Unique visits to do in Colorado

Eat dinner at a mortuary.

Colorado

Photo: @brittwilltravel via Liger

Grab a Thai Collins or a 5 Spice Old Fashioned at Linger, on the rooftop deck of what was Olinger Mortuary. This restaurant serves vegan and gluten-free global street food, with Happy Hour from 4 to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday. If you’re not into mortuaries, check out one of Chef Justin Cucchi’s other concepts around Denver, including Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, an adult book store-turned-music venue and restaurant.

Clear your sinuses in Celestial Seasoning’s Mint Room.

Take a free tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder: the factory floor and a visit to the Mint Room, then a tasting room where each of the 105 varieties of Celestial Seasonings tea is available as a free sample. Tours are on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday, and from 11 am to 3 pm on Sunday. If you want to see all the machinery in the factory up and running, choose a weekday tour.

Get the best skyline views for cheap.

Get your great mountain views at Coors Field during a Rockies baseball game. Bleachers tickets are as little as $5 for a 360-degree view of the cityscape and the Rocky Mountains. Once you’re inside, head straight to Rio on the Rocks for one of their potent and delicious margaritas. Rio will only sell you 3 per ID during the game.

Cozy up to big horn sheep.

The Colorado Trail runs 486 miles, but you can get a hit of the hike (plus hobnob with bighorn sheep in the area) by heading out from the Waterston Canyon trailhead. The trail follows a river through a canyon, gaining 700 feet of elevation over its 6-mile length. Depending on when you decide to turn back on this out-and-back trail, it will take 2 to 6 hours to hike. Please note: Thanks to the resident sheep, no dogs.

Cruise downtown for bikes and brews.

If there is anything Coloradans love more than beer, it is costumed bike rides. Just ask New Belgium brewery and their annual Tour de Fat celebrations. If you’re visiting Denver in the summertime, find yourself a costume at Goodwill and rent a cruiser from B-Cycle to join up with Denver Cruiser Ride, who’ve done 243 night rides since they launched in 2005. Denver Cruisers are switching from weekly rides to 5 monthly rides. Meet downtown at the Ginn Mill on Wednesdays at 6 pm for drink specials before the 8:15 pm ride.

Jump in glacier water at St. Mary’s.

St. Mary’s Glacier is a perennial snowfield about an hour west of Denver. A three-quarter mile hike uphill takes you to a beautiful mountain lake created by runoff from the glacier. Cool off with a polar plunge at this popular cliff-jumping spot. St. Mary’s Glacier is on private property, so be respectful of the community by parking in the designated paid lots. Five dollars is a small price to pay to help ensure this hike is accessible to your fellow travelers. Enjoy the whistle pigs (marmots), but leave them alone.

Eat peaches in Palisade.

John Harlow first planted peach trees in Palisade in 1882, and the Museum of Western Colorado estimates that the peach has been honored with a festival in the area since the late 1880s. Today, Coloradans will drive hundreds of miles to get their hands on juicy Palisade peaches. Festivities of the annual Palisade Peach Festival in August include orchard tours, a parade, and a peach-eating contest.

Dance with wolves in Divide.

The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center — one of the few certified wolf sanctuaries in the United States – lies thirty minutes west of Colorado Springs. They’ve been rescuing wolves since the 1990s, and give one-hour educational walking tours through the sanctuary. After your tour, visit nearby Paradox Brewing Company’s tasting room for a wood-fired pizza and a sour beer.

Race coffins through the streets of Manitou Springs.

In the 1800s, Emma Crawford, a young tuberculosis patient came to Manitou Springs for a cure in the mineral. She died in 1890, and her family buried her on top of nearby Red Mountain. Twenty years later, the city reburied her coffin on the southern slope. After several years of the harsh mountain weather, the coffin dislodged and Emma’s remains slid down into the town below. There is an annual race in October to celebrate this local history. Teams of four runners escort their coffins (hypothetically containing Emma) through the streets of Manitou Springs to win prizes for both fastest time and costume creativity.

