporary Art  

Contributed by Kenny of Knycx Journeying  

The New Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan within the vibrant Soho area, was established 40 years ago and dedicated to showcasing works of the up-and-coming international contemporary artists, hence the name “new”.  

The museum originally operated on Hudson Street; The current museum building opened in 2007, and it is a sleek and modern white architecture, standing amongst the iconic red brick buildings and flea markets in the neighborhood. Now, the museum has an important and influential legacy and mission to keep breaking new ground.  

The Sky Room is on the 7th floor of the museum with floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace, offering an obstructed view of Soho, and a panoramic view of the dramatic skyline from Midtown to lower Manhattan. It is one of the few locations in the area that offers such a wide-angle from both indoor and outdoor.   

The room is opened to the public unless it was booked for a private event. The general admission to the museum and Sky Room is US$18 for an adult with a discount for senior visitors, students, and disabilities. New York Pass holders enjoy free access.   

The Best Views of New York City from Brooklyn

Time Out Market Rooftop

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

If you’re looking for the best skyline views in New York City one of the best places to go to is the neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn. 

DUMBO is home to prime waterfront real estate along the East River which provides some of the best views of Lower Manhattan and the skyline, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge which can be enjoyed along the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront here, but the best view is actually from the top floor of Empire Stores at Time Out Market New York.

Situated inside a former industrious warehouse is one of the most exciting food market halls in the city including a lower floor full of food options and the 5th floor which offers a few more eateries, a bar, and an outdoor terrace where you can sit and eat or just come for the sweeping views!

From this prime location you can get photos and views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the NYC city skyline, and Brooklyn Bridge Park below including the whimsical Jane’s Carousel with the East River.

This is an especially great spot during sunset and if you happen to be here early morning or late at night you can access the outdoor terrace using the outdoor staircase even when Time Out Market isn’t open.

The nearest subway stations are York Street (F line) and High Street ( A/C lines). You can also take the NY Ferry to the DUMBO stop or even walk across either the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge

Contributed by Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations

The Brooklyn Bridge is a popular tourist destination in New York City; tourists throng the walkway of this elegant bridge. That’s part of why the Manhattan Bridge is actually a better choice, both for views and for comfort.

Both bridges connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, not very far apart from each other. The Manhattan Bridge isn’t as pretty, but it’s also not nearly as crowded.

From the Manhattan Bridge, as you listen to the subway cars roar by right next to you, you’ll get the best view of the older and prettier Brooklyn Bridge, with its Gothic Revival arches made of stone.

And the city skyline beyond it isn’t blocked by parts of the bridge, as it is from the Brooklyn Bridge.

A metal suspension bridge, the Manhattan Bridge was completed in 1909. A second level was added to it in 1922, and two separate paths – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists – were added in the early 2000s.

That means that, unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, you won’t be risking your life sharing a path with New York cyclists in a hurry or wobbly tourists admiring the views.

Walking both bridges is also possible, of course. It is probably wisest to do the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning before the crowds gather, then take the Manhattan Bridge for the return trip. Both are free to cross. Bring water and sun lotion if it’s a warm day.

The nearest subway stations in Manhattan are Grand Street (B and D trains), East Broadway (F) and Canal Street (4, 6, J, Z, N, Q, R, W). In Brooklyn, the nearest station is York Street (F train).

To learn more about both bridges, read about walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge.

Westlight

Contributed by Martha at May Cause Wanderlust

Westlight is a rooftop cocktail bar in Brooklyn, from which you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Manhattan.  

It is on the 22nd floor of the luxury William Vale hotel in Williamsburg and the bar is run by Chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group.

It offers a delicious selection of small plates and appetizers inspired by street food all around the world and the cocktail menu is inventive and full of personality. The design of the bar is an elegant mix of modern and classic. 

However, the star attraction is the sweeping view from the terrace. From here, you can see most of midtown Manhattan, easily picking out the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.  At night, especially, it is a mesmerising, sparkling spectacle.

You’ll find Westlight at 111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, which is a ten minute walk from both Bedford Avenue (L train) and Nassau Avenue (G train).  There are also buses which stop nearby (B32, B62, M14-A-SBS and M9). 

Like many popular bars, it gets busy, so you it is a good idea to reserve a table in advance.  You can book indoors or on the terrace. If you can only get a table inside – and even if it is freezing cold – make sure you spend some time out on the terrace to marvel at the view!

