City Park in Denver
Photo Courtesy of Visit Denver
New museums, concert halls, public spaces and a brewery revolution have transformed Denver, Colorado, into a walkable, energized urban center with plentiful reasons to visit at any time of year.
FALL: Events and Adventures
Colorado’s modern-day gold rush is all about Scenic Fall Drives that take in gorgeous displays of golden-hued aspens. The brilliant transformation begins the third week of September at higher elevations and gradually progresses to lower elevations through mid-October. Two can’t-miss displays an hour west of Denver are the drive over 11,670-foot Guanella Pass and the unpaved, appropriately named Oh My God Road out of Central City.
Recognized by USA Today as “The Best Oktoberfest” in the U.S., Denver Oktoberfest takes over Larimer Street and serves up a variety of German and local craft beers. The six-day festival (September 20–22, 27–29) has all the trappings you’d expect, including a polka band, German fare and such frivolities as keg bowling, stein hoisting and brat eating.
Denver Art Museum
Photo Courtesy of Visit Denver
Denver Arts Week, November 1–9, celebrates the Mile High City’s thriving arts scene with more than 300 events at art galleries, museums, theaters and concert halls throughout the city. On November 1, join the throngs on the monthly First Friday Art Walks, and explore six designated art neighborhoods, home to more than 60 galleries. To experience a lot of art for free, hit Denver Night at the Museums on November 2, when the city’s finest museums are open late and admission-free.
Even if you don’t ski, the Winter Park Express Ski Train (operating weekends and selected weekdays January 4–March 31) is a scenic experience that shouldn’t be missed. Departing from the city’s renovated Union Station, the double-decker Amtrak Superliner chugs through 31 tunnels, including a 6.2-miler burrowing beneath the Continental Divide. The two-hour ride drops passengers at Winter Park Resort, Denver’s closest mountain resort, with 21 lifts and 3,081 acres of terrain.
WINTER: Only in the Rockies
For the second consecutive year, the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation will hold its UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup & Winter Carnival (February 21–23) in Denver’s Civic Center Park. Bundle up to watch more than 70 of the world’s best pro climbers swing their ice axes while scaling massive structures and vertical ice walls that demand technical maneuvering. The weekend-long free event also features winter activities for all ages, an ice bar, fire pits, food trucks and live music.
SPRING: Going Outside To Play
Spring makes a colorful debut at Denver Botanic Gardens, a 24-acre oasis known for its impressive diversity. More than 33,000 species of plants are showcased in 50 gardens, including the South African Plaza and the Shofu-en Japanese Garden. In the Tropical Conservatory, visitors are transported into the humid Amazon, complete with waterfalls, ferns, 350 species of bromeliads and 1,200 types of orchids.
Denver Botanic Gardens
Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin
The city loves its public festivals, and a perennial favorite is the Cinco de Mayo Festival, May 2–3, 2020. Now in its 33rd year, the free event in downtown’s Civic Center Park includes live entertainment and a spicy selection of authentic Mexican dishes. If blazing guitars move your needle, check out the Denver Day of Rock (May 23, 2020), a free one-day music festival featuring five stages of live music along Denver’s 16th Street Mall.
SUMMER: Take It Outside
Clear Creek is a scenic favorite for guided whitewater rafting close to the city. Local outfitters such as Raft Masters operate trips for all levels to enjoy the thrills and occasional spills of the steep, narrow canyon. Between strokes, watch the shoreline for deer, bighorn sheep, beaver and even the occasional bear.
Whitewater rafting near Denver
Photo by Ted Alan Stedman
Sixty miles west of Denver sits Mount Evans, one of Colorado’s 54 “fourteeners,” mountains that are 14,000 feet or higher. For scenic value, nothing beats a drive on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the highest paved road in North America. As you ascend nearly 7,000 feet to the wind-scoured 14,260-foot summit, you’ll spot colorful wildflowers, Rocky Mountain goats, and 1,700-year-old bristlecone pine trees, capped off at the summit with see-forever 360-degree views.
Catch a concert in the nearby foothills at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, a natural outdoor venue world-famous for its stunning location and impeccable acoustics. The towering 300-foot ocher sandstone outcroppings have witnessed a diverse roster of performers, ranging from the Beatles and U2 to Kenny Chesney, opera stars and every genre in between.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of AAA World.