12 ways Denver will surprise you

BELOW THE RADAR of everyday press coverage flies the fact that Denver is booming in 2017. Resting between the skyscrapers of downtown and towering mountains to the west, the Colorado capital is a thriving cultural hub rivaling cities on both US coasts. The music scene is alive and well, and the outdoors-y vibe on our streets gives Denver a personality all its own. Not to spoil the surprise, but hey — a city like this is worthy of a dive beneath the surface.

1. Denver Union Station isn’t just a train station.

Union Station Denver

Denver Union Station. Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin

For someone born and raised here, nothing sparks a fire of hometown pride quite like Denver Union Station. This once was a place that performed one very basic function: getting train travelers in, out, and on their way. The station first opened in 1881, underwent a remodel in 1914, and served primarily Amtrak passengers and, in more recent decades, skiers heading to Winter Park. So it went until 2014, when the doors of Denver Union Station opened again to reveal a massive facelift.

The standard high-back bench seats gave way to a lounge area complete with shuffleboard and seating that’s actually comfortable, all served by a bustling lounge dubbed Terminal Bar — yes, with Colorado craft brews on tap. The station now hosts The Crawford Hotel, a diverse collection of restaurants — including Stoic & Genuine and The Kitchen Next Door — the Tattered Cover Book Store, Cooper Lounge, and more. It’s possible to spend hours here without getting bored. If ever there was a place to escape without ever leaving the city, it’s Denver Union Station.

2. The legends you’ve heard about Red Rocks totally undersell it.

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre must be seen to be believed. As the most stunning concert venue on the planet, it hosts the world’s best musicians for 130+ nights of unforgettable shows each year. Nowhere else will you find a roster that includes Tom Petty, Dave Chappelle, and Kings of Leon — with the Denver skyline, Rocky Mountain foothills, and more than 9,500 screaming fans cementing the night into your memory. Be sure to bring your camera.

But that’s just on the inside. Outside the walls of the amphitheater are an amalgam of hiking trails, a music museum, and the best tailgate scene this side of a Broncos game.

3. It’s hip to be at Larimer Square.

Denver Larimer Square

Larimer Square. Photo: Evan Semón

If you’re looking to relax and check out Denver’s extensive history, Larimer Square is the place to be. Denver’s oldest block — birthed by the Gold Rush and where, later, figures like Jack Kerouac were known to prowl — is also its most vibrant. You can really make a day of it here — contemporary boutiques and clothing shops are a highlight, as is some of the city’s best dining. Or take in some people watching while sipping a cocktail on the patio at Corridor 44. After dark, the Crimson Room is the place for jazz.

The nation’s top stand-up comics perform here at Comedy Works, and no shortage of celebrities have been spotted enjoying a late-night meal in Larimer Square. The city’s light rail will get you downtown from just about anywhere in the metro area, and Larimer Square is an easy jaunt from the 16th Street Mall or Denver Union Station.

4. There are 100 craft breweries in the metro area.

Denver Beer Company

Denver Beer Co. Photo: Evan Semón

Okay, I lied. This statement is false. There are actually more than 100 craft breweries in the metro area. Denver has really embraced its beer culture. In fact, Governor John Hickenlooper got his start here by co-founding the now legendary Wynkoop Brewing Company, our original brewpub, across the street from Denver Union Station back in 1988. These days, finding amazing craft beer is commonplace — breweries are located everywhere from century-old buildings to quirky urban spaces.

If you’re not sure where to start, the Denver Beer Trail will put you on a path to success. The guide to some of the city’s best brews is downloadable and serves as a self-guided liquid tour of historical buildings and sights throughout Denver. Note that many brewpubs specialize in certain styles, so it never hurts to do a little advance googling. If you’re looking for some solid recommendations, Tivoli Brewing is Colorado’s oldest and most historic; Denver Beer Co. has one of the largest patios in the city; and Prost Brewing comes right out of the heart of Bavaria.

5. What are you into? We’ve got a museum for that.

The Golden Triangle neighborhood is the backbone of Denver’s art scene, and its anchor is the Denver Art Museum — one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. The museum houses an impressive collection of Western American art to complement other standing exhibits showcasing American Indian art, colonial-era standouts, and contemporary masterpieces.

