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Best Day Trip from Denver – Peaks and Pies in Colorado’s Backcountry

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As a family travel writer I am often asked by visitors to my adopted home state of Colorado, “If you were new to Denver and had just one day to see the nearby backcountry, what would you do?” Here are two Denver day trip options to tempt nature lovers who love a good slice of pie…whether pizza pie or pie for dessert.

Best Denver Day Trip - Peaks and Pies in the Backcountry

Sliding down St. Mary’s Glacier

Day Trip from Denver: St. Mary’s Glacier and Pizza Pie

The answer to this day trip query is embarrassingly easy: I would hike to St. Mary’s Glacier and then indulge in one of Beau Jo’s famous mountain pizza pies in nearby Idaho Springs, Colorado.

St. Mary’s Glacier is a destination beloved by locals and tourists for its stunning views and hiking trails. It’s located 45 minutes from Denver just 9 miles off I-70.

I’ve done this hike every year since I moved to Denver. Well, with the exception of when we arrived at the trailhead a couple of years ago and my husband Jamie ran over my daughter Hadley’s foot with the car. Gracious parents that we are, we let her forgo our annual adventure.

At ages 7 and 9, our kids are finally old enough to hike St. Mary’s Glacier by themselves. I wouldn’t call this a particularly easy hike (it’s really steep and rocky without adequate signage) but it is relatively short (just 3/4 mile to the base of the glacier).

In years past we were forced to perch on the shoulder of the road overlooking a steep cliff. Remember when Jamie ran over Hadley’s foot? That occurred whilst precariously parking. They now have a designated overflow lot that’ll cost you $5.

Well worth it to avoid trips to the hospital.

The 1.5-mile round-trip hike to the base of the glacier is only the start of the adventure. Every year, 9-year-old Hadley begs to go higher and higher. By next year, she’ll be capable enough to summit the darn thing along with the kamikaze skiers and snowboarders.

And likely drag her poor mother down with her.

Colorado's favorite pizza, Beau Jo's

Colorado’s favorite pizza, Beau Jo’s (Photo credit: Amber Johnson)

Afterwards, be sure to stop by Beau Jo’s Colorado-style pizza in nearby Idaho Springs. Their mountain pies satisfy mountain-sized appetites after a great day at play and are frequently voted “Best Pizza” in the Denver area. The BBQ Chicken Mountain Pie is my favorite. Be sure to try their Honey Cheese Bread for an appetizer.

So, what’s with all the mountain references? These pizza pies are topped with “mountains of ingredients” and their hand-rolled edge is so thick it is served with honey for dipping. Voila–lunch and dessert in one!

Mount Evans

The view from atop Mount Evans (Photo credit: Amber Johnson)

Day Trip from Denver: Mount Evans and Pie for Dessert

If you’d like another high-flying Denver day trip, try driving the nearby Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the highest paved road in the United States. Mount Evans is about a 2-hour drive from St. Mary’s Glacier if you want to combine both day trips into one. Soaring at 14,265 feet, Mount Evans is one of Colorado’s 54 “14ers” (14,000-foot peaks).

When you reach the Summit Parking Area, you are not yet at the top so bundle up (temperatures are often 50 degrees cooler than Denver) and hike the 1/4-mile trail. You’d think the last 130 vertical feet would be a cinch but believe me, at 14,000 feet, your head is pounding and you’re gasping for air (this altitude is not recommended for very young children) but the views are out of this world.

Apple pie a la mode from Echo Lake Lodge

Apple pie a la mode from Echo Lake Lodge (Photo by Kristin Mastre, courtesy of

On the drive down, be sure to stop at the charming Echo Lake Lodge. Here you can ponder a variety of souvenirs like handmade Native American jewelry, wood-carved animals and kitschy gag gifts. But the real reason to come here is for a slice of their to-die-for homemade pie. Choose from such tempting varieties as apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, butterscotch or chocolate peanut butter.

What are your favorite adventures within an hour of your hometown? Let us know in the comments below!

About Amber Johnson, The Outdoorsy Travel Mama

Amber Johnson is a fun-loving mom of two. After a whirlwind career as an adventure-travel writer and publicist in Utah’s ski industry, she married and moved to Denver where her family loves skiing, biking, hiking and climbing 14ers (14,000-foot peaks). She is the founder of The Denver Post’s Mile High Mamas, writes a regular “Family Cents” column for the newspaper and has been blogging since 2005 (you can find her at Amber is excited to be a part of the Travel Mamas team and looks forward to chronicling her occasionally-painful but always-hilarious misadventures! You can connect with Amber on Twitter as @TheMileHighMama.

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    Great ideas for day trips from Denver – will definitely keep them in mind if I ever get there. I’m not sure which looks better – the views or the two kinds of pie! We live between Toronto and Niagara Falls/Niagara-on-the-Lake and also less than an hour from Stratford – we tend to do a lot of daytripping to those three places.

  2. Lisa, as well you should day trip to those places. It’s wonderful to live in a world-class destination, isn’t it?

  3. This is awesome! I love Colorado, and I can’t wait to check out some of these cool spots when I go back in April! Thanks so much for all the info!


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