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Welcome to Denver! We’ve assembled a comprehensive guide on where to stay, how to get around, our favorite restaurants, and some of the highlights of the Rocky Mountains.
Table of Contents
- Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes
- Around Campus
- Other Neighborhoods
- South Pearl St. (1 light rail stop, 2 miles)
- Union Station (7 miles away)
- Capital Hill (5 miles away)
- Cherry Creek (3 miles away)
- Arapahoe Station (8 miles away)
Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Denver has grown from cow town into a booming metropolis. Boasting 10% of the nation’s craft breweries (with only 2% of the population), seven professional sports teams, and world class outdoor recreation just outside the city, Denverites like to have fun. Denver famously has over 300 days of sunshine per year, and locals love to be outside to enjoy the warm weather. With outdoor concert venues like Red Rocks and a plethora of rooftop bars, there’s plenty of ways to get some sun. Check out our Navigating Denver guide for even more Denver facts, restaurant and recreation recommendations, and more.
On Campus Housing (you can register for this on the conference registration page)
Nagel Hall is centrally located on DU campus, a five minute walk from Anderson Academic Commons (the main event space for the Institute). The building is air- conditioned and includes a laundry rooms and complimentary wifi. Rooms are $175 for all three nights ($59/night), single occupancy. Rooms are booked at the time of conference registration.
A bed, desk, chair, dresser, closet, and linen packet for each guest. The following amenities are provided in the sleeping rooms or are available in the residence halls:
- Refrigerator and microwave in each room or suite;
- Laundry rooms and vending machines in the common areas;
- Complimentary wireless internet access.
The following items may be obtained, purchased or borrowed from the front desk:
- Lock-out keys and parking permits;
- Trash liners and extra toilet paper;
- Change for laundry or vending machines;
- Game equipment (may only be checked out by guests 18 years of age or older).
The following items or services are NOT available in the residence halls:
- Toiletries and hangers;
- Laundry detergent;
- Dishware and cooking utensils;
- Housekeeping services (guests must take out trash and clean their rooms as necessary)
Nearest to Campus
La Quinta Inn (Cherry Creek—I25 and Colorado Blvd)
The closest hotel to campus is a La Quinta Inn, a chain business hotel featuring reasonable rates. Nothing fancy, but it’s walkable to campus (though about 10-12 blocks) or a very cheap Uber/Lfyt.
If traveling by car (especially with family), consider staying near the suburban Arapahoe light rail station. This area is known as the Denver Tech Center (DTC). In this area, reasonably priced hotels—all with free parking and many with pools—are within walking distance of Arapahoe Station, which connects directly with the University of Denver station (six stops away and with some decent views of the mountains). These hotels are within walking distance of many restaurants and stores.
Arapahoe Station is right off I-25 and has quick access to C-470 and areas west and south of Denver. Other light rail stations have hotels and restaurants nearby, but the DTC area is hard to beat for its convenience. To access DTC from Denver International Airport, use the “AT” express bus which connects directly to Arapahoe station with only one stop.
Below are hotels nearest to Arapahoe Station. A map search will reveal other nearby options, though other options are a stretch to be considered “walking distance” from Arapahoe Station:
Wingate by Wyndham Greenwood Village/Denver Tech
Best Western Plus Denver Tech Center Hotel
Residence Inn by Marriott Denver Tech Center
Courtyard by Marriott Denver Tech Center
La Quinta Inn & Suites Denver Englewood Tech Center
If traveling by car or by light rail, another great option is to stay at a hotel in Cherry Creek North. This area is a premier outdoor retail and dining destination that has impressive art galleries, independently owned boutiques, an upscale shopping center, and trails for biking, walking, or running. Hotels in Cherry Creek North are located closer to the University of Denver (about a 10 minute drive) and include free parking and Wi-Fi. Many are pet friendly.
Hotels in Cherry Creek North are located one mile from Colorado Station, making the walk to the light rail a bit tougher. Colorado Station connects directly to the University of Denver station, with no stops. Cherry Creek North also provides quick access to I-25 and downtown Denver.
Below are hotels nearest to the Colorado Station, in Cherry Creek North, all of which are within a mile of Colorado Station.
The Hyatt Place Denver/Cherry Creek
If you prefer to go directly downtown, the light rail offers the A Line that goes from DIA to downtown Denver. Many hotels downtown have quick light rail access to the University of Denver. Trains typically depart every 15 minutes from the airport and every 30 minutes in the early morning or late evening hours. It is about a 37-minute trip from the airport to downtown Denver and costs $9.
Downtown Denver hotels below are conveniently located a few blocks from the 16th Street Mall (a 1.25 mile, pedestrian-friendly mall with over 300 shops and 50 bars and restaurants). Walk directly from your hotel to the 16th Street Mall to access a free shuttle ride, which will also drop you off at the 16th & Stout Light Rail Station, where it is a 23-minute ride to the University of Denver.
Here are the hotels nearest to 16th & Stout Station:
Courtyard by Marriott Denver Downtown
The Curtis Hotel a Doubletree by Hilton
How to take the Light Rail from the Denver airport
- After your plane lands, head down stairs and catch the underground train to baggage claim.
