The Best Places to Visit in Denver, Colorado

Garden of the Gods Park is a National Natural Landmark and the most popular attraction in the region
Garden of the Gods Park is a National Natural Landmark and the most popular attraction in the region | © Ian Baldwin / Unsplash
Photo of Siobhan Grogan
9 October 2020

From museums to mountains, Denver’s big-ticket attractions, diverse neighborhoods and staggering natural beauty make it ideal for a city break with a difference.

Denver is so much more than the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. Its vibrant neighborhoods are crammed with craft beer breweries, independent galleries and artisan coffee shops, yet skiing, rafting, hiking and kayaking are all in easy reach if you yearn to escape the city streets. Nicknamed the Mile High City due to its elevation above sea level, Colorado’s capital is warmed by even more hours of sun each year than Miami Beach, making it easy for you to get out and about and enjoy Denver’s diverse delights.

Denver’s foothills

Natural Feature
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The Rocky Mountains may be Colorado’s very own showstoppers, but there are challenging hikes and killer city views in easier reach from Denver’s foothills. Just 12mi from the city itself, the mountains are smaller than the Rockies and rise to 11,000ft at their highest. Drive the scenic Lariat Loops to wind through foothills, canyons and historic towns within fragrant pine forests.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park

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Bear Lake - A stormy autumn afternoon at Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado, USA.
© Sean Xu / Alamy Stock Photo
Encounter elk, chipmunks, coyote and raccoons in Estes Park, a mountain town about 90mi northwest of Denver and the ideal base camp for adventures in the Rocky Mountains. Surrounded by soaring peaks, verdant valleys and gurgling rivers, Estes Park is an adventurer’s dream, with nearby hiking trails, lakes for kayaking and slopes for skiing and snowshoeing on the doorstep.

Pikes Peak

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Fresh snow blankets the forest at the base of Majestic Pikes Peak Colorado.
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
For views to take your breath away, Pikes Peak should not be missed. The imposing 14,115ft peak is America’s most famous mountain, and is known for inspiring Katharine Lee Bates to write America the Beautiful. Its alpine scenery, sun-dappled reservoirs and cloud-covered trails aren’t just for mountain climbers, either; the safe 19mi Pike Peak Highway means everyone can reach the summit, and when you get there you can spot five states (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Kansas) on a clear day.

Red Rocks, Evergreen and Echo Lake

Music Venue, Natural Feature
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Picnic Rock, red sandstone rocks, Red Rocks Park, Denver, Colorado, USA
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Red Rocks Park is just 15mi from Denver, but it feels like another planet. Its unique rust-colored sandstone outcrops stand taller than Niagara Falls and have been designated a National Historic Landmark, forming a natural amphitheater that has hosted the likes of the Beatles and U2. From there, visit the charming mountain town of Evergreen or hike the scenic trail around Echo Lake at the base of Mount Evans highway, the highest paved road in North America.

Downtown Denver

Architectural Landmark
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Downtown Denver, Colorado. Image shot 07/2014. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Downtown Denver doesn’t waste an inch. In a compact one-mile radius, this walkable, attraction-filled area boasts a clutch of museums and an aquarium, more than 300 restaurants, cafés and music venues, not one but three sports stadiums and the country’s only downtown amusement park. Shopaholics are well catered for with the pedestrianized 16th Street Mall packed with stores, horse-drawn carriages and fairy-lit trees, while outdoorsy types won’t miss out either – Downtown has its very own river for fishing, kayaking and even tubing.

Garden of the Gods

Park
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Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.
© Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Get closer to Colorado’s extraordinary natural wonders at the Garden of the Gods Park, a National Natural Landmark and the most popular attraction in the region. The soaring sandstone rock formations are a geological marvel, formed 300 million years ago and watched over by a snow-dusted Pikes Peak. The park’s visitor center traces its fascinating history, and knockout views can be snapped while you are hiking, biking or horse riding through the park’s winding trails.

Breckenridge Mountain

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View of the snow covered Colorado Rocky Mountains from Breckenridge Ski Resort
© Steve Boice / Alamy Stock Photo
With five peaks covering nearly 3,000 acres, the mighty Breckenridge Mountain is one of the world’s best-known ski resorts. It features the highest chairlift by altitude in North America, is blanketed in over 300 inches of snow each year and offers skiers an incredible 187 trails. Yet Breckenridge is a must-visit year-round, with hiking and biking trails, white-water rafting, zip lining and even summer dog sledding available to satisfy the most daring thrill seeker.

St Mary’s Glacier

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Hiking to St Marys Glacier, in Idaho Springs, Colorado
© Brian Wolski / Alamy Stock Photo
Officially not a glacier but a semi-permanent snow mass in Arapaho National Forest, St Mary’s Glacier offers an accessible hike, lungfuls of refreshingly crisp air and some of the best views in Colorado. From the trailhead, the rocky hike weaves through alpine meadows and dense pine forests to the snow-cloaked St Mary’s Glacier looming over a metallic, ice-blue lake that’s great for swimming on summer days.

Mount Evans

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The summit and lakes of Mount Evans, near Denver, Colorado, USA
© Alun Reece / Alamy Stock Photo
Bring a head for heights when visiting Mount Evans, reached by the highest paved road in North America. Just 60mi west of Denver, the stunning highway stretches from the city through five climate zones in just 28 miles to the summit of Mount Evans, one of 54 peaks in Colorado that top 14,000ft. At the top, look down on Denver’s rugged foothills, a patchwork blanket of meadows and cloud-wrapped peaks.

Denver Botanic Gardens

Botanical Garden
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Tulips blossom in the Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado
© Chon Kit Leong / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s no need to leave the city for a nature fix. The Denver Botanic Gardens are a peaceful urban paradise in the historic Cheesman Park. Stroll around the aromatic fragrance garden featuring herbs and perfumed plants, take in the colors of the pretty Lilac Garden or wander round the Romantic Garden’s arches and gazebos. Featuring plants from around the world, including those that thrive in the arid Colorado climate, the gardens also host outdoor concerts, light shows, markets and a corn maze.
These recommendations were updated on October 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.