12 Tips for How to Plan Your Next Colorado Day Trip

by Ryan Nicholson | Last Updated:  April 24, 2020

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If you are ready to plan the perfect Colorado day trip, then you will love this guide!

No matter what time of year, or what is happening right now, a day trip is a great way to spice up your life.

Each of these 12 tips are ones that we personally use when planning our trips across Colorado. And we share some of our favorite day trips as examples.

Let’s dive in!

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12 ways to plan the perfect Colorado day trip

As an active person who likes to keep moving, it can be tough being stuck indoors when you don’t have time or money for an overnight trip.

That’s why a day trip in Colorado can be a wonderful way to break up the monotony. And you can do it without breaking the bank or taking too much time!

Day trips are quick and easy, and often more budget-friendly since they don’t have to cost a lot of money. They are perfect for adventure lovers who want to explore Colorado more!

Tip: if you are planning an epic ski trip, we have an entire podcast episode about Ski Season Secrets so be sure to check that out!

1. Determine how far you want to drive

getting to colorado springs

Every day trip involves time spent driving to AND from your destination. So plan accordingly.

When we plan a day trip, we go for about 1-3 hours of driving each way.

Any more than 3 hours might be better as an overnight trip. You want to have plenty of time to enjoy your destination. And you don’t want to be overly tired on your ride home.

Decide how much time you want to spend on the road driving to your destination and back. This makes it easier to decide where to go within that range.

2. Plan for any challenges

When picking the right destination, there are some of the additional factors to consider.

Weather

If you’re planning to head into the mountains, prepare for the weather! As you gain elevation, the weather can change rapidly.

The mountains can present plenty of challenges at all times of year.

Plan for changes in altitude, the thinner air and rapid temperature swings. You should expect spontaneous rain, or even snow, as well as lower cell coverage.

Traffic

Plan your trip around known traffic patterns. For instance, if you are traveling on a weekday, you may join the queue for the morning commute depending on your departure time.

And if you’re not careful, you could catch the evening rush hour on your way home, which will seriously delay your return!

Even on weekends, be aware of the flows of traffic along the routes you plan to take.

You may find it surprisingly crowded if you’re going the same way as many others.

3. Choose the perfect destination

rocky mountain national park

Now that you’ve narrowed down your options on the map, it’s time to choose the right type of adventure for your trip.

If you want to have a more secluded adventure, look for destinations that are less populated. Some ideas might be, a hike in nature or a national park where you’ll have lots of space to yourself.

Here are some of our favorite secluded Colorado day trips:

Rocky Mountain National Park

When we’re looking for a relaxed, outdoor experience, we enjoy visiting Rocky Mountain National Park!

RMNP is within a 2-hour drive from Denver and it’s a great choice if you want to skip the crowds and see some nature instead.

Covering over 415 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park is a wild and truly rugged destination with plenty of trails and not too many people.

Pack a picnic lunch and bring your wildlife spotting gear; we’ve seen moose, deer, and elk while visiting here!

Frisco Adventure Park

One winter day trip that we like is a visit to Frisco Adventure Park and the surrounding Frisco area!

It is located about 2 and a half hours out of Colorado Springs. This great small town is perfect for tubing or Nordic skiing for young families, or those without a lot of ski experience.

If you are okay with crowds and places with tourists, then museums, art galleries, shopping centers, or other city sites may be more up your alley.

Here is a more adventurous Colorado day trip:

Bishop Castle

For an off-beat adventure, check out Bishop Castle in Rye, Colorado!

From Denver, you’ll head about 3 hours south to see this very unusual piece of Colorado’s living history.

This castle is the lifetime passion project of Colorado native, Jim Bishop, who started it in 1969 as a simple family cottage.

It has since grown into an “elaborate and intricate one-man project.” The castle includes a grand ballroom, 150-foot tower, and even it’s own fire-breathing dragon!

The Bishop Castle is open to visitors year-round, with no entrance fees.

4. Set a reasonable budget

One reason we love day trips is that they are a budget-friendly way to explore Colorado.

You don’t have to take time off of work for a longer trip, and you save money on hotel and overnight costs.

There are going to be some travel costs though, so add these into your budget.

Travel costs may include gas for driving, toll fees, and food and snacks that you bring or buy along the way.

Check for entrance fees at your destination, as well as other incidentals like parking fees.

If you plan to shop while on your trip, plan how much you would like to spend on any souvenirs or gifts before starting out.

5. Look for free day trip adventures

colorado day trips

Colorado makes it easy to find fun and free things to do this weekend.

One of our top must-see places that is totally free is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.

Not only is this huge, wide-open space a local favorite, but it’s free and easy to walk or drive around.

At Garden of the Gods, you’ll see some of the largest rock formations in the state! The visitor center and museum is totally free (although donations are welcomed!), and there is a nice cafe and gift shop on site.

As with many museums in Colorado, the museum is perfect for kids and grown-ups alike, so everyone can enjoy their visit!

6. Plan your itinerary

Now it’s time for the fun part: planning your route and making this the perfect day trip!