- Once you have your baggage, follow signs to the “Transit Center.” The door you want is under a giant American flag.
- After you step outside, you’ll take a very long escalator down to the Light Rail station.
- At the bottom of the escalator, you should see ticket vending machines. You can purchase your Airport Fare ticket there. It’ll be $9.00 (for seniors and students, it’s $4.50).
- Once you have your ticket, hop on the nearest train. The A-line is the only train at that station, so you can’t get on the wrong train. The A-line trains have overhead storage, luggage towers, and bicycle racks. It leaves every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Other times, it runs every 30 minutes.
- Ride the train all the way to Union Station in downtown Denver. That ride should be around 40 minutes long.
If you’re staying downtown or want to look around, Union Station is a great place to be. But if you want to head to campus . . .
- Follow the signs to the E-line in Union Station and get on that train. It’ll take you to the University of Denver station.
- Get off the E-line at the University station. You’re now on the very north end of DU’s campus. Walk down High St., cross Evans, and then take a left on Evans to get to Anderson Academic Commons (it’s 3/4 mile away from the light rail station, about a 20 minute walk).
Here’s an official video on getting from the airport to Union Station downtown.
Here’s the official RTD info about the A line.
How to take a ridesharing service from the Denver airport
- Here are instructions for catching a Lyft at the Denver airport.
- Here are instructions for getting an Uber at the airport.
Public Transportation in Denver
For light rail train and bus schedules—including transport from the conference hotel to the University of Denver campus—visit the Regional Transportation District (RTD) website: http://www.rtd-denver.com
Taxi and Shuttles
Denver Yellow Cab: (303) 777-7777
Metro Taxi: (303) 333-3333
Super Shuttle (airport): http://www.supershuttle.com
The University of Denver is located on the light rail and numerous bus routes. Parking in the neighborhood is somewhat limited and is typically restricted to one or two-hour time periods. Street parking without time limitations is available approximately six to seven blocks off campus.
Additional Parking Options
On campus, there is hourly parking spots behind Sturm Hall and in Lot E (2130 S. High St., Denver, CO 80210) for $1.50/hour.
Coffee Shops, Restaurants, & Bars
DU offers a number of delightful eateries, bars, and coffee shops, within walking distance from campus. Ranging from downtrodden, old school burger joints to slightly finer affair, there’s plenty for you to nip and sip nearby.
Chipotle. The now national chain started down the block from campus. The short walk east on Evans Ave. will lead you past a few other restaurants, but if you want a familiar giant Mission-style burrito, then it’s just a short walk away. 1644 E Evans Ave.
Jerusalem. Don’t let the ramshackle exterior of this Denver-favorite dissuade you. Beneath its bright green awnings, Jerusalem serves up some of the finest falafel, gyros, babaganoush, and hummus around town. Authentic, quick, and fairly cheap (not to mention, vegetarian friendly), Jerusalem also boasts a well-stocked bakery case of homemade baklava and other fine pastries to go. 1890 East Evans Ave.
Illegal Pete’s. Just east of the very first Chipotle ever built (thus a block or so closer to campus) is locally-owned Illegal Pete’s, featuring similar fare: hand-rolled burritos and quesadillas, placed to order at a counter. A favorite among hungry college students, Pete’s also offers a pretty great happy hour deal, with dollar-off local brews, solid margaritas, and (get this!) free chips and salsa from 3-6. Every. Single. Day. 1744 East Evans Ave.
Jelly. The Molly Hot Brown at Jelly, named after Denver’s famed Titanic survivor, is killer, featuring seared turkey breast piled on a generous portion of French toast, topped with grilled tomatoes, slathered in a rich poblano-cheese sauce, all finally studded with shards of bacon: it’s breakfast and lunch, all in one. Jelly is famed for their donut bites, ranging in flavor from the traditional to the exotic (Thai peanut, anyone?), so just stepping into this hipster-diner, with its retro vibe of cereal boxes and bright pink/chrome décor, is worth the short walk down Evans. Open for breakfast and lunch. 1700 East Evans Ave.
Asbury Provisions. Popular with grad students and faculty, Asbury offers an extensive beer menu, along with a full bar. They also serve pretty great pub food, from veggie tacos to pulled pork sliders, and maybe the best wedge salad ever: they grill and quarter a head of Romaine, giving it a slightly smoked flavor, before slathering it in blue cheese and bacon. Although Asbury doesn’t open until 4:00, lines start forming around 3:58. 2043 South University Blvd.
The Pioneer. Situated on the south edge of campus, The Pioneer boasts a terrific outdoor patio, pool tables, and pretty solid Mexican food. Their goat cheese pineapple quesadilla with pulled pork is scrumptious, and surprising for an otherwise standard college bar. 2401 South University Blvd.
Kaladi Brothers Coffee. Kaladi’s is a locally-owned, hip hangout for faculty and students who want a break from the various chains nearby. Its wooden floors and eclectic furniture make this an inviting, homey option, with perfectly roasted in-house beans and a small selection of baked goods. 1730 East Evans.