The Denver Art Museum manages to keep locals coming back again and again with a stellar lineup of traveling exhibitions. This summer, see innovative installations by Latino artists at Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place, and in October, Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism comes to town.

This is impressive enough, but we’re not done yet. The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art will be re-opening in early 2018 after a significant expansion, adding another dose of flare to the campus. At the Clyfford Still Museum, across the street from the Denver Art Museum, you can peruse the most celebrated work from one of the founders of Abstract Expressionism. A bit of insider knowledge: Admission is free on the final Friday of every month. Wink, wink.

6. Street art is defining contemporary Denver.

Love this City Denver

RiNo – River North Art District. Photo: Evan Semón

With the influx of artists to the city, street art is more prevalent than ever. This is particularly true in the River North (RiNo) neighborhood and the Art District on Santa Fe. A haven for musicians, artists, and brewers, these districts stray from the appearance of other parts of the city by prioritizing commissioned murals over chic, empty building sides.

The best-known pieces are the Love This City murals, created by pro snowboarder and artist Pat Milbery. His work reflects the artist’s strong local pride, as well as the art scene that’s an increasingly large part of Denver’s culture. The murals can be found in three neighborhoods:

  • Art District on Santa Fe (7th and Santa Fe Drive)
  • RiNo (River North Art District, Broadway and Arapahoe)
  • Golden Triangle (12th and Bannock)

Also worth checking out:

  • The “Larimer Boy” and “Larimer Girl,” found at 2732 Larimer Street. Hint: You’ll have to walk by this one twice.
  • “The Mermaid,” eye-catching colors at 9th and Santa Fe.
  • “Smiling Boy,” part of a whole row of murals in the alley between Inca Street and Santa Fe Drive.

7. Amusement parks can be in the middle of downtown.

Elitch Gardens and Theme Park

Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood for Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park

“Not to See Elitch’s Is Not to See Denver.” So says the sign outside the front gate of Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park. Since moving downtown in 1994, the park’s famous Twister II and Sidewinder rollercoasters, along with the 250-foot Observation Tower, have become staples of the city’s skyline. Elitch’s, as it’s known around town, is a place to see and be seen during the summer months. The park has a full gamut of thrill rides (like the new Star Flyer), games, entertainment (how about that guy who plays 15 instruments by himself!?), and several options for food and drink. A connected waterpark is available to cool off on hot days.

Go in the early morning to get a full day in, or avoid the lines and head over in the evening. A local’s hint: A great time to visit the park is on weekends throughout October. The kids are back at school — meaning shorter lines — and nowhere else in Denver celebrates Halloween quite like Elitch Gardens.

8. The Old West lives side by side with the New West.

National Western Stock Show Denver

National Western Stock Show & Rodeo. Photo: DT

You might have already heard about Denver’s significant growth over the past 30 years. With the revitalization of Denver Union Station, a budding tech and entrepreneurial sector, and thriving brewery and arts districts, one may be led to believe our city is all new and modern. But the heart of the Old West still beats strong here. Each year in January, the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo takes over town for nearly three weeks. With it comes cowboys, rodeos, and the famous National Western Stock Show Parade.

The rest of the year, Denver’s Western roots are celebrated at the legendary Rockmount Ranch Wear on 16th and Wazee. Founder Jack A. Weil invented the snap shirt, now a staple in contemporary Western fashion. This revolutionary piece of clothing has become quite a hot item, with rock stars, movie stars, and the occasional professional athlete popping in to buy one. It’s perhaps the best way to honor the prospectors and cowboys who created makeshift settlements along the South Platte River and became Denver’s first permanent residents.

9. Yes, we can actually do fashion.

Cherry Creek North Visit Denver

Cherry Creek North. Photo: Visit Denver

Cherry Creek Shopping Center may be the state’s most renowned shopping mall, but the district surrounding it is also flush with boutiques. Cherry Creek North offers the same posh retail experience, but with a heavy dose of Colorado thrown in.

