Perched against the majestic Rocky Mountains, Denver offers a sleek, modern vibe while also maintaining the historic air of an American West capital city. Just a few hours’ drive from some of the most spectacular national parks in the U.S., the city of Denver also has plenty of things to do, including lovely parks, elegant shopping and dining, and countless entertainment opportunities.
I’ve been to Denver twice. The first time was in 2004, when I had the chance to explore the city itself. In 2011, I returned with a group of family and friends, and spent time in some of the nearby parks, soaking in the beauty of the mountains.
Many visitors to Denver just zip through on their way to skiing or camping vacations in the mountains. That’s too bad, because the “Mile-High City” has so much to offer. It’s easy to navigate, and has several wonderful museums and parks, fantastic restaurants, and vibrant entertainment.
Botanic Gardens. With over 15,000 plants from around the world, this is a dream for gardening enthusiasts and photographers. In addition to the flower displays, it features a cozy cafe, serene Japanese garden, the educational OmniGlobe exhibit, and more.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. Situated among slabs of rock jutting out from the mountains, this is an absolutely stunning venue for concerts.
LoDo. Local slang for “Lower Downtown Historical District,” LoDo is the cultural heart of Denver. It consists of 25 blocks of amazing restaurants, boutiques, nightclubs, and more. This district also lies right next to historic Larimer Square, made famous in Jack Kerouac’s Beat novel, On the Road.
About 70 miles south of Denver, this town is the jumping-off point for visits to majestic Pikes Peak. It is also home to the Air Force Academy, as well as a number of parks and historic sites.
Pikes Peak Highway. Starting about 15 miles outside town, this drive (two or three hours, round trip) takes visitors all the way up to the top of this historic mountain, whose summit reaches 14,000 feet. The alpine scenery is gorgeous, and the panoramic vistas are simply unforgettable!
Garden of the Gods. This complex jumble of weird rock formations is practically in town. It offers amazing hiking and photo opportunities, including some interesting views of Pikes Peak.
Manitou Springs. A small historic district just outside Colorado Springs, this village has a funky, artsy vibe. Countless neat little shops and restaurants line the old streets. Don’t forget to check out the Pikes Peak Cog Rail as it clambers up and down the mountainside.
Colorado is home to many grand parks teeming with wildlife and breathtaking scenery. From its location at the intersection of the region’s biggest highways, Denver makes the perfect launching point to get you to and from your pick of fun sporting activities and superb photo ops in the great outdoors.
Remember that the high altitude here means the air is very thin. Take it easy, or you’ll be out of breath in no time!
Estes Park. Just 90 miles from Denver, this town is nestled in the heart of the Rockies. A huge range of outdoor activities are on offer here, including scenic drives, snowshoeing, fishing, rock-climbing, hiking, and ice skating. The park also supports a quaint village that has many independently owned and operated stores and restaurants where visitors can enjoy locally made food, arts, and crafts.
Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated right next to Estes Park to the east, this national park has 300 miles of hiking trails. A popular destination, Trail Ridge Road, takes travelers up to an elevation of 12,183 feet, where they can get in a hike and soak in some jaw-dropping scenic vistas. While on a trip here in 2011, my friend and I made the trek up to Dream Lake, climbing over patches of still-frozen snow under the hot July sun to get there. Our companions were impatient with the wait, but the amazing views of the lake were well worth it!