Lost Coffee. The newest addition to nearby coffee shops, Lost Coffee also happens to be the closest, just east across University at Evans. Locally owned and locally roasted, Lost Coffee offers a small selection of morning pastries and quiches. 2350 East Evans Ave.
La Belle Rosette. A local hangout that offeres coffee, tea, pastries, sandwiches as well as wine, beer, and tapas.
Other Restaurant Offerings Near Campus
The Ramen House
As the name indicates, a decent if unassuming noodle shop. 2076 S University Blvd
Mustard’s Last Stand
A true Chicago hot dog stand with classic ingredients. 2081 S University Blvd
A locally owned sandwich shop featuring toasted subs (and toasted employees). 1729 E Evans Ave
Pho Saigon Star
Somewhat weathered interior, but this place is always bustling. Fast, delicious pho and curry. 2045 S University Blvd
Other nearby chains within viewing and walking distance: Jimmy John’s, Bruegger’s Bagels, Qdoba, and of course, Starbuck’s.
South Pearl Neighborhood
Unlike the Union Station or DU areas, this neighborhood actually feels like a neighborhood, albeit a som
ewhat fancy one. There are trees and houses. A park’s nearby. You won’t hear cars whooshing by or jackhammers pounding. Think dogs on leashes and tiny yards, but also think upscale boutiques and designer purses and tailored suits.
The neighborhood has plenty of commerce, especially on South Pearl itself. Here, the coffee shops and restaurants look like old Victorians, and they sometimes boast patios and have been around long enough that they’ve got that local mystique that’s gold on Yelp. There’s also more modern commerce—think steel and glass and a bent toward the trendy. It’s an interesting mix, and an easy discovery from DU.
To get there from campus, take any light rail line heading north and get off at the first stop you come to, the Louisiana-Pearl station. From there, walk west two blocks to the corner of Louisiana and Pearl, and then turn left onto South Pearl. Everything described below is located on that street within three blocks of that corner.
Kaos Pizzeria – A lovely little house and yard turned into a restaurant. The pizzas are fantastic (the Smokestack is absurdly good), and other specialties rate highly too. The patio is everything I want in the spring and summer. 1439 S. Pearl St.
Uno Mas Taquería – Fancy street tacos (you know what I mean) and a cozy atmosphere highlight this house-turned-Mexican-joint, where margaritas are served in blue-rimmed glasses and banda plays on the radio. 1585 S. Pearl St.
Sushi Den – I know: we’re in Denver, but this place consistently gets nationally high ratings. It’s sleek, modern, and remains a Denver staple after decades. They fly their sushi in daily. If you’ve got an expense account, go for it. 1487 S. Pearl St.
Stella – Like the restaurant Kaos, this little café was once a house. Walk in the front door, order, and then explore the rooms and find a tucked-away table. If you’re into this sort of thing, they have games and stuff. 1476 S. Pearl St.
Duffeyroll Bakery and Café – A Denver standard for years, they’re known for their cinnamon rolls. Basic cup of joe, right off the light rail, with intentionally little fanfare. 1290 S. Pearl St.
Hanson’s—Directly across the street from Village Cork, this bar also has a full menu serving typical bar fare. They’ve got an upstairs with a few couches which can make for a more intimate atmosphere. 1301 S. Pearl St.
Denver’s growing fast. This is especially visible in the area known as Union Station, a downtown neighborhood anchored by Union Station itself, the city’s old, recently renovated train depot. The renovation was beautifully done, and if you have any down time at all, a 20-minute trip on the light rail to see the building and linger in and around it would be worth your while. Inside it, you’ll find bookstores, cafés, bars, flower shops, gift shops, and couches and desks where you can sit and work for free as long as you like (beware the officious security guards: they are very concerned you might put your feet up on an ottoman). In the area around the building, you’ll stand awash in a sea of modern commerce. Denver’s trying to be cool, and that’s painfully apparent here. Still, plenty of great destinations await (Tattered Cover Bookstore is just steps away, as are a few tucked-away cafés and interesting watering holes with local history).
To get there, take the light rail (the E line) from DU’s campus north to Union Station (the area). From there, Union Station (the building) will be a short walk, with signs indicating the way. If you’re not feeling any of what’s listed below, don’t worry. The area’s walkable, and there are lots of other things to discover.
The Basic One – Hopdoddy Burgers. Burgers made to order. Milkshakes, boozy and virgin. Just outside the front entrance to Union Station, on the left. 1747 Wynkoop St.
The Cool One – Zoe Ma Ma. Chinese street food. Located just outside Union Station, outside the front door, to the right around the corner. 1625 Wynkoop St.
The Pricey-but-Worthwhile One – Avelina. Foodies love this place, though be prepared to spend a little. 1550 17th St.
3 Coffee Shops
Pigtrain Coffee. Located inside Union Station, this coffee shop is right next to an ice cream and milkshake shop. Just saying.
The Café in Tattered Cover. The coffee here is just coffee, but the bookstore is one of Denver’s treasures. Stay awhile and browse. 1628 16th St.
