Things To Do in Denver When You're Interested n Having a Swell Time
May 17, 2011 5:57 AM   Subscribe

A vacation in Colorado: where would I go? What would I do?

Last night, for the second time in as many weeks, I dreamt of going to Colorado*. I have no idea why, as I have never been there and know nothing about the state and it has not previously held any appeal for me. But! Always worth looking into auspicious unconsciousness, so:

Let's say I was planning a trip to Colorado. What is good there? When is a cheap/fun time to go there (I do not mind the cold, so winter is not precluded)? I like interesting food, walkable downtowns, friendly bars, and neat museums. In the outdoors, I like hiking along craggy trails and looking at animals, but I don't ski or snowboard or anything.

I looked through a few old questions: This question made me wonder about Boulder, but it seemed more oriented toward living there than vacationing for a few days there, and this question was only moderately helpful. This question brought up the Boulder Creek Path and biking, as well as the Mountain Sun brewpub, all of which sound peachy. But perhaps there are new/different/additional ideas from the Coloradoans of metafilter.

* I am aware that this is how The Stand starts, but Vegas sounds unpleasant, so it seems I would end up in Colorado, I guess.
posted by Greg Nog to Travel & Transportation around Colorado (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have a group of friends that attend the annual Telluride Jazz celebration. They seem to love it.
posted by teabag at 6:12 AM on May 17, 2011

How long you wanna stay? There's a ton of stuff to do. I lean toward long drives on gravel roads among amazing scenery, and can recommend roads for that. I've found that many towns that you'd think were to small for it, have a brewpub. Therefore, a "Beer Tour" of the San Juans is doable.

Also: you flying in or driving? And do you mind sleeping in your car? (I don't mind, and find that it avails me to some photography opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise.)
posted by notsnot at 6:18 AM on May 17, 2011

we spent a week in breckenridge last summer. Breck is major tourist town about 70 so miles west of Denver. COndos etc are about a 3rd of the price in teh summer that they are in the winter - we had a place that slept 6 a block and a half from the dead center of downtown for 105.00 a night. There were days we didn't move our car because we could walk to everything we wanted. i dont' know what your budget is but that is a damn good deal for a mountain town. Great hiking, fishing, horseback riding are all very near. Lots of good looking young people so i am sure there are fun bars in the vicinity. We had our kids so we didn't bar hop. There are some very nice restaurants. Pretty low on musuems, but we were there over July 4th and they had a symphony perform in the river center a couple nights as well as other entertainment on other nights. Also an art show and huge parade.

You would be within a short drive of vail and beaver creek also.

It is really beautiful in that area. Everyone needs to see the Rocky Mountains in their lifetime. Just the drive from Denver should be a landscape you will find awesome if you haven't seen mountains of that scale.
posted by domino at 6:28 AM on May 17, 2011

I took the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak one time. it's worth it just for the trippiness of being all light-headed from the altitude. And, of course, the views are amazing.

Colorado Springs also has The Garden of the Gods, which is free and awesome, and you can also wander around the Air Force Academy grounds.
posted by something something at 6:29 AM on May 17, 2011

I went to Grand Junction last summer and had a blast. It is very far out of the way of just about anything, but there are a few museums that cover the local history and pre-history. Hiking includes Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa, but make sure to rent an off-road capable vehicle because a lot of the trails are unreachable without some amount of driving over rutted dirt paths.

I actually stayed next door in the town of Palisade, which has a number of wineries, a meadery, a brewery, and its own distillery. Plenty of biking in the area, too.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2011

notsnot, regardless of OP's desires, I wouldn't mind hearing about your roads and beer tour...
posted by McBearclaw at 6:41 AM on May 17, 2011

Greg Nog: When is a cheap/fun time to go there (I do not mind the cold, so winter is not precluded)?

Just in case this has not been made crystal clear from previous answers, winter is not the cheap time to go to CO; people are paying a huge premium for snow, and therefore cold. As domino's experience indicates, spring, summer and fall are actually way, way cheaper than winter except in specific towns for specific festivals.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:52 AM on May 17, 2011

Well, this guy has a great set of guides of various drives. His "fall color" series is great any time of the year.

As for beer, I just made a point to gas up in any moderately-sized town and ask the attendant where the beer was. I mean, you can plan it out in advance, but Crested Butte has, I think, two or three. Durango has *five* breweries-great base of operations.

If you're more for the scenery, this is the book to get.
posted by notsnot at 7:21 AM on May 17, 2011

"Colorado" calls to mind skiing and mountains for most folks, but it's also agriculture, and Native American history, and mining, and high elevation ranching, and a lot of other stuff. One good way to see more of that would be to pick an old US highway (not I-70) and drive through.

