From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Just ten miles from the heart of Denver and with a thriving population of more than 100,000 of its own citizens, Thornton, Colorado is a Front Range gem that shouldn’t be overlooked. From outdoor adventures to dining and more, there’s so much to see, do, and explore in Thornton — which is why we’ve written this guide to help you do just that!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
One of the most attractive parts of being in the Thornton area is the ability to take advantage of all the incredible natural spaces in the vicinity. Here are some of the state and national parks you should add to your itinerary in Thornton, CO.
With waters inhabited by channel catfish, small and large-mouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, bluegill, wiper and tiger muskie, Barr Lake State Park represents an incredible outdoor getaway just half an hour from downtown Thortnon — whether you’re an angler or just angling to see an incredible sunset.
Offering stunning views of the Rocky Mountains as well as a series of explorable foothills of its own, Chatfield State Park is one of the most popular in the greater Denver area, and for good reason. With an expansive reservoir for fishing, swimming and other water-based activities as well as plenty of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, this park truly has something for everybody.
Another nearby Denver outdoor adventure, Cherry Creek State Park encompasses an area of more than five square miles, almost 1,000 acres of which is its reservoir. Perfect for hiking, biking, and water-based activities in spring, summer and fall, the park is also frequented by cross-country skiers and ice fishers in winter.
Known, among other things, for its status as a world-class rock climbing destination, Eldorado Canyon State Park offers more than 550 technical routes for the bold and adventurous, as well as hiking trails, fishing areas, and picnicking spots for those who’d rather watch from ground level. Thorntonites should consider themselves lucky to have this resource less than an hour away from their homes!
A family-friendly park and vacation destination also known as Barbour Ponds, St. Vrain State Park offers approximately 300 acres of water and 480 acres of recreational lands, making it perfect for outdoor activities of all sorts. The park also offers year-round campsites, including more than 40 full-hookup spots located in the southeastern quadrant of the park.
Anyone who visits Rocky Mountain National Park can quickly understand why John Denver sang so beautifully about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High. And with over 300 miles of hiking trails (and as home to one of the state’s many renowned “fourteeners,” or peaks rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level), this national park is a haven for adventurous sorts and outdoor lovers of all stripes.
Land set aside and preserved specifically for the good of the bison, coyotes, black-footed ferrets and various other creatures who inhabit them, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is within easy driving distance of Thorton — and is explorable right from the comfort of your car, thanks to its 11-mile auto wildlife loop. The Refuge also offers 10 miles of hiking trails and catch-and-release recreational fee fishing for those looking to get out into the fresh air.
Another nearby preserve, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge protects more than 5,000 acres which are home to black bear, prairie dogs, elk, mule deer, porcupine and more — not to mention the great diversity of birds that fly through the airspace. This park also offers about 10 miles of hiking trails, which are also frequented by equestrians and cyclists.
If you don’t play disc golf in Colorado, did you even visit? There’s a beautiful bike trail that runs through this park and takes you to the top of Homestead Hill, where you can gaze out on beautiful views of Frontage Range and see the cities of Denver and Boulder in the distance, as well as a gorgeous view of the Rockies. The bike/walking trail continues through Thornton down to two disc-golf courses off 136th and Holly. This area is one of my favorite places to bike and get a workout in, and it’s also a great place to catch a summer sunset, have a picnic, or take your kids to the jungle gym nearby.
Although Thornton is surrounded by large nature preserves and wilderness areas, you don’t have to go very far at all to get your boots on the ground, so to speak. Here are some of the very best hiking trails in and around Thornton, Colorado.
Tucked into Eastlake Park, East Lake Nature Trail runs about a mile and a half in length and sees only 19 feet of elevation gain, putting it firmly into the “easy” category and making it a great option for beginning hikers looking to get outside and get acclimated. Despite its short length and easy terrain, this hike offers beautiful views and is often inhabited by feathered friends, like geese, to say hi to!
A three-mile loop through the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Ladora and Lake Mary Loop Trail offers the chance to escape the city without going very far at all. Although sitting at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet, the trail is flat, making it appropriate for hikers of almost all skill levels, and also offers great opportunities for seeing wildlife.
