Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and for good reason. Set against the iconic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, the Mile High City boasts a number of places to enjoy Colorado’s incredible natural beauty and unique culture. Whether you’re looking to experience Denver’s exciting urbanscape or get your boots dirty exploring the local area’s natural wonders, the Mile High City has something for everyone. So for those looking to discover the best of the West, be sure to check out these spots.
River North Art District (RiNo)
Located on the Northern side of downtown along the banks of the South Platte River, Denver’s RiNo district is one of the city’s hottest up-and-coming areas. Breweries, contemporary art galleries and trendy restaurants have taken over the old industrial buildings that line the River, creating an artsy urban vibe. The area is probably best known for its expansive murals that adorn the buildings and alleyways along Upper Larimer Street. On the first Friday of every month from 6-9PM, many of the area’s vendors transform into art galleries or live music venues for the First Friday Art Walk. This is a great opportunity to experience the local art scene while enjoying some of Colorado’s famous microbrews.
Denver Botanic Gardens
For an activity open year-round, check out the Denver Botanic Gardens just two miles south of the city center. The facilities are comprised of 24 lush acres of both local and nonnative flora. There are 50 different gardens to explore, with everything from a traditional Japanese bonsai garden to exotic tropical paradises. For music lovers, there’s also a sunken amphitheater that features concerts and entertainment throughout the summer. Art connoisseurs will appreciate the variety of sculptures located throughout the exhibits, as well as occasional talks from local artists. The Gardens also offer a variety of educational programs for all ages, making this an attraction the whole family can enjoy.
Just a few miles away from the Botanic Gardens is a favorite weekend hangout spot for locals. Spanning 165 acres, Wash Park boasts expansive green lawns, two lakes, playgrounds, a rec center and tennis courts. In the summer, the park offers a variety of free events, such as festivals or live music at the boathouse. Additionally, the park is in close proximity to plenty of awesome local restaurants, shops and hangouts. So whether you want to rent a boat, jog around the lakes or simply soak up that famous Colorado sunshine, there are options here for everyone.
Molly Brown House
One of Denver’s most famous residents was the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, a prominent socialite and survivor of Titanic’s sinking in 1912. During the events of the infamous sinking, Molly Brown encouraged Lifeboat No. 6 to return to the site of the tragedy and search for survivors. Her actions and later work as a philanthropist cemented her place in history as a hero. Today, her residence in Denver has been restored and converted into a museum where visitors can learn about her legacy and experience what life was like in the early 1900’s. Occasionally, the museum offers special events such as high tea or themed dinners which offer an alternative and fun way to experience history.
Just Outside the City
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
Those lucky enough to catch a show at Red Rocks often hail it as the top tier of concert experiences. Listening to live music under the stars in an amphitheater carved from the earth and set against the backdrop of Denver’s skyline is an experience unlike any other. Even if you’re not able to catch a show, the legendary venue is still worth checking out. Red Rocks is open to the public during daylight hours, where you can check out the iconic amphitheater or explore the surrounding foothills on one of the many adjacent trails. Hike, bike or even saddle-up on one of the area’s multi-use trails and enjoy sweeping views of both Denver and the foothills. Be aware that the area closes early on event days so be sure to check trail closures and park info before heading out.
Up the road a few miles from Red Rocks is another legendary Colorado locale. Dinosaur Ridge is a National Natural Landmark that is hailed by paleontologists as being the #1 location for fossilized dinosaur tracks in the world. Both Red Rocks and Dinosaur Ridge are part of the Morrison Formation, a geologic area rich in prehistoric history. Hike around the Ridge to find numerous rows of dinosaur tracks, trace fossils, a volcanic ash-bed and even fossilized ripples from when Colorado was covered by a prehistoric ocean during the Cretaceous period. Get out of the museum and experience fossils in their natural setting in this educational and fun experience for the whole family.
Buffalo Bill’s Grave and Museum
If you’re looking to experience a piece of Colorado’s Wild West past, head about 20 miles outside of downtown Denver to visit a museum dedicated to one of the West’s most legendary figures: Buffalo Bill. Upon his death in 1917, Buffalo Bill was buried atop Lookout Mountain in the city of Golden as per his request. The museum was founded a few years later in 1921 by close friend Johnny Foster, where it has continued to keep the legend of the West’s greatest showman alive almost 100 years later. Like many Colorado attractions, the museum is complemented by the surrounding area’s natural beauty. The location offers sweeping views of both the plains and the Continental Divide, and even boasts a local herd of bison.
Always wanted to stand at the top of one of Colorado’s famous 14ers but forgot your hiking boots? Drive the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, located a little less than an hour outside of downtown Denver. Open roughly from Memorial Day through mid October (weather permitting), this “road to the sky” takes you all the way to the 14,264 foot summit of Mount Evans. While the destination is an experience in itself, be sure to take your time on the journey there. The Byway is the highest paved road in North America, climbing 9,000 feet through beautiful forests, alpine lakes and lush fields of wildflowers in early summer. Additionally, there are several scenic viewpoints that overlook the Rockies and offer the opportunity to spot elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and marmots.
Hire a Guide
If you want to take the guesswork and planning out of your trip to the Mile High City, Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides offers customizable Denver area tours that feature some of these spots and more. We can provide transportation, local knowledge, history and an extra set of hands for picture-taking to create a fun and stress-free experience for you and your loved ones. For more information, click this link or contact us at 720-573-6010 to set up a tour.
- Written by Hayley Moser. Adventurer and Fly Fishing, Backpacking, and Hiking Guide for Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides.