Everyone Needs a Colorado “Beercation”

Last Updated on January 21, 2020 by Janet Frost

Thanks to the craft beer craze, you can easily add a fun little brewery to almost any travel plans. However, there are some very special destinations that call for an all out Beercation. The State of Colorado is foaming with great beer. As a matter of fact the Great American Beer Festival takes place in Denver every October. In addition to plenty of beer, Colorado is packed with year-round adventures.

Let’s Go learn things about beer and fun in Colorado….

Denver, Colorado

Denver is a bright, bustling, beautiful city. We will start our Beercation here partly because it is the transportation hub of the state and most likely your arrival point to Colorado. But we also start here because it is a city not to be missed. The city is ringed by the Rocky Mountains and promises an annual average of 300 days of sunshine. Denver residents love their sports (Broncos, Rockies and Nuggets) their history, their food, their art, their outdoors and their Beer!
I love taking a Beercation, but even I cannot drink beer all day and night. So I recommend exploring your surroundings in the morning and early afternoon, before you start the daily brewery itinerary. Denver has a great Visitor’s website to help you plan your days. Below are some of my suggestions.

Colorado Historic Landmarks and Museums in Denver

Denver Union Station

If you fly into Denver International Airport you can ride the clean, comfortable and convenient rail line directly into the downtown Union Station. During the heyday of the railroad industry, a Union Station was a central hub shared by several railroad companies. These stations were typically classical architecture with massive and elegant interiors offering lodging, food, and of course transportation to points afar. Throughout the Midwest and across the country, these historic Union Stations are being revived to their former glory.

Denver’s Union Station, built in 1914, is a role model for multi-tasking. It is a traditional train station, a lovingly restored historic landmark, and a trendy gathering place for locals and visitors. We are on a Beercation and Denver’s Union Station is a great place to start. Right inside the cavernous train terminal sits Terminal Bar. This chic bar serves 30 Colorado craft beers in their taps.

Union Station serves as an anchor on the northside of downtown, within a 10 min walk of museums, eateries, the Broncos Stadium, the Nuggets Pepsi Center and the Rockies Coors Field. AND of course plenty of craft breweries.

See this post on Kansas City to learn about their Union Station.

Denver, a city of museums

As we mentioned above, several of Denver’s art and cultural venues are within a short walk, or an easy Uber ride from Union Station. Denver is very proud of its art scene. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, American Museum of Western Art and the Money Museum/Fed Reserve are in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) region. As you move further south you will find the Denver Museum of Art, Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver Firefighters Museum, History Colorado Center and the Molly Brown House Museum all within the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
A 20 minute Uber ride will take you out to Denver’s City Park. This park looks back west with beautiful views of the Denver skyline. The 330 acre facility houses the Denver Zoo; the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and IMAX; tennis courts; horseshoes; baseball, football and soccer fields; two lakes; picnic sites and two playgrounds.

Denver Breweries

According to Eater Denver, the foodie magazine for the city, there are 80+ craft breweries in the Denver area. These breweries are spread throughout the metro area. For our trip, we stayed in the LoDo and Five Points neighborhoods. LoDo stands for Lower Downtown which fans out south from Union Station. Five Points is just to the northeast of LoDo and Coors Stadium. You can imagine that watering holes near the Colorado Rockies stadium could get hopping.

Wynkoop Brewing

Our first stop is Wynkoop Brewing. They advertise as the first brewpub in the State of Colorado. They set up brewing in a very depressed section of Denver in 1988. Many believe that Wynkoop helped catalyze the revitalization of the LoDo district.

I will be honest, this was a disappointing stop. It really depends on your level of Beer Snobbery. I have a soft spot for the truly “micro-breweries” who are really pushing the edges with new tastes. Wynkoop is on every beer tour itinerary but I found their beer boring and their employees bored with beer. I include it though because Wynkoop is in a beautiful historic building and is definitely an institution in the city. They do serve food. That often detracts from the beer quality but you do need to eat on a Beercation. You can decide if it is worth a stop.

Jagged Mountain

From Wynkoop we head further into the LoDo and Five Points Districts. Jagged Mountain Brewery really captured our interest. The beertenders were hyped about their beer and the local craft beer scene. For me, the energy and knowledge of the beer servers is a vital part of a great Beercation experience. If you can have access to the brewers themselves, it is a real bonus. At Jagged Mountain we found both. They had a wide selection of edgy and tasty beers and everyone was talking “beer”. Jagged Mountain does not serve food, keeping their beer the main focus. They do however, have a steady calendar of food trucks out front .