The Skyline Drive-In

Contributed by Shannon of Traveling Teacher Girl

The Skyline Drive-In is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and offers amazing views of the East River and east side of Manhattan.

Skyline Drive-In is the only drive-in cinema that offers a view of the Manhattan skyline (hence where it got its name- Skyline Drive-In).

You can either drive in and watch a movie from your car, or you can walk in and use their available seating. They show movies 7 days a week year-round. 

Tickets cost approximately $55 per vehicle if you drive-in or $22 per seat if you walk in. They have typical movie theater snacks for sale such as popcorn, candy, and soda. You can also bring in food from one of the many great restaurants nearby such as Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop or Jungle Cafe. 

Be sure to arrive early in order to secure a spot closest to the screen. If you are driving in with your car be sure to allow time for typical NYC/Brooklyn traffic driving in New York City. If you are walking in, you can get to the neighborhood of Greenpoint by subway via the G train or by NYC ferry. 

There are several great spots to take photos here. The first is to take a photo from your car or seat with a view of the movie screen and the Manhattan Skyline behind it. You can also walk closer to the shore of the East River and grab a photo with an uninterrupted view of the Manhattan Skyline.

The Edge Park

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

Designed by W Architecture, The Edge Park was built in 2011, to recuperate an ugly industrial area and turn it into a beautiful waterfront park for the citizens of New York and visitors alike. 

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, in the trendy Williamsburg, The Edge Park is a spectacular space where people enjoy hanging out, jogging, sunbathing, or taking their dogs for runs, in the dedicated area.

The idea was to turn an inaccessible area into an enjoyable space, ensuring that the tower buildings were not obstructing the spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan but on the contrary, becoming connecting elements with the iconic skyline.

The mission was definitely accomplished and the area has become a lively trendy space, very much appreciated by the locals, especially in the spring and summer when people love to hang out, gathering with friends, or enjoying a nice book while sunbathing on the manicured grass or on the benches.

If you get to the end of the pier you can admire a spectacular image of the Manhattan skyline with the Empire State Building towering over the city.

To get to Edge Park from Manhattan you can get Subway Line L and get off at Bedford Avenue station, and then walk 5 minutes, or if you are coming from Queens, bus B62 is the best way to get some sightseeing before reaching your destination.

If you are traveling in the summer make sure you add a swimsuit to your NYC packing list, in case you want to join the local vibe for some sunbathing!

The Best Views of New York City from Queens

Hunter’s Point South Park

Contributed by Polly Witker of Polly Goes

Hunter’s Point South Park is a true hidden gem for anyone wanting to take in fabulous views of Midtown East in a relaxed setting!

Situated directly across the East River from 34th street at the westernmost edge of Queens, Hunter’s Point Park is a prime spot to see landmarks like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

The park has plenty of seating areas, a grassy area for reading or relaxing, and a recreational space for sports like soccer or volleyball.

The iconic and Instagrammable Pepsi-Cola sign is also nearby at Gantry Plaza! LIC Landing is a casual, to-go cafe onsite with coffee and snacks.

One of the best parts about taking in the views of the NYC skyline from Hunter’s Point South Park is that it’s completely free!

Getting there is easy: by subway you can take the 7 train just one stop from Grand Central to Vernon Blvd – Jackson Avenue. Or take the NYC Ferry which stops right at Hunter’s Point.

The Best Views of NYC from New York Harbor

Governors Island

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

One of the most under-the-radar spots for best views in New York City is located in the New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and South Brooklyn at Governors Island.

Governors Island is a former military base that was active from the Revolutionary War until 1996. Since then, the space has been converted to a public playground open only from the months of May through the end of October.

You can rent bikes here or bring your own, picnic, eat, sway in hammocks, and wander around the art exhibits and former military housing on the island.

The best part though has to be climbing ‘The Hills’ where you get one of the best unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty in one direction and breathtaking views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and World Trade Center in the other direction.

There are several vantage points around Governors Island that make it one of the best spots to catch a great view in the city not to mention plenty of things to do that you can spend as little as an hour or two to spending the night at their luxury glamping resort.

Getting to Governors Island is also cheap, you just have to pay your round trip ferry ticket which is a whopping $3 for adults, or if you want to save some cash you can come on the weekends before noon for FREE!

The ferries operate from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan 7 days a week or Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Basin in Red Hook on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Staten Island Ferry

Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting

One of the best views of New York City is the view of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry. 

