If your idea of a good Colorado weekend is hiking stacks of books instead of, say, red rock, we got you. But instead of pulling up to a publicly owned monstrosity (or swiping through that app), consider paying a visit to one of the Denver metro area’s top indie shops, where mazes of lit marinating in the sweet smell of paper usher you in and invite you to stay a while.

Below, our 10 most beloved independent bookshops on the Front Range, from antiquarian sellers to paperback-only purveyors.

Petals & Pages

Best for: Readers with lots of hobbies
Address: 956 Santa Fe Dr.

If you’re a book lover who doesn’t like to be put in a box, this new shop in the Santa Fe Arts District will give you permission to pursue all of your passions. Petals & Pages, which opened in October 2023, is a queer-owned bookstore, flower shop, intimate art gallery, and soon-to-be bakery. In other words, it’s the many loves of owner Dylah Ray married under one roof.

While you can certainly snag the latest New York Times bestseller from the shelves or pick up a bouquet of flowers for your foyer, the space is, above all, made for community building. This means that you can settle into a seat in the Writer’s Corner and workshop your manuscript with other local authors, take a paint-and-sip class with the shop’s art director EmmaMay Beers, slip into a sleeping bag on the floor with your copy of Fourth Wing during the monthly read-a-thon, or channel your inner Josephine Baker at a bookstore burlesque class. “I think there needs to be more spaces for the queer community to enjoy beautiful things in safe environments that are welcoming, warm, comfortable, and also that represent us—where we see our stories told,” Ray says.

Our best tip: Take advantage of Petals & Pages packed events calendar. Whether you’re looking for a new book club or you want to get connected with members of the trans community at their monthly game nights, don’t be afraid to try something new. In the words of Ray: “You have to take the leap, even if it feels scary.”

West Side Books

Best for: Those who relish the hunt
Address: 3434 W 32nd Ave.

The best used bookstores are the ones that feel like mildly organized chaos inside, and this Highlands gem is just that. Follow the taped arrows on the floor through this labyrinthine palace of prose: The main room is devoted to well-loved secondhand copies, and a separate room houses brand-new releases. The gently used stock is (loosely) sorted by the author’s last name, but Post-it notes scrawled in Sharpie may send you on a search for exceptions. “Check Black Authors section for Yaa Gyasi,” one reads. “Look up for Cormac McCarthy shelf,” another instructs. The prowl is well worth the payoff though because you’ll find treasures like Emily Henry’s Happy Place for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a B&N.

Our best tip: Don’t miss the carts sitting outside the front door. They’re full of books for just $2.50 (or five for $10).

Printed Page Bookshop

Best for: Wannabe book collectors
Address: 1416 S. Broadway

Printed Page is for the serious collectors and casual readers alike. Whether you’re looking for a signed first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or the latest fantasy taking BookTok by storm, it’s likely in-stock at this stately blue-and-white Victorian home on South Broadway. Co-owners Dan Danbom and John Frantzen both graduated from the Colorado Antiquarian Book School (yes, that’s a thing, and yes, we’re considering alternate careers now, too), meaning they never tire of talking rare reads, fine bindings, and book preservation. Can’t find an elusive book you’ve been looking for? Enlist the help of Danbom—the search is half the fun for him.

Our best tip: If you’re a book-collecting beginner, sign up for the Printed Page’s free College of Biblio Knowledge. These classes will teach you how to spot a first edition, budget your collecting quest, and care for your most hallowed hardcovers.

Capitol Hill Books

Best for: Those who love recommendations
Address: 300 E. Colfax Ave.

This is truly a choose-your-own-adventure indie spot. Type-A readers can plan ahead by searching for exact books by title or author on the website, a tech treat you don’t always find at the mom-and-pop bookshops. Type-B readers, on the other hand, can thumb through pages at their leisure, letting the books beckon them where they may. If the vast selection isn’t reason enough to support this small business, perhaps its determined spirit is. Capitol Books has been around for more than 40 years, and in 2021, after a truck drove right through the front of the store, its community of bibliophiles rallied to help it rebuild. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

Our best tip: If you can’t decide what to buy, let Capitol Hill pick for you. Order a mystery bundle, and the booksellers will ship you a selection of reads based on your chosen genre and specifications. Don’t be afraid to leave extra notes—the book elves here love finding the perfect match.

The Book Rack

Best for: The book lover on a budget
Address: 4061 E. Wesley Ave.

Sure, hardcovers have their place, but this spot’s for the readers who relish a good paperback. Since 1977, the Book Rack has been wheeling and dealing softcovers, amassing an impressive collection of children’s and sci-fi stories over the years. The best part? It’s nearly impossible to break the bank here—the owner offers bargain bundles of two to five titles grouped by genre starting as low as $7. Another good way to save some coin: Each time you pay this indie emporium a visit, bring along a few books you’re willing to part with. They offer store credit in exchange for paperback selects in good condition.

Our best tip: Although it primarily deals in paperbacks, the Book Rack is currently accepting hardcover children’s and young adult books for store credit. Time to sacrifice Junior’s oldies for your next long read.