City Stacks Bookstore and Café. A tucked-away, smaller independent bookstore and café located just a block and a half from Union Station. If you’re looking to disappear for a bit, this is your spot. 1743 Wazee St.
Terminal Bar – Right inside Union Station, this is the logical first choice you’ll have for a drink as you come into the building. Ask the bartenders for shuffleboard pucks and play right in the center of Union Station on one of the longest shuffleboard tables around.
The Cruise Room – The grand dame of Denver bars. Located in The Oxford Hotel, this art deco cocktail lounge has a free mechanical jukebox that plays 45s from the big band era. Also, ask the bartenders about its history and murals. Despite the craft cocktail boom in town, they still make some of the best mixed drinks in Denver. 1600 17th St.
Euclid Hall Study Lounge – A walk from Union Station (maybe 10 minutes), this place is also a fantastic restaurant. They carry loads of craft beers and cocktails, and it’s cheekily called a study lounge because it’s across the street from CU-Denver. 1317 14th St.
Off-the-Beaten Path: Capitol Hill
When I think of Capitol Hill, I can’t help but imagine that if Stefan, the local culture guru from Saturday Night Live (Bill Hader), were from Denver instead of New York, he would live in Capitol Hill, and he would love to talk about it. In fact, it’s hard in writing this not to assume his character.
Located north of campus and most accessible either by bus or ride-share, Capitol Hill is named (can you believe it?) after the fact that it is behind the state capitol, on a hill. If what you want is a neighborhood with “character”—and you know what I mean: a place with “history,” with “local flair,” i.e., a place with dives with shady mobsters hanging out at the bar and stand-up comedy in the corner, giant cathedrals next to city-mandated mobile bathrooms for the homeless, murals of Neal Cassidy next to street signs that print local poetry—if that’s what you want, then this neighborhood might be worth trekking to from campus. So much of Denver is New! and Up-and-Coming! in a way that can make you want to throw up a little bit in your mouth. And I’m not saying that to denigrate the place. Growth is good. Growth is lovely. But sometimes you want something a little more down and dirty. For those times, Capitol Hill is the place.
A map of the area is included below. To get there from campus, consider ride-sharing to one of the destinations listed here, or else take the 24 bus north from University and Evans or the 12 bus north from Downing and Evans, and get off anywhere between 6th Avenue and Colfax Avenue.
Potager – A hidden gem. It’s nestled unassumingly in the neighborhood with plate glass windows that look out onto the street and features a rotating menu that changes seasonally. Lovely wine selection. 1109 N. Ogden St.
City O’City – A vegetarian restaurant whose menu is good enough to satisfy even those who crave non-veggie dishes. They also boast a great bar with wonderful cocktails. 206 E 13th Ave.
Odyssey – I’ll meet you anytime you want, at our Italian restaurant. It’s like this place was the one Billy Joel was singing about. Classic Italian dishes in a low-lit space with a wide wine selection. 603 E 6th Ave.
Pablo’s – Not everyone likes a coffee shop that intentionally refuses to carry Wi-Fi, but sometimes it’s nice to be chided by a business back into actual reality. If that’s your thing, come here and stay awhile. 1300 Pennsylvania Street #102.
Hudson Hill – By day a café, by night a trendy bar. They play old records from a turntable as you sip. Its interior décor is bright and airy (lots of greenery and wood and natural light abound), and it’s easy to find yourself delighted by yourself as you sit in this beautiful place and work. Or play, if it’s later and the hipsters have arrived and started to drink. 619 E 13th Ave.
Blush and Blu – Who doesn’t like a lesbian bar that fronts as a café during the day? This place has a couch and coffee table in the window to keep them honest during daylight hours, and a rotating group of tremendously nice baristas/bartenders who will happily chat with you as you work/play. 1526 E Colfax Ave.
Prohibition – They’re going for the theme you thinking of: old photos of bootleggers pouring liquor down the drain, the “r” in “Prohibition” is a gun, etc. They have a good menu (the pot pie: do it!) and a decent selection of whisky and craft beer, if either of those are your thing. 504 E Colfax Ave.
Charlie Brown’s – Located inside an old hotel, it’s dark as a basement and feels like it’s been there forever, which it kind of has. There’s a piano bar inside if you really wanna go deep, and also a patio outside that’s great. No special craft beer shenanigans here: this is not a place for anything but the blue-collar basics. 980 Grant St.
PS Lounge (no website) – Capitol Hill has great dives (Knob Hill, Satellite Bar, Barricuda’s), but this is the standard-bearer. Cash-only with the best jukebox in the city, everyone gets a free house shot when they walk in (don’t question what it is), and every lady gets a long-stem rose. The old guy who runs it (Pete) seemingly owns half of Colfax Avenue, and most afternoons and nights, you can find him in the corner with his head in his hands, wondering what he’s doing with his life. If you stay awhile and don’t burn the place down, he’ll be so happy that he’ll likely buy you a free round. This is the one, intrepid conference-goers. This is the one. 3416 E Colfax Ave.
