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Where two hours can take you

Lauren Glendenning, Sarah L. Stewart and Melanie Wong
Illustration by Amanda Swanson
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To get an idea of Colorados diverse landscape, draw a circle around Vail with a radius of two hours driving time. Within the circle, youll find verdant mountainsides and sagebrush-dotted desert, the states largest city and utterly uninhabited wilderness.This broad range of landscapes makes Vail the perfect starting point for a summer daytrip. Now that the roads have dried and traffic has thinned, its the perfect time to do some exploring. Here are five destinations to get your wheels turning.

This city of 100,000 may be home to the University of Colorado, but its location along the Flatirons means theres plenty to do outside. When youre done exploring Boulders natural topography, you can choose from a host of restaurants and bars. GETTING THERE:The drive to Boulder is almost as fun as hanging out in the town. Head east on Interstate 70 and take the U.S. Highway 6 exit toward Golden for some extra scenery. Along this highway, youll travel on a two-lane road through narrow canyons and windy roads. The traffic moves slowly at times especially if a trucker is ahead but the scenery helps the time fly by.

Like jerky? Keep your eyes open for a van down by the river that reads Jerky for some delicious homemade beef, elk, venison or buffalo jerky. Its a great snack to have in the car for the remaining 45 minutes or so to Boulder. Once Highway 6 puts you at the main Golden interchange, turn left to head to Boulder on Colorado 93. Youll drive parallel to the Front Range foothills all the way into town. Approximate driving time: 2 hoursHOW TO WORK UP AN APPETITE:Boulder is known for its active residents its constantly making national rankings among some of the healthiest and fittest cities in the country. Just about every street in town has a bike path, and the bikers are everywhere.Drive toward the mountains on Baseline Road and youll reach Chautauqua Park a haven for hikers, runners, families, picnickers, Frisbee players, dogs and climbers. Here there are dozens of hiking trails for all ability levels. For Vailites who live at 8,250 feet, most of us are already acclimated for Boulders 5,400 feet, but dont forget to bring a lot of water along for the hikes, some of which can last for several hours. The Boulder Creek is another hot spot for outdoor fun. You can rent tubes at local gas stations and float down the creek, but watch out for the heavy snowmelt this time of year that make for some ferocious water velocity. And if you cant handle chilly water, tubing down the creek isnt for you.WHERE TO EAT:Boulder may not be a big, bustling urban city, but dont underestimate its restaurants. There are hundreds of restaurants in town, ranging in cuisine from Mediterranean to Ethiopian to Thai to Indian. Whatever food youre craving, Boulder likely has a restaurant that serves it. Happy hours are popular, as well, with some spots packing in the college crowds and others attracting the young professionals. For breakfast, try Luciles, 2124 14th St. This Cajun breakfast joint has been a Boulder institution since 1980. The restaurant looks like a house youd see in New Orleans. Walk inside and smell the fresh homemade biscuits in the oven. The Eggs Pontchartrain is a standout pan-fried mountain trout with poached eggs and barnaise sauce. Also, start breakfast off New Orleans style with an order of Beignets fresh hot donuts with powdered sugar. Luciles also serves up Cajun specialties for lunch. The West End Tavern, 926 Pearl St. has had one of Boulders most popular rooftop bars for more than 20 years. Bourbon is the drink of choice at the West End the bar offers more than 50 bourbons and makes specialty cocktails with several of them, including homemade fruit-infused bourbons and a Southern Belle, strawberry infused bourbon with mint, orange, lemon and lime muddled together and topped with fresh juice. While the drinks are tasty, The West End also is known for its burgers try the Tavern Burger Deluxe with shaved pastrami, and dont miss a side of creamy goat cheese macaroni.Come dinnertime, The Med, 1002 Walnut St. is Boulders place to see and be seen, but it also serves great food. The waiters and waitresses are beautiful, and the atmosphere is lively, fun and elegant. An extensive, and very inexpensive, tapas menu is great for big groups looking to try a lot of different foods. Hot tapas include fried garlic calamari with Spanish sauce, Chimichurri chicken wings and bacon-wrapped dates. The cold tapas dishes feature lime marinated scallop ceviche, prosciutto-wrapped melon with balsamic and beef carpaccio. Still hungry after the tapas? Dont miss the paella, the pizzas or the Meds Signature Tuna Dish.For a more formal meal with outstanding views, the Flagstaff House Restaurant, perched on a mountaintop above Boulder, is the towns premiere fine dining restaurant. The restaurant has earned Wine Spectator awards and recognition in magazines like Food and Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit. The 20,000-bottle wine cellar means you wont have trouble finding a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner, but you might need some help from the sommelier in selecting one. Lauren Glendenning