But the kind of thing you specifically mentioned - walkable downtowns, craggy trails, good beer, museums.... That's not so much a road trip vision. There are a lot of towns in CO that could provide that experience, from Fort Collins and Boulder and Colorado Springs on the Front Range, to mountain towns like Estes Park, Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Ouray, Durango, maybe Telluride.... There's hiking and craggy scenery all over the place from the I-25 corridor all the way to the Utah border.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the I-70 corridor, because it's heavily travelled and touristy. But there's some neat mining history there. I love Steamboat, Ouray and Mesa Verde NP (near Durango).

Finally, it's a very big state. It's like a 7 hour drive from Kansas to Utah along I-70. Anything diagonal is pretty complicated - for example, Fort Collins to Durango is a brutally long drive, because there's no direct route. Pesky mountains....
posted by richyoung at 7:47 AM on May 17, 2011

I recommend the Durango to Four Corners region. You can go to Mesa Verde (which is very cool) and expand from there to back country hikes to explore more out of the way cliff dwellings You are in Navaho country so you can usually find AM radio in Navaho to listen to while driving around. When you get too hot head up to higher elevations in the San Juans to explore mountain scenery and cool off in cold lakes and rivers. The Durango to Silverton railroad is picturesque I hear, but we found it too expensive and figured it was too touristy. We like to drive around aimlessly and I would agree with notsnot's beer tour but we had kids with and didn't do much beer drinking.

Maybe the route described in the San Juan Skyway is what you had in mind?
posted by readery at 7:51 AM on May 17, 2011

Yes, yes, come to Colorado!

If you like interesting beer (and bonus bicycles), Fort Collins, in the Front Range about sixty miles north of Denver, is your town. You could make it a short (two or three day) part of your trip and check out the many, many craft breweries we've got here. Some of them are doing awesome stuff, and all offer free or low-cost tours and cheap beers in their tasting rooms. Most of them are within a pleasant, very short bike ride of our walkable, cute historic downtown. We have a couple of really good hang-out bars, and a thriving local music scene. Wolverine Farms is run out of here, and we have a lot of independent bookstores and coffee shops.

If you come in spring and summer and autumn, you can borrow wheels from the bike library and forget totally about renting a car (you could take the shuttle up from the airport and then to wherever your next destination is). There are excellent farmer's markets and friendly farmers willing to show you their stuff. We fail a little on the restaurant front, but there are a lot of people who cook here. There's great outdoors stuff just a little bit away; there's a long bikeway that goes way way up the Poudre Canyon. You can tube or raft or kayak or just skinny dip on the river. People really like Fort Collins; to me, it's a little more authentic than Boulder and easier to visit and get a feel for (though it lacks some of the amenities; i.e. really good food).

So yeah! Come to Colorado, and stay at least a little while in Fort Collins to get the Colorado bikes/beer/outside vibe going before moving along to different things. The awesome thing about Colorado is that it presents all kinds of landscapes and activities within a short drive of each other.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wonderful answers so far! Please keep 'em coming! To answer some questions:

How long you wanna stay?

Let's say... like 4, 5 days?

Also: you flying in or driving?

I would be flying in from the East Coast, but would not be averse to renting a car!

And do you mind sleeping in your car?

I would not mind! Nor would I mind camping! But I also like hotels, so I guess I could hole up in a few different environments. Maybe even do something like two days in smelly clothes and tent, two days showered and civilized.

I will say that while scenery sounds nice, I'd be more inclined toward scenic routes based on walking/biking.

notsnot, regardless of OP's desires, I wouldn't mind hearing about your roads and beer tour...

Let the record show that OP's desires always include beer.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:53 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Piggybacking--I'll be performing a wedding in Berthoud this weekend. Kinda doubt I'll have time to do/see anything, but if I had, say, 3 hours on Friday afternoon or Saturday mroning, is there anything right near there to do? I will have a car.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:02 AM on May 17, 2011

oooo MrMoonPie, you're right by Loveland. There's a slightly creepy sculpture garden here, along with a lot of public art (most of it bad, but interesting to look at). Lake Loveland is pretty and a nice long walk around. And Boyd Lake (and the accompanying nature preserve) is lovely. If you want to eat, Henry's on Fourth Street is okay for pub food.

Or come up to Fort Collins, where there are many more things to do!
posted by peachfuzz at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2011

If you like baseball, Coors Field in Denver is a pretty good place to catch a game.