Namely, the fresh air. Denver’s high altitude air is a welcome setting for exploring the boutique shops in the area, like Show of Hands and Spinster Sisters Co. Also on show is ample proof that, contrary to popular belief, Coloradans can dress up on occasion. Don’t tell that to any fashion bloggers, though — we’re fine with our laid-back image. To feel like a true Denverite, stop into the Cherry Cricket for happy hour and a burger to round out the day.

10. You don’t have to go to the Rockies to escape.

Denver Lush Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Visit Denver

Denver Botanic Gardens is a lush oasis in the city, and perhaps the most tranquil space there is Sho-Fu-En. This traditional Japanese garden has a stunning array of plant life, with the central focus naturally shifting from season to season. If you find yourself needing to momentarily step away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there isn’t a better spot to do so.

Adding to the beauty and allure of the gardens is a selection of traveling showcases in which renowned artists, decorators, and scientific exhibits highlight the beautiful scenery. This, in addition to the four distinct seasons we experience in Denver, keeps locals and tourists coming back again and again — the Gardens always offer something new. Exhibits this year include works by Alexander Calder in Calder: Monumental, a display of sculptures formed out of bolted steel plates that still somehow manage to capture the curves and flow of nature.

11. Broadway’s second home is right here.

Denver Performing Arts Complex

Denver Performing Arts Complex. Photo: Geoff Livingston

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is a regular host of Broadway shows fresh from New York. The largest tenant of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the DCPA brings premiere theatre productions from around the world into its collection of venues. Experiencing a concert, ballet, or theater production inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, with its plush red seats and high ceilings, is an unforgettable night.

This coming season at the DCPA promises to be a good one — and not just because we’ll see the world premiere of Frozen: The Musical. There’s something for everyone: The Colorado Symphony Orchestra plays regularly at Boettcher Concert Hall, the country’s first in-the-round concert hall when it opened in 1978; Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) will take over the Buell Theatre February 27 – April 1 next year; and for fans of Jack Black, School of Rock: The Musical is coming to the Buell, May 29 – June 10, 2018.

12. Dinosaurs are everywhere.

This is readily apparent from your first steps inside the Denver Museum of Nature & Science — my earliest school field trip memory is of being greeted by the giant T-Rex skeleton as I walked into the museum for the first time. The Prehistoric Journey exhibit is like nothing else in the country, to the point of almost being intimidating. Dinosaurs do battle in front of you, some fossils are actually touchable, and you can watch scientists work in the lab. This fall, the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit will hit the museum as well.

Across City Park, Denver Zoo hosts 19 animatronic life-size dinosaurs this summer for the DINOS! Live exhibit. Finally, a chance to solve that lingering curiosity of how an elephant stacks up against a Suchomimus. Beyond the museum and zoo circuit, Dinosaur Ridge out by Red Rocks offers some cool fossil viewing and a moderately intense uphill bike ride for those up to the challenge.

And to round out the list, the Colorado Rockies mascot is a giant purple dinosaur (not the one you’re thinking of — this one’s name is Dinger) who “hatched” in the outfield before a game back in 1994. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Classic crags in Colorado

THE CLIMBING terrain in Colorado is as varied as the spring weather. Whether you like slabby runouts, easy sport climbs, high altitude traditional routes, or a bolted route that makes your palms sweat, check out the areas below. From 5.8 to 5.14, sandstone to granite, walk-up to hike-in — rack up your quickdraws and cams for the best climbing in Colorado.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park.

Colorado climbing

Photo: G B

It is home to 4.2 million visitors a year, but you can still escape the crowds in the backcountry. Lumpy Ridge has the densest number of climbs in one area. The south-facing ridge extends about two miles, with mostly traditional (gear) routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.12. The classics congregate in the middle zone, 5.9-5.10. The granite cracks chew up your skin, so be sure to tape up.

Venture into the backcountry and commit yourself with multi-pitch high alpine routes at 12,000+ feet above sea level. Classics include the North Ridge of Spearhead (5.6) and the Casual Route (5.10a) on Longs Peak’s 900-foot face, the Diamond. Local hero Tommy Caldwell put up an intricate and technical test piece above Chasm Lake for the hardy sport climber, l, Sarchasm, (5.14a).