Colorados Gold Rush of 1859 started in Idaho Springs, a town that today balances its mining-town history with its tourist-destination future most often gracefully. The heart of the rustic community of 1,893 residents lies on Miner Street, several historic blocks that beg to be strolled.GETTING THERE:Take Interstate 70 east to exit 240. Exit and head toward town, on the north side of the interstate. Take a right onto Miner Street.

Approximate driving time: 1 hour, 15 minutesHOW TO WORK UP AN APPETITE:The Visitor Information Center and Heritage Museum, 2060 Miner St., is a good place to begin your exploration of Idaho Springs. The museum and visitor center provides a glimpse into the areas past with information, artifacts and a bookstore and gift shop. While near Idaho Springs, take a detour on the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. Drive Americas highest paved road, which winds to a summit above 14,000 feet. Along the way, look for mountain goats, elk and bighorn sheep, as well as historic buildings and the many hiking and biking trails that snake throughout the wilderness.Theres gold in them there hills near Idaho Springs, so while in town, try your hand at finding some of it. Take a tour and pan for gold at one of Idaho Springs mines, which include the Phoenix Mine and Argo Gold Mine & Mill, a National Historic Site. During the area mines heyday, they produced close to $2 million worth of gold, at $18 to $35 per ounce. It now trades above $900 per ounce.WHERE TO EAT:Where to eat: Beau Jos, 1517 Miner St., is known for its thick-crusted mountain pies. You order these pizzas by the pound instead of the inch, so come hungry. Standouts include the Yukon, topped with smoked Canadian bacon, artichoke hearts and roma tomatoes, and the sweet Rocky Mountain honey at each table meant for dipping the crust.If you want to grab something quick while sightseeing, try the Two Brothers Deli, 1424 Miner St. This high-ceiled cafes breads and spreads make their sandwiches sing: Try the Turkey Bacon Avocado on garlic herb romano bread, or build your own and choose from spreads like cilantro salsa and tarragon cream.For something a little sweet, swing by Miner Decadence, 1536 Miner St. At this chocolate shop, which just celebrated its fourth birthday, the owner makes all the sweets herself. Try the dark chocolate pecan pralines, filled with a caramel the mere memory of which will make you salivate; peanut butter cups, which put Reeses to shame; and chocolate-covered toffee, which melts on the tongue like butter on a hot skillet.No trip to Idaho Springs would be complete without a stop by the Tommyknocker Brewery, 1401 Miner St. Youll find an array of beers such as the Maple Nut Brown Ale and Butt Head Bock, and soda offerings like root beer and almond crme. In a town rumored to once have had more taverns than houses, youll feel right at home. Sarah L. Stewart

A big part of a Leadville daytrips appeal is the journey there on the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway. Whether you approach the town on U.S. Highway 24 through Minturn or the more roundabout route from Copper Mountain on Colorado 91, youll find spectacular mountain vistas, meandering trout streams and a newfound respect for the modern-day homesteaders who ride out winters that are extreme even by High Country standards.Once you reach Leadville, soak up the historic flavor of the nations highest incorporated city, once a glittering gem in Colorados mining crown and now a haven for buff, outdoorsy types.

