Denver Day Trip to Grand Lake For Families

The joy of living in Denver or just visiting is the wealth of summer activities. One great day trip is one to Grand Lake. You’ll be visiting the headwaters of the Colorado River and will experience the thrills and beauty of a high mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The lake forms a boundary to Rocky Mountain Park. You’ll have a good chance at spotting deer, moose, elk and osprey in and around the lake.

But a day trip to Grand Lake is not just a couple of hours on the lake. Getting there should be at least half the fun. Without stops it is a two hour drive but why rush. Here are some of the highlights and places you might want to stop along the way from Denver.

Road-cut on I-70 as you approach the Morrison exit

This road-cut was made in 1971 and reveals the extent of the uplift of land from the plains to the Rocky Mountains. You’ll see sedimentary rock pointing skyward at 45 degrees. When these rocks were formed 95 to 140 million years ago when dinosaurs still walked the Earth. Their footprints can be seen at nearby Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison. Stop in for a short hike up the hill.

Buffalo Herd Overlook

Just past the Genesee exit is a buffalo herd that is maintained by the City and County of Denver. The herd may be found on either side of the highway.

Idaho Springs

On January 7, 1859 the discovery of gold in the valley led to the Rocky Mountain Gold Rush. There’s evidence of gold mining in the hills all along I-70 near Idaho Springs. Mostly the evidence of former mines is the mine tailings (crushed rock left over from mining activities). Keep your eyes peeled as you are likely to see Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep along the highway from Idaho Springs to Empire.

After Dumont get ready to turn off I-70 onto Route 40 at Exit 232 – Turnoff to Empire, Winter Park, Grand Lake, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Empire and the Peck House

Empire was founded as a gold and silver mining town in the late 19th century. The Peck House, built in 1862, located along the main highway is the oldest existing hotel in Colorado. The hills around Empire are home to a large herd of rocky mountain big horn sheep.

Berthoud Pass

Edward L. Berthoud, a railroad surveyor, and Jim Bridger discovered the pass in 1861. It began as a wagon road. At its highest point, the pass crosses the Continental Divide at 11,307 feet above sea level. There are nine switchbacks along the pass offering breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains.

Winter Park Ski Area

The oldest, continuously open ski area in Colorado. The summer offers an alpine slide, a ski lift for mountain biking and miniature golf.


An old railroading center during a time when rail traffic went over the Continental Divide pass instead of through the Moffat Tunnel.


The commercial center of Grand County. The elementary school has a great play ground if you are traveling with little ones and need a break. If you want to rent ATVs then stop by Power World.

Route 34 – As you leave Granby turn right on Route 34 towards Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lake Granby

As you pass Lake Granby. Stop at one on the turn-offs and see if you spot Abe Lincoln lying down on top of the mountain range to the east.

Shadow Mountain and Grand Lake

These two lakes are connected by a canal and make up the headwaters of the Colorado River. Rent a boat and enjoy a cruise around the lake. There are islands with picnic tables or grab lunch at one of the many cafes or restaurants in the town of Grand Lake.

Back to Denver

On your way home you can head back the way you came or head over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. You will drive through the park and then through Boulder. It adds an hour to the drive but the views are unmatched. Grab dinner on the Pearl Street mall to finish your day trip with a street performance.

Don’t want to go so fast? Turn your day trip into a weekend trip. Spend the night in Grand County and see even more. There are plenty of campgrounds or try a bed and breakfast for some mountain hospitality.

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