At the base of the Rocky Mountains sits the biggest pull for travelers to Colorado: Denver. Long relegated as a flyover city, Denver has experienced a boom over the last decade thanks to its expanding skyline, increasingly efficient public transit, budding food and nightlife scenes, epic outdoor opportunities, and, of course, the best 420 culture in the entire United States. A small-ish city of three million, Denver is an ideal weekend destination for hikers, skiers, artsy hipsters, beer drinkers, burger fanatics, cannabis enthusiasts, and anyone else who’s looking for the perfect mix of heart-pumping adventure and ultra-chill vibes.
Colorado experiences four very distinct seasons, and most people visit Denver and the surrounding mountains based on the activities of that season. Ski season starts by Thanksgiving, with nearly all resorts having limited terrain open by the holiday. By January, the season is in full swing and your odds of catching a deep powder day are good. Dress in layers if you visit in winter, especially in Denver where you’ll want to shed the parka on warmer afternoons. Winter conditions peak by early March, and by late in the month, signs of spring begin to pop up as temperatures warm and the snow begins to melt. Green blankets the hills in April as plants bloom. The late-spring shoulder season, known to locals as “Mud Season,” is a great time to visit for cheaper lodging and thin crowds. From November to April, traffic into the mountains backs up on Friday evenings, and traffic back to town from the hills is often at a near standstill on Sunday afternoons, so allow extra time if you’re commuting between the city and the mountains on these days. In summer, Denverites take to the city’s parks, bike thoroughfares, and mountain trails in hordes. You’ll have plenty of company if you’re doing a hike or bike ride in Golden or Boulder but can find more solitude the further you’re willing to head into the high country. Summers are hot and sunny with frequent late-afternoon rainstorms that typically last for an hour or less, enough time to cool off from the heat without having to rearrange plans. Even on warm days, keep a light jacket on hand as evenings tend to be cool and even a bit cold on rainy days. Leaf peepers should visit in late September and October when the Rockies and Maroon Bells turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow and hiking conditions are ideal. It’s also another time of year you can take advantage of off-season prices on everything from hotels to dining to museums.
Despite its location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, metro Denver is largely flat and operates on a north-south, east-west road system. There is one notable exception: Downtown is rotated 45 degrees from the grid of the rest of the city due to its development alongside the Platte River, which tends to throw travelers and even many locals for a loop. Bike infrastructure throughout Denver has seen much improvement in recent years, and you’ll see people biking, skateboarding, and riding scooters throughout the heart of the city. While central Denver is easy to navigate by bus or bicycle, the metro area surrounding downtown is vast and spread out. The light rail and bus system covers much of the region quite effectively with tickets ranging from $2.60 to $9 depending on how far you plan to travel. Despite the increasing convenience of public transit, getting to a specific address typically requires a car, Uber/Lyft, or taxi. Uber and Lyft have made renting a car less necessary during your stay, with quick and affordable service in the city and suburbs. If you prefer to pay cash, taxis are best booked by calling or booking through the app of one of the following companies:
Transportation from Denver International Airport into town was made much easier with the opening of RTD’s A-Line train in 2016. Instead of taking a $40 cab ride, you can now jump on the train for just $9, which includes transfers to bus and light rail service throughout town.
Denver is generally safe with an overall low risk of danger when it comes to public transportation, mugging, and violence against women. Its progressive policies are very friendly to foreigners and LGBTQ+ travelers. But like any other major city, it’s important to stay alert and make the same smart decisions you would anywhere.
We saw you scroll right down to this section from the top. That’s ok; this is Denver. There’s no need to be anxious about your green tendencies. Colorado was the first state in the union along with Washington to legalize and enact recreational marijuana. Voters passed Amendment 64 to the state Constitution in the 2012 election, which allowed sales to start on January 1, 2014. Denver is home to over 169 recreational marijuana dispensaries and nearly 200 medical marijuana dispensaries (many offer both). No matter how you count it, the rumor about there being more pot shops than Starbucks or McDonald’s is true. In fact, neither of the global chains even come close. There are a mere 80 Starbucks and 31 McDonald’s. You’ll notice the dispensaries in Colorado thanks to a large green cross on many signs. It’s a little like going into a liquor store in that you have to be over 21 and prove your age with a valid photo ID (driver’s license or passport). It’s technically illegal to consume Cannabis in public places, but you’ll still smell it walking around town. It’s a rare day that one gets off the train onto the 16th St. Mall or walks through Civic Center Park without being greeted by the smell of ganja. But for those wishing to be honest, law-abiding tourists, there are only a few options:
The city of Denver recently awarded its first social marijuana license to an Amsterdam-like cafe called The Coffee Joint. The license allows vaporizers and edibles, but smoking (of anything, including tobacco or cannabis) isn’t allowed inside public buildings in Colorado, meaning there won’t be any bong sessions over the card table. Also, guests must bring their own cannabis. (There’s a dispensary right next door.) There are rumors of a cannabis spa opening soon, but we’ll have to wait and see.
As an outdoor adventure hub, a foodie paradise, and just an all around amazing city, Denver has something for everyone. Join Deidre, a Southwest Airlines First Officer and Denver local, on this fast-paced insider’s tour. Her first tip: Head straight to Larimer Street for the amazing Lower Downtown, or LoDo, vibes. She’ll also take you to her favorite neighborhood outside the city, plus a rooftop bar for the best nightlife view in the Rockies.