The mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado, sits at 9,600 feet and is one of Colorado’s most well-known former Gold Rush mining towns. One of the best things about this ski resort basecamp is its proximity to Colorado’s Front Range, as the Denver to Breckenridge drive tends to take travelers just over an hour and a half to two hours at the most, depending on weather and traffic.
This drive up the Eastern Slope of the Rockies on Interstate 70 is also incredibly scenic and features plenty of chances to make short stops for sightseeing and exploring—some of which are conveniently located right along the highway.
Anyone driving from Denver to Breckenridge in the winter ski season should also keep in mind that other world-class ski areas, including Loveland Ski Resort, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, are located on the way to “Breck,” as the locals affectionately call it. Breckenridge is also a more affordable and laidback alternative to Vail or Aspen.
In the warmer times of the year, opportunities for other activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and fly fishing are all around. Read on for more thoughts on how to plan for a day of fun stops when making this mountain drive from Denver on the Eastern Slope to Breckenridge at the base of the Tenmile Range.
Planning a Denver to Breckenridge Drive
The first thing you’ll want to do when planning your Denver to Breckenridge road trip is select a primary route. The most straightforward choice for the least amount of time on the road is to simply take I-70 West out of Denver, which is the only main highway you need to follow on this drive until making an exit at Highway 9 just 10 to 15 minutes before you arrive at Breckenridge.
However, if you really want to make it a longer day of driving and take your time doing some sightseeing, you could opt for taking a scenic route from Denver to Breckenridge on US 285 South. In this scenario, you would get on Highway 9 at the mountain town of Fairplay and drive up and over the 11,542-foot-high Hoosier Pass before arriving at Breckenridge from the south.
The other main factors you’ll want to keep in mind and plan for when making this drive are seasonal road conditions and weather, particularly when driving from Denver in winter. Assuming you take the primary route on I-70 (and even if you take the alternate route down US 285), you’ll have plenty of chances to stop for services like gas stations and restaurants.
Even if you don’t plan on getting out of the car more than a couple of times for short stops, the critical thing when driving at altitude in the Rockies is to be prepared for inclement weather, no matter the time of year. Have tires with good tread, plenty of extra warm layers, and be sure you’re prepared for dealing with a breakdown scenario or a flat tire.
If you need to a rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which offers great deals by comparing many major car hire companies. You can also consider renting an RV from Outdoorsy if you plan on extending your road trip by driving from Denver to Aspen or even all the way to Moab.
How Far is Denver to Breckenridge?
The Denver to Breckenridge drive on I-70 tends to take about an hour and a half (assuming no traffic or bad weather) and traces a path west from Colorado’s state capitol for about 80 miles.
With such a relatively short distance from Denver to Breckenridge when traveling by car, many drivers who are more pressed for time might easily choose to make this drive in a single leg without stopping.
But assuming you’re in it for the journey as well as the destination and aren’t racing up to meet your friends on the ski slopes, you’ll find that the Denver to Breckenridge transit time of between one and a half to two hours leaves plenty of room for making as many stops along the way as you’d like.
Some of the places where you might choose to stop include mountain towns like Georgetown, Idaho Springs, and Keystone, along with wilderness areas such as the Mt Evans Rd—the highest paved road in North America—and the Grays and Torreys Trailhead.
Though some of these stops are a short driving distance away from the main route of I-70 West, even making a round-trip detour of an hour won’t set you back too much on this short road trip.
The southern route on US 285 and Highway 9 over Hoosier Pass adds a significant amount of drive time, so this list of possible stops will focus on the main route going west from Denver on I-70.
Best Denver to Breckenridge Drive Stops
Located just a stone’s throw outside of Denver, Matthews/Winters Park is a “local’s favorite” sort of area with a nice trail network that stretches out into the tracts of land at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
The famous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre is even accessible for hikers and bikers setting out from Matthews/Winters via a trail loop. Many visitors to Denver might not know that the Red Rocks area is easily accessible to casual hikers and people looking to get a workout by running the venue’s steps while enjoying the Mile High City views.