Denver itself is a pretty great city, and you could easily spend a few days looking around the city.
posted by elder18 at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2011

Hmmmmm... I think you want to divide the state and conquer part of it. My suggestion, just because of my familiarity with it, is to hit the I-70 corridor. I haven't spent much time in the southern part of the state.

Fly into Denver, spend a night or two checking out a game at Coors Field, hitting bars in LoDo, and maybe take a day trek to Boulder to climb Bear Peak and check out the rock climbing or bouldering up Flagstaff Road. Also, nothing compares to seeing the foothills pop out of the ground from the plains like they do along the Boulder/Fort Collins front range.

Then, go check out Rocky Mountain National Park. Stunning vistas. Spend a night in Granby and then make your way back to I-70 and go up towards the ski resorts. (Vail, Breck, etc.) They all have hiking and mountain biking in the summer. If you want a taste of Aspen, you can just keep on driving West on I-70... but you can get everything you want just by staying within a few hours of Denver and never heading West of Vail. When you're ready to head home, just cruise back down I-70 and get back to DIA.

Do it! Colorado is amazing. Wish I was there right now instead of in the Bay Area.

(and check out Mountain Sun.)
posted by jstef at 10:23 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

But I also like hotels, so I guess I could hole up in a few different environments. Maybe even do something like two days in smelly clothes and tent, two days showered and civilized.

I was in Colorado for a few days and I had a good time splitting time between Denver and mucking around in Manitou Springs which is where Garden of the Gods (link goes to a few of my photos) is. It's a near little area with a ton of cutiepoo weird old motels and has a lot of fun things to look at. I stayed in a place that basically qualified as a one bedroom apartment for $70/night and so could cook my own food and etc. Car rentals at Denver are historically sort of cheap, so I'd go with renting a car, stay n the city a day or two and then get out into the wilderness some. Also, have a meetup. Denver MeFites are terrific.
posted by jessamyn at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2011

Greg, in light of the additional info on your preferences, I agree with peachfuzz that you might enjoy Fort Collins. Come stay at the Armstrong Hotel and enjoy the ped-friendly "old town" area. You're within stumbling walking distance of Coopersmiths and Equinox brewpubs, and plenty(!) of restaurants and bars. Check a bike out from the Fort Collins Bike Library and your bike will get you to New Belgium Brewery, Odell Brewery, the bike path along the Poudre River, and hiking or mountain biking on the trails on the west edge of town.

Take day trips to Rocky Mountain National Park for big-mountain scenery - driving up Fall River Road is a unique way to see the high country (but it's only open to vehicle traffic starting around early July, due to snowpack; Trail Ridge Road is busier, but still very nice and opens around Memorial Day). Or hit the Poudre Canyon to do some more hiking, white water rafting, or mountain biking. If you really want to hit Boulder or Denver, they're both about an hour's drive away from downtown, too.

Living in Fort Collins, I take most of this stuff for granted and think of the red-rock, western part of the state when I want to get away. But if you've never been to Colorado at all, our little town offers a good base with access to some great Colorado experiences.
posted by richyoung at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2011

Denver MeFites are terriffic.


Great divide is my favoritest; I'm headed there after work.

Oskar blues is fantastic

New Belgium is solid, and big.

Avery does some of my favorite beers


Boulder Brewing


Breckenridge Brewing

Left Hand


Dry Dock

Twisted Pine

Asher Brewing


All on the front range.

I would do a beer tour, hang out in Denver for a day or two and see a Rockies game, bike around on one of the community bikes, maybe see some art. Then head to Estes Park or some of the other fourteeners to work off the beer.

Let me know if you want to get a beer together while you're in town. We could go here, which has one of the best tap selections in the world.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

oh man i'm jealous. i really want to go home this summer! last august i went back for a week and ran the heart&sole half marathon in Boulder (years before i had done the Bolder Boulder, which is also a blast!) we then went backpacking through the James Peak Wilderness. it's an area west of Nederland, with a trail that begins at the Moffat Tunnel alongside south boulder creek, then crawls up towards the Crater Lakes, Heart Lake and Roger's Lake. we also trekked up Roger's Pass to the continental divide to see the entire world in 360.

god i want to go back so bad.

also i am sad that Illegal Pete's wasn't mentioned yet, it was a staple during my college years and every time i visit for Christmas i make it a point to go, even if i'm only in town for a short time. they have fabulous burritos and a great happy hour to boot. locations in Boulder (on the hill and pearl st) and Denver as well.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:51 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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