Long ago, these two tiny towns west of Denver were just historic mining towns – and some of that heritage still remains, with tours of the famous Teller House and its face on the barroom floor and Central City Opera House running year-round. But these days, the towns are known for gambling; between the two, there are nearly twenty casinos in operation. Black Hawk is home to the bulk of the gaming houses, but Central City retains historic charm. Shuttles run from Denver and between the two municipalities regularly, so you can enjoy gaming and guzzling drinks with abandon.
A quick seventy-mile jaunt up I-70 can put you in a mountain frame of mind. This town offers not only all sorts of terrestrial activities, but also boasts plenty of time on the water, thanks to its proximity to the southwestern shore of Dillon Reservoir. Frisco Bay Marina rents canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards in addition to pontoons and fishing boats. Novice skippers can book sailing lessons or guided lake tours, while Frisco Kayak Park puts your paddling skills to the test with Class 3 through 5 sections of Ten Mile Creek.
Even if you aren't nostalgic for glory days spent at Colorado State University, Fort Collins is worth the hour trip north. There's the usual hiking and biking, but there are also quirky museums (Totally ’80s Pizza & Museum and the Swetsville Zoo, with animals made from old car parts) and enough breweries and taprooms to keep you busy for weeks, not just a day. New Belgium has been getting college freshmen drunk since 1988, and newer outfits Funkwerks, Jessup Farm Barrel House, Black Bottle, the Mayor of Old Town and tiny Choice City Deli, which offers a sophisticated tap list belying its hippie vibe, are also worthy. And with the Regional and Music City Hot Chicken serving excellent comfort food, the Olive Garden is no longer the best restaurant in town.
Drive 45 miles west from the Mile High City, and you'll be taking a trip back in time. Many of historic Georgetown's buildings date back to the late 1800s, when the city known briefly as the "Silver Queen of Colorado" was the center of Colorado's mining industry. You can get your fill of Victorian buildings at the Hamill House and Hotel de Paris museums or descend 1,000 feet into an old gold mine to get a feel for what subterranean life was like for miners. But the crown jewel of Georgetown is the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a narrow-gauge railway that transports visitors past the Lebanon Mine to Silver Plume and back in a steam engine.
Most of us pass Idaho Springs in a blink — either too excited to get into the mountains or too anxious to get home to give it much attention — but this little town thirty miles west of Denver has enough attractions to make it a great day trip. Spend a few hours driving the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, a 28-mile route that climbs 7,000 feet to an altitude of 14,130 feet and provides plenty of pull-offs with wide-open vistas and views of mountain goats and bighorn sheep. If your tastes lean more toward the water, there are plenty of rafting and kayaking outfitters to guide you down area waterways, and you can finish off the day with brews and bites at Westbound & Down, one of our favorite brewpubs in the state.