The bright orange ferries are an integral part of the New York City experience.  The first ferry started all the way back in 1817.  In more recent years, they have featured in countless movies and TV shows, including the iconic opening scene in the classic 80’s movie Working Girl.  

The Staten Island ferry leaves from its own terminal, Whitehall Terminal, at the southern tip of Manhattan near Battery Park. Getting there is easy by subway. The South Ferry Station (1 train) and Whitehall Street-South Ferry station (R and W trains) are just outside the ferry terminal.

The 25-minute trip to the St George terminal on Staten Island goes right past Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It provides breathtaking views of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, including the World Trade Center.  Stand at the back for the best views. You slowly see the island of Manhattan receding as you inch further away. 

One of the best things about this is that the ferry is completely free! There are no tickets – so beware of scammers trying to sell you tickets. 

When you arrive in Staten Island, you can spend the day exploring some of the sites of Staten Island (there is a historic village and some great beaches), or pop back on the next boat to Manhattan.  If you decide to head straight back, you will need to get off and then get back on the next boat leaving – you can’t stay onboard the same ferry. 

Stand near the front to get the same view in reverse, this time with lower Manhattan slowly getting bigger and closer.  You will also get great shots of the Statue of Liberty on the left as you pass right by.

Statue of Liberty Pedestal

Contributed by Darcy Vierow of planreadygo.com 

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is a top visitor site in New York City. And while many come to see the statue itself, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to take in the amazing view of Lower Manhattan from the top of the statue pedestal. 

From the pedestal you can see iconic Manhattan buildings such as One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building and 432 Park Avenue (one of the tallest residential buildings in the world). 

The only way to get to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is to purchase tickets through Statue Cruises, the official vendor for statue pedestal reservations and ferry transportation to the island. Make sure you select the ticket with pedestal access, which costs approximately $20. A pedestal reserve ticket also includes access to the Statue of Liberty grounds and museum as well as Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. 

You can choose to take the Statue Cruises ferry from either Battery Park in Lower Manhattan or from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Visitors are strongly encouraged to book their pedestal reservations well in advance as reservations are required for entry. 

Because the stone pedestal is approximately half of the height of the whole monument (and roughly the same height as a 10-story building), there are quite a few steps to climb to reach the top. Wheelchair access is available by using an elevator from the lobby, but the outdoor area at the top of the pedestal is not wheelchair accessible. 

The Best Views of NYC from New Jersey

Exchange Place

Contributed by Sean of LivingOutLau

If you want the best views of New York City, your first instinct might be to go straight to Manhattan, get on the tallest skyscraper, and just look out at the view!

But ironically, that doesn’t give the best view of NYC because you are standing on what you want to look at. If you want the NYC best views, you don’t stay in NYC, you want to stay across from NYC so you can take in the extensive views.

Consequently, the best place to view NYC is from the Exchange Place waterfront in Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey!

Located directly across the Huson River from Tribeca, the waterfront at Exchange Place offers visitors spectacular views of some of the skyscrapers in Tribeca, Wall St, and Battery Park.

The One World Trade Center is unquestionably the one that will immediately catch your attention, as it is the tallest building in the United States. 

If you are staying in NYC, there are two ways to get to Exchange Place. The easiest method is to take the PATH, which is a train system that connects New Jersey with Manhattan.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Battery Park, Brookfield Place Terminal (adjacent to the One World Trade Center), or Midtown to Paulus Hook, which is the ferry terminal at Exchange Place.

Though it might be a strange thing to do in NYC to visit New Jersey (especially if you have a short trip), you will not regret visiting Exchange Place for its views. If you have the opportunity, pick nighttime to visit as the skyscrapers illuminate the Manhattan skyline at night!

5 Must-Do Hikes in Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge, Colorado is home to world-class skiing in the winter months and exceptional hiking in the summer.

In the summer, hiking in Breckenridge means beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, a myriad of wildflowers, and great forests to immerse yourself in. 

There is truly something for everyone in Breckenridge in the summertime. You can walk down Main Street, window shopping and eating delicious food, or you can dive into the vast trail network in the area.

There are over 100 different hiking trails in Breckenridge, Colorado. The five trails in Breck I will be talking about are a few of my favorites and offer a wide variety of terrain and scenery to enjoy.

A Note Before Hiking in Breckenridge

The mountains around the resort town of Breckenridge Colorado

Hiking and mountain biking are very popular in and around town. Many trails in the summer do become very saturated with mountain bikers.

