As a major American city, Denver offers residents and visitors alike plenty to see and do. From its majestic mountain views to its vibrant food, art and beer culture, spending time in the Mile High City is always enjoyable.
But if you’re new to the area and unsure how to get around, you might have questions. Do you need a car to get from one point to another? How walkable is downtown? Should you rent a vehicle at the airport or rely on public transit to get to your hotel? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and others about how to get around in Denver with and without a car.
Things to know about getting around Denver
Getting around Denver takes practice. Because it’s a big city with lots of sprawl, you may or may not need a vehicle to get around. If your travel plans include lots of time spent downtown, you might be okay relying on public transportation in Denver and the occasional rideshare. If your destinations include suburban points of interest and nearby mountain parks or ski resorts, the answer might be more complicated.
Let’s learn some basics for navigating one of Colorado’s most captivating cities, including traffic, transit and inclement weather.
1. There are a variety of ways to get around Denver
Denver tourists and residents enjoy plenty of ways to move around town. Whether you’re a tourist using the light rail to get downtown from the airport or a local enjoying the light rail as part of your daily commute, Denver’s roadways, streets and sidewalks make it an enjoyable city to visit or call home. Some common methods of transit to see the sights of the Mile High City include:
The light rail network: Denver’s light rail network expands across 12 lines and 78 stations to cover 113 miles. It offers stops at many high-traffic destinations, including Empower Field at Mile High, Ball Arena, Coors Field and Union Station.
The 16th Street Mall Ride: The 16th Street Mall Ride takes passengers up and down the tree-lined retail core of Denver’s downtown. It runs seven days a week and lets passengers navigate 16th Street between the Civic Center Station at Broadway and Denver Union Station on the west end.
Biking: Denver also offers a web of dedicated bike paths throughout the city and surrounding area. Use the city’s bike and scooter share program to access and use up to 1,500 scooters and 300 bikes to cruise around the city.
Walking: Depending on your destination, you can combine any of the above modes of transportation with a pleasant stroll through the city’s streets. The downtown core is highly walkable.
Car sharing: The idea of how car sharing works is similar to renting in that you book a car for a day or more. But with car sharing through a company like Avail, the vehicles are owned by locals, so you’re putting money back into the community whenever you borrow a car. Avail has neighborhood locations around Denver for easy pick-up and drop-off, and all of the lots are self-service, so you don’t have to wait in line at a car rental counter.
Rideshares and taxis: If you don’t want to rely on public transportation or get behind the wheel yourself, you could opt for a rideshare service, like Uber and Lyft, or hail or call a taxi to get to where you need to go.
2. Public transportation was designed around locals, not tourists
If you’re already a Denver resident, public transportation might be your preferred method for getting around town. For out-of-towners, however, it may not work as well. If your plans include visiting nearby ski towns, resorts, parks or amphitheaters, you’ll find that public transportation outside the city center may be lacking.
For example, you probably won’t be able to find an affordable bus or shuttle to Boulder. And don’t even think about making it to nearby Mount Evans, Grays Peak or Pettingell Peak without a vehicle. For those day trips, you’ll want a car of your own.
3. It’s difficult to get downtown without a car
Maybe you’re planning on visiting from out of town without staying downtown. Getting to must-see locations like the Downtown Aquarium or the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marisco Campus without a car is a little tricky. Staying in Aurora, Lakewood or Littleton often means driving to your destinations in the center of Denver.
While downtown is highly walkable, Denver and its surrounding suburbs are a great example of a sprawling city. Having a car handy can help access and cover these distances quickly.
4. Denver is a bustling city
If you plan to drive around — either downtown or on the highways that serve as arteries in and out of Denver — be aware of heavy traffic. Denver is a busy city, after all. Once that traffic builds up, you’ll need to be careful on the roads. If your trip takes you downtown, watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.
5. Know the best times to avoid the road
Rush hour traffic is unpleasant in any city, and if you can avoid it, you can make your trip far less stressful. Denver’s no exception. As America’s 19th-biggest city, it’s home to just over 706,000 people — most of whom drive regularly. And because Denver is the United States’ 15th-most congested city, the average driver loses 54 hours to traffic each year.
Denver’s peak rush hour traffic times fall between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Because roadways get busy around this time of day, you’re better off avoiding them, especially sections of I-70 that interchange with I-25 and I-270. The I-25 to I-76 interchange gets pretty congested quickly as well.
6. A car may be more affordable
Depending on your lifestyle, car ownership may make more sense than relying on public transportation and rideshares. Driving is a necessity if you’re someone who heads out of the city each weekend to enjoy all that Colorado’s natural landscapes have to offer.
That said, owning a vehicle isn’t cheap, especially in Colorado, which is one of the top 5 most expensive states to own a car. The cost of car ownership varies based on what kind of vehicle you own, how often you drive it and how much you pay for insurance. There are, however, ways to make money with your car when you don’t need to use it for personal trips, including sharing your car.
7. Check the weather before you head out
It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving, walking, or biking — life in Denver means paying close attention to the weather before you go out, but especially if you’re driving in winter. The surrounding mountains and high elevation often mean snow and rain have a bigger impact on your commute and travel than in other locations. Check road conditions and weather before embarking on your adventures.
Exploring Denver is easy with Avail
Even with its robust public transportation system, exploring Denver with a car can still be deeply rewarding. Denver’s proximity to the mountains makes the Mile High City an excellent source of fun and adventure for residents and visitors alike.
You don’t have to feel restricted if you don’t own a car. Car sharing in Denver with Avail allows you to explore the city and its surrounding natural wonders without experiencing the high cost of car ownership. When you use Avail, you can borrow a car or SUV for less than $60 per day. With plenty of vehicles available at neighborhood self-service locations throughout the Denver area, you’re never too far from convenience.
Frequently asked questions about getting around Denver
You can get around many parts of Denver without a car, but it mainly depends on your destination. Getting to the suburbs, parks or resorts outside of the city proper usually requires a vehicle. Navigating downtown is a lot easier on foot and you probably won’t need a car.
Denver does offer a fantastic public transportation system managed by the RTD. The backbone of Denver’s public transit is its bus service, with routes running across the city and beyond. RTD also offers a light rail system that makes navigating downtown Denver simple. There’s always room for improvement, however, and while the system is well designed for residents, visitors may struggle to get where they need to go in an efficient manner.
Denver is a highly walkable city, especially in the downtown area. You can easily reach many attractions, restaurants and shops on foot. The city’s extensive public transportation system can help you get to even more destinations, which can be more affordable and less stressful than renting a car. Learning to drive in an unfamiliar city can be stressful, too, especially in heavy traffic.
Not renting a car reduces your carbon footprint and helps avoid costly expenses, such as parking and fuel. If you do find that you need a vehicle for a day or more, self-service car sharing with Avail is a popular option that can help you reach your destination without breaking the bank.
Borrow & share
Avail makes it simple to borrow a car when you need one, or share your car with others and earn money.