This post is part of my series on great road trips from Denver.

My top recommendation if you have one day would either be to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park, or to drive west up I-70 into the mountains, where you have a variety of places to visit, including Mount Evans and Red Rocks.

Rocky Mountain National Park is about an hour and a half’s scenic drive away from Denver. In addition to spectacular mountain scenery, you are likely to see some good wildlife, especially elk. You can drive and just stop for short strolls at various viewpoints along the way, or go for a longer hike. A favorite hike of mine there, which is reasonably gentle by Colorado standards, is from Bear Lake to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes – you can see some pictures here. If you do choose to hike and are coming from sea level, it may be best to go after you have had a few days in Denver to acclimatize (Denver is a mile high, 5280 feet or 1600 meters, and up in the mountains you can be at anywhere up to 14,000 ft).

If you drive west up I-70 you have various options for places to visit. Although it’s an Interstate the road itself is very scenic. A top recommendation would be to drive up to the top of Mount Evans, which is at 14,000ft with breathtaking views, and you have a great chance of seeing mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which you see in very few other places. However, the road to the top closes on Labor Day, which is September 5 in 2011, so if you’re here for the FOSS4G conference that won’t be an option unless you come out a week beforehand.

A good alternative for spectacular views is to drive up to the Continental Divide (rain that falls west of the divide flows into the Pacific Ocean, while rain that flows east of the divide flows into the Atlantic). A really nice short hike is St Mary’s Glacier (which is not really a glacier but a small permanent ice field). This gives you some great mountain views with relatively little effort, and it’s not too far of a drive to get there.

On the way up I-70 you will pass the old mining towns of Idaho Springs and Georgetown, which grew up during the gold rush in the 1800s and both are worth a short stroll around. Idaho Springs is home to Beau Jo’s Pizza, a favorite stop for dinner on the way back from a day in the mountains. Close to Denver, you will also pass Red Rocks Amphitheater, a spectacular natural amphitheater that is now a concert venue that has played host to the Beatles and Stravinsky, and was where U2 recorded “Under a Blood Red Sky“. If there’s not a concert on (check here) you can wander round for free. This is a half hour drive from downtown, so a good option for a late afternoon excursion. Close to Red Rocks is The Fort, an interesting restaurant if you feel like splurging on western delicacies like buffalo, elk or rattlesnake.

For other options if you have more than one day, see the rest of my great road trips from Denver series.