Mountain taste stops

From Ward to Wondervu, your guide to tasty roadside food attractions near Boulder


If you want to know where the best pit stops are in the tiny mountain towns west of Boulder, ask a serious bicyclist. After climbing the winding canyons for several hours, the riders know where to take a breather, grab a beverage and massage their cramping calves. 

You may have whizzed by the following tasty Rocky Mountain roadside attractions—dots on a map—without even knowing they were just off the road. 

Here is a guide to some of our favorite places to take a break in quiet places like Jamestown, Ferncliff, Wondervu, Rollinsville and Ward.

We’ve included approximate driving times, but depending on day of week, time of day, traffic and summer road repairs, your drive may take longer. 

As you visit these tiny rural spots, be kind. These are not chain eateries.
They are having trouble finding employees, getting supplies and dealing with rising food prices. As they are often the only eatery in town, there’s sometimes a wait. Relax, enjoy the scenery and have a cinnamon roll, Colorado’s designated roadside pastry. 

Gold Hill

(Driving time from Boulder: About 30 minutes)

The ride is exciting enough on Sunshine Canyon’s dirt roads, but when you pull into Gold Hill’s Main Street you step back in time. 

At an 8,400-foot elevation, the small village has two main attractions. For a quick stop, visit the rustic Gold Hill General Store. It’s a combination mountain market, gift store, bar, music venue and cafe. The menu includes house-made pastries including some excellent pies paired with coffee drinks and chai or cocktails. On the savory side are quiche, chicken pot pie and pizza.

A few yards down the street is the venerable Gold Hill Inn. The Finn family has been feeding families seasonally for 60 years and hosting live music in the old wooden bar room with its two fireplaces. You can order smaller meals in the bar or out in the backyard, or settle in for one of the famous multi-course meals. The inn’s classic entrees range from bacon-wrapped beef tournedos with hunter sauce to roast lamb with rosemary sauce. Meals conclude with dessert, coffee and selections from a cheese and fruit tray. 


(Driving time from Boulder: About 30 minutes)

The Jamestown Mercantile is the center of everything in that small mountain town and a magnet for passing cyclists and motorists. The Merc’s menu includes breakfast and lunch items and dinner specials. Sunday brunch entrees are topped by smoked trout with eggs, greens, tomato salad, potatoes, dill cream and ciabatta toast. Beverages range from local craft beer and scratch-made lemonade to coffee and Julian’s Cliffhouse Kombucha, made in “Jimtown.” Live music is on tap almost every night of the week, especially Fridays when The Merc’s famous wood-fired pizza is featured.


(Driving time from Boulder: About 40 minutes)

If you are headed to hike at Brainard Lake and passing through Ward, the only place to stop is Jackleggers Mercantile. The historic building is a gas-and-convenience stop dishing coffee, snacks and hot food, including elk bratwurst, chili cheese burritos and blueberry muffins. 

Head out of Ward on Highway 72 to find a classic Colorado mountain roadside eatery: The Millsite Inn. Bikers and drivers stop in for a biscuit and gravy breakfast, burgers, French dip sandwiches, pizza, ice cream shakes or house-baked desserts.  

Pastries from New Moon Bakery in Nederland.


(Driving time from Boulder: About 30 minutes)

At the top of Boulder Canyon, Nederland is a bigger small town with loads of food and drink options including Crosscut Pizzeria, Roasted Toad barbecue, Kathmandu Restaurant and Decent Bagel. Our favorite quick stop before hitting the Peak to Peak Highway is New Moon Bakery. It’s hard not to love the wide array of pastries—everything from cinnamon rolls and muffins to scones and the nearly irresistible glazed, crunchy-chewy monkey bread. The menu also features pre-hike quiche, smoothies, and breakfast sandwiches.