If you do find yourself on a trail with a ton of bikers make sure to stay alert, always listen for bikes and keep your eyes up.

If you are hiking and encounter bikers, it is always helpful for hikers to step off the trail and let the bikers through so they don’t have to dismount, especially if the bikers are climbing.

The town of Breckenridge is located at an elevation of 9,600 feet. It is important to drink plenty of water in the days leading up to traveling into town as well as continue to hydrate when getting to town. 

Some signs of altitude sickness are headache, fatigue, and trouble breathing in adults.  For children, altitude sickness often manifests as a stomach ache. 

It is important to give yourself time to acclimate before pushing yourself on a challenging hike.

Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks with you on the trails. It is helpful to carry a backpack on all of your hikes.

It is also extremely important to pack a few extra layers. The weather in the mountains can change extremely fast, and oftentimes it does not matter what your weather app says.  Be prepared for anything!

If you have some binoculars, I would pack them as well because there is no shortage of wildlife in this area.

Enjoy your trip!

The Best Hikes in Breckenridge

Bald Mountain Trail

Snow dusted mountain in Breckenridge Colorado hiking trails

Distance: 10.5 miles out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 3,075 ft

The Bald Mountain Trail leads you to the top of one of the infamous 13ers in the community, Bald Mountain. 

The Bald Mountain trailhead is located just east of town. On the drive to the trailhead, you get a tour or the beautiful homes in the community. 

For this trail, you park at the intersection of Baldy Rd (Rd 520) and Goldenview Dr, right by the Summit Stage bus stop. After you park look to the other side of the road, for the dirt road that is the Bald Mountain Trail.

This hike is best accessed from June through October.  Snow can still be found along the trail in June as you get higher in elevation. 

This trail offers expansive views of Breckenridge Ski Resort, The Ten Mile Range, and  Mt. Guyot, as well as beautiful wildflowers and some wildlife. 

Look for a cabin in the woods on your right within the first 0.5 mile of the hike! Further along the hike, about 1.5 miles in you will pass by Iowa Mill, which was built in 1935.

When you get to the top, be prepared to put on extra layers as you will be at the top of a 13,000-foot mountain and it can be a bit breezy up there.

When you are finished, you can head back down the same way you came to get back to the car!

Quandary Peak Trail

People hiking up the steep section of Quandary Peak in Colorado near Breckenridge hiking spots

Distance: 6.6 miles out and back

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation gain: 3,570 ft

Quandary Peak is the only 14er in the Ten Mile Range and is a great  introductory 14er. 

This is a heavily trafficked hike near Breckenridge, best accessed July through September, that offers a spectacular journey through various landscapes. 

When attempting to do any 14er, make sure you are acclimated to the elevation that you are starting at, because you will be going to an elevation of over 14,000 feet. 

Start early, not only because the parking lot can fill up fast, but you want to give yourself ample time to get to the top. 

In the mountains, it is typical for afternoon showers to come in, so getting up and down the mountain as early as you can is helpful. 

Bring layers! Sometimes it can feel like a different climate on the top than it did at the parking lot. A wind/rain layer and an extra mid-layer can help you stay warm at the top so you don’t have to cut your time short.

Last but not least, pack snacks and more water than you think you will need.  Anything can happen on this adventure. You want to be prepared for weather, injuries, and anything else you can think of. 

Parking for The Quandary Peak Trail is located off of Rt 9 on Blue Lakes Road.  Once you park you walk onto McCullough Gulch Rd for a short while until you come across the Quandary Peaks Trail on your left. 

At this point, you will be on a single-track trail that switchbacks through the amazing forest.  After you get above the treeline, you are hiking an exposed ridge with 360-degree views. The trail gets extremely rocky and the wind will start to howl! 

As you get closer to the top you might see some mountain goats. Once to the top, you get great views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges.

Once you’re done taking in the views, head back down the same way you started. Take your time on the way down and watch your footing.

Spruce Creek Trail to Mohawk Lakes Trail

Mohawk Lake is surrounded by lichen covered rocks. It is a popular hiking trail in Breckenridge Colorado

Distance: 8.4 miles out and back

Difficulty: Difficult

Elevation gain: 2,106 ft

The Mohawk Lakes Trail is a must! This is a heavily trafficked trail, best used from July through October.

