Travel Tips and Green Living

The Denver To-Do List

A view from near Panorama Point during one of Local Universe's Colorado hikes. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”--John Muir

When writing about Denver, it’s hard to avoid waxing poetic. 

Some people think Colorado is just a nice place to visit. And we’ll get to you with all kinds of visitor tips. Just you wait.

But first, we're going to speak to those for whom Denver lives in the heart.

“Coming home to a place he’d never been before.”--John Denver, Rocky Mountain High

I first started visiting Denver with my family when I was 9. My uncle and his family had moved here; he and my dad were best buds; they had three girls, just like us. So every other summer we’d drive out and spend two weeks seeing the sites.

And I was HOME. 

Scenes from Local Universe's camping trip near Boulder. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

For some of us, the mountains get in your blood. They speak to your soul. And not just any mountains, but the Rocky Mountains. For me, not just any Rocky Mountains, but those that border this vibrant, beautiful city and show that nature surpasses anything man tries to build every time.

Denver is part of the appeal. Small towns are cute. I love to visit. But where do you get groceries? What if you need some hot asphalt and cab fumes? Or a billion new restaurants to explore? 

Local Universe visits the Denver Art Museum on a rainy day. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com. 

See, Denver offers that…in an easy, friendly way. The pace is softer than Chicago. (And it is a heck of a lot sunnier—300 days a year here, friends.) The people are friendly. There is a tinge of Old West, which is rugged and fun, but you’ll find all kinds of glass and steel, and all kinds of reclaimed-wood-and-vegan-dishes kinds of joints.

Driving through the heart of colorful downtown Denver. Shop www.explorelocaluniverse.com for locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Denver has its up-and-coming neighborhoods in the urban heart. There’s the Highlands, where million-dollar row houses will sprout right next door to houses that look like the mold and earth will soon consume them. My hair salon is in the Highlands, retrofitted from a botanical nursery, so it’s got skylights and polished concrete floors and original contemporary art on the walls. (And really good wine and beer for its patrons.)

A fashion truck at the Denver Flea in the RiNo neighborhood. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

There’s RiNo, short for River North, where a stroll down the street reveals hipster dudes with beards and hammers putting together a craft distillery pop-up event and young yogis walking dogs past abandoned warehouses to their new, sustainably built condos.

Broadway downtown offers lots of organic and artsy boutiques. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

And yes, there’s the weed on Broadway. (I knew you were wondering about that!) It’s not exactly the green revolution that most were hoping for, but it’s certainly a busy industry, with dispensaries elbowing for space among the antiques stores. 

Denver has the Broncos right in the heart of downtown. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had a serious thing for John Elway since I was about 12, so this is a big deal for this girl. We have the Colorado Rockies, also in a beautiful stadium downtown surrounded by brew pubs. (Remember, we did craft beer here before most of the rest of the country.)

Near the Denver theater complex downtown. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

And yeah, we have some traffic. This place appeals to many more people than I. There are lots of statistics about growth in the Denver metro area. I could reach back to when I was a reporter for the Elbert County News on the plains of eastern Colorado, the first time I lived here some 20 years ago. I’d cover county meetings at which people would threaten to shoot newcomers, so plentiful were they even then. I could look back to when Highlands Ranch was the fastest-growing zip code in the country and a model for planned suburban development. It hasn’t shrunk, that’s for sure. 

Near the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

I could think back to when I first visited, at age 9. There were prairie dogs in the fields around Ken Caryl Valley. There was nothing south of C-470; it was dark out there. Today, the south metro area is nearly contiguous from Denver through Castle Rock to Colorado Springs.

So today, I-25 is often a parking lot. I just avoid it, because I can.

The Colorado capitol building visible over the intersection of two major Denver streets. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Everybody wants to live here—it’s not just me! Check out these stats from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation:

  • The Metro Denver region is consistently ranked as one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation. 
  • Colorado was the fourth-fastest growing state in 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015).
  • Colorado is the nation’s second-most highly educated state for residents (38.3 percent) with a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015).
  • In addition, Colorado has the nation’s lowest obesity rate and is No. 1 for physical activity (Trust for America’s Health, 2015; Kaiser State Health Facts, 2015).

Hiking is our favorite! One of the trails Local Universe loves. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

That last part is due to what’s around Denver. The part that makes the city special, the part that sings to my soul.

The outdoors.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” John Muir

It’s what we do here in Denver. Bikes. Kayaks. Rafting. Skateboards. Skis. Snowshoes. Hiking boots. Climbing packs. We’re all geared up and ready to go. Why not? It’s gorgeous here, with an arid alpine climate that keeps the humidity low. There are very few bugs. (That’s something for those of us from the Midwest.) And it gets cool at night after the brilliant, blazing sun slides behind the hills.

Local Universe's hike on the Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

It’s easy to get outside. There are parks and bike lanes everywhere. Gyms and studios and Patagonia and REI and eight trillion locally owned outfitters where passionate experts will teach you simply for love of the sport. Rocky Mountain high could also describe the unbridled enthusiasm and sheer joy exhibited by active people in Denver.

And the mountains, of course, are a short drive. But when you’re there, you could be a million miles from everywhere.

“He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below.” John Denver, Rocky Mountain High

I’m quite sure that everyone has a different experience of Denver and the mountains. But for me, a woman with an insatiable curiosity, little fear and a huge desire for adventure, it’s a hiker’s paradise. I live for the days—and I carve out one each week—when I can strap on my Big Blue Boots, as my Salomons are known, and make like a mountain goat over rocks and pine needles. It feeds my SOUL. 