This is also a mountain biker’s hotspot with segments of some trails, such as a 0.8-mile section of the Dakota Ridge South Trail, designated for mountain bikers only. If you don’t have your own, there are quite a few excellent outdoor gear and cycling shops in the Denver area.
Local businesses like Wilderness Exchange and bigger stores like REI are a great resource if you’re prepping for outdoor activities on this Denver to Breckenridge drive. Making a stop at one of these can also be a nice opportunity to take a walk around Denver before you leave the city.
Idaho Springs is a classic Gold Rush outpost in the truest sense. As you round the bend in the highway on I-70 leading up to the town, you’ll start to notice the tall silhouettes of the antiquated mining structures that surround it.
Depending on how much time you have, consider either stopping through the classic downtown area and its main strip of classic Victorian homes and structures or making a visit to the family-owned Phoenix Gold Mine.
This classic mine is an especially good option for families and anyone looking to get a little taste of history, as you’ll be able to take an underground tour, participate in a gold-panning lesson, and see gold ore in its raw form.
If you choose to spend more time downtown, Idaho Springs is a fun place to wander around, visit a few coffee shops, or grab a locally brewed beer. The Frothy Cup is a favorite for coffee and breakfast, and Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub and Westbound & Down Brewing company are excellent taphouses.
Mt Evans Wilderness Area
This is one of the more “off the main drag” things to do between Denver and Breckenridge, as a detour to this area away from I-70 on CO-103 will add about 20 to 30 minutes of additional drive time each way.
But if you choose to make the trip at the right time of the year when the seasonally closed Mt Evans Road is open, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in the country.
If you choose, you can even drive all the way up to parking areas located near the summit of Mt Evans and the turquoise waters of Summit Lake.
Getting out of the car for some hiking in the Mt Evans Wilderness Area is a great idea, even though it’s definitely an option to enjoy the expansive views and altitude from the comfort of your car.
Some wild animals you might spot while hiking and climbing around on this peak include small rodent relatives like pika and marmot, along with above-treeline dwellers such as mountain goats and bighorn sheep.
Alpine lakes are peppered in among the glacial cirques that dominate the surrounding landscapes, and some such as the Chicago Lakes are filled with eager cutthroat trout.
A former silver mining camp located along the beautiful glacial runoff waters of Clear Creek, Georgetown is similar to Idaho Springs in its size and abundance of classic homes done in Victorian style.
Attractions in this town include the Georgetown Loop Railroad, which takes visitors on a round-trip steam train ride between Georgetown and Silver Plume, taking a stroll around the historic district, and hiking nearby trails like Guanella Pass.
A tour of the Capital Prize gold mine is another great option where you’ll be able to see real gold veins that miners would have been searching for and take a walk deep into the mountainside to explore former mining tunnels.
In the spring and summer, Clear Creek Canyon, with its waters that run up and down much of the I-70 corridor, is a top-class destination for all kinds of outdoor watersports recreation. Several local outfitters and wilderness guide services can take you out for trips doing everything from whitewater rafting and kayaking to fly fishing and climbing.
Rafting is especially popular in this canyon, and the locals who have permits to guide raft trips on Clear Creek tend to be great at handling even larger groups of inexperienced rafters.
Grays and Torreys Trailhead
While rated as a “difficult” trail, a stop at the Grays and Torreys Trailhead area—a pristine part of the Arapaho National Forest—is worth considering whether you’re thinking of hiking the whole 8-mile out and back loop or not.
The 13,176-foot Kelso Mountain looms overhead by the trailhead, and dogs are allowed on this trail as long as they’re kept on a leash. Even more casual hikers might enjoy doing just a short 2-mile round trip hike here on their way to Breckenridge as a break from the car to get some fresh air.
If you’re planning for a longer day hike, keep in mind that most lower-clearance vehicles like vans or sedans won’t be able to clear the Stevens Gulch Road that leads right to the trailhead. The alternative is to park down at the dirt parking area along Bakerville road and hike to the trailhead.