You start at the Spruce Creek Trailhead and begin gradually gaining elevation.  Once you get to an intersection of the Wheeler Trail and McCullough Gulch Rd, continue straight to get to the Mohawk Lakes Trail.

There are seven lakes along this trail and you can see all of them if you would like. First you will get to Mayflower Lakes. 

After this, the trail begins to get steeper, but it is worth the effort to keep going to see the biggest lake, Mohawk Lake. Once you get to Mohawk Lake you can turn around to make the hike shorter, or you can continue on to see three more lakes.

I do recommend hiking to all seven lakes if you have the energy to get there as there are not many hikes in the county to see that many alpine lakes!

Gold Hill (Colorado Trail seg 7.1 & 7.2)

A partly cloudy day hiking in Breckenridge with trees and mountains capped with snow in the distance
Photo Credit: Katie Jakubowski

Distance: 7.2 miles out and back

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 1,466 ft

The Upper and Lower Gold Hill Trails offer you an opportunity to hike a small section of the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trails runs 567 miles from Denver to Durango.

You park just off of Route 9 at the bottom of Sherwood Trail Road.  From there you get on the Gold Hill Trail. 

You start to climb on the trail and continue to gradually climb for 3.6 miles until you reach the Peaks Trail. 

Just a quarter-mile into the trail, you get amazing views of Breckenridge ski resort.  When you look back across Route 9, you can see the Colorado Trail switchbacks.

The sage in the area smells amazing and the wildflowers in peak season are incredible. 

You can go as far as you would like on this trail, and even add extra miles on the Peaks Trail if you’re feeling good!

B & B to Reiling Dredge to Minnie Mine

The remains of an old mine by the water in Breckenridge Colorado
Photo Credit: Katie Jakubowski

Distance: 3 mile loop

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation gain: 413 ft

This 3-mile heavily trafficked loop trail in Breckenridge offers you a view into history!

Breckenridge started as a mining community. On this loop, you are able to see The Reiling Dredge, which used to mine gold in the area, as well as all of the rock and sediment the dredge left behind.

You park at the B & B trailhead off of French Gulch Road and make your way to the B & B Mine Trail. 

After hiking for about 1 mile, you will come across the Railing Dredge, which has sunk and now sits in the most beautiful water.  

After leaving the dredge you will cross the road and head to the Minnie Mine Trail.  Once you get back to French Gulch Road, make a right to head back to your car.

This is a low-intensity trail in Breck you can do if you just want to get out for a nice walk. You will come across many old artifacts around the trail so keep your eyes peeled! This is the trail to do if you are interested in seeing history.

13 Adventurous Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

Denver is a great location to access so many different places from, making it a great base for day trips in Colorado.

There are just so many great things to do and see within a few hours from Denver! 

In this article, I hope to give you some great ideas on how to spend some of your days trips from Denver — in both the summer and the winter, because Denver is truly an all-season destination!

No matter what you like to do, you can find somewhere to do it on one of these incredible Denver day trips.

13 Best Day Trips from Denver, CO

Lookout Mountain Park

Views over the town of Golden Colorado as seen from Lookout Mountain Park, a popular day trip from Denver

Drive Time: 30 minutes

This is a great place to visit for awesome views of Golden, CO, and to immerse yourself in the wilderness just 30 minutes outside of Denver.

This foothill of the Rockies is a road bikers heaven! The northern part of Lookout Mountain Road is curvy and often has a lot of road bikers climbing to the summit at 7,377 ft.

If you’re not feeling cycling to the top, you can drive your car to Lookout Mountain Park by taking I-70 to exit 256 to Lookout Mountain Road, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado.

If you want to take the more scenic, longer route get on to W Sixth Ave and make a left on 19th street until it turns into Lookout Mountain Road. You can follow that road all the way to the park. 

There is some hiking in this area, but I recommend packing a picnic and just hanging out and enjoying the views.

Bring a good book and a hammock and find a nice spot to take in the peaceful atmosphere so close to Denver!

The summit of Lookout Mountain is home to the gravesite of Buffalo Bill. There is a museum and shop you can visit here as well.

The Coors Brewing Factory

The interior of the Coors factory, a brewery in Golden CO that is a popular day trip from Denver
Photo Credit: daveynin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Drive Time: 30 minutes

The Coors Brewing Factory, located in Golden, offers a 30-minute self-guided tour of their facility showcasing the malting, brewing, and packaging process while offering you a look into history.