At about five miles in length and 400 feet in elevation gain, Meadowlark Trail is a gently undulating hike through the Boulder Open Space, and a great opportunity to work up a bit of a sweat without requiring too much effort. Hikers are rewarded with wide-open, panoramic views backdropped with towering mountain peaks, and the trail is also available and open to dogs (so long as they’re leashed).
Running a little more than five miles and seeing about 1,100 feet in elevation gain, the Chavez and Beaver Brook Trail Loop is a moderately challenging hike perfect for those looking to work up a bit of a sweat — but enjoy the view while they do so. Along with hiking and trail running in the summer, this network of footpaths is also frequented by ice climbers come winter (but we strongly recommend making sure you have the proper equipment and training before trying that out for yourself).
Really looking to challenge yourself? Bear Peak via Shanahan Ridge runs just short of six miles and sees more than 2,500 feet in elevation gain, meaning this hike is steep and challenging… but definitely worthwhile for those in the right shape to conquer it. From the top of the mountain, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the entire surrounding area, and your trip up will be dotted with wildflowers during the spring and summer seasons.
Between hiking in the hills and meandering the streets of Thornton, you’re going to have to take time out for a meal now and again! Fortunately, there are plenty of incredible eateries to choose from in town. Here are some of the best restaurants in Thornton.
Serving up heaping helpings of all your faves, from tacos to fajitas to enchiladas, Tequila’s Mexican Family Restaurant has been a go-to area favorite for those in the mood for something spicy and satisfying for years. And, as the name suggests, there’s also a full bar serving up a range of handcrafted cocktails for you to wash it all down with.
So much more than an Italian restaurant, a trip to Cinzzetti’s is truly a culinary experience: the 20,000-square-foot building has been transformed into a Tuscan villa, where guests can guide themselves through 14 exhibition cooking stations. Offering up to 80 delectable items to sample and taste, this eatery also serves up delicious wines by the glass, frozen cocktails, and after-dinner coffee specials. Truly a one-of-a-kind date night option!
Sometimes, you find the best food in the most unassuming places — and that can be said for Thornton’s Sushi Tokoro, which is tucked into a strip mall on the northeast side of town. Serving up both rolls and classic Japanese fare in a casual, family-friendly environment, this is an often-overlooked local gem.
Locally-owned and devoted to offering authentic Vietnamese flavors, Vietnamese Cafe is also a popular spot for those looking for plant-based options. Serving up a range of vegan and vegetarian dishes (as well as meat-based items), this is a great spot for the whole party to come together, regardless of dietary restrictions.
Whether it’s a hearty breakfast or a satisfying lunch, Doug’s Diner is a beloved local fixture in Thornton — and beyond. With a variety of locations across the Denver metro, this spot has gained its reputation and success for a reason. Come and see for yourself!
Once you’ve enjoyed the great outdoors and some great dining, you’re still just at the beginning of your Thornton experience. Here are some of the top things to do in town, for families, couples, singletons, and more.
Thornton is a great place to bring the kids! Here are some of our top family-friendly activities to consider.
Providing sanctuary for abused and neglected animals from across the state of Colorado and beyond, Broken Shovels Farm Sanctuary also offers a retreat for human visitors, who get to interact with and get to know these special animals. Kids will love the chance to see what life on the farm is like, and all donations and proceeds go toward a good purpose.
With several locations along the Front Range, Boondocks Food & Fun is a household name amongst families — and the Northglenn location is easily drivable from Thornton. From arcade games to bowling to go-carts to delicious dining, this spot will leave everyone smiling, adults and kids alike.
While there’s no shortage of things to do in Thornton and the surrounding area during the daytime, things are equally as happening at night. Here are just a few of the best after-hours options to consider.
When it comes to things to do at night, it’s hard to beat bowling: it’s technically a sport, but you can also consume nachos at the exact same time. Win-win, are we right? AMF Sonesta Lanes Bowling Center is the place to be if you’re looking for lanes of fun in Thornton, and they also offer fun birthday party packages for those celebrating a big day.
Worried about spending yourself dry while you explore Thornton? Don’t! Just head for these budget-friendly activities and leave your wallet feeling fat and happy.
With an Olympic-sized pool that also features springboards and spectator seating, the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center is the place to go in Thornton if you’re looking to get your feet wet. (And, okay, the rest of you, too.) Offering a range of physical education programming as well as public swim time, the Aquatic Center offers the perfect combination of staying active and relaxing.