GETTING THERE:Take I-70 to Minturn exit. Head west on U.S. Highway 24 to Leadville. Follow signs to the historic district and Harrison Avenue, the main drag through town. Approximate driving time: Just under an hour.HOW TO WORK UP AN APPETITE:A life-sized metal statue of a miner greets visitors to the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, 120 W. Ninth St., which documents and celebrates the role mining played in the nations development. Kids will love the model train that operates with the push of a button, the dinosaur footprint on display in the Coal Room and the massive crystals such as amethyst, obsidian and many others in the Crystal Room.You could spend an entire day snooping through the treasures old and new contained in Western Hardware Antiques, 431 Harrison Ave. The two-story building dates back to 1881. From the expected (antique rings, wooden skis, old-time postcards) to the more surprising (enormous wooden clogs, Christmas ornaments, ancient-looking fishing reels) you dont have to be an antique connoisseur to appreciate the antique malls quirky offerings.Get a little exercise on the Mineral Belt bike trail. Locals recommend this 12-mile loop trail that climbs, dips and curves through the historic Leadville Mining District and offers views of the surrounding mountains, including fourteeners Mount Elbert and Mount Massive.WHERE TO EAT:Provin Grounds Coffee & Bakery, 508 Harrison Ave. #3, personifies Leadvilles marriage of past and present. Pleasantly worn wooden floors, massive ceiling beams and exposed brick reveal the historic nature of the building, while the organic, fair-trade coffee and tea and modern musical selections keep the shop firmly planted in the present day. All pastries and breads are baked in-house no small feat at two miles above sea level.Hungrier travelers can drop into the Columbine Caf, 612 Harrison Ave. If youre looking for a fancy meal, this isnt it. But for quick, tasty, diner-style fare like curly fries, buffalo chicken and grilled cheese sandwiches (made more interesting with the addition of avocado), look no further. Hikers coming down from Mount Elbert know to drop by The Grill Bar & Cafe, 715 Elm St., to refuel. The Martinez family has been serving authentic Mexican cuisine here since 1965. Selections include enchiladas, burritos and sopapillas (fried and baked dough filled with meat, cheese and vegetables). The Grill serves lunch only on Sundays during the summer, but opens daily in the late afternoon for dinner. Sarah L. Stewart

Sweetwater Lake is a perfect place to get away from it all without having to travel too far.The picturesque lake is an hours drive from Vail, tucked away in a valley off the Colorado River Road. Visitors can camp or rent a cabin or motel room at the Sweetwater Lake Resort.On a calm day, you can see the reflection of the cliffs on the water at the edge of the Flat Top Wilderness area. Look up and you can see the tops of the Sawatch Range. The secluded retreat was once the stomping grounds of Ute Indians, whose pictographs you can see in a nearby cave.More recently, the area has changed hands several times. Past owners included Denver Post illustrator Paul Gregg, who built one of the first cabins off the lake, and Lou Diamond Jack Alteri, a Chicago gangster associated with Al Capones men.The story goes that the Prohibition-era racketeer tried to escape the gangster life in Colorado. He owned the resort property from 1927 to 1935, but left after the law caught up with him on six felony assault charges. A Colorado judge gave him the choice of facing five years in jail or leaving the state. He chose the latter and eventually was gunned down in Chicago.There is talk by the current owners of developing the land, so make sure to take in Sweetwaters majestic views before its too late.

