Days 1 & 2
Take advantage of morning’s typically clear blue skies on a drive up the Mount Evans scenic byway, the highest paved highway in North America. Open Memorial Day to Labor Day (weather permitting), the road starts in Idaho Springs and climbs 7,000 feet in just 28 miles, peaking with top-of-the-world views of the entire Front Range, pristine alpine lakes and the snowcapped Continental Divide.
Keep your camera handy — standing at 14,264 feet above sea level you’ll be eye-to-eye with the few brawny animals that live above timberline, including rock-hopping mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Or hook up with a rafting outfitter — several run this stretch of Clear Creek with trips for those of all experience levels.
Swing down to former gold camp Idaho Springs where mining heritage lives on through Miner Street’s well-preserved buildings and at the Heritage Visitor Center & Museum, with an exhibit on transportation history in a Colorado mining town. You can also where you can also pick up maps and tips for exploring the area.
Bring your appetite to the original Beau Jo’s Pizza. Founders of deep-dish Colorado-style pizza, the legendary eatery serves up hearty pies with mountains of toppings and a hand-rolled crust. Eat it like a local and dip your crust in honey. Next door is Tommyknocker Brewery, the perfect place for a refreshing mountain craft brew or handcrafted soda, as is Westbound & Down Brewery and Clear Creek Cidery.
Pencil in some soothing spa time and soak in the therapeutic mineral pools at Indian Hot Springs. South of downtown on Soda Creek Road, the world-famous resort offers his and hers geo-thermal cave baths, private outdoor whirlpool baths, a mineral-water swimming pool and day spa. Stop in the town’s cute shops — The Spice and Tea Exchange and The Bees Knees are two favorites.
There are plenty of places to grab a thrill ride in the area, including Lawson Adventure Park, the Sky Trek aerial park at Colorado Adventure Center, and the Stanley Mines Adventure Park (opening soon!), with mining-heritage-themed rides and exhibits. Speaking of mines, the Argo Mill & Tunnel is expanding its tours and gold panning to include a year-round gondola ride.
Or journey farther west on I-70 to Georgetown. Tucked off the highway (beyond the first gas stations you see), visit the town’s immaculately restored Victorian-era homes and silver-boom relics at the Hamill House and Hotel de Paris museums, as well as exhibits and events at the Georgetown Heritage Center. Venture 1,003 feet underground on a tour of Capital Prize Mine. Then, break for a fragrant pho bowl at Pho Bay III, an afternoon bite on Cooper’s on the Creek’s patio or a brew at Guanella Pass Brewery (named for one of fall’s loveliest enclaves, which you can see along the Guanella Pass scenic byway). Don't forget to stop into the craft and coffee shops along the main street.
Board the Georgetown Loop Railroad for a narrow-gauge train ride to nearby Silver Plume and back. The trip affords open-air views of the Clear Creek Valley and an optional walking tour that takes you 500 feet into an 1870s mine tunnel at the Lebanon Silver Mine (it’s also now offering dinner and cocktails aboard). Bread Bar in Silver Plume, housed in an 1800s-era bakery, serves up cocktails named after famous local characters, like silver-boom queen Baby Doe Tabor (open Friday through Sunday). In the winter, take a few laps at the Werlin Park ice rink near downtown before warming up at one of Georgetown’s many cozy restaurants.
Step into Colorado’s mini Western-style Las Vegas for some nightlife action. Try your luck at craps or poker, dance to live music or settle in for a prime rib dinner while visiting “the richest square mile on earth.” The canyon-cradled hamlets of Black Hawk and Central City are just 1 mile apart and are lined with bustling, grand casinos as well as mom-and-pop gaming saloons, historic storefronts and visitors hoping to strike it rich.
More refined entertainment options reside at the Central City Opera House. The 550-seat jewel-box theater was built in 1878 by Welsh and Cornish miners and continues to draw international applause with classic to contemporary performances each summer. History hounds will love the original Gold Rush maps and documents found in Black Hawk’s City Hall Annex.
There’s also the new Maryland Mountain Recreational Park, a trail system for hikers and bikers that passes by some of Gilpin County’s mining-era relics.
From Black Hawk, you can easily head over to Golden Gate Canyon State Park or hop on the Peak to Peak scenic byway and head toward Estes Park, an amazingly kaleidoscopic journey in the spring (wildflowers) or fall.
Small by mighty Echo Mountain Resort in Idaho Springs is the closest ski area to Denver — and one of the few that offers night skiing. You can also book a backcountry-skiing excursion with Jones Pass Guides in Empire, who will whisk you to all of the best powder via snowcat and provide all of the necessary safety gear and lunch.
The Roundabout Bus Route runs between Idaho Springs, Georgetown and Silver Plume, and connects to the Bustang, which runs between Denver and Idaho Springs.
Black Hawk’s Casino Shuttle runs from the bottom of Main Street up to Gregory Street — making it easy to get around to all of the town’s sights and casinos.
Monday through Thursday is the best time to hike one the area’s fourteeners — including Mount Bierstadt, Mount Evans, Grays Peak and Torreys Peak — to avoid heavy trail traffic. Stay nearby to get an early start; accommodations are available in Georgetown and Idaho Springs.