The Perfect Denver Weekend Itinerary: Hiking, Art & Food
January 15, 2021
Denver, CO is one of my favorite US cities! The city was founded in 1858 as a result of the gold rush and is now the 19th most populated city in the United States. Interestingly, the elevation is exactly one mile above sea level, earning Denver the nickname ‘The Mile High City.’ While the city has a great art and nightlife scene, the best part is its proximity to outdoor adventures. There are over 200 parks within the city and 20,000 acres of parks in surrounding mountain ranges.
For a quick visit, I recommend balancing your time in the city with time hiking and exploring nearby mountains. Below is the perfect Denver weekend itinerary to help you make the most out of seeing Denver in a short amount of time.
Each season in Denver has something different to offer. Denver receives a good amount of snow between November and March. It’s beautiful during those months and wonderful if you plan on skiing. If you visit in the winter and plan on hiking, come prepared with microspikes and/or snowshoes. If you rent a car while visiting in the winter, be prepared for winter driving. In my experience, Denver does not clear away snow from the roads as much as some other parts of the country.
The spring months are known as “mud” season in Colorado, meaning the trails can be very muddy as the snow melts. You will likely experience less crowds in the spring months.
The summer is a wonderful time of year if you want to enjoy warm weather and outdoor activities. Summer is also the busiest time of year and you may experience larger crowds and higher prices.
Finally, the fall is a great time to see colorful foliage and mild weather. I have visited the city in all four seasons and love them all, but summer (or late spring and early fall) is my personal favorite time to visit.
Denver has a lot of options of accommodation options for every budget and personality. I recommend looking at the best Airbnb's in Denver based on your interests.
For an affordable and centrally located hotel, I recommend the Indigo Hotel. The hotel is modern, located right next to Union Station and has comfortable and spacious rooms.
Visit Red Rock Amphitheater, tour the Coors Brewery, go on a day hike (or two) and end the night in the RiNo neighborhood.
30 Minutes from central Denver
Start your day at the intersection between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains at the Red Rock Amphitheater. If you are an early riser, this is a beautiful place to catch the sunrise. Red Rock Amphitheater is the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world, making it perfect for concerts. When there isn’t a concert going on, many people visit to exercise on the amphitheater steps, hike the trails and enjoy the views.
There are many trails nearby if you would like to enjoy a morning hike. I recommend the Red Rocks & Morrison Slide trail, a 3 mile loop trail that will lead you around some giant red boulders and provide some beautiful views of the surrounding rolling hills. The trail has some wonderful views throughout, is dog friendly and is very close to the amphitheater.
Another option is the Trading Post Trail. It’s a 1.4 mile loop that winds through the iconic rock formations and provides great views of the Red Rocks and the area.
15 Minutes from Red Rock Amphitheatre
If you like beer, be sure to tour the Coors Brewery, the largest single-site brewery in the world. The brewery is located in the town of Golden, a quick 15 minute drive from Red Rock Amphitheatre. The brewery has been around since 1873 and the tour takes visitors through the entire process, from malting and brewing to the packaging of the drinks. At the end of the 30 minute self guided tour, you can sample the beer! Tours are not currently running due to Covid-19, be sure to check their website for up-to-date information.
After the tour, explore and have lunch in the town of Golden, CO. I had a sandwich from D’Deli, a restaurant housed in a former saloon that serves a variety of wraps, salads and sandwiches. Other places to check include the Windy Saddle Cafe for coffee and breakfast options or Sherpa House for Himalayan cuisine.
50 Minutes from Golden, a little over an hour from Denver.
St Mary’s Glacier is located in the Arapaho National Forest and offers incredible views of a lake, glacier and surrounding area. After driving up a windy road, you will find two parking lots at the trailhead. Both lots require a $5 permit to park your car for the day. Be sure to bring cash and a pen! There are also decent restrooms in one of the parking lots. The trail itself is only 1.9 miles round trip, but can be very slick and involves steep areas and rocky terrain to navigate. You will reach the lake at about half a mile and the glacier after less than another half mile. The views are worth the trek and you’ll likely see snow on and above the lake year round.
On your way to or from St. Mary’s Glacier, stop at the Buffalo Herd Overlook. Denver has its own Buffalo Herd that roams either side of I-70 at Genesee Park. Take exit 254 or follow the signs for the Buffalo Herd Overlook and you might see some of the three dozen majestic bison.
30 Minutes from the Flatirons, an hour from St Mary's Glacier.
Have dinner at the trendy Denver Central Market, where you’ll find a variety of vendors serving gourmet pizza, freshly baked bread, delicious ice cream, artisan coffee and more. The market is located in the RiNo neighborhood, an artistic and industrial area known for its street art and nightlife. Order a variety of items to eat on the patio, where the tables are uniquely painted by local artists.
