Best Long Weekend Trips from Denver, Colorado

When we first moved to Denver a couple of years ago, one of the things that struck me was how far it actually was from other cities. Denver is sort of nestled away on its own, but there are some great weekend trips waiting for you if you are willing to drive a bit.

Rapid City, South Dakota

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Seeing Mount Rushmore is something that we quickly added to our list when we realized that it was less than seven hours away from Denver. The drive to Rapid City is beautiful and full of historical stops. We stopped just outside of Cheyenne to see the Oregon Trail ruts. When we were just outside of Rapid City, we stopped at the Mammoth Site. Over 60 mammoths have been discovered at this site and if you are lucky you will see them working the dig while you visit.

While in Rapid City, we went to Mount Rushmore. We drove through Custer State Park and had to sit in our car for about half an hour as a large herd of buffalo wandered in and out of the cars as they crossed the road. We had the best steaks at the Alpine Inn and we learned about the Crazy Horse Monument. There was so much more that we could have done but we ran out of time.

See my post about what to do on a three day trip to Rapid City.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

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Glenwood Springs is less than three hours from Denver without traffic and it is lovely. We often talk about just driving over for the day but we haven’t tried it yet. I could spend the entire long weekend sitting in the Glenwood Springs and renewing my body and spirit but there is so much more to do.

The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park is worth a visit just to ride the alpine slide on the side of the mountain. You can tour the caverns, ride some rides, and play some games. We visited in the summertime, but some day I would like to go in the winter so that we can see it covered with snow.

See my post about what to do on a three day trip to Glenwood Springs.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Albuquerque is about a six hour drive south of Denver. We spent three days in Albuquerque and during that time we squeezed in some hikes, saw petroglyphs, and learned all about hot air balloons. We also did a self-guided tour of all the Breaking Bad film spots. My kids weren’t very interested in this part but luckily we had lots of other fun stops. We took the Sandia Tramway up the mountain and it was almost as scary as the one we took in Switzerland. The views are worth it though so I am glad that I swallowed my fear and went. I am so glad we stopped at the International Balloon Museum. We spent way more time exploring than I had allotted for but we were having too much fun.

See my post about what to do on a three day trip to Albuquerque.

 

 

Three Days in Rapid City, South Dakota

Heading to Rapid City, South Dakota allowed us to check off another state from our list of states we still need to visit.  None of us had been to South Dakota and we were curious as to what we could expect.  When planning our trip, we found that Rapid City was centrally located to all of the different things that we had planned to see so it made a great base for us.

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Rapid City is about a six hour drive from Denver so we got an early start and hit the road.  We didn’t realize that we would be making several stops along the way.  We packed our three day itinerary full.

This trip included a lot of drive time so you will want to make sure that you have plenty to entertain the kids in the car.  We listened to audio books and completed junior ranger books while we drove around.  Keep in mind that I am sharing what we did on our visit day by day so it may or may not work for you.  Hopefully, this will be a good starting point for you to help you plan your own trip to Rapid City, South Dakota.  Posts on each activity or attraction will be forthcoming!

Day One – Drive from Denver to Rapid City (with stops along the way) and explore downtown Rapid City

Our drive from Denver to Rapid City was pretty uneventful.  We saw little traffic and it was smooth sailing.  We followed Google Map directions and stopped at a nice, clean rest stop in Wyoming for lunch.  While we were at the rest stop, we saw a map and realized we weren’t too far from some Oregon Trail ruts.  We made a quick stop to view the Oregon Trail ruts and then continued into South Dakota.  We took some beautiful back roads with some gorgeous views.

As we got closer to our destination, we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota and saw signs for the Mammoth Site.  A quick glance at our guide book showed us that it might be something we wanted to check out.  Ticket prices start at $7 for children ages 4-12 and 13-59 are $9.  I kind of balked at the price but we decided to take the tour.  It was definitely worth it for us.  The Mammoth Site is not just a museum but it is a working archaeological site.  The building sits over a dig site where they have found Columbian and woolly mammoth bones…lots of them.  We took the tour, which lasts about 30m, and then wandered around for a bit on our own.