(Driving time from Boulder: About 40 minutes)

Rollinsville passes in a blink of an eye as you are driving or riding between Nederland and Central City on Highway 119. It’s well worth taking a break to taste the individualistic ales at Howlin Wind Brewing & Blending. The tiny hometown brewery is also home to Melt Coffee, a micro-roastery and espresso bar that also serves pastries, burritos and baked goods.


(Driving time from Boulder: About 40 minutes)

The postal address for Wondervu Cafe & Gifts is Golden, but this cool eatery is nowhere near the foothills flatlands. Wondervu is a bend in the road in Coal Creek Canyon with a stunning view of the Divide. This longtime attraction and community gathering spot dishes a full menu of Mexican favorites, from street tacos and chimichangas to sopaipillas and butter-garlic-sauteed shrimp with enchiladas.

Down Coal Creek Canyon is the Last Stand Tavern, a sports bar with a lovely patio and a full menu of starters like wings and pierogies and overloaded sandwiches. 

Eldorado Springs

(Driving time from Boulder: About 10 minutes)

It’s one-stop shopping at the Eldorado Corner Market on CO-93 just south of Boulder. The shop pumps gas, sells wine and snacks, and displays some very cool vehicles to attract visitors on their way to Eldorado State Park. Frankly, the “Fresh Fudge” sign pulls us in at least once every summer for creamy squares of chocolate-walnut sweetness.  


(Driving time from Boulder: About 25 minutes)

Lyons is home to a wide range of worthy food choices including Mojo Taqueria, Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew, the legendary Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, the Lyons Dairy Bar and artisan bakery Moxie Mercantile. One surprising favorite is the small, roadside Julie’s Thai Kitchen where you can sample such distinctive entrees as bone-in roasted chicken panang in a fiery red curry with steamed basmati rice. The Thongsoontorn family also serves wonderfully thin, crispy egg rolls filled with bean thread noodles and cashew-strewn pad Himmaphan stir fry. For a cool summer treat, enjoy house-made coconut ice cream, fresh mango and sticky rice. 

A cinnamon roll from Ferncliff Food & Fuel.


(Driving time from Boulder:
About 60 minutes)

The town of Ferncliff is just a pull-off on the scenic highway between Nederland and Estes Park, but it boasts two worthwhile stops. Ferncliff Food & Fuel is one of those all-purpose mountain establishments. What sets it apart are the home-baked goodies, especially the heavily frosted giant cinnamon rolls. Sit yourself by a creek and slowly unroll one of these beauties alongside a cup of good coffee. 

Next door in Ferncliff, Cliffside Tacos offers legit Mexican street food with killer salsas, mainly for takeout.


(Driving time from Boulder: About 65 minutes)

A stones’-thrown from Ferncliff is the slightly larger town of Allenspark. The must-stop here is the landmark Meadow Mountain Cafe, a small place with limited seating but a great menu. The eatery is known for its Spanish huevos rancheros with chorizo, asparagus and eggs and The Elvis: pancakes containing bacon, banana and peanut butter. The lunch menu includes The Otto Burger (topped with green chile) and the vegetarian Crystal Springs Sandwich. The latter is named after the famous free natural spring in Allenspark adorned with the sign: “Let Those Who Thirst Be Our Guest.” 

Across the street from the spring’s water tap, the former Fawn Brook Inn has been reborn as Rock Creek Tavern
& Pizzeria. 

The Meadown Mountain Cafe in Allenstown

Estes Park

(Driving time from Boulder: About 75 minutes)

The gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park has no shortage of eateries in various cuisines, plus salt water taffy shops and the self-explanatory Beef Jerky Experience. Our choice in Estes Park is the venerable You Need Pie! diner. Besides dishing slices of a dozen freshly baked pies, a diner menu is available offering breakfast through evening comfort food favorites. Recently, the diner branched out to open The Daily Doughnut, an all-day fresh doughnut factory in Estes Park. 

John Lehndorff is the food editor of Boulder Weekly and host of Radio Nibbles on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at 


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