Local Universe hiking the Fourth of July Trail outside Boulder. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

I love finding and sharing trail magic. I love discovering wildlife and wildflowers and vistas that take my breath away. I love the secret burble of a hidden mountain stream and the bold, audacious glory of a rocky, thin-air peak. I like pushing my body to the limit. (Not the edge, of course, but the limit.)

There’s a reason why "America the Beautiful" was inspired by the purple mountain majesties of Pike’s Peak. God did shed his grace on thee when he made Colorado.

Stormy skies over Local Universe's hike on the Fourth of July trail. Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

But enough with my sappy ode to Colorado. Let’s get on with some things to do and see, shall we? 

Dinosaur Ridge is a great Denver adventure! See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Wander Dinosaur Ridge. We were BLOWN AWAY by how cool this is. Don’t let its proximity or modest marketing fool you. Read our blog devoted entirely to the Dinosaur Ridge experience and go!  

The Georgetown Loop is a wonderful family experience near Denver. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Ride the Georgetown Loop. It’s not in Denver, but the Georgetown Railroad is a short drive through some of the most majestic scenery along I-70. And then you get to ride a cool train through more! Read our blog about the Georgetown Loop and plan your adventure

One of the best ways to spend your time in Colorado? Hiking! See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Take a hike. You could spend a lifetime walking all the trails within a short drive of the metro area. Our advice? Get the AllTrails app and spring for the pro version. It will find trails based on your location, give you driving directions, let you download maps, and help you track your progress on your chosen trail even when there's no wifi. Because very often, there's not!

Pearl Street in downtown Boulder is endlessly interesting. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Make side trips to Golden and Boulder. Two of our very favorite places ever. They'll become separate blogs eventually, but for now, do this: Hike Lookout Mountain or the Mount Galbraith Trail just outside Golden (both pretty easy to get to and rather short), then head to Washington Avenue in Golden for some shopping and the pizza buffet at Woody's Wood-Fired Pizza. (Or a sandwich at Snarf's next door.) That's one day. On another, drive up to Boulder and park near Pearl Street. Enjoy the artsy shops, the energy of the University of Colorado, the hundreds of organic, locally sourced restaurants and the incredible people watching thanks to the hippie, activist vibe known as the Boulder bubble. 

Check out the Denver Museum of Art while in Denver. See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for all our visitor tips!

Visit the Denver Art Museum. It's a great way to spend a rainy day. There's a phenomenal collection of Western art. Even better, the first Saturday of each month is a free day! When we were there, it was busy but not unreasonably so. We had only an hour, so we loved the snack-sized galleries in the newer wing. Park in the garage next door for just $7 and soak up the gorgeous goodness!

Tour the Denver Mint. But be sure to book early, because tours fill up fast! And as you can imagine with a place that makes official government money,  there are lots of rules and restrictions. Check out the link we've offered here well before you go. 

Visiting the Stanley Hotel, inspiration for The Shining, is frightfully fun! See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Schedule a spooky visit to The Shining Hotel. Read our blog devoted entirely to touring the Stanley, Stephen King's inspiration for his famous frightening novel. It's worth the drive to Estes Park!

Say hello, Molly. The Molly Brown House is a terrific tour for families--especially girls. Molly was a woman ahead of her time. She was well-educated, she educated her daughter...she even taught the people who worked in her home. She earned the "unsinkable" moniker after the sinking of the Titanic, but she was unstoppable long before that. Rock on, Molly!

You can hike to Red Rocks, work out on the stairs, or see a concert under the stars! See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Run over to Red Rocks. There are several ways to see this famous natural amphitheater with the incredible views. Hike to it from Matthews/Winters Park. Join a boot camp or yoga class there on Saturday mornings, or make your own workout running the stairs. Or see a concert. We've done all three! 

We love visiting the buffalo herd just west of Denver! See www.explorelocaluniverse.com for visitor tips and locally made, sustainably made goods that benefit Colorado causes!

Go where the buffalo roam. Head west on I-70 out of Denver. You'll quickly start to see some rolling hills and beautiful scenery. But there is one point at which my heart stops every time, after all these decades. As you come over the crest at the Chief Hosa exit, near Genesee, the breathtaking beauty of the Rocky Mountains explodes before you in all its white-capped, mysterious, majestic glory. Exit right there at the Chief Hosa exit and curve around to the right. Not only will you get a chance to really soak in this view without waddling semitrailers and antsy speeders all around, but you'll also get to visit the buffalo herd that lives there. Don't worry--they're fenced in. And they're a wild, wooly reminder of what the West once was. 

The train from Union Station to Denver International Airport is clean, easy, fast and efficient! Shop Colorado-made goods and get visitor tips at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

If you're coming in to Denver from Denver International Airport and staying downtown, take the new A Train from DIA to Union Station. It's clean, it's fast, it's easy, and it's cheap!

There's so much more to do in Denver and the surrounding area. We could write pages of blogs. (We kinda already did.) Watch our Facebook and Instagram pages, where we often upload photos of new restaurants, places and adventures. Check out the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau's site, which includes links to free activities for every season. And of course we'll always be updating here, too. 

Because we love Colorado. Like just about every person who's ever lived in or visited Colorado. If you've been here, you understand. 

"Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God."--John Muir

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