If you’ve got an afternoon to spare or just need to get away, hop on the #24 bus heading north up University Blvd. for three miles to Cherry Creek North, an upscale neighborhood of boutique shops, restaurants, and bars. Not everything is pricey here, if you know where to go, and it’s fun to just linger among the stores or grab a coffee and find a bench to people watch a while.
Restaurants / Bars
The Cherry Cricket. With over 2,000 Yelp reviews, The Cherry Cricket is Denver’s perennial go-to burger joint. Founded in 1945, little has changed in this crowded, bar-like tavern, from its customizable burgers to the best fries in town. You can almost always expect a wait as lines form out the door, but they tend to move quickly and it’s well worth it. 2641 East Second Ave.
Machete Tequila + Taco.Reasonably priced, over-the-top street tacos, in a fun, underground space. Make sure to sit outside in the sunken patio, nibbling away on eclectic fillings, from braised lamb shank to lobster tail, not to mention the standard offerings of al pastor, pollo mole, and steak. Bring a small group and ‘do the dozen,’ 12 tacos for $44.00. 2817 East 3rd Ave.
Arapahoe Station Area
You’ll have a vast range of available places for food near Arapahoe Station. It probably makes the most sense to list them by area. You’ll see places not listed here, which mainly means either they are pretty obvious and standard (McDonald’s, Arby’s, Jimmy John’s, Taco Bell, Chik-Fil-A, KFC, Boston Market) or subject to some iffy experiences.
Arapahoe Marketplace Shopping Center (north of Arapahoe and west of Yosemite)
- Red Robin (8585 E Arapahoe Rd): Good, if standard, burgers and fries.
- Modern Market (8575 E Arapahoe Rd F): Basic but thoughtful modern cuisine.
- Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill (8547 E Arapahoe Rd): What the name says.
- Tocabe (8181 E Arapahoe Rd c): Native American food—a bit farther down Arapahoe from the main mall, but worth the walk.
Across Yosemite from the shopping center
- Good Times Burgers and Frozen Custard (6667 S Yosemite Ct,): A local Rocky Mountain, higher-quality version of fast food. The author’s favorite guilty pleasure. Try the southwestern black bean burger or the bacon guacamole burger. No indoor seating, but a pleasant, small, group of outdoor tables
- Chipotle Mexican Grill (6570 S Yosemite St): A rather nice spot for this chain.
North of Arapahoe, East of I-25 (a grouping of strip malls, close to several hotels)
- El Tapatio (9281 E Arapahoe Rd): Pretty good chain Mexican. You can do better across Arapahoe, but it’s reasonable and convenient
- India’s Castle (9555 E Arapahoe Rd): Very good Indian in a fairly swanky setting
- Sushi Katsu (9555 E Arapahoe Rd): Popular all-you-can-eat sushi; prepare to wait in line at opening and peak times
- Phó Saigon (9555 E Arapahoe Rd): Basic phó plus Thai and Chinese dishes; simple but fresh and reasonable.
- Surena (9625 E Arapahoe Rd p): Around the corner from several of the places above, past the Dunkin Donuts, lies perhaps the best find in this section, a Persian restaurant where the local Persians go. A bit pricey and meat-focused, but excellent in all respects.
South of Arapahoe, East of I-25 (more strip malls, across the very busy Arapahoe, but probably worth it)
- Las Brisas (6787 S Clinton St.): Spanish, Latin, and Mexican fare with an upscale edge.
- Sahara Restaurant (9636 E Arapahoe Rd): Excellent Middle Eastern in a nice setting. For a really nice meal in this area, the author’s pick.
- Yolanda’s Tacos (9612 E Arapahoe Rd): It’s what the name says, but with great variety and quality. The place the author visits most often in this area, despite the bland setting. Note: “hot” means hot (and the author has a refrigerator section set aside just for various habanero sauces).
- Pollo Lima (9614 E Arapahoe Rd): Peruvian fare—mostly chicken, like the name says, but with other excellent choices. Like Yolanda’s next door, not much for ambiance, but great for eating.
- Hot Breads Indian Cuisine and Bakery (9678 E Arapahoe Rd): A little shop where the owner’s kids often play in the empty booths and the take-out traffic is heavy and mostly Indian. When it’s good, it’s fantastic, but quality varies. Be sure to check out the amazing cakes in the display case.
- Chinook Tavern (6380 S Fiddlers Green Cir): Schnitzel, fondue, and the like in a classic European setting.
- Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (8100 E Orchard Rd): Celebrating something like an anniversary or promotion? One of metro Denver’s swankiest joints, with food to match—and prices not all that unreasonable, considering.
Rocky Mountain Highs—Making the Most of Being a Mile High, and Beyond
When you think about getting outdoors around Denver, it’s hard to balance offering a full range of offerings with going overboard. For the big, detailed picture, consult our Department’s comprehensive entertainment and outdoors information spot. But here’s a more subjective, idiosyncratic, and focused discussion, starting with the easiest to access.
In Town with No Car?
So let’s start with information for people who have limited time and transportation, but who would still like to appreciate some of the views and atmosphere.