2. Rifle Mountain Park, outside of Rifle.

Colorado climbing

Photo: USAJFKSWCS

While Rifle is known to be the testing grounds for hard climbing, there is a host of mid-level climbs. The limestone can be slick, and most of the climbs range from slightly to extremely overhanging, so Rifle can be frustrating for beginners. The classics start at 5.12, with pockets, crimps, and open-handed, flat holds to test your forearm endurance.

A lift of the bolting ban came with the caveat that every hard climb had to have an easier one as well. Check out the Canine Wall for fun climbs ranging from 5.8 to 5.11. Stay away from Rifle on summer weekends, when the Front Range crowds venture across the divide into the cool mountain canyon. A pure sport climbing area, be sure you’ve got a large rack of quickdraws on your harness.

3. Shelf Road, near Canon City.

Be careful not to get sandbagged at Shelf, where the dead vertical limestone sport climbs will seem twice as long as they are. Shelf is known for stout grades, so get a few under your feet before venturing into unknown territory.

Climbing in the high desert is a draw, but the Cactus Cliff classics will keep you entertained year around with about 150 climbs ranging from 5.8 to 5.12. Cactus Cliff is regarded as a moderate climber’s dream; you’ll tie into a climb just 20 minutes from the car.

4. Eldorado Canyon State Park, south of Boulder.

Colorado climbing

Photo: F Delventhal

The brilliant red and golden walls of Eldo soar 700 feet, but not all the climbs are multi-pitch. This is primarily a traditional climbing area, so you’ll find few continuous cracks. Typical routes mix fixed gear and placing pro, although there are a few standard sport climbs.

From the iconic Bastille Crack to the Redgarden Wall, the routes can take some getting used to. In this area with huge variety, you’ll encounter delicate face climbing, traverses, and technical moves, sometimes on the same climb. With many of the climbs established in the 1960s, runouts and old gear are common, as is clipping bolts after the crux move. Both north and south-facing crags allow for shade-hopping during hot summer days.

5. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose.

If adventure climbing is your thing, the 2,722-foot-deep canyon has over 140 documented traditional routes. It’s remote, multi-pitch (10 or more pitches). Climbing involves carrying a pack (with emergency gear) in the event of an unexpected overnight.

The walls are sheer schist and gneiss. While the climbs start at 5.8, it’s not a place for beginners since many of the routes require the additional skill of aid climbing. The climbs are committing and have been known to be deceiving. Permits are required to climb in the canyon, and guide services are available.

Landscape diversity in Colorado

A PATCHWORK of land stitched together by rivers and aspen groves, Colorado consists of an endless network of patterns and textures. Delicate alpine tundra, sparsely vegetated desert, towering sand dunes, steep-faced canyons, and grasslands speckled with buttes — all pieces of a quilt that could stretch over a continent exist within the 104,185 square miles that is Colorado. With this variance, Colorado offers us the opportunity to see incredible spaces only hours from each other.

Colorado has an adventure for everyone and a view for anyone. From skiers to kayakers, ultra runners to whiskey drinkers, you can bet that Colorado has a place for you to land your running shoes or camp chair and take in those picturesque sights that cause people to get outside and feel at home in the great outdoors. For that, I’m taking a moment to praise the beautifully stitched patchwork that is the Colorado landscape and what causes us to say: “Gosh dang, Mother Nature! You’ve done it again.”

1

Maroon Lake

Here in Colorado, we’re lucky enough to have the landscapes that give you goosebumps and render you speechless. Maroon Lake is one of those places. With crystal clear water reflecting the magnificent Maroon Peaks, the striking views from the sandy shore is one of the most recognizable spots in Colorado. Located near Aspen, one of the most popular times to visit this area is during the fall, when the aspen covered hillsides turn a vivid golden yellow, adding another layer of natural beauty to an already breathtaking view.