Even walking part or all of this additional 3 miles or so is worthwhile, as you’re always steeply gaining elevation here through the alpine basin. Birdwatchers and those seeking to see wildlife should bring their binoculars, as the Arapaho National Forest offers abundant chances to see wild animals.
Keep in mind that if you’re hiking in this area between roughly October to March, you’ll want to have traction equipment and even poles and/or an ice ax if you’re planning to summit a peak.
The resort town of Keystone is a stop on the Denver to Breckenridge drive that’s akin to Vail and other renowned Rocky Mountain ski areas. The main part of Keystone is full of high-end retail shops, gourmet restaurants and bars, and all sorts of lodging options.
When it comes to the ski mountain itself, Keystone Ski Resort basically encompasses three separate mountains—Dercum Mountain, North Peak, and the Outback—that are chock full of terrain options and five separate bowls.
If you’re passing through in the summertime and skiing isn’t an option, Keystone has plenty of other options for outdoor recreation, or if you’re simply exploring the town you can stop through a local eatery for happy hour.
Some possible spring/summer/fall activities in Keystone include a horseback riding trip with Keystone Stables, a visit to the Keystone Spa, or a mountain biking session on any of the numerous local trails.
Likely to be one of your last stops on the scenic drive from Denver to Breckenridge, Silverthorne serves as a gateway to Colorado’s Western Slope after motorists have descended from the Eisenhower Tunnel and its traverse through the Continental Divide.
The Blue River flows into and out of Lake Dillon here, and both this river and reservoir are ideal for a wide array of mountain sports. Paddleboarding and sailing are common on Lake Dillon in the summertime, and there’s great ice fishing on the lake in winter and year-round fly fishing in the tailwater section of the Blue River.
The town of Silverthorne itself is also a great option for lunch or dinner if you’re feeling too hungry to wait for Breckenridge after driving up and over the Divide. Some local-favorite restaurants include Murphy’s Irish Pub (unbeatable fish and chips), Sunshine Café, and the Blue Moon Bakery.
Frisco is a convenient last stop on your Denver to Breckenridge drive thanks to its location just off I-70 right along your route south on Highway 9, though you can also get off the highway one exit to the west to access Frisco’s Main Street.
Of all the mountain towns in the area, the main strip of shops, restaurants, and other businesses here has somewhat of a newer ambiance. Everything in Frisco is also very well laid-out along the primary drainage of Tenmile Creek.
Frisco’s western edge is also dotted with easily accessible trailheads and arguably Summit County’s best-paved recreation trail in the Tenmile Rec Path/Temple Trail.
Notable hiking routes that are located near this paved trail include the Rainbow Lake and Miners Creek trailheads, and the popular Frisco Adventure Park is just beyond Highway 9 where the town borders on the far corner of Dillon Reservoir.
Where to Stay in Breckenridge
If you’re driving from Denver to Breckenridge, you’re going to need to find a place to stay once you’re in your final destination. There are lots of great places to rest your head in Breckenridge and if you’re looking for the best place for you, then browse through these suggestions:
Welk Resorts Breckenridge – If it’s a luxury option you’re after while visiting Breckenridge, then you can’t go wrong with this place. They have a number of large and comfortable rooms available and countless amenities to make your stay a great one. Click here to see their availability
Breck Inn – Though smaller and a bit less grand than the previous choice, this inn is a good option for those on a slightly lower budget. They have a number of cosy and comfy rooms on offer and a lot of other amenities to ensure your stay is fantastic. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you want some privacy or are simply after your own place in Breckenridge, then a private vacation rental is a good option for you. Places like this ski-in/walk-out condo are only some of the great offerings available in this Colorado town. Click here to browse Breckenridge private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Breckenridge hotels!
These are just a few ideas on things to do between Denver and Breckenridge, so keep in mind that your road trip stops might vary greatly depending on your goals, the time of year, and other factors.
What’s certain is that no matter when you make this roughly 1.5-hour Denver to Breckenridge drive, you’ll find plenty to see and do along the way as you pass by the scenic high-country vistas of the Continental Divide.
Are you planning a drive from Denver to Breckenridge? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!