First, don’t miss one of your best opportunities to get a panoramic view of the Front Range. If you have a bit of time to spend at the airport after you arrive or before you leave, stroll down the concourse (any of them) to the west end and look out the large windows. On a very clear day, you can spot 14ers from Pikes Peak to the far south all the way to (and past) Long’s Peak to the north, with the Mt. Evans massif and other long ranges in between.
Or, if the weather doesn’t favor you on those days, consider getting a day pass on the RTD light rail and riding the E or F trains southbound from University of Denver station. Get a seat on the right-hand (west) side, and ride at least as far as Arapahoe Station, getting good looks at the Front Range from Yale Station, Belleview Station, and on the way in between Orchard and Arapahoe Stations. At Arapahoe Station, you can get off and amble to the south, catching Yosemite Street, walking past the Residence Inn and the big strip mall until you get to Arapahoe Road, where you can look to your right, just past the Red Robin, for a fantastic view of the Mt. Evans massif. (By the way, if you’re hungry, consider walking on down Arapahoe a ways until you spot Tocabe.) The more adventurous might want to walk over the pedestrian bridge at Arapahoe Station to the east side, then head south toward the REI outlet, where you can gather lots more information about local hikes and such.
If that’s not going to be enough, stay on the train and keep going on the light rail all the way to Lincoln Station, where you can get off and take a short stroll to the west (past the Kaiser Permanente complex) for great views. If you’re feeling cheeky, go into the Kaiser Permanente building and go up to the higher floors, where you can usually find a nice view to the west from even higher up. Again, if hunger is an issue, on the way there or back stop at County Line Station, where you will find many, many chain restaurants and a big food court in the gigantic, upscale Park Meadows Mall (you can even buy a Tesla there).
Feeling even more gung-ho? Consider taking the H train southbound from University of Denver station until you get to Dayton Station. From there, you can take the pedestrian bridge south across I-225 and wind your way through Village Greens Park (equipped for disc golf? might want to stay and play a round) to Cherry Creek State Park. There you will find a beautiful reservoir, paths winding through massive prairie dog towns, and eventually paths leading to another set of great views of the Front Range. And don’t miss all the local birds. It’s a longish walk, but it’s the closest thing you can find to a real Colorado outdoors experience using just your legs and a light rail pass. And yes, you can rent watercraft at the marina at Cherry Creek State Park. See their website for more information.
Have a Bike?
If you have brought or rented a bike, consider these extended excursions. The light rail permits bikes at the front or back of all cars, except not at the front of the first car (behind the driver).
If you don’t have a bike but want one, you have a number of options. The Denver B-Cycle program offers 24-hour rentals from specific locations. Denver also has those bright yellow OFO bikes. A number of bike shops also have rentals, perhaps best explored on your own. But the most convenient from campus is Velosoul Cyclery, 1109 S Pearl Street (720-570-5039). You can take the E, F, or H trains one stop north from University of Denver station to Louisiana-Pearl station, then cross I-25 and walk just a couple of blocks to the shop.
Once you have a bike, you have lots of options. First, a bike makes it much more efficient to take the H train south to Dayton Station to access Cherry Creek Park. Ride a ways down the paved Cherry Creek Trail to the south and east for great views of the Front Range.
With a bike, you could also take the E or F trains south to Lincoln Station and brave some rather busy streets trending southwest to nearby Bluffs Regional Park. I’ll leave the twisty directions to your online map skills. Once there, you’ll find hilly, open, wide, and smooth dirt paths that offer great views of the mountains to the west and the city to the north.
Even more adventurous? Try taking the E train north to Auroria West station (or the F or H trains to stations where you can switch to a C train to Auroria West), then take the W train to the end of the line, at the Jefferson County Government station. From there, make your way southward to William F Hayden Green Mountain Park, or south and west to Apex Park. For the completely committed, keep following the Apex Park trails to the Lookout Mountain trails. You’ll want to read up on these before trying them. Just search online maps or search for the parks by name for more information.
Have a Car, but Not Much Time?
Okay, so you have wheels. What’s the most efficient way to get a great snapshot of Colorado?
Again, consider Cherry Creek State Park—now a quick drive away. Take I-25 South to Belleview, then take Belleview to Dayton, turn left on Dayton, and you’ll run into the park entrance. There is an entrance fee of $7.00. With the entire park now at your disposal, consider hiking up Butterfly Hill, or taking the Wetland Loop down near the lake. Get a park map at the entrance and plan your excursion.
Got just a little more time? Head farther down I-25 to the Lincoln exit, take Lincoln Avenue West just past the big Target store, and turn left on Ridgegate Parkway. Carefully follow the small signs to Bluffs Regional Park. The open, untreed, prairie trails here will give you great views of Denver, the Foothills, and the Front Range.
Okay, you have just a bit more time? Take I-25 all the way to C-470 West, then take the Wadsworth Boulevard exit and head south. If you have no dogs, strongly consider going to Roxborough State Park (look up how to get there ahead of time; it’s not difficult, but a bit complicated to describe—and signs will help you). Rich in bird life most seasons, the trails here offer views of amazing rock formations and eventually (if you take the longest, highest trails) the mountains to the west. Okay, so sometimes there are rattlesnakes. But the trails are popular and well-traveled, and your odds of having any real trouble will be small. Or, consider taking a more civilized tour of the Denver Botanic Gardens. Signs (and traffic) will easily lead you there as soon as you turn south onto Wadsworth, from which you’ll take the first road to the west.