2

Ice Lake

When you reach an elevation where trees can no longer grow because of lack of oxygen, you aren’t exactly anticipating diversity. As an unexpected porcupine scuttled across the trail in the light of our headlamps under a star-filled sky, assumptions of what we would find on our hike disappeared with him. The following day, at 12,270 feet, we played on the shores of the indescribable Ice Lake in Silverton and were reminded of the diversity of Colorado landscapes at all elevations. You can know what you’re hiking to, you can research your hike and view trip reports, but nothing can prepare you for that feeling you get when nature decides to take you by surprise.

3

Mt. Sneffels

As we neared the summit of Mt. Sneffels at 14,105 feet, we took a moment to turn and face what had been to our backs the majority of the hike. Mountains, with a backdrop of mountains, surrounded by miles of mountains basking in the late morning sun. A portion of the Rocky Mountain range runs through Colorado, gifting the state with 58 peaks reaching 14,000 feet and subranges abundant with rivers meandering through sweet-smelling pine forests and thick aspen groves. The many ranges provide Colorado with a variety of ecosystems from alpine tundra to riparian zones, providing homes for a diverse spectrum of both flora and fauna, and giving us views that make waking up at 4 AM and having your lungs ache worth every second.

4

Great Sand Dune

In southern Colorado, sit 230 square miles belonging to Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve. Home to the towering 750-foot Star Dune, Great Sand Dune National Park has a variety of unique ecosystems from a desert valley to the seasonal Medano Creek. As our descent from Star Dune began to reach into early afternoon, for the sake of our feet, we picked up the pace in hopes of making it to Medano Creek before the sand reached peak afternoon temperatures.

5

Red Mountain Pass

Rain poured over us as we sat in the open air of a truck bed, bouncing up a steep muddy road to the top of Red Mountain Pass. When we reached the top, the clouds parted, and we were greeted with the warmth of whiskey and the reason for the pass’s name. Although we were soaked, the fresh rain gave the colors of the surrounding mountains extra vibrancy and an overall dramatic view of the San Juan Mountain range.

6

Arkansas River

As we made our way toward Snowmass for some aspen grove camping, we stopped to take a break and stretch our legs along the side of the road just past Twin Lakes. We were lucky enough to stumble upon this view of the Arkansas River, flanked by rock outcroppings and aspens beginning to change from a soft green to brilliant gold. With snow-capped peaks comes snowmelt, and with snow melt comes wandering mountain rivers. Rivers have contributed to a great deal of the landscapes we see in Colorado today, and support a wide range of wildlife, activities like fishing and kayaking, and continue to carve into the Earth and stitch together the pieces of the Colorado patchwork.

7

Alpine Tundra

Waking up at 4 AM on a Saturday to hike doesn’t always seem appealing, But the views and a summit beer are always worth it. Colorado has fifty-eight 14,000-foot peaks, and at the summit, you can often see surrounding snow-capped peaks for miles. Sometimes, you’re surprised by a different view: A mountain goat, a thundercloud, someone doing their business, or some sign of the delicate alpine tundra you’ve made your way to. While wearing base layers, puffies, a beanie, and two pairs of pants, capturing this image made me realize how hardy these flowers truly are — not only to be surviving but thriving at such a high elevation. Although tough against the weather, the alpine tundra is an extremely delicate ecosystem and it is important to always stay on the trail and leave no trace.

8

Huron Peak

As we made our way down from Huron Peak, the anticipation for the meal awaiting us at the bottom caused us to turn to trail running for a speedier descent. Trail running is a great way to cover more terrain and get in shape (or get to your food faster), as long as you don’t trip! Although looking at the mountains from a distance may hint otherwise, ranges are not only filled with rugged peaks. Tremendous valleys, shining lakes, and clusters of pine and aspen are interlaced with deep gullies and roaring rivers, creating unique ecosystems and microclimates between the summits you see from a distance. These areas provide amazing views and spaces for recreationists, from kayakers to backcountry skiers to hikers running for their food.

9

Urban corridor

Although some think only of the mountains in Colorado, the Front Range Urban Corridor is a unique landscape within itself. Stretching along the eastern face of the foothills, the Urban Corridor consists of cities and towns like Fort Collins, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. Affected by a natural pattern called a rain shadow, where moist air is often blocked by the mountains, this area of Colorado is often coined with having 300 days of sunshine a year. The folks at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science were kind enough to allow me access to their sky terrace after hours to capture this sunset over Denver.

