Denver done right: 10 highlights of the Mile-High City
Whitewater rafting, ice climbing, ziplining... We've wrangled the wildest activities for the buckin’ best Denver experience.
With a location at the base of the Rocky Mountains and about 300 days of sunshine each year, it's no wonder that Denver is known for its outdoor activities. The trails, mountains, and rivers are spectacular in this area. Spend the day hiking, biking, or kayaking, and then refuel at one of the city’s innovative restaurants. Unwind with a locally-made craft beer, or try some of that other now-legal product. Whatever your taste, we’ve got an experience that will spark your interest.
1. Paddle the South Platte River
Flowing through the heart of Denver, the South Platte River is perfect for kayaking. Start your trip at Chatfield Dam in South Platte Park and float your way to Confluence Park in the city's downtown. The rapids at Confluence Park were designed for playboating—that's kayak-speak for performing various technical maneuvers in one place. For a more adrenaline-charged outing, try an inflatable kayak trip with Browns Canyon Rafting on the nearby Arkansas River. Their water-savvy instructors will wash away any newbie worries, so that you’ll be able to tackle the churning whitewater rapids like a pro.
2. Go Like Bigfoot: Snowshoe Rocky Mountain National Park
When winter brings snow to Colorado’s hiking trails and alpine tundra, strap on some snowshoes and experience the quiet beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park covered in white. Rangers in the park lead free snowshoe ecology tours on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday from October to March. If you’re on your own, try snowshoeing around Bear Lake, a rockier, more challenging route through spruce and fir forests around the base of Hallett Peak. Head to Kawuneeche Valley to see some wildlife. “Kawuneeche” is the Arapaho word for coyote, and you’re likely to see elk and moose there, too.
3. Discover a Cycling Culture Ahead of the Curve
Denver has over 850 miles of paved, off-road bike trails and hundreds more miles of dirt trails for mountain biking. It's no surprise that bike culture is huge in this city. Experience Denver biking for yourself with B-Cycle, the city's bike-sharing program. The program has 87 stations scattered throughout the city and over 700 bikes available for use: Just check out a bike at a B-Cycle station and return it to any station when you're done. Try the Greenway Trail, which runs along the South Platte River. The historic markers placed along the trail will give you the inside scoop on the area's past.
Take your wheels to the mountains at Buffalo Creek Recreation Area, a well-known spot to get your flying-down-a-mountain adrenaline rush, located only one hour west from Denver. There you’ll find mountain biking spots for all skill levels on sculpted trails through surreal burnt forest landscapes, steep rocky inclines on granite slopes, and technical routes that feel like roller coasters through thick timber forests.
4. Gourmet Finds Can Be Had in Breweries
When it comes to the number of craft beer and microbreweries per capita, Denver tops the charts. Breweries like Copper Kettle and Hogshead are making a name for themselves with imaginative concoctions that even beer snobs love. Want to check out some of the best local craft beers? Grab a friend, leave the keys at home, and hop on a truly Magic Bus for a full-day brewery bus tour. Think of it as a field trip that involves cold, frosty, alcoholic beverages. On Saturdays, the Colorado Brewery Bus heads for Fort Collins; on Sundays, it goes to Boulder-Longmont. Regardless of the route, you'll sample the suds at four different breweries.
5. Fitness With A View
Located about 15 miles southwest of Denver, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre is known for its incredible views, natural acoustics ... and awesome group workouts. That's right: Red Rocks boot camp sessions are an amazing way to get fit in the country's greatest outdoor auditorium. With 192 stairs, 69 rows of bleachers, and natural terrain at your disposal, these workouts aren't lacking for challenges. The fresh mountain air and gorgeous views will keep you motivated in between sets.
6. Careen through the evergreens on a Zipline
If you like your outdoor activities to come with a side of thrills, take your Denver experience to the next level with a zip line tour through Denver Adventures. The three-hour outing begins with a drive to a nature park 8,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains. After a safety briefing, it's time to scream along a series of six different zip lines, each ranging from 850 to 1,900 feet in length and reaching heights of 230 feet off the ground. You’ll hurtle through evergreen treetops at 50 miles per hour, looking down at the valley below. Feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins as you zip along some of Colorado's fastest and longest rides. When you're done, relax with a local brew at the nearby tavern, Colorado’s Best Beers, in the town of Conifer.
7. Tie In, Lace Up, and Ice Climb Away
If you’re visiting Colorado, you can’t leave without climbing some mountains. Why not take it up a notch and climb mountains on ice? East Vail, a small community two hours west of Denver, is home to some of the best ice climbing in the Rocky Mountains. With routes ranging from 30 to more than 100 feet high, it’s a perfect spot for first-timers and seasoned pros. Get ready to stick your axe into frozen waterfalls and snowy crevices as you climb to high-up views of the Rockies and Vail Valley below. Once the ice gets in your veins, strap on your crampons and spend a weekend at one of the world’s premier ice-climbing destinations, Ouray Ice Park, a five-hour drive southwest from Denver.
8. Open Up to your Western Side
Discover your inner cowboy at a dude ranch. These working ranches give visitors a taste of life in the Old West, without the cheesy kitsch of typical tourist attractions. Try Cherokee Park Ranch in nearby Livermore. You’ll bond with one of their 120 horses as you ride through the mountains and wrangle cows together. You can take a roping lesson, try your hand at cattle team penning, and square dance the night away. Yeehaw!
9. Find Big Grins & Rapid Wins While Whitewater Rafting
You haven’t experienced Colorado until you’ve hit the rapids. Luckily, Clear Creek, one of the most exciting rafting rivers in the state, is just a 30-minute drive from Denver’s city center. Choose from trips that are perfect for beginners, or challenge yourself with a more adventurous section. Along with the whitewater thrills, you’ll be treated to some stunning scenery—if you can catch your breath long enough to look around. The creek runs through a historic mining valley below a series of four 14,000-foot peaks. Along the riverbank, keep your eyes out for muskrats, deer, and mountain lions.
10. Get the Lowdown on Denver's High-Flying Pot Scene
Whether you inhale or not, you can enjoy a truly "mile high" experience on one of the city's many marijuana tours. Join Colorado Cannabis Tours and gain exclusive access to Medicine Man Denver’s 40,000-square-foot growing operation and learn how bongs are made in a glassblowing demonstration. See just how sophisticated cannabis has become with Cultivating Spirits. Their food-wine-and-weed tour pairs gourmet meals with fine wines and locally-grown small-batch cannabis. You might not be able to take a souvenir home with you, but you'll never forget the trip. (Actually, depending on the weed, you might not remember it at all.)