Feeling a bit more adventurous? Go further on the road past the Botanic Gardens and take the turn left on Deer Creek Canyon Road to either South Valley Park on your right or Deer Creek Canyon Park a bit farther along on your left (and up a local road to its large parking lot). South Valley has open, relatively easy hikes past fascinating rocks. Deer Creek Canyon offers a wilder experience, with trails going up narrow canyons to a pair of vistas overlooking Denver and the Foothills, with glimpses the farther west peaks from the main lookout. Both parks see heavy use, including a lot of runners and bikes, and both can have snakes; but both offer legit views of Colorado terrain and wildlife. Deer Creek Canyon has some trails for walkers only, so you can at least limit encounters with faster traffic—or join it, if you bring your own bike and have experience on steep, rocky bike trails.
Other options include taking Bear Creek Road (Highway 74, a bit farther west and north on C-470, and so better accessed from campus by traveling west on main city streets to C-470) to parks like Mt. Falcon, Lair of the Bear, Corwina, and O’Fallon—mostly part of the Jefferson County open spaces, a great collection of free, open access land with hiking and biking paths. Maps at each park entrance will guide you to your options. The second, farther west entrance to Corwina Park features hiker-only paths (mostly) that lead to Panorama Point, with great views of Mt. Evans. US 285, also off C-470, will take you with reasonable quickness to the other, more casual end of Mt. Falcon Park, Reynolds Park, and then Staunton State Park. Again, local maps will guide you. Reynolds Park can be particularly inviting for lowlanders, since it offers nice local terrain and great vistas at relatively low altitude.
Have a Car and a Bit More Time?
Now options get much more varied and subjective, but here’s what I’d do. Above all, consider going to Golden and then to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, out of town to the north and then to the west. Stop at the friendly park office and talk to them about your options. You’ll have lots of good ones. On your way back, stop in Golden and enjoy the atmosphere. You can hardly go wrong for basic food in Golden, but if you take a long hike—say on my favorite, the wild and wooly (and rocky) Black Bear Trail–I suggest the Sherpa House (no website: 1518 Washington Ave, Golden, CO), with its Nepalese-Indian buffet.
Or, go a bit farther, on out I-70 to Idaho Springs. Go out to Echo Lake on highway 103 and hike either the very popular Chicago Lakes trail (you’ll see why so many people are there) or go to the other end of the lake, near the Mt. Evans Lodge, and hike the much less traveled Rest House trail (hint: when you get to the first high point and it starts to clamber down, poke around in the rocks up on top for some of the better views around). Then, on the way back, stop at the Indian Hot Springs (I recommend the “caves”) for a soak, and then visit the kitschy/quaint downtown for atmosphere. Again, there are lots of good food options, though the locals (and I) swear by Smokin Yard’s (sic), a Kansas City style barbecue joint that would easily hold its own in Kansas City itself.
Or, continue on down U.S. 285 past Staunton State Park and go north on Deer Creek Road, which (if you do a bit of homework on the proper turns to take) will lead (on roads that get steadily worse, but not awful) to Tanglewood trail. Tanglewood trail connects with the entire Mt. Evans Wilderness trail system, so this is a great spot for either a short hike alongside a pretty, wooded stream or as long an excursion as you’d care to take. A serious, prepared day-hiker could summit Rosalie Peak, a 13er easily visible from much of Denver as the leftmost shoulder of the Mt. Evans massif.
Okay, I Came All the Way to Colorado, I Have a Car, and I Want to Get Crazy High (on Altitude)
I’m assuming you know about driving up Pikes Peak. On a good day, you can’t beat it for the views; but on a good day, you might not be able to beat the traffic. So consider instead Mt. Evans, the other drivable 14er. It’s closer to Denver, either via Idaho Springs or the Evergreen Parkway, both off of I-70.
Driving is for wussies, you say? But still a bit unsure about being up to the altitude? Consider hiking up Chief Mountain, a sub‑12er with great vistas and a relatively short trail. Get on highway 103, either from Idaho Springs or from the Evergreen Parkway (both off of I-70), and keep going until you pass (from the east) or can see (from the west) the Echo Mountain ski area. You should be just east of mile marker 18. There’s a larger than usual paved parking strip along the north side of the road at that spot. Best to look it up on a map first, of course. It’s a bit hard to spot unless you know where to look. But if you see the towline for the ski area just off the road to the south, you’re in the right place. Cross the road and hunt out the trailhead, across from the east end of the parking area.
Brave about the altitude but not about your car? Consider one of the three nearby “pavement 14ers,” Bierstadt, Quandary, and Yale. For all three, plan to arrive at the parking lot before it gets light to get a parking spot; it’s best to hike them early anyway to avoid afternoon lightning. Among other precautions, be sure to take plenty of water, sun protection, and extra warmth. You might see hikers with minimal equipment, but usually those are either highly experienced mountaineers who know how to deal with these problems efficiently or highly inexperienced hikers who are begging for serious trouble.