After a meal at the market, grab a drink at a brewery in RiNo. Check out Our Mutual Friends Brewing Company for local Colorado-brewed beer in an artistic space, Epic Brewing Company for small batch sours in a large industrial taproom or Stem Ciders if ciders are your go-to.
Another iconic brewery is the Blue Moon Brewery, which has large round booths and a giant “blue moon” in the center of the bar. The brewery also serves some great food.
Denver has several great options to start the day with a delicious brunch. It is the home of the original Snooze, a retro-styled breakfast chain with a mission of sustainability and giving back. Another option is Syrup, a contemporary take on the classic pancake house. Syrup is inspired by the owner’s midwestern roots, with friendly service and lots of melted cheese. If you are near the Denver Stapleton neighborhood, visit Four Friends Kitchen, a Southern brunch restaurant that specializes in American comfort food.
Meow Wolf is an immersive art exhibit where you can explore hidden passageways, touch and interact with your surroundings and spend hours gazing at the details that surround you. The original Meow Wolf location is located in Santa Fe and Denver is the newest of their permanent exhibitions. The Denver location is based around a train station and you’ll see some areas that evoke the feeling of transportation. However, you’ll also find an area that feels like an enchanted forest, an area that feels like a large city and so much more. Spend 2 or 3 hours to fully experience this place and be sure to reserve your ticket in advance.
If you like art, head to the Golden Triangle Artistic District, an area named for a triangle created by three main roads. There are several iconic destinations in this area, including some amazing museums. Visit the Denver Art Museum to explore one of the largest museums between Chicago and the West Coast. There are more than 70,000 art pieces in the space plus rotating exhibitions to experience. The architecture is also impressive; the Martin Building is covered in one million reflective gray tiles, meant to frame details of the mountains and display unique cityscapes. Right across the street, the Clyfford Still Museum is also worth visiting. This museum is made up entirely of work by Clyfford Still, an important abstract expressionist artist from the 20th century. His work is vibrant and colorful, making for a fascinating display in sun-lit galleries if you like abstract art. After you have your fill of art, take a stroll through the Civic Center Park. The park has wide greenspaces and an impressive number of colorful flowers in the summer.
There are endless options for great food in Denver, but here are some of the favorite restaurants and areas.
One great area to visit for dinner and drinks is the Highlands neighborhood. The Denver Highlands is a trendy area with popular restaurants, Victorian-era homes, gardens, boutiques and more. If you love trying different types of food, eat at Avanti Food & Beverage. This collective restaurant space has a variety of restaurants to choose from, including pizza, Asian food, BBQ and more. I enjoyed the brussel sprouts from Bistro Georgette and spring rolls from Meta Asian Kitchen.
Across the street from Avanti, you’ll find Happy Camper. This lively pizza place has outdoor inspired decor and you can even reserve a camper to dine inside. Happy Camper has a great atmosphere, just note that it only allows visitors that are over 21.
A few blocks from Avanti and Happy Camper, don’t miss Little Man Ice Cream. This ice cream stand is characterized by a giant milk jug and serves unique and eclectic flavors. I loved the space jam which was a mix of black raspberry ice cream and brownie bites.
Another spot I love for dinner in Denver is Hops and Pie. They serve artisan detroit-style pizza and you are encouraged to build your own combination of perfect toppings. I added smoked tofu and carmelized onions to my pizza and it was delicious. They also have fantastic cheesy garlic bread that appears more like potato skins than bread. Hops and Pie also has a good craft beer selection.
Finally, another neighborhood to explore and eat is Larimer Square, which is considered Denver’s First Historic District. The notable block is full of shops, restaurants and a variety of businesses. Walk through the historic Kettle Arcade, a beautiful space constructed in 1873 and enjoy some of the fine dining and shopping in the area. Check out Tag for innovative sushi, Tamayo for innovative Mexican cuisine or Cru Wine Bar for a wide selection of wine and pizza.
- Visit Boulder, another wonderful city located about 45 minutes from Denver. My Boulder guide includes where to stay, Boulder hiking trails and more.
- Visit Rocky Mountain National Park, an incredible park for hiking or just enjoying the mountain views. Start planning with my itinerary for visiting the Rocky Mountains in the spring.
- Take a road trip up into the Colorado ski towns, like Silverthorne. While skiing is the most popular thing to do, my Silverthorne guide includes lot of other activities to do in the area.
- Colorado Springs in a beautiful city south of Denver most known for the iconic Garden of the Gods. Find out how to spend one day in Colorado Springs in my guide!
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