One of Colorado’s best kept adventure town secrets is just a short drive from Denver.
Hidden in the gently rolling foothills of Colorado is the small town of Lyons—an under-the-radar adventure destination and the unofficial “Double Gateway to the Rockies.” For decades, thousands of people have passed through the small town en route to the eastern entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, which can be accessed via two scenic 30-minute routes that begin in Lyons. But in recent years, the town itself has become a destination, mostly due to its access to outdoor activities.
Avid mountain bikers, hikers, kayakers, and day-trippers looking to soak in the cool waters of the St. Vrain River or stroll through the town’s historic Main Street flock to the quiet yet vibrant town each summer. Like every great outdoor hub in Colorado, Lyons is home to a delightful après scene composed of colorful patios, a trailblazing brewery, good eats, and plenty of live entertainment. Whether you’re in search of a place to dip your feet in the river for an afternoon, or looking for the perfect music-filled, outdoorsy weekend getaway, add Lyons to your list—you won’t be disappointed.
The Odometer: 43 miles (about an hour drive from Denver, one-way)
Photo Courtesy of Eddie Clark Media
No need to battle the I-70 corridor to find adventure this summer. Load up your bikes, hiking shoes, kayak, and picnic supplies, and head to Lyons instead. For outdoor enthusiasts seeking two-wheeled adventures, you’re sure to find them on the trails of Hall Ranch or Heil Valley Ranch—two pockets of sprawling Boulder County open space, both of which are just a short ride from downtown Lyons. For hardcore mountain bikers, Hall Ranch offers challenging technical elements, like the tricky Rock Garden on the Bitterbrush Trail. Riders seeking a less challenging ride can hop Antelope Trail, which bypasses the Rock Garden altogether, or tackle the slightly mellower Picture Rock trail in Heil Valley Ranch, a popular trail network for both mountain biking and hiking. Both trails serve as wonderful places for visitors to stretch their legs, take in a scenic vista or two, and marvel at incredible views of Longs Peak.
Lyons also has its own Whitewater Park with eight features spread out over a quarter-mile. Kayakers can find the Whitewater Park in the recently renovated LaVern M. Johnson Park, which is also home to an RV park with full hook-ups and tent camping. Camping fees start at $20 per night for tent campers and $40 per night for RVs. Visitors just looking for reprieve from the summer heat will find it on the waters of the St. Vrain Creek. The North and South forks of the river converge in the heart of the town and are typically stocked with swimsuit-clad tubers out for a relaxing float. Anglers can also cast a line in an attempt to catch cutthroat, brook, or brown trout (catch and release only).
Eat & Drink
Photo courtesy of Tyra Sutak
Where there’s an abundance of outdoor activities, there’s usually a thriving dining scene delivering hearty dishes and refreshing beverages; Lyons is no exception. In the center of town is Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, the place where craft beer was officially packaged and sold in a can for the first time. On a sunny afternoon, the brewery’s many patios are filled with bikers and hikers, fresh off the trail. Grab a refreshing Dale’s Pale Ale, the brewery’s flagship beer, or one of the special or limited releases made onsite, and a plate of hearty grub food, like one of the many loaded juicy burgers on the menu. Oskar Blues also offers a good mix of live music on the weekends.
To get your caffeine fix in town, visit the Barking Dog Cafe, which features an outdoor patio on the sidewalk of Main Street, or head to the Stone Cup, a family-run joint that serves as a popular hangout for the locals. Pick from one of the many breakfast beverages on the menu and order one of the tasty, budget-friendly breakfast dishes from the kitchen. Breakfast burritos, breakfast sandwiches, freshly baked goods, and housemade quiche can all be found for under $10.
For lunch and an adult beverage, head to Pizza Bar 66. This no-frills pizzeria sells a variety of pies, which all pair well with the nationally acclaimed craft beer on tap. Stop in during happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., for drink specials including $2.50 cans of PBR. For a soul-saving bite to replenish calories lost on the trail, head to St. Vrain Market. This local gem offers substantial sandwiches on bread baked fresh in-house. And at night, when you’ve washed off the grit from the day and are ready to sit down for a nice meal, there’s no better place than the Lyons Fork, which offers a seasonally inspired menu and some of the best truffle fries in Boulder County. Bonus if you can snag a table during the restaurant’s bustling brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Photo courtesy of Wee Casa
You won’t find any chain hotels in this fiercely local town. Instead, visitors can stay at WeeCasa, an idyllic riverfront property made up of 20-plus individual tiny homes, all within walking distance from Main Street. Thought to be the world’s largest tiny home resort, nightly rates range from $139 to $299 and book up quickly in the summer. Although not within walking distance to the town’s main attractions, the Stone Mountain Lodge offer a laid-back mountain town vibe and an outdoor pool. You’ll need a car to get around if you’re staying at this mountainside hotel, but Stone Mountain’s budget-friendly rates and quaint cabins are worth the drive. The town also has an active Airbnb scene, so don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to book a hotel room for the dates of your visit.
Photo courtesy of Tyra Sutak
There’s no greater family pastime in the hot summer months than swimming, and the town of Lyons has a few dedicated swimming holes and parks along the river that are safe and filled with fun for your little one. Lavern M. Johnson Park, which received a facelift and a name change following the devastating flood that hit the town in 2013, includes shallow shores along the river, as well as a splash pad, both of which are brimming with little ones throughout the summer months. And what’s a day at the pool without an ice cream cone? The SNACK soda fountain is a staple in town for kids and ice cream lovers alike. The reincarnation of the town’s original soda fountain from the late 1800s is still serving traditional ice cream treats, like egg creams, chocolate sodas, and hand-spun milkshakes at the beautifully preserved original eight-stool fountain bar.
If you’re into antiques, Lyons is your spot. Antique shops are on just about every corner—and they’re fun and funky and full of all types of weird treasures. Both Gatherings of a Lifetime and Rosey’s Rescues have become popular shops for old-timey finds. Both boast large selections of vintage items and antiques packed into a small space, with Rosey’s offering a larger array of clothes, and Gatherings of a Lifetime selling more odds and ends for home decor. For unique arts and crafts, pay a visit to Red Canyon Art, a longtime shopping staple in town that features work from local artists crafting handmade jewelry, ceramics, leather goods, fine art, photography and more. Lyons is home to a spirited artist community whose creations can be purchased at many of the shops around town.
If You Do One Thing
Photo Courtesy of Eddie Clark Media
Go to one of Lyons folky summer music festivals. The RockyGrass festival (July 27-29) and the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival (August 17-19) both take place at Planet Bluegrass, a music venue that has been hosting iconic festivals and big names for many years. Camping is available onsite for both fests—and why not stay awhile? A weekend-long music festival is the perfect opportunity to head to the foothills, and take in everything this small, adventurous town has to offer.