Bierstadt is the easiest, quickest, most traveled, and closest 14-er. Take either I-70 to Georgetown or US 285 to Grant, and then take Guanella Pass Road to the top of the pass.
Quandary is not much longer to hike, but it’s a bit more taxing. For that one, take either I-70 to Frisco or US 285 to Fairplay. From either direction, take Colorado highway 9 to the turn-off. At this point, (and for all further hikes), I need to hand you off to the 14ers.com website, your necessary resource for all things 14er. Follow its advice and read the most recent trip reports.
Yale takes you farther away, past the aptly named town of Buena Vista (but don’t pronounce it that way; the locals call it either “Boona Vista,” “Boonie,” or “BV”). Of the three reasonably local “pavement accessible” 14ers, it’s the most difficult, but also the one with the most interesting hike even if you don’t make it to the top. Unfortunately, the regular trailhead, at Denny Creek, is closed due to road repairs, and the ascent requires a more difficult and less clearly marked route from the Avalanche trailhead. If interested, consult the 14ers.com website for the alternate route.
If you have a sturdy vehicle and can drive patiently on rocky, uneven roads, you can consider other possibilities, none of which require any technical equipment (again, consult 14ers.com for details):
- Grays and Torreys, two peaks joined by a saddle, offer the most feasible twin climb, even if the road is treacherous and the parking lot nearest the trailhead fills early—meaning you have to drive a bad road in the dark of early morning to have the most efficient hike.
- Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln, all joined by saddles, offer the easiest triple climb (and you could add in Bross for a fourth, but beware the threat of trespassing charges; read up on 14ers.com). Head north from Fairplay or south from Breckenridge to Alma for those.
- Princeton, south of Buena Vista, offers one of the better vistas around, with a high campground up near the final ascent and a fully developed hot spring resort down at the foot of the mountain. The summit also requires several hours of tedious rockhopping on indistinct trails, but you can’t really get lost.
- Harvard and Oxford, also near Buena Vista, are somewhat harder hikes, but trailhead access requires no more than a good passenger car driven carefully. Harvard offers perhaps the best vistas in all of Colorado for a feasible, if arduous, day hike. The official Oxford trail is not yet open, but 14ers.com and lots of folks on the trail can tell you how to get there. Beastly hikers often combine the two, traversing a somewhat jagged connecting shoulder.
- Massive and Elbert, the two highest Colorado mountains, can be hiked from adjacent trailheads outside of Leadville. If you want to do both, consider camping in the valley between them, or staying overnight in nearby Leadville (over 10,000 feet itself, so a good way to acclimate to the altitude). If you can only do one, Massive is the more pleasant and scenic hike, but of course Elbert is Colorado’s highest.
- If you study up on 14ers.com and prepare, you can find many, many more, but all the rest require some sort of additional logistics, either in terms of tougher vehicles, hiking partway in and camping, tracking less distinct trails, or being a complete trail beast.
So I Have Time and a Car, but I Just Want to Enjoy the Mountains
You have a vast range of options. It’s easy to find information about Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, so I’ll leave that to you. Same with Breckenridge, Aspen, and Vail. Points farther west offer bountiful options. But for areas near Denver, I particularly suggest the quieter advantages of Guanella Pass Road, Kenosha Pass (off U.S. 285), and, if you have more time, Buena Vista.
Guanella Pass Road is a lovely drive on its own, but it passes entries to the Abyss Lake trail and, opposite from Mt. Bierstadt, South Park trail. Both are less used, beautiful hikes—Abyss Lake the more forested, South Park the more open. Both trails connect with much longer, wilder hikes for the more adventurous.
Kenosha Pass offers access to the Colorado Trail in two directions from a high mountain pass. It’s a heavily used trailhead, but with very good reason.
Buena Vista is an archetypal Colorado town with views to match its name. Located in the Arkansas River valley, it has amazing views of the entire Collegiate Peaks—part of the Sawatch Range, home to multiple 14ers (including Colorado’s three highest peaks, Elbert, Massive, and Harvard). The river offers white water rafting and kayaking; the peaks offer beautiful ascents; and the nearby slopes provide a wide range of interesting, forested hikes. Cottonwood Hot Springs, on the road from Buena Vista to the trailhead for Mt. Yale,
features one of the area’s most relaxing hot spring experiences. Eateries range from gourmet to local kitsch (like K’s, the popular cheeseburger and milkshake spot on the main drag).
Finally, if you really only have time for a long drive with a few stops, consider a loop drivin
g west on I‑70 to Copper Mountain, taking Colorado 91 south to Leadville and U.S. 24 from there to Buena Vista, and then catching US 285 back to Denver. On sunny days, views are great and varied the entire way, and driving it in this direction keeps the most striking views either in front of you or to the side. You can find a great number of other suggested scenic drives in the area, of course, but this one efficiently shows you a bit of everything.