The Coors Brewing Factory has been in operation since 1873 and is a staple in Colorado. The tour is $10 for out-of-state residents and $5 for Colorado residents.

At the end of your tour, three 8-ounce samples of your choosing are included, as well as a commemorative glass. 

This is a great afternoon activity to do with a group of any size!

Boulder

The Flatirons in Boulder Colorado a popular hiking destination

Drive Time: 40 minutes

If you’re looking to check out a historic street with a myriad of shops and restaurants, check out Pearl Street in Boulder. There are over 1,000 places to shop and dine on this pedestrian-only street!

There is artwork all around, beautiful architecture, and festive lights to catch your gaze. Be on the lookout for musicians and performers as well!

Boulder is known for its high-quality restaurants and has ample breweries for you to visit. You can also go to see the historic Boulder Theater which has been around since 1906 and has hosted many world-class shows.

If you love tea, don’t forget to check out the tour of Celestial Seasonings. The tour is free and you get a tour of the production floor to see how teas are blended and packaged. Then you get to taste any of their 90 varieties of tea.

Another great destination for tea lovers is the Silk Road-style Dushanbe Boulder Teahouse, a gift from Boulder’s sister city which is the capital of Tajikistan. It was hand-made there, shipped to Boulder in pieces, and assembled on-site!

After having some tea, you can check out the Museum of Boulder. This museum is full of interactive exhibits which will show you how Boulder became the outdoor enthusiast, health-crazed, tech-savvy mecca it is today.  

While at the museum make sure to check out the rooftop views of the Flatirons. If you want to explore more, consider checking out the Boulder Creek Path, which is a paved recreational path that runs along the river with plenty of shade.

If you want more activity, consider hiking around the meadows of the Flatirons, starting at the Chautauqua Trailhead.

Boulder has no shortage of activities to do. It might take you more than one day to do all the things you want, so make sure to leave yourself enough time!

Red Rocks Park

The colorful red rocks amphitheater as seen at sunrise with a colorful sky

Drive Time: 40 minutes

Red Rocks Park is home to The Red Rocks Amphitheater, a must on any Denver itinerary.

I highly recommend planning your trip to the amphitheater to see a live concert. This venue is known for its amazing acoustic sounds. Pick your favorite artist and get ready for an emotional ride at this venue!

If you look out over the stage, you can see the hustle and bustle of the city while you enjoy the great sounds. It is the most epic venue I have ever been to.

Even if you can’t make it to The Amphitheater for a show, I would recommend taking a day trip from Denver to the park to go see it. It is a magical place!

The Trading Post Trail, a short 1.4-mile loop will take you around all the must-see rock features in the park. 

Indian Hot Springs

Photo Credit: Bradley Gordon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Drive Time: 40 minutes

When visiting Colorado, going to a hot spring is a must! 

Indian Hot Springs is just 40 minutes from Denver. There is a mineral water pool, geothermal caves, outdoor jacuzzis, and indoor private baths.

Be sure to check out their website for pricing and combo deals to use multiple amenities!

If you want to spend the night, they do offer lodging as well as a spa, so you can have a relaxing getaway.

Central City / Black Hawk

View from above Central City in Colorado, a fun town where gambling is allowed!

Drive Time: 45 minutes

Love to gamble?  Then you should make the trip to Central City and Black Hawk.

The two towns have been designated the Central City/ Black Hawk National Historic District. This is one of the three places in Colorado gambling is allowed!

There are over 18 casinos in operation in this area. Ameristar’s Blackhawk Casino is the largest in Colorado.

With these casinos only being 45 minutes outside of Denver, it’s easy to go for just the day, but if you want to spend more time, there is plenty of lodging in the area.

The drive to this area is very beautiful and offers great views so I would recommend making it in the daytime! Have fun gambling and come home a winner!

Fort Collins

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

North of Denver, Fort Collins is a historic town with an old-fashioned trolley, buildings from the 1800s, and a plethora of shops and restaurants.

Fort Collins is also the home of Colorado State University, so it can be very crowded during the school year.

Make sure to visit the Horsetooth Reservoir, just minutes outside of Fort Collins. This reservoir offers you all the summer activities you can think of including swimming, scuba diving, and paddleboard rentals.

Take the family here for the day to escape some of the heat and maybe think about renting a boat or getting a tour!

There is plenty of places to hike and bike in this area, and you can even go for a ride high in the sky on a hot-air balloon.

