With its incredible scenery and National Parks, bustling hip cities with thriving foodie scenes, and outdoor sports for all types of weather, Colorado has something for everyone.
Colorado is a place for all seasons, drawing visitors to its peaks and valleys to push the boundaries in the outdoors. Most famous for its mountains, which offer pristine skiing in the winder and a range of outdoor activities on foot, bike, or stream in the summer, there’s never a shortage of ways to enjoy recreation, no matter how active you hope to be. And with a rising food hall movement, vibrant theatre and arts, and laid-back nightlife, Denver and the state’s other urban areas command attention as well.
The state has experienced rapid growth over the past decade in both population and tourism. Fortunately, whether you hope to go urban or escape into the wild backcountry, there’s no shortage of areas to explore. Here are 33 ways to get the party started.
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Ride Into Union Station
A grand common area, lined with trendy shops, pubs, and cafes on the garden level and the boutique Crawford Hotel above, make this recently remodeled train depot among the city’s must-see attractions. The station’s role as both a major transport hub and hip commercial center make Union Station a true taste of Europe in the heart of Denver. Locals mingle with visitors passing through over elevated pub food and fine cocktails at Terminal Bar, often bringing drinks and conversation out into the open common area complete with lounge chairs, shuffleboard tables, and a personality that blends the flare of old Denver with the trendiness of this quickly modernizing city. Ride into the station on the A-Line from Denver International Airport, have your fill, and head off to points across the city on the newly expanded light rail system.
See a Concert at Red Rocks
In true Colorado fashion, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre takes the live music experience to new heights. Set against the backdrop of Denver’s sparkling skyline, concert-goers watch music’s biggest names perform in a venue flanked by massive boulders. Getting to the venue is a bit of a trek even from the closest parking lots, but the experience is well worth climbing a few sets of chairs. Legends including The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and U2 have graced the stage, and to this day Blues Traveler performs an annual Fourth of July party with unparalleled views of the fireworks shows happening across the city.
Take in a Show at the Denver Performing Arts Complex
The anchor of Denver’s Theatre District is the expansive Denver Performing Arts Complex, which hosts big-name Broadway shows in renowned venues including the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and the Buell Theatre. The 2019 season welcomes Broadway staple Dear Evan Hansen, complete with Betty Buckley as Dolly, along with a slew of other performances that attract theatre fanatics from across state lines. The complex is also home to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Opera, along with plenty of dining options for both pre-and-post show.
Eat Green Chile on Federal Blvd
Denver does Mexican cuisine as well as any city this side of the border. Federal Blvd runs north to south through town and is lined with many of the state’s best options, from sit-down to street food. To eat like a local, the staple addition to any dish is green chile. Chile Verde has the best in town, with splurge-worthy options also available just a couple blocks up at Santiago’s, home of the best breakfast burrito in Denver–an honorable title to hold, as many locals consider the breakfast burrito to be Denver’s unofficial official meal.
Soak and Massage at Pagosa Hot Springs
Colorado takes hot springs quite seriously and nowhere is this more evident than in the quiet mountain town of Pagosa Springs. Home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, The Springs Resort and Spa offers more than 20 mineral baths of varying temperatures, alongside a mineral swimming pool and relaxing day spa. For the full Scandinavian experience, hop out of the hot pools and take a quick dip in the adjacent San Juan River–you’ll feel the stress and toxins flood out of the body as you hurry back to the warmth of the resort’s legendary Lobster Pot.
Drink Wine in Palisade
Colorado’s wine country in Palisade offers the perfect complement to the rugged cliff lines and frontier spirit of the Western Slope. The region first became famous for its peaches, which still grow in abundance, but these days the wine is an equal draw. To do it like a local, rent a bicycle from Rapid Creek Cycles and pedal your way between a few of the more than 20 wineries nestled close by in the Grand Valley. For those whose sense of direction scampers off after a few sips, organized tours are available. You can also float your way between wineries on a scenic raft trip down the Colorado River. If you’re in town in mid-September, be sure to stop by the Colorado Mountain Winefest and sample the goods without having to move between the wineries themselves.
Peruse the Galleries on Santa Fe Drive
The Arts District on Santa Fe, Denver’s long-standing hub of art, music, and culture, throws the biggest party in town on the first Friday of each month. From 5:30-9:30 pm, artists and shop owners prop open their doors and welcome guests, both locals and tourists alike, inside to view nearly every type of art imaginable. Street musicians keep the scene lively outside, and a diverse collection of food trucks park curbside on nearly every corner along the eight-block stretch. You may find yourself tempted into certain shops by the promise of a free glass of wine. Either way, you’re bound to find both visual and musical masterpieces that strike your fancy as you meander along the boulevard. The streets are lined with revelers year-round, but the scene is especially popping during the summer and autumn months when nights are warmer and the sun sets late over the mountains to the west.
Float Down the Arkansas River
The run-off from winter storms fuels a series of rivers which wind their way through Colorado’s many small mountain towns. They attract a loyal following of outdoor enthusiasts, both anglers and river runners, and perhaps nowhere is the culture more vibrant than in the town of Salida, just east of Highways 50 and 285 in the central part of the state. Rafting on the Arkansas River is an established past time here, and floating through the Royal Gorge Park, underneath the giant suspension bridge 1,053 feet above and with towering rock canyon walls on either side, is the river experience of a lifetime. Fortunately, they sell postcards in the gift shop because you won’t want to risk dropping your camera as you make your way down the whitewater.
Sample the Cuisine of Top Chefs at Avanti F&B
Avanti F&B is the poster child of Denver’s growing culinary movement, a sprawling food hall in the trendy LoHi neighborhood where the city’s most renowned chefs prepare cuisines side-by-side in a relaxed, informal setting. The kitchens, outfitted shipping containers arranged collectively in an open setting to offer easy viewing for ravenous eyes (and, of course, to allow the scents of the kitchens to seduce your taste buds from across the room.) To do it right, clear your schedule and come hungry. The goal is to turn your experience into a multi-stop quest, sampling a number of previously unpublished plates before they become staples at brick-and-mortar restaurants throughout town. The bar offers cocktails and wine to pair, and the view of the skyline from the expansive top-floor balcony is unrivaled.
Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is home to four National Parks, none more revered than the towering peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated between the towns of Grand Lake to the west and Estes Park to the east, the park is home to over 265,000 acres of pristine (and protected) natural splendor. For a warm-up, try the Emerald Lake Hike. This 3.5-mile trek takes you to its namesake lake from the Bear Lake Trailhead, gaining only 650 feet in elevation along the way and is the perfect spot to stop for a picnic before heading back to the parking lot. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Timberline Falls hike. Over the course of eight miles, you’ll witness not only the stunning waterfall itself but incredible views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, and maybe even a bit of wildlife: deer, elk, and moose are populous and visible throughout the park. After you’ve hiked to your fill, drive over the majestic 48-mile Trail Ridge Road from west to east, snap a few photos of Sundance Mountain, and spend the night in Estes Park’s famed Stanley Hotel, the inspiration behind the classic movie The Shining.
Drink the Evening in at Steamboat’s Sunset Happy Hour
The higher up you go, the better the sunset looks. Or maybe that’s the cocktail speaking. Either way, bringing in the evening at 9,100 feet from the Thunderhead station atop Steamboat Resort’s year-round gondola is never a bad idea. The ride up costs $15, free if you have a season pass or other specialty lift ticket, and includes $5 towards food and beverage once you arrive. Happy hour takes place most every day but does tend to get busy. The event starts at 5 pm, but show up early to guarantee yourself a seat with a view.