Great Divide

Great Divide Brewing CO started in the 1990’s in the shadow of the Coors Ballpark. They have since expanded their brewing operations into the RiNo (River North) district, but the original cozy taproom in Five Points is still a popular gathering place. Great Divide delivered on the desired edgy and large selection of beer styles. You gotta love a place with several versions of a beer named “Yeti” The Yeti is their Imperial Stout. He comes out to play as Velvet Yeti, Chocolate Cherry Yeti, Barrel Yeti and Chai Yeti.

Denver Beer Co

Our last stop on this swing through LoDo and Five Points is the Denver Beer CO. Up to this point, the first three breweries were within walking distance of each other (half a mile or less). From the last stop at Great Divide, the Denver Beer CO is 1.5 miles back northwest. I would recommend an Uber. The two founders of Denver Beer CO take great pride in being native Coloradans. They brew their beer with the Colorado motto of Work hard, Play harder and love the Planet. That is a lot to pack into a growler. You can find Denver Beer Co in several locations but the original is the Platte Tap just north of Union Station and Coors Stadium.

So much beer…so little time

After a morning of museums and an evening hitting four breweries it is time to call it a day. You could put together an entire Beercation weekend in just Denver. Remember our source claimed 80 craft breweries in town. There are also several branch breweries from nearby big names that have started popping up in metro Denver. Such as New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing (both out of Fort Collins, CO) and Breckenridge Brewery from of course Breckenridge. But, it is fun to visit these craft beer giants at their origins so it is time to leave Denver and head north.

Learn More: Suzanne at the Travel Bunny shares an extensive guide and itinerary for Denver.

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado, home to University of Colorado/Boulder, has earned a reputation of free-spirited funkytown. That definitely sounds like a perfect ambiance for our Beercation. Boulder is an easy 30 minute drive northwest out of Denver. Longmont is the neighboring sister town just a 20 minute drive along Diagonal Hwy. This highway happens to be packed with breweries. The Boulder Visitor website is a great resource for planning a Beercation. Click here for their Boulder Beer Trail brochure. We chose Boulder for our Beercation because the community is defined by outdoor adventure by day and laid-back fun (read that as beer) by evening. This is how Lonely Planet puts it:

“Boulder, Colorado may have perfected the urban/outdoors balance: it’s close to Denver for big city benefits, it has its own smaller city personality, but then it focuses on outdoor activity in every other way.” —

Lonely Planet

Remember the perfect Beercation includes some non-beer activities before the beer drinking commences. Boulder is an outdoor playground, with some 45,000 acres of unspoiled open space. You can choose from hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, river rafting, fishing and of course skiing.

Boulder County Hiking

Although all those Colorado outdoor adventures sound tempting, my first choice is always hiking. Hiking is virtually free, requires very little equipment and can be at any pace your beer companions are up for. Colorado hiking promises breathtaking views, majestic snow-capped peaks, verdant mountain meadows, alpine lakes and roaring whitewater.

Boulder Creek Path

If you don’t have a car, or don’t want to venture too far from civilization, Boulder Creek Path runs over 6 miles through Boulder and west into the foothills. Boulder Creek burbles through the entire town, contributing to the picturesque setting of Boulder.

Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain NP

Boulder and Longmont sit at the transition from the Eastern Colorado plains and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. I recommend driving an hour west into Rocky Mountain National Park from Boulder/Longmont. You will find trails, picnic areas and vistas beyond your imagination. Estes Park is the northern entrance to the park and will supply your need for fudge and tchotchkes.

Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Our first day we visited Lily Lake Trail, one hour from Boulder, and 7 miles from Estes Park. The trail is an easy loop around the gorgeous Lily Lake and offers several spectacular views of Longs Peak. Since we are not “peak-baggers”, we are happy to capture a shot from afar. After a couple of hours driving and hiking through the Park, we did stop in Estes Park for some lunch.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Brainard Lake Recreational Area is another option for a morning of outdoor adventure before the breweries. Follow Boulder Canyon Drive 40 miles west of Boulder. Word to the wise, this is a popular destination on the weekends and the parking lot fills up first thing in the morning. As an alternative, we found the outlot parking and the nearby Waldrop Trail. This moderate and forested 4.2 mile trail crosses back and forth over Left Hand Creek. After hiking check out the adorable mountain town of Nederland, 15 miles back south along the Peak to Peak Hwy.

Boulder/Longmont Breweries

Boulder and Longmont are 15 miles apart and the corridor between the two is packed with craft brewery destinations. You can see on the map below, there about 16 breweries between Boulder and Longmont. Big names like Oskar Blues, Avery and Left hand dot the craft beer landscape. Let’s take a closer look/gulp.

Boulder/Longmont Beer map

Exploring breweries and chilling in the Boulder beer gardens is a truly special experience. All the brewers in this relatively small city know and support each other. People ride in on bicycles and gather around game tables, sharing a relaxed camaraderie. There is no sense of competition. The more breweries the merrier seems to be the philosophy of the region.

Left Hand Brewing

First stop is Left Hand Brewing. They give a fun tour and have a nice selection of well-crafted beers. No food here but weekend food trucks.

Oskar Blues Brewing

Next stop is the popular Oskar Blues Brewing. This brewery has been pumping out funky beer and music for over 10 years. They have even expanded to the hot beercation destination of Asheville, North Carolina. There is the brewery and taproom in Longmont and a brewpub in Boulder. Honestly, this was another disappointing stop. In spite of all the online hype, the Tasty Weasel Taproom in Longmont was deserted. The servers were distracted and the beer was just ordinary. In all fairness we hit this brewery about 3 PM after a really fun time at Left Hand Brewing. We were a little beer-logged and 3 o’clock can be a pretty dead time at a brewery. There are plenty of other breweries to try.

Avery Brewing

Final stop in Boulder is Avery Brewing. This cutting edge brewery was a favorite. Experimental sours, boozy barrel-aged bombs, and a plethora of IPAs vie for your tastebuds. The beertenders were engaged and knowledgeable. In addition to great beer, the food menu was equally eclectic and trendy. Don’t miss this exciting venue.

Fort Collins, Colorado

Hopefully your livers can take one more town of beer. Fort Collins is home to some heavy hitters in the craft beer world. The town is an enchanting outdoor adventureland. The Cache la Poudre River wends through town and along the Colorado Scenic Byway.

Larimer County Hiking

Ten miles west of town is the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space and Horsetooth Reservoir. This scenic 2,711-acre covers elevations from 5,430 to 7,255 feet, 29 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails that also connect to the Blue Sky Trail and Lory State Park trails.

Fort Collins Breweries

Fort Collins is yet another town offering over 20 craft breweries to explore. The two major players, New Belgium Brewing and Odell’s Brewing are within walking distance of each other. We were staying in Longmont and driving up to Fort Collins for the day so we only had time for these two destinations. Here is the Fort Collins Brewery Trail Brochure.

New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium Brewing is like Disney World for craft beer lovers. It is massive and full of visitors. There are outdoor games, an entertaining tour, extensive gift shop and several beer stations from which to grab your favorite drafts. The tours are 90 minutes and free. However, they fill up quickly, you can book online ahead of your visit and I highly recommend this.
Because the founders drew their original inspiration from a bicycling trip through Belgium, there are bikes everywhere you look. After all their biggest seller is Fat Tire. Employees receive bicycles and trips to Belgium as benefit perks.

Odell Brewing

Odell Brewing started in the adorable Colorado college town, Fort Collins in 1989. Their main focus was traditional British Ales. Today they have an impressive array of IPAs and Stouts.

Colorado Breweries and other Beercation destinations

Craft breweries in Colorado
Colorado craft beer

By now it is probably obvious why craft beer lovers need to put Colorado on their Beercations bucket list. We spent four days in the Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins area and did not scratch the surface. We certainly did engage our desire to go back. These were just three neighboring counties that we explored. The Colorado Brewery Map and listing will guide you throughout the entire state of beer. Share your favorite Colorado craft beer in the comments! CHEERS!

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4 thoughts on “Everyone Needs a Colorado “Beercation””

  1. I love visiting local breweries when I travel. I will definitely use your post when I plan my beercation to Colorado!

  2. I’ve barely scratched the surface for Colorado beer. Love this guide and will definitely use it in the future. If you’re in Denver again you should check out the Crooked Stave tasting room if you like sours. Delicious!

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