GETTING THERE:Take I-70 west and exit at Dotsero. Take a right on the Frontage Road, a right onto Colorado River Road, and a left onto Sweetwater Road. Follow the dirt road for about 10 miles, and it will take you to the resort.Approximate driving time: A little over an hour.HOW TO WORK UP AN APPETITE:One of the biggest draws to Sweetwater Lake is A.J. Brink Outfitters, 3406 Sweetwater Road. Visitors come to camp, hunt and fish, but one of the most popular activities is horseback riding. A.J. Brink Outfitters offers custom one-hour to full-day rides. The rides wind through pastures, the Flat Tops Wilderness and wildflower meadows.This is really one of the best one-hour rides Ive seen. You can see so much in a short time, says Brink Outfitters wrangler Kris Longacre.If you prefer to stay on your feet, there are also plenty of hikes worth taking. A short walk up a trail and a quick scramble up a steep hill will take you to the mouth of a cave. Walk in to see Native American pictographs, but make sure to bring a flashlight.For a longer hike, you can head to Hack Lake. You might spot an eagle soaring over the water or beavers working on their dam among the aspen groves. If you are looking for a more relaxing experience, head out onto the water. Sweetwater Lake is ripe with trout and salmon, and the resort also rents out kayaks and canoes.WHERE TO EAT:Diamond Jacks Restaurant is a country joint that will make you feel right at home with its friendly staff, cowboy-print tablecloths and home-cooked food. Stop in for a meal, watch the hummingbirds feeding on the deck, and enjoy the lake view.Specialties include the chicken quesadillas topped with homemade salsa and buffalo burgers made from bison raised down the road. Dont forget to save room for some homemade fruit pie. Melanie Wong

For the ultimate bike-and-hike trip, look no further than Fruita, a small town with a really big playground.Fruita looks unassuming it has one interstate exit and a historic downtown that stretches a couple blocks. However, the town once known as a farming community is becoming an increasingly popular destination for mountain biking and hiking.Nestled in rugged terrain and parted by the Colorado River, Fruita is home to Monument National Park, several mountain bike, dirt bike and ATV areas and exciting rapids for rafters.GETTING THERE:Take I-70 west toward Grand Junction. Fruita is located off Exit 19, a few miles outside of Grand Junction.Approximate driving time: Two to 2 1/2 hours.HOW TO WORK UP AN APPETITE:Brothers Brian and Wade Taylor, of Pennsylvania, give their bikes a last look over before heading out onto one of Fruitas most popular attractions an extensive network of mountain bike trails.They have ridden all over the country, from Pittsburgh to Moab, Brian Wade says.Im pretty excited, especially if these trails are as good as it looks, and as they say, he says.Fruita has two trail areas 18 Road and Kokopelli. Both offer roller coaster terrain, rugged single track and beautiful views. Bikers can find a variety of trails, from fun intermediate routes to long, steep, technical rides, says Jerry Wolf, manager at local bike shop Over the Edge Sports.The trails are single track, built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers, he says.Dont go whizzing by the areas great views, though. Hiking through the Colorado National Monument will leave you looking left and right to take in the colorful canyons, towering monoliths and arch formations. A park day pass will give you the option of everything from quarter-mile hikes to 8-mile-plus backcountry trails. The area also is known for its archeological finds and unique geology. At the Dinosaur Journey museum, 550 Jurassic Court, kids can play with a robotic dinosaur, watch scientists at work on fossils, and find out what a magnitude 5.3 earthquake feels like. How often do you get to stand next to the fibula of an Apatosaurus, or see Grallator tracks? (Grallators are the vicious, small pack dinosaurs you saw in Jurassic Park.)Walk up Dinosaur Hill to see the site where Apatosaurus bones were first discovered in 1900. On the short hike up to the site, read about the areas rock formations and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding canyons.WHERE TO EAT:Owners Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller pride themselves on using the freshest ingredients and making all their pizzas from scratch at the Hot Tomato Caf and Pizzeria, 201 E. Aspen Ave. The quirky restaurant is popular with both locals and visiting mountain bikers. Grannys Pesto, a pizza with basil pesto, mozzarella, garlic, Feta cheese and tomatoes, is to die for, and the cafs Stromboli is pretty famous, too.Hot Tomato also offers microbrews on tap and is very biker friendly, says Zeuner, a former pro mountain biker. In fact, the restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays so the staff can ride.For something a little lighter, grab an iced tea or sweet frappe from the Aspen Street Caf, 136 E. Aspen Ave. This pleasant little coffee shop is perfect after a long day on the trails. The caf also has breakfast burritos, paninis and pastries. Plus, its got Wifi. Melanie Wong


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