Most people know Denver as the bustling basecamp to the Rocky Mountains, but you may not know that Denver is also one of the sunniest cities in the U.S. The area gets an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, which is why millions of people flock to the Mile High City during the winter for non stop skiing, snowboarding and socializing on majestic, powder-drenched slopes. Summer in Denver is just as iconic, with countless natural playgrounds for hiking, biking, camping and Instagramming all within a few hours’ drive.
1. Walk around Larimer Square
Larimer Square, in downtown Denver, is the city’s first and most historic neighborhood. This is where the Mile High City started off as a mile-high outpost in 1858, when a few Georgians settled after striking gold in the Rocky Mountains. Cap your day in the city with dinner at El Five, an eclectic Mediterranean restaurant featuring sweeping views of the skyline and upscale plates, tapas and cocktails.
2. Hit the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Denver’s biggest natural wonders. Offering stunning panoramas and abundant wildlife, this national park has something for everyone. Folks who prefer to appreciate nature from a distance can take a scenic drive through the park on the highest paved through-road in the country, at 12,183 feet. Outdoorsy types will love the world-class hiking trails and ability to view bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk up close. Heads up: This is the third most-popular national park in the country, so you may need a timed entry permit reservation to visit. Regardless, Rocky Mountain National Park is worth at least a day, if not a whole vacation in itself.
3. Head out to Red Rocks Amphitheater
Live music fans will of course want to make the pilgrimage to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, host to legendary rock concerts and performances, as well as regular mass-yoga classes in the amber hue of massive geologic formations.
4. Go rafting at Lower Clear Creek
Consider yourself an adrenaline junkie? Then you’ll find that taking on the rapids at Lower Clear Creek will be among the most fun things to do in Denver. Besides being simultaneously challenging and exhilarating, the rapids are surrounded by incredible beauty at every turn. Licensed operators offer plenty of trip options, either by skill level or length of time, so choose what’s best for your abilities, comfort and schedule.
5. Enjoy the serenity of the Denver Botanic Gardens
Want a serene escape to nature that’s right inside the city? The Denver Botanic Gardens is home to an impressive array of plant life on 23 acres. Daily programming includes activities like a flower pressing workshop, yoga at the Gardens, a Japanese tea ceremony and a floral arrangement session. When the weather is warm, the Summer Concert Series is not to be missed. The Gardens has drawn acts ranging from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Fitz and The Tantrums.
6. Get lost in the RiNo Art District
Inside Denver’s city limits is a vibrant arts scene. RiNo (short for River North) is the city’s main arts district and spans across four neighborhoods, with plenty of unique galleries, restaurants, watering holes and things to see. Located in the thick of RiNo is The Source, an upscale hotel that has an eclectic food hall with plenty of outdoor space to gather and soak up Denver’s year-round sun.
7. Catch a baseball game at Coors Field
Baseball fan or not, it’s electrifying to be in the stands at Coors Field for a Colorado Rockies game. If you’re on a budget, blend in with the locals by cheering on the Rox from seats in The Rockpile, which is what they call the center field bleacher (aka nosebleed) section. Arrive hungry and indulge in some local eats like green chile cheese fries, walking nachos (which comes inside a split-open Doritos bag) and peach chimmies, which are like dessert chimichangas.
8. Hike Mount Evans or drive the Mount Evans Scenic Byway
If you’re from out of town, you may not have heard the term Fourteener or 14er. This refers to a mountain with an elevation equal to or greater than 14,000 feet. For serious hikers, these are bucket list summits to scale. And Mount Evans happens to be the closest 14er to Denver. Even if you’re not interested in ascending 14,265 feet to the summit, there are plenty of shorter trail options available. Driving the Mount Evans Scenic Byway to the top can also provide you with panoramic views without breaking a sweat.
9. Spend the afternoon in Washington Park
When you want a lazy day or need to find a running trail to put in your miles, Washington Park, or Wash Park to locals, is the perfect destination. Well-maintained paths snake through greenery and around two lakes inside this 155-acre park. You can also rent a kayak, pedal boat or stand-up paddleboard. If you’re not looking for a workout, pack a picnic and a book or spend the afternoon people-watching. There’s also a playground and plenty of space for kids to run around and tire out for an afternoon nap.
10. Go shopping at 16th St Mall
Without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Denver is shop 16th Street Mall. This mile-long shopping destination was designed by celebrated architect I.M. Pei, who also designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Needless to say, it’s worth going to just see the beautiful promenade. And if you’ve got cash burning a hole in your pocket, shop til you drop or stop into a cafe or restaurant to enjoy the atmosphere.
11. Visit Union Station
No train ticket necessary for Union Station: You’ll find people walking up to and inside of this historic landmark, first opened in 1881, just to snap some photos. It’s now more than just a train station, which is what makes a visit here among the many fun things to do in Denver. Shop, dine, browse the farmers market, join in fitness on the plaza or stay the night in a luxury suite at The Crawford Hotel.
12. Take in the views at Cherry Creek State Park
This pet-friendly park southeast of Denver is a popular destination for camping, water sports, horseback riding, winter recreation, model airplane flying and American white pelicans. You weren’t expecting that last one, were you? They are water birds after all, and the Cherry Creek Reservoir is a perfect place for them to fish along their migration route in the spring and fall. Keep your eyes peeled for them if you’re there in the right season!
Explore Denver with Avail
While Denver is well known for natural beauty beyond the city limits — like the Rocky Mountains and Red Rocks Amphitheater — you can see there is still plenty of fun stuff to do in Denver proper too. The city is a bit spread out, so the easiest way to get around is definitely via car. Avail can help you get set up with wherever your Colorado adventure takes you. We have locations throughout neighborhoods in Denver that offer a range of vehicles for you to book, whether you want an SUV for mountain roads or a sedan to drive around the city. Each of our lots features a self-service key box, so you can pick up and drop off your car without waiting in a single line. Find a Denver location near where you’ll be staying.