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Sipping a drink after an adventure—in the woods, on the water, or up a steep cliff—holds a special place for Coloradans. It’s the exclamation mark of any outdoor escapade, signaling a triumphant return to the comforts of home. But sometimes a lukewarm banquet in the parking lot at the trailhead just isn’t enough. You need an ice-cold sip, a friendly bartender, and the kind of burger that requires a two-handed approach.
These 10 post-trip watering holes have all of that, plus specialty drinks, outdoor patios, and even karaoke. They’re the kind of places where you can wear your chacos with no apologies and get the Broncos game score before heading back to town. They are wonderfully inconspicuous – and often hidden on country roads or lonely motorways. But however obscure they may be, these watering holes offer a very tangible reward. Bottom up!
We’d forgive you for stepping the fare around a corner at one of these places, but it would be in vain at the Windjammer Roadhouse, a true Texas smokehouse that towers over Loveland’s Carter Lake Reservoir. Here, campers and boaters (and motorcyclists) enjoy slow-cooked pit barbecues (brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and sausage) that eclipse many of the smoked fare offered closer to Denver. (Also nice: bucket of Bud Steps from the marina.) Grab a low table to watch karaoke performances enhanced by drinks from the fountain, or grab a picnic table on the patio when the namesake gusts of the restaurant, the low hanging sun disappears behind the spruce trees. 3431 S. County Road 31, Loveland
Tucked away at the end of I-70’s Floyd Hill, Two Bears Tap and Grill is where you might notice—and then move on. Big mistake. Gigantic. Instead of screaming back to the plains after whitewater rafting down Clear Creek or climbing Grays and Torreys peaks, risk it at this humble-looking roadhouse. We suggest pulling up a stool at the wooden bar or a chair on the expansive mountainside terrace, ordering fried cucumber chips and the green-chili moose sausage, and washing them down with an icy draft beer. 33295 US 6, Idaho Springs
We think the slogan for this Fort Collins biker bar should be: Near Horsetooth Reservoir, closer to heaven. After a day of flowing singletrack in the high desert, you might agree. Located across County Road 38 from the seven-mile gem, Canyon Grill serves up big ol’ burgers and pizzas and an array of delicious sides (fried pickles, bottle caps, jalapeño poppers) that will fill up a ravenous mountain biker or trail runner. A dark dining room is a welcome respite for crunchy boaters, but the patio is hard to beat when the Misters are pumping and a live band is jamming in front of a Landshark Lager surfboard. Grab a wrought-iron table next to the flower boxes, which are overflowing with pink and white blooms this time of year. 4791 W. County Road 38 E, Fort Collins
If you’ve lived in Colorado for any length of time, you should know the Mish. If you have and haven’t, shame on you missed one of the Centennial State’s last perfect spots. For more than 100 years, this riverside oasis with a bar, restaurant and concert venue has offered Poudre Canyon adventurers a place to put their (usually dirty) feet up after a day of hiking, fishing or whitewater rafting be able . Grab an Odell’s, a grilled buffalo burger, and take a seat on the expansive, umbrella-lined patio overlooking the rushing Poudre River. 13714 Poudre Canyon Highway, Bellvue
Less than a football field from the South Platte River (and the adjacent cobbled path), this decades-old Littleton icon is everything you want in a roadhouse – and more. Featuring two indoor bars, an extensive range of macro and micro beers and spirits, a raised terrace with umbrellas, live music five days a week, and a Mexican menu, Platte River Bar & Grill is just what you need after a day of boating on nearby Chatfield Reservoir or wetting a line on South Platte. Don’t miss Happy Hour, which actually lasts four hours – from 2pm to 6pm Monday to Friday. 5995 S Santa Fe Drive, Littleton
Like a siren’s call to hikers leaving the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the $3 Covered Wagon boasts domestic dishes and a menu of burgers and sammies south of $14 (and a dessert menu, too). As you would expect of any establishment in Ned, it’s downright charming, with an old piano, mining tools and an old cigarette machine. Browse the antiques, then park tired legs outside at an umbrella-covered picnic bench for food and several beers. 15 E. First St., The Netherlands
The family-friendly Arapahoe Café in Dillon may be famous for its down-to-earth breakfast menu, but it has a secret: The Pub Down Under. Tucked under the café, you’ll find a stool at the corrugated iron-clad bar — plus everything a good diver needs, including $5 Coors Light Drafts and PBR Tall Boys, a selection of craft brews, access to the full menu upstairs, and Special menu available for bar patrons only (go to the Philly Cheesesteak). It’s also cool and dark – a perfect getaway from the sun after a long day on the water. 626 Lake Dillon Avenue, Dillon
Head over Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge and land in America’s tallest saloon on tiny Mount Alma. Nestled in the shadow of 14 mountains, Mt. Democrat, Mt. Cameron, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Bross, the South Park Saloon offers hungry peak diggers and leaf scouts a menu that belies its old-fashioned, Western exterior. A tri-tip cheesesteak, blackened cod tacos, and a BLTA with aioli on challah bread highlight the offerings. At the bar, drinks are equally excellent: alongside the cocktails, you’ll find spirits from the nearby Breckenridge Distillery, and between the taps, brews from the Upslope, Left Hand, and South Park breweries. 24 N. Main St., Alma
Don’t blink or you might miss this. Hidden among the conifers on a secluded stretch of Highway 285, this roadhouse is amazingly random. In a sense, so does the menu, which includes a 14-hour beef brisket, braised pork, and Cajun-spiced shrimp. It’s both the best and only fare out there, so fill up your tank (and fill the crevices with $4 worth of Fat Tire) in a low-top interior before heading back to the Front Range drive. 50455 U.S. 285, Grant
The first five menu items at Emerald Isle are served in baskets — a delivery method that suggests plenty of fried food, something any low-calorie, jaded camper or paddler can get behind. Dine on the sun-drenched patio overlooking Cherry Creek Rez, or lounge indoors, where there are pool tables and TVs (and great game-day drink specials). Stock up on wings, shrimp, fries, onion rings, or cucumber chips, but save room for dinner: Emerald Isle’s Mexican menu is extensive. 4385 S. Parker Road, Aurora