The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
You panic when conversation shifts to ski passes. You wince when asked about saddling up on a fat-tire. Your blood pressure rises just thinking about scaling any kind of rock formation. If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to these, you’re among the rarest of birds: an adventure-averse Coloradan.
For any Denverite who isn’t fond of adrenaline-driven thrills, the inclination toward the extreme in Denver can feel like something of a social barrier. (After all, we’re talking about the city where the climbing gym you go to is arguably more of an identity badge than the sports teams you claim or the kind of car you drive.) But fret not: your antipathy toward hardcore recreation isn’t as blasphemous as it might seem. Whether your hesitation stems from coordination concerns or you just don’t want to drop a grand on gear, here’s a mix of local go-to’s and hidden gems for exploring and making the most of Colorado—that your go-getter friends will enjoy, too.
Give One Year of 5280 for just $16.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors Without Going Hardcore
Denver’s Less-Explored Outdoor Spaces
With more than 200 parks, the Mile High City certainly isn’t short of arborous acreage, which means you don’t have to trek far to soak up some of Colorado’s natural beauty. And while there are plenty of opportunities to hit the beloved Cheesman or City Park paths, if you venture just slightly south to Alamo Placita Park, you’ll be rewarded with a less-crowded space full of vibrant flower beds, a basketball court for friendly pick-up games (for future COVID-free days when that’s advised again), and a connection point to the Cherry Creek Trail. If you’re looking for a fresher vantage point, head north of I-70 to Inspiration Point Park in Regis for a short, paved loop and a view of the skyline. Bonus: If you like a little art-and-environment interplay, sign up for a tour of local creative Tiffany Matheson’s secret art garden tours at her private property near Denver through the end of August.
For an otherworldly journey that requires minimal effort, look no further than … well, directly up. Colorado is home to several picturesque pitstops for admiring the cosmos—you just have to head outside of the city to dodge the light pollution. Great Sand Dunes National Park and the small town of Silver Cliff are just a few of the state’s designated Dark Sky destinations guaranteed to dazzle. But if you can’t get that far out of town, you can still count on galactic marvels closer to Denver at the likes of Echo Lake near Mt. Evans, Lookout Mountain Road in Golden, or even the University of Denver’s Historic Chamberlin Observatory. Keep your eyes on the new astronomy feature on Colorado’s tourism website, which features celestial calendars and events to help you plan your astral expeditions.
One of Colorado’s many summertime splendors is the sea of bright blooms that arrives every year, providing an excuse for a tranquil trip to Colorado’s high country. You’ll be able to see vivid flora like Fireweed and Columbines at the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival—an excursion-filled weekend in the state’s Wildflower Capital that’s still slated to happen July 10 to 19 with virtually guided classes and events. If you prefer to go it alone, wander the meadows of Herman Gulch near Idaho Springs or traverse the Well Gulch Nature Trail in Lory State Park for a more mild and family-friendly scavenger hunt (disclaimer: this doesn’t mean pick the flowers!).
Other Things to Do in High Country and Beyond
Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway
If there’s one thing Coloradans can agree on for a weekend outing, it’s that it should be near a fine glass of wine. Head to Colorado’s wine country for a tasting tour of your own design on the Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway—25 miles of bikeable or driveable road along the Colorado River with stops at dozens of vineyards, tasting rooms, lavender gardens, and other local mainstays in historic downtown Palisade. If you need to fill the tank along the way, don’t miss seasonal bites at Pêche or baked-from-scratch goodies at Slice O’ Life Bakery.
The tame flow of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs allows you to float at the mercy of one Colorado’s natural waterways with zero fear factor involved (though it’s still essential to check daily to make sure water levels are safe). Rent a tube for the day or bring your own and coast alongside downtown Steamboat with the option to stop for riverside refreshments and fare. Be sure to mark late July on your calendar for future floats: Although Glenwood Springs’ annual Cruise-A-Thong 2020 was canceled because of COVID-19, it is one of the most relaxing local traditions you’ll find (think: a lazy lap in flip flops, aka “thongs,” followed by drifting down a section of the Roaring Fork River.)
Relax in a Hot Spring
Contrary to popular belief, soaking season is year-round. Colorado is home to dozens of natural hot springs, many of which boast healing and rejuvenating properties. You can’t go wrong with the most popular spots. But if you’re in the market for something more secluded—and sans sulfur smell—10 different peaceful pools and ponds await at Orvis Hot Springs. The Ridgway institution boasts lithium water springs bubbling right from the gravel bottom, plus a new cold-plunge pool. Be forewarned: Clothing is optional—which also means no cameras or technology allowed in the public resort areas.
Tap Into the Arts and Culture Scene
Get to Know the Art
Denver’s RiNo Art District is renowned for its creative works around every corner, and Denver Graffiti Tours are the perfect way to get acquainted with not only the famed graffiti art itself but also the nuanced history of the Five Points Neighborhood and the personal stories of the artists behind the designs. Although some smaller galleries and museums in the area remain closed due to public-health concerns, you can still work your way west to some of the city’s larger art institutions—including the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver—which have reopened for scheduled visits during the COVID-19 crisis.
Experience Local Sounds
While larger music venues are waiting for the green light to reopen, there are still ways to get your live music fix. Step out for an intimate—but socially distanced—show at modern jazz club and incubator Nocturne and enjoy a five-course tasting menu to complement the show. Or saunter over to the Broadway Roxy for small plates, 1920s-themed ambiance and libations, and an almost daily rotation of genres and performers.
Try Something New
Brew Your Own Beer
The Mile High City’s many professional brewers are proof that not all heroes wear capes. Luckily, some Denverites are just as obsessed with trying to make their own beer at home, and there is plenty of camaraderie to be found within the city’s homebrewing circles, too. Glean everything you might need to learn at the Brew Hut’s monthly classes, with offerings for every angle of the art—from all-grain brewing, to sensory classes, and even how to make wine.
Boozy Shop Class
Go hands-on and create any masterpiece you please at Upstairs Circus, the crafty social space that combines happy hour and DIY workshops at both its LoDo and Denver Tech Center locations. Choose from dozens of project options, such as distressed wood art or leather accessories—or perhaps something more utilitarian like a magnetic bottle opener—while fueling your creative side with wine, brews, or specialty concoctions. Our favorite? The Circus Donkey, a grapefruit take on a Moscow Mule.