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Denver | © annasiracusa / Pixabay
Denver | © annasiracusa / Pixabay

What Makes Denver the Mile High City?

Picture of Stephanie Harper
Updated: 28 September 2017

If you know anything about Denver, you know it’s often referred to as the Mile High City. What you may not know is the reason behind this famous nickname. The Mile High City earned its name because it sits at an elevation of 5,280 feet, or one mile, above sea level. This fact is certainly a major source of pride for Denverites. Find out more about what it means to live one mile high.


Geologists believe that water is the primary reason that the Denver area has earned its nickname. A new theory suggests that chemical reactions triggered by water deep below the Earth could have caused the North American plate to rise many millions of years ago, pushing the High Plains above sea level. This event could explain how the region got to its elevation today and how Denver became the Mile High City.

Mile High identity

You’ll find points of “Mile High” pride throughout the city, including in the names of stadiums, food and drinks at local establishments, and in general conversation about Denver. There are also a few important landmarks that mark the exact elevation where the city stands a mile high.

If you visit the Colorado State Capitol, you’ll find that the 15th step is designated and engraved with the words “One Mile Above Sea Level.” In 1969, some students from Colorado State University retook the measurements and determined that the 18th step was a bit more accurate to the exact level of 5,280 feet (1,609 meters), so there is now a bronze marker to mark this spot as well. Visitors to the capitol often like to take photos of themselves standing exactly one mile high.

At Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team, the seats in the 20th row of the upper deck are purple, instead of dark green like the rest of the stadium, in order to mark the elevation of one mile as well.

Know before you go

If you are traveling to Denver from a lower elevation, it is important to keep the higher altitude in mind. Be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid headaches and help your body adjust to the dry, mountain air of the region. Also, be aware that you’ll feel the effects of any physical activity a little more intensely at a higher altitude, so don’t be surprised if you get winded a little more easily or if you have to cut down on your morning run. Also, be sure to dress in layers and have plenty of sunscreen. And finally, if you are enjoying Denver’s craft beer scene, know that the effects of alcohol are stronger the higher in altitude you go, so drink responsibly.