As the last traces of snow dissolve into puddles and the days lengthen into gloriously long evenings, it’s time to start planning that summer vacation – to Denver. Wait....Denver? Isn’t that a winter destination? Not for savvy travellers who have done their research. Colorado has some of the best natural environments in the U.S., and Denver is the heart of the state. With non-stop flights available from most major Canadian cities, a Mile-High Holiday has never been easier.
Hiking the Hills
Come summer, those majestic Rocky Mountain ski runs reveal alpine peaks connected by well maintained hiking trails. Only 80 km from Denver, Mount Evans is the highest summit of the Colorado Chicago Peaks. It’s visible from many miles away, dominating the Denver skyline as it rises over 275 metres above the land.
Non-hikers can take in the scenery by driving the Mount Evans Scenic Byway that runs for 45 km, ending just below the summit at a parking area. The byway links to several other scenic roads creating an easy day of adventure with a mountain-top picnic thrown in for good measure.
The Denver Mountain Parks system is maintained by the city and contains some 14,000 acres of parkland in the foothills and mountains around Denver. The parks are an easy way to escape from the urban bustle and see some wildlife without venturing too far into the hills. Most have shelters and pavilions for picnicking and a few have marked trails.
Although not a hiking destination by definition, visiting the 23 acres of the Denver Botanic Gardens is certainly a workout. Several themed gardens have been created within the property's bounds including a tropical greenhouse. Summertime visitors who time it right can enjoy a concert in the sunken amphitheatre, in addition to the thousands of plant species in the Gardens.
Admire Artifacts & Art
Especially great for travellers with kids, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has mummies, dinosaur skeletons, glittering gems and a sky-terrace with the best view in the city. The planetarium lets visitors travel the stars while a permanent Prehistoric Journey exhibit traces the evolution of the planet from single-cell organisms to today’s plants and animals.
The Denver Art Museum has a large collection of American Indian Art along with more than 68,000 works from around the world and across the centuries. This is one of the largest museums between Chicago and the west coast, and is completely free for students under 18.
The “Unsinkable Molly Brown” survived the sinking of the Titanic and spent her life as a socialite and activist. Her home in Denver is now a museum dedicated to her and Victorian Denver in general. The architecture of the house encompasses several styles from the 1880s and has been carefully restored to its former glory using old photographs and paint analysis to appropriately guide the process.
Family Friendly Fun
Coors Field is the home stadium of the Colorado Rockies, the state’s major league baseball team. The best way to experience the 50,000-seat stadium is by taking in a game, but visitors wanting a closer look can always join a tour. Look for the row of purple seats; this marks the one-mile elevation point of the city.
The NFL Denver Broncos play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, a venue that also hosts the lacrosse team. This is where Barack Obama accepted the nomination for president of the U.S., an event attended by 84,000 people – exceeding the seating capacity by almost 10,000 people. The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame is located on the west side of the stadium.
Started as a home for an orphaned black bear, the Denver Zoo was the first in the U.S. to use naturalistic habitats instead of cages. Large open areas are set up for primates and the animals that live in Predator Ridge are rotated through three separate areas, allowing them to experience each other’s scents without provoking a turf war.
Several amazing restaurants are scattered throughout the city offering cuisine from the regional to the exotic. Even the most discerning palate will have no trouble finding suitable delicacies and the corn-dog crowd will simply have a blast.
Frasca Food and Wine is always at the top of “best of” lists with two very experienced co-owners. Master sommelier Bobby Stuckey has enjoyed a distinguished career and Frasca continues to be recognized year-on-year by the James Beard Foundation. The cuisine is inspired by the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, an area that blends the traditions of Italy, Austria and Slovenia.
ChoLon serves the flavours of Southeast Asia with a Colorado twist. Avocados are surprisingly delicious with calamari and where else could a diner find dumplings garnished with gruyere? Visit during happy hour to try the appetizers at a more pocketbook-friendly price.
Possibly the best morning meal in the city, Snooze has traditional breakfasts, great coffee and a few breakfast cocktails. The seasonal menu features fresh ingredients that are arranged into omelets, burritos, pancakes, French toast (brioche and mascarpone – wow!) and a few sandwiches to get you through lunch.
If you miss breakfast at Snooze, keep an eye out for the Biscuit Bus, a Denver favorite that only operates in the summer.
Craft Beer Breweries
Denver is one of the top cities for craft brew aficionados. It’s almost impossible to walk the streets without passing several breweries serving up their own amazing concoctions ranging from rich and heavy stouts to light-as-champagne ales. Most have seasonal varieties and something new they’re testing out - which means your visit to the brew pubs will be unique.
Try some of the extreme brews, if you dare, to get the full range of what’s possible. Mexican Chocolate Stout (Copper Kettle Brewing Company) is about as complex as they come. Made with three kinds of chiles, cocoa nibs and cinnamon, a pint of this is almost lunch. On the other hand, the sour brews at the Crooked Stave may be a bit of an acquired taste, but the brews aged in barrels (used first for whiskey, cognac, wine or other alcoholic beverage) have undertones you won’t find in any other beer. With so many novel flavors why not crawl between a few?