10

Railroad

Eastern Colorado is considered to be part of the Great Plains and is home to the beautiful Pawnee National Grasslands and the Comanche National Grasslands. Although sparsely populated, eastern Colorado has rangeland, family farms, canyons, buttes, and sporadic deciduous forests. Retired farming and railroad machinery can be found scattered throughout the eastern plains.

What to do in Denver

Denver is burning up. And, no, it has nothing to do with its 300 days of annual sunshine. Between award-winning chefs, secret-box-making artists, polyethnic cajun slamgrass bands, canned wine, and a historic brick foundry turned open-air market, Denver is a place where — perhaps more so than anywhere else in America — creative people are encouraged, sponsored, and enthusiastically celebrated. If you’re visiting for the first time, there’s a lot to do, but here’s a quick rundown of things to do and see.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Cherry Creek Bike Trail

 Cherry Creek Bike PathDenver, United StatesWind your way through the city’s history on the Cherry Creek Bike Path.

You’ll see a few shades of Denver on the Cherry Creek Trail, all while traversing the city from the downtown southeast along the creek past ritzy shopping districts, neighborhoods, and homeless camps. The trail crosses under several of the city’s big thoroughfares, making it a popular part of biking home after a night of partying downtown.

Denver Art scene.

The African art gallery in the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building. Courtesy Denver Art Museum.

The African art gallery in the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building. Photo courtesy of Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum has put itself smack dab in the middle of the map. Or rather, the museum’s director, Christoph Heinrich, put it on the map with his notable exhibits, bringing national attention to the thriving art scene right here in The Mile High City.

Exhibits under Heinrich have included Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective, celebrating the life and achievements of the most revolutionary fashion designer of the 20th century; Becoming Van Gogh, which introduced more than 60 public and private collections from Europe and North America; and Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, a Denver exclusive, organized by the museum to feature an array of objects created between 1900 and 1975 — think jewel-studded necklaces and watches so fancy you have to call them “timepieces.”

Of course, not all art lives in a gallery, so let’s not forget the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the nation’s largest nonprofit theater organization. It hosts no shortage of the shows you’ve heard about a hundred times, but never dreamed you’d make it to. Kids still humming “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and dressing up like Elsa? Take them to see Frozen onstage before it even makes its debut on Broadway. Because believe it or not, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is actually one of the preferred destinations for Broadway tours in the nation. And yes, you can expect Hamilton here in 2017.

Willy’s Wings

Una publicación compartida de Meg Gagnard (@marhabameg) el

If you’re heading to Red Rocks or spending time in Morrison, people will likely tell you to stop by the Morrison Inn. That’s all well and good, but for amazing wings served alongside the road in a setting that doesn’t give a shit about modern trends, this little shack is as good as it gets.

Beau Jo’s

 Beau Jo’s Denver – University HillsDenver, United StatesMountain Pie, the long-running champion of Denver’s food scene.

Ever hear of Colorado style pizza? It’s as good as New York or Chicago as long as there’s plenty of honey. Get a mountain pie. Also, don’t skip the salad bar. The original location in Idaho Springs is the best place to fill up on the way back from skiing.

Washington Park

 Washington ParkDenver, United StatesDenver’s mini-Central Park. In the city, but big enough you can feel secluded.

Wash Park is an incredible place to people watch. On summer weekends, it fills up with lively, drunken volleyball matches, but throughout the week you’re likely to catch a glimpse of Denver’s best-looking joggers, tennis players, and even croquet hounds.

Get into the community spirit

collabfest

Collaboration Fest, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Photo: Brewtography Project

Denver is like that rare kid who actually enjoys group projects. We even have a festival named for it. Collaboration Fest encompasses more than 75 collaborative and global beer projects, where each beer must be the delicious result of at least two breweries working together. And it’s followed by one heck of an after-party.

Other collaborations have brought us the 18-piece ensemble of Michal Menert Big Band as well as the foamy and frothy romance between New Belgium Brewing Company and Novo Coffee (coffee-cherry-infused beer, anyone?).