Are there any can’t-miss stops you want to make?

From a restaurant you’re dying to try, to a hike that you just can’t skip, make a simple itinerary of things you want to do.

Include things you want to do while at your destination and along the route to get there.

This is also a great time to start a bucket list. You won’t be able to see everything that Colorado has to offer in one day trip, so create a list of places to visit in the future.

Google Trips Planner

One tool we love to use when planning our trips is the Trip Planner by Google.

Use the Explore feature to see things to do in any city in Colorado! Get suggestions of day plans, watch travel videos, see places nearby your destination or along your route, and, of course, get directions.

We find this tool especially helpful when comparing different locations and the activities and amenities available in each!

7. Be open to spontaneous adventure

colorado day trip destinations

While we love planning out the perfect outing, we leave a certain amount of room in our plans for, well, adventure!

A super rigid agenda of events can be stifling and sometimes unrealistic.

If you’re open to opportunity, you may find a totally unexpected surprise — whether it’s a beautiful scenic pull-out or a dive restaurant you never would have seen otherwise.

(The good thing is, no matter what you actually do and see on your trip, you’ll have an incredible time exploring our state!)

8. Gather gear & supplies for your trip

Your trip is getting close. Make sure you’ve got all the gear and supplies you will need to make the most of your adventure!

Here are some items we suggest taking on your day trip:

Emergency kit / first aid kit

Having a well-stocked emergency kit and / or first aid kit is always a good thing to keep in the trunk.

Depending on the time of year, this may include things like: chains for your vehicle, and should always include common first aid supplies like pain medications, bandaids, and blister patches.

We also never leave home without:

Food and water

Road trip snacks and water are must-haves for any Colorado day trip.

As you load up — either at the grocery store beforehand or somewhere along your route — pack extra staples like shelf-stable food and water.

If you’re out longer than expected or have kids in tow, a few extra granola bars can go a long way to keeping your energy up and tempers down!

Cash or a checkbook

As hard as it may be to believe, cash is still king in some places.

Bring your checkbook or have cash on hand, just in case you find a plastic-free toll booth or entrance fee. (We are speaking from experience!)

Change of clothes / extra clothes

The weather can change on a dime in Colorado. When the sun goes down in the mountains, it can get cold fast.

Regardless of the season, be prepared with an extra jacket or sweater so you’re not caught by surprise.

If you’re planning a more rugged adventure, pack a full change of clothes and shoes. This will come in handy in case you get soaked or muddy, or want to get out of your sweaty adventuring clothes for the ride home.

Games and activities

Bring some games and activities that can be done while on the road. We enjoy using our phones, but we also like making time to unplug and enjoy the journey.

Audiobooks can be a great alternative to phone games. And simple coloring pages and classic road trip games are a fun break from the miles of driving.

For more packing tips and tricks, we have an entire episode about Road Trip Essentials so be sure to check that out when gathering your gear!

9. Prepare your vehicle for the trip

plan for a day trip

Make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas before you leave. If it’s been a while since your last tune-up, make sure your vehicle is road-worthy.

Get an oil change, top up your fluids, and check your tire pressure.

If needed, make an appointment before you go so you won’t be caught out in the woods! This can be an expensive way to keep chaos at bay.

10. Use Groupon for deals and savings

If your day trips dates are flexible, keep an eye out for deals and discounts for different activities — and jump on them!

We love taking advantage of a limited-time deal to encourage us to be more spontaneous and adventurous.

Sites like Groupon are a great place to check for local savings on places like:

For example, Groupon recently offered a Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort package for $35 admission for two at their historic bath house.

It included a day relaxing in the natural hot springs or lounging about in the Chalk Creek hot springs!

To find deals on adventures and activities in the city you’re visiting, go to Groupon.com/browse/CITYNAME to look for discounts on the things you want to do!

11. Check out The Passport Program

things to do in colorado springs

The cost of day trip activities adds up but so does the cost of eating out when visiting a new place.

To save money on food while on your day trip, check out The Passport Program!

Each passport costs about $25. You will receive a physical, pocket-sized passport that gets you two-for-one beverages at dozens of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, breweries and more.

Choose a passport for the region you want to explore, or pick one in your hometown and find a new-to-you favorite.

Grab a passport to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, or the Rocky Mountains.

Or you can even grab the Colorado Pack for $60 and get a passport to every available city in Colorado!

Check back each season to get your passport for the perfect apres ski exploration during winter and the best patios to hop during summer.

12. Use the EatCheap.app

Another great way to save big on food is with an app like EatCheap!

Find budget-friendly bites around Denver, and filter by the day of the week and the meal you’re interested in.

These recommendations are provided by locals and kept up-to-date by the people, so some deals may not be exactly as described.

With deals listed from breakfast to late-night apps, you’re sure to find a great deal for any meal of the day!

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We hope you find these tips helpful for planning your perfect Colorado day trip.

Now, we want to hear from you!

Do you have a tip for planning a day trip that we should include? Share your thoughts with us on Instagram @hashtagcoloradolife.