If you want to escape the elements, check out the many museums and art galleries located throughout Fort Collins. There is also plenty of live music and shows going on in town.

No matter how you choose to explore this wonderful place, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Garden of the Gods

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Garden of the Gods is located in Colorado Springs. It is a 1,300-acre public park full of sandstone formations. There are plenty of activities to do in the park and there is no fee to enter!

The park’s best attraction is its Visitor and Nature Center and museum. There are interactive exhibits where you can take the whole family to learn about the rock formations and enjoy a 20-minute movie about the park.

There is also a restaurant in which you can dine inside with amazing views of the park and Pikes Peak. When you are ready to get away from the Visitor and Nature Center there are plenty of adventures for you to participate in.

The park offers front-range climbing trips, jeep and segway tours, bike and e-bike tours and rentals as well as other adventure programs.

If you’re not feeling like participating in any of the tours, you can also grab a map and do some hiking on your own within the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

clear water on the landscape at rocky mountain national park

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular of the four National Parks in the state, and it’s an easy day trip from Denver.

This park showcases what Colorado is all about! There is plenty of wildlife, wildflowers, and beautiful mountain views to look at.

There is a $25 entrance fee per vehicle unless you have an annual National Park Pass which you can purchase for $80 at the park or ahead of time.

I would recommend the annual park pass if you are planning to visit more than one National Park in a year — it quickly pays for itself!

I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road in the park. It is the park’s most heavily trafficked road because of the epic journey it takes you on.

11 miles of the 48-mile road take you above the treeline at over 11,500 feet! This road winds through alpine meadows with a myriad of wildflowers, near rivers, through aspens and lush forest, and offers wildlife viewings.

Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, pikas, and ptarmigans, and other Colorado wildlife.

On this journey, you will cross over the continental divide at Milner Pass. The Trail Ridge Road is one of America’s Byways.

Leave yourself at least half a day to do this drive so you can take in all that the park has to offer right from your car. There are plenty of pull-offs to take in the views if you need to stretch your legs.

If you’re looking to get away from some of the crowds and off of a paved road, consider checking out the Old Fall River Road.

This 11-mile road is primarily a gravel road, with no guard rails that take you up to Fall River Pass which is 11,796 feet above sea level. The road is narrow and has many switchbacks.

Be on the lookout for elk feeding in the meadow after passing Willow Park. Eventually, this road joins with Trail Ridge Road near the Alpine Visitor Center.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit if you are in Colorado because it gives you a look into many of the landscapes in Colorado all in one place.

High alpine tundras, lush meadows, aspen forests, winding rivers, a variety of wildlife, and amazing wildflowers.  Don’t miss out on these views!

Summit County

Summit County is a great getaway with so much to offer that you might need more than one day to explore it.

The county is home to Keystone, Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco, and Breckenridge. Below, I am going to talk about some of those towns because they all offer something so unique!

Dillon

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Dillon, Colorado is a small town nestled off of Exit 205 on I-70 that has some of the best views in Summit County!

Dillon has a spot right on the Dillon Reservoir, which is Denver’s largest water supplier. The reservoir has 26.78 miles of shoreline and is bordered by Dillon, Silverthorne, and Frisco. 

The reservoir is a great place to recreate. You can head to the Dillon Marina and rent a vessel of your choosing: anything from paddleboards and kayaks to pontoon boats and sailboats.

If you’re feeling like being chauffeured around what the locals call Lake Dillon, you can hire a captain for the day. After you’re done exploring the lake, you can have lunch and drinks lakeside at the Tiki Bar, or you can head into town for other options.

There is a lakeside park for the kids to play in as well as an amphitheater right on the Lake to catch a show! Bicycle and e-bike rentals are another option for your group. There is a rec path that runs around the whole lake.

You can pack yourself lunch, and cycle somewhere around the lake to find a sweet secluded spot for a picnic. You can even ride your bike over the Dam!

If you love to shop, head one town over into the Silverthorne to check out the outlet mall, just off of exit 205 for some great deals!

Heading up to Sapphire Point Overlook for the sunset is something you don’t want to miss. The Sapphire Point Overlook Trail is a 0.6 mile, easy loop that offers you 180-degree views of the Lake and surrounding towns.

In the winter, Dillon is home to the Dillon Ice Castles, one of the most magical places in Colorado in winter, making in an absolute must on a winter day trip from Denver.