Govnr’s Park

 Govnr’s Park TavernDenver, United StatesThey say Denver is a city that loves its neighborhoods. To be more specific, it’s a city that loves its neighborhood pubs.

The neighborhoods of Denver are full of quirky dive bars and pubs like Govnr’s Park Tavern that, beyond the laid-back vibe and dress code of the city, have served to define Denver’s culture. Grab a bike and check out as many of them as you can. It seems as though everyone living in Cap Hill, Wash Park, or Governor’s Park has a bar they claim as home turf, but it’s not uncommon to float between a few of them on Broncos’ game days.

Denver’s music scene

denver music

Tickle Me Pink at Summit Music Hall. Photo: Stepan Mazurov

Everyone knows where John Denver got his name, but did you also know Earth, Wind & Fire’s singer Philip Bailey is a Denver native? And that’s just the beginning. There’s also Big Head Todd and Leftover Salmon, both of whom got their start in the area. And if those names alone aren’t interesting enough to make you buy an album, jam band Leftover Salmon describes their genre as “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” — which is a fusion of bluegrass, rock, country, and cajun/zydeco. Sold on some slamgrass? Of course you are.

It doesn’t stop there. Denver bands like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, The Lumineers, Tennis, DeVotchKa, Pretty Lights, The Motet, and Big Gigantic have been taking the world by musical storm. And you don’t have to head to Red Rocks to see killer shows by these artists (although you should if you get the chance). There are plenty of smaller venues in Denver to check out the local live music scene, especially in neighborhoods like South Broadway, LoDo, East Colfax, RiNo, and Five Points.

East Colfax

Una publicación compartida de Jose Avila (@josea_vila) el

It’s impossible to say you’ve been to Denver if you haven’t spent some time on Colfax. Many of the city’s most legendary bars, restaurants, music venues, and long-running mom and pop shops dot this legendary street. Park the car and walking around because odds are that you’ll wind up having some interesting conversations (and learning a thing or two about the city in the process).

Pete’s Kitchen

 Pete’s KitchenDenver, United StatesYou haven’t partied in Denver if you haven’t ended a night at Pete’s Kitchen.

If there is one place to go in Denver after the bar’s close, it’s Pete’s Kitchen. Open all night, shaving gyro meat right off the leg of a lamb in front of customers after they order, and always full of crazy characters. Not into gyros? It’s all good, they’ve got an extensive menu that includes everything you’d expect from a late night diner plus some special surprises.

Cherry Cricket

 Cherry CricketDenver, United StatesThe old standby for burgers in Denver.

Ask a Denverite where the best burger in town is, and Cherry Cricket will be the response. The Cricket, the dive-iest place in ritzy Cherry Creek North, has been around since 1945 and as long as I’ve known about it, has been considered a living legend. The burgers bring people in, but the solid beer selection and friendly staff keep them hanging around.

Shop local

Topo Designs

Photo: Topo Designs

Between a bounty of boutiques, shops, markets, cafes, and restaurants, you’d have more of a difficult time trying not to shop local here. Some local businesses to check out in Denver are Topo Designs, an American-made outdoor apparel, gear, and bag store that shapes their philosophy around mimicking the simplicity of nature in their merchandise; Spinster Sisters, which sells natural soaps and lotions; and Tattered Cover, a massive independent bookstore that hosts as many as 400 authors, illustrators, and other people-with-interesting-things-to-say every year.

Grocery shopping? Hit up The Source, an artisan food market that occupies an 1880s brick foundry; Denver Flea, which has anything and everything from magnetic cutting boards to homeopathic bath salts to honey sage biscuits; The Big Wonderful, bringing together art, music, and food (and drink!) in weekly markets in an effort to rejuvenate local neighborhoods; Stanley Marketplace, which is new this year and will feature roughly 50 independent local businesses in one space; Central Market, a collective of community-oriented food artisans (creating anything from ice cream to ramen to homemade pasta) that’s opening this year; and Horseshoe Market, which is the city’s prime spot for indie crafts and vintage goodies.