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When we arrived in Rapid City, we checked in to our hotel.  We were hosted at the MainStay Suites, one of the newest hotels in Rapid City.  Once we were settled, we got back in the car to have dinner downtown.

Downtown Rapid City was so much fun to explore.  We had dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company, a restaurant built inside an old firehouse.  We wandered around and looked at the different statues that are part of the City of Presidents art installation.  We listened to live music in the square and then we grabbed a treat at Zoom Candy and Soda.

Day Two – Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial

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We started our first full day with a drive to Mount Rushmore.  After parking, we walked the grounds with our heads turned to the sky in awe.  Mount Rushmore looked exactly as it does in pictures but had a majestic air to it as we saw it in person.  After taking some pictures and wandering around, we got back in the car and drove to Custer State Park.

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We made a quick stop at the restrooms and began to drive the Wildlife Loop.  The Wildlife Loop takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive and the reward for making the trip is a beautiful view, changing landscapes and lots of animal spotting.

When we finished with the Wildlife Loop, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Now, I didn’t do my research on this and I didn’t realize that the memorial is not finished.  Don’t be disappointed by this though because the story shared through video is wonderful.  Wander the shops, grab an ice cream cone and, if you are there late enough, view a light show on the wall.  From here, we headed into Hill City to have dinner at the Alpine Inn, famous for their one item menu.  Bacon wrapped filet mignon!  It did not disappoint!

Day Three – Prairie Homestead, Badlands, Wall Drug, Geology Museum

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On the morning of day three, we prepared for another hour trip from Rapid City and headed to Badlands National Park.  Right outside of one of the entrances, we saw a sign for the Prairie Homestead.  We decided to stop and found that it is a little piece of homestead history.  The grounds can be toured where you can see a real sod dugout.  If you have a child who adores Little House on the Prairie, they would probably enjoy a visit here.

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From there, we drove through the entrance of Badlands National Park.  We hadn’t planned any major hiking during this trip and had intended to just drive through.  The guidebook had several recommendations for short hikes so we chose the Door trail, which then allowed for some extra exploring.  We stopped at the visitor’s center and picked up junior ranger books and then headed to Wall Drug.

We weren’t really impressed with Wall Drug but it was mostly because it was incredibly crowded.  We were overwhelmed by its size.  We weren’t expecting it to be so large!  We grabbed a treat from the candy shop and then hit the road again.

We headed back to Rapid City and, on a whim, stopped at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology Museum.  We had dinner in Rapid City and called it a night.  We still had to drive 7 hours home on Day 4 of our trip.

Have you been to Rapid City?  What was your favorite stop along the way?

*Thank you to Rapid City and MainStay Suites for hosting our hotel visit.  All travel and attractions were covered by my family.  All opinions are my own.

 

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Museum of Geology

By far, our favorite thing about our visit to Rapid City was discovering the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines.

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We were on our way home from Badlands National Park and it wasn’t quite time to turn in for dinner so we flipped through the travel guide and found a little blurb about this museum.  We decided on a whim to stop there and I am so glad that we did.

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The Museum of Geology is located on the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology campus.  It is relatively easy to find and is well marked as you make your way there.

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The museum can be added on to just about any itinerary.  It is small enough that you can make it through the entire museum in less than an hour but there is enough for you to view so you could spend much more time if you wanted to.

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Though the skeletons and fossils were fascinating, my little geologist spent quite some time in front of the rows of glass cases filled to the brim with minerals.  They are well lit and labeled to tell you what you are looking at.

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My 8 year old son spent many minutes in front of each glass display.  He pointed out the minerals that he had at home and learned names of some of his favorite rocks.  There is a small Kids’ Zone that has lots of hands-on, interactive displays that help children question and learn more about what they are seeing.

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The best part about this museum is that it is FREE (donations are accepted).