Regularly chastised for skyrocketing rent, Denver is one of the hottest cities on the planet right now.Millennials are moving there in droves thanks to the burgeoning tech scene, outdoor lifestyle and attractive work / life balance.Yes, Denver is definitely having a moment. Despite the high cost of living, you can still find some attractions and things to do that don’t cost a pretty penny. Here are some of the best free ways to entertain yourself in the Mile High.
Free things to do in Denver
Make it a Park Day
Denver has tons of green space