The first stand-alone non-profit insect zoo in the U.S., Butterfly Pavilion is located in the nearby community of Westminster, Colorado and has now been serving the community for upwards of 25 years. Serving what, you may ask? The opportunity to see and learn about hundreds of species of butterflies and other insects, both native and foreign. Hands-on learning exhibits make it well worth the low cost of entry.
It’s true: there are things to do in Thornton that are totally free of charge! Here are a couple of options for serious bargain hunters.
Although we’ve listed lots of fun outdoor activity opportunities above, it’s worth noting that there are even more green spaces to explore in Thornton. Trail Winds Park is particularly amenable to dog owners, since it has a separate spot specifically set aside for pooches.
If you take a trip to nearby Springvale Park, be sure to bring some frisbees — or “discs,” as they’re called by those in the community. With a relatively easy front nine and a more challenging back nine, this disc golf course works for both beginners and more advanced players.
Located just 15 minutes from downtown Thornton, Fall River Farm is a full service hunter/jumper horseback facility and was my favorite getaway when I first arrived in Thornton because of its welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere. Fall River Farm embraces the concept of fun, rest, and reflection no matter your skill level: you’ll be greeted by dogs, cats, and chickens when you pull up, and over 40 horses are available for lease and lessons. It's a great place to stop in if you enjoy riding, whether you want to purchase a single lesson or a 12-pack. I promise you’ll leave this farm with a smile on your face!
This place is a hub for the collective renaissance of art, athletics, transformation, and entertainment. Located right off 144th Avenue, it's a bowling alley complete with arcades, video games, laser tag, bars, and yummy food for adults and kids. They have Cosmic Nights on Friday and on Saturdays you can pay $14.99 for unlimited bowling and laser tag till 1 a.m. It's a great place to stop on a road trip, with a happy hour on Monday-Friday 3-6 pm. My inner artist and kid come alive here!
Everyone needs a pick-me-up day from time to time. If you’re in the mood to be pampered, here are some excellent salons and day spas to choose from in Thornton, Colorado.
Offering a full range of services in both skincare and massage as well as a plethora of beautifying and rejuvenating products, Bella in You Day Spa is all about enhancing your naturally occurring beauty and wellness in a relaxing and professional environment. They also offer specials to help you get the most bang for your buck.
Serving the northern Denver community, including Thornton, Tangles Salon & Spa offers hair care, cut, and coloring services as well as waxing, spray tanning, eyelash extensions and more. It’s the perfect place to get ready for your special day… or just a Tuesday!
Staying in shape is the best way to help ensure you stay calm, grounded, and ready to tackle whatever comes your way. Here are some of the best spots for those looking to get in a sweat session (or six) in Thornton.
At Powerhouse Gym Thornton, fitness is simple: it’s all about showing up and putting in the work. Fortunately, this straightforward and professional environment makes it easy to do just that, providing you with the array of equipment you need to make your goals into a reality. Group classes and daycare are also available!
Yoga is about so much more than stretching and strengthening your body — it’s about stretching and strengthening your mind. At Haute Yoga Colorado, you have the opportunity to do both as you make your way through a diverse range of classes led by dedicated and empathetic instructors. (Don’t worry; non-heated classes are also available!)
While there’s plenty to keep a person busy in Thornton itself, there are also so many wonderful places to see and discover in the greater Denver area — many of which lend themselves easily to quick day trips or afternoon getaways. Here are some suggestions for those of you who feel like you’ve just gotta get out of dodge.
Although it’s only an hour and change away, Colorado Springs offers a totally different view of this colorful state — and is particularly well known for the red rock formations that make up Garden of the Gods. That’s just the beginning, though; wander through the quaint streets of the neighboring town of Manitou or try your hands (and feet, and heart) on the challenging Manitou Incline. There’s so much here to see and do!
If you’re planning on making your way into Rocky Mountain National Park, you can’t miss a stop off at this gateway town, famous for its beautiful, idyllic streets — as well as for a slightly creepier reason. You see, the Stanley Hotel here in Estes Park was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining… but don’t worry! Nothing quite so scary has happened here in real life. (And the hedge maze out front is a lot less intimidating.)
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Thornton that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Thornton? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.