Tattered Cover Book Store

Photo courtesy of Tattered Cover Book Store

Best for: Readers who love endless options
Address: Multiple locations

This is likely the most buzzed-about bookstore on the list, and for good reason. Tattered Cover has been home base for Denver book lovers since the first location in Cherry Creek North opened its doors in 1971. Despite a few location closures in 2023, this beloved local chain still has a cult following thanks to its impressive inventory of new, used, and bargain books; more than 500 author and community events; and best-of-the-best booksellers. Each of its four outposts—Congress Park, Union Station, Littleton, and Aurora—offers an abundance of titles and a distinct ambience, so make it a mission to visit each one to find your vibe. Want to peruse the shelves in a storied space? Visit the Colfax location inside a renovated old theater. Looking to pick up a read before your commute home? Swing by the shop in Union Station.

Our best tip: No need to go in with a TBR. Find your next best friend among the staff recommendation shelves (of which there are many), where employed bibliophiles share their current faves.

Poor Richard’s

Best for: Those looking for more than books
Address: 320–324 1/2 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs

If you happen to need the latest Colson Whitehead novel, a stuffed animal for your niece, a slice of buffalo chicken pizza, or a tall glass of vino, you’ve come to the right place. This Springs staple can’t decide if it’s a bookstore, gift shop, pizzeria, or wine bar—and who are we to complain about the array of vices?

The bookstore branch of this multifaceted business is the oldest in Poor Richard’s (and its biggest draw). Although it might sound like an unruly abundance of offerings, each genre is clearly labeled and immaculately organized. You won’t be tripping over stray stacks or fishing fantasy out of the thriller section here. Browse new and used titles, grab a glass of chardonnay from Rico’s (the in-house bar), and try not to blow $100.

Our best tip: If you happen to pick up a little something for someone special, wrap it right in Poor Richard’s at the free, self-serve gift-wrapping station.

Macdonald Book Shop

Best for: Readers who want to stay a while
Address: 152 East Elkhorn Ave., Estes Park

The fireplace inside MacDonald Bookshop. Photo by Jessica Giles

Forget the farm, the Macdonald family’s legacy lies in this cozy, century-old bookshop off the main drag in Estes Park. The two-story log cabin, which was originally the National Forest Service headquarters until J. Edward Macdonald purchased it in 1908, has had a bit of a facelift in the past hundred years. There’s a cafe and paperie—called Inkwell & Brew—in the back and an impressive inventory. Today, owners Staci and Kevin Galloway Reed keep this living landmark fully stocked with new releases, local authors, and mountain town charm. A far cry from a soulless big-box bookstore, it feels more like stepping inside someone’s impressive home library. The floorboards creak, the soft lighting gives the cabin a warm glow, staff members immediately recognize repeat customers, and there’s an impermeable quiet inside that makes you feel miles away from the crowds milling up and down Elkhorn Avenue. If you can’t wait to dive into your newest read, search for chairs tucked away in the cabin’s nooks—it’s not a bad spot to spend a rainy afternoon in Estes Park.

Our best tip: Visit in the winter when the fireplace in the young adult section is roaring. If you’re lucky, you can snag a spot beside the hearth in a leather chair made for whiling away the hours with a good read.

Boulder Book Store

Best for: Readers who want to meet their idols IRL
Address: 1107 Pearl St., Boulder

This behemoth of a bookstore is three stories tall. That’s 20,000 square feet and more than 100,000 titles on-site. But despite its (enormous) size, Boulder Book Store somehow manages to maintain an enduringly cozy character, perhaps thanks to the feng shui consultant founder David Bolduc hired when he remodeled the current building. Dangling light fixtures and gold lamps giving off a soft flow are reminiscent of the New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room. Other shoppers say the store has the same aesthetic as the Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail, but we’ll let you be the judge of that—swing by in September, and help this longstanding literary legend celebrate 50 years in the biz.

Our best tip: Boulder Book Store brings in some of the industry’s heaviest hitters. Past author appearances have included Stephen King, Deepak Chopra, Joyce Carol Oates, and R.L. Stine. Check the calendar so you don’t miss out.

Old Firehouse Books

Best for: The bibliophile looking for community
Address: 232 Walnut St., Fort Collins

The red-brick building that houses this charming bookshop holds as many stories as the shelves. As the name suggests, it sits in the old Fort Collins firehouse, which was built in 1881 and home to the Fort Collins Fire Department until 1976, when it was converted into retail space. This small-but-mighty merchant took over the fire station in 2009 and transformed it into a reader’s respite with inventory ranging from sci-fi and gardening to a section devoted entirely to local Colorado authors. If you’re a horror lit lover, join the the F*@#’d Up Book Club, a meeting of dark fiction minds. Or, if LGBTQ+ novels are more your speed, sign up for the Queer and Loathing Book Club.

Our best tip: Old Firehouse Books is conveniently attached to Happy Lucky’s Teahouse. Grab a cup of earl grey before you get lost in the lit.

Jessica Giles
Jessica Giles
Jessica is a senior associate editor on 5280's digital team.