Keystone

people ice skating at the keystone ski resort in colorado, a popular day trip from denver in winter

Drive Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Keystone, CO is home to Keystone Ski Resort, one of the best family ski resorts around!

Keystone Resort offers three peaks to ski with 4 hike-to bowls, steep tree skiing, and exceptional groomed runs that feel endless. Keystone also is known for its 3.5-mile green trail, Schoolmarm.

Every Saturday, Keystone hosts a parade where kids can walk and dance along with staff members, and Keystone’s mascot, Ripperoo the dog. They even give out cookies at the end!

In the summertime, Keystone offers a downhill Mountain Bike Park. The green trails take you on a 7-mile journey, winding throughout the mountain.

If you are not interested in mountain biking, you can take a scenic gondola ride to the summit, do a little hiking and have some lunch. The Keystone Village offers a variety of restaurants and lodging.

If you are in the mood to walk, walking along The Snake River on the rec path is a great way to spend the afternoon.

If you want to experience mountain golf, Keystone has two world-class golf courses. The River Course is an 18 hole true mountain golf course. The front nine winds along the Snake River, while the back nine offers elevated tee boxes and greens and amazing views of Lake Dillon, Buffalo Mountain, and the Gore Range.

The Ranch plays like a links-style course tucked away in a beautiful valley. There were many homesteads on this property in the 1900s and many are still standing on the course today.

If you want a fine dining experience, consider checking out the Ranch Restaurant for a multi-course meal inside one of the homesteads.

Keystone is a quiet, serene place to go and relax for the day or the weekend. If you are looking for some more activity, be sure to check online for their schedule of festivals.

Breckenridge

the city of breckenridge in the summer, surrounded by mountains and houses

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Breckenridge used to be a mining town in and 1880s and 90s; now, it’s an outdoor paradise all year round!

Breck, as the locals call it, sits at the base of the 10 Mile Range. It is a must-visit for its 2,908-acre ski resort, its vibrant main street, and a myriad of trails to recreate on!

There are plenty of lodging and dining options in the area as well as breweries and distilleries to visit.

In the winter, Breckenridge is home to Breckenridge Ski Resort which offers skiing off of 5 different peaks with multiple bowls to ski in as well as hike-to terrain.

There are plenty of ski-in ski-out lodging opportunities in the area!

In the summer, Breckenridge is a lively community with plenty of places to shop and eat locally on its victorian style Main Street.

If you want to get away from the pedestrian crowds, Airport Road is an alternative to Main Street. You can visit Broken Compass Brewing Company or the Breckenridge Distillery to check out local products.

If you are a road biker, Breckenridge, and Summit County as a whole is the place for you. The red path allows you to take a journey on your bicycle around the whole county.

If you start in Breckenridge, you can ride to Frisco, get some coffee and check out the shops. If you want to ride more you can either ride to Copper or Silverthorne. If you ride to Silverthorne, you will ride right next to Lake Dillon and Cross over the Dam into Dillon.

You can even continue on the path all the way into Keystone! It is quite the journey, and there is no other rec path like this.

There are plenty of bike and e-bike rentals in the county. If you are not a road biker, rent an e-bike and take the epic journey around the county.

Mt. Evans Summit

the road going up to the summit of mt evans in colorado

Drive Time: 3 hours, 10 minutes

This may seem like a far drive for a Denver day trip, but this is an amazing journey!

Just outside of Idaho Springs, Mt. Evans towers 14,265 feet above sea level and you can drive your car right up to the top in the summer!

This is the highest paved road in North America winding through vast meadows, with great views of the surrounding area. You pass right next to Summit Lake which sits at 12,860 ft.

After passing Summit Lake, the road begins to change to switchbacks as you begin the final ascent to the summit. Look out for mountain goats on the switchbacks — if you’re lucky you might even see some babies!

If you’re feeling really adventurous you can ride your bicycle to the summit, which many people do. If you do choose to ride your bike, you can park at Echo Lake, starting your journey above 10,000 feet.

It’s a 30-mile round trip ride with 3,800 ft of elevation gain. The road has many cracks and bumps in it because of the high alpine environment it is in, so be mindful of that as you descend.

I also recommend packing extra layers for the summit, because the wind may be howling and it can be a chilly ride down.

If you are not feeling like driving up to the summit of Mt. Evans, Echo Lake Park, just 55 minutes from Denver, is near the base of Mt. Evans and is a great place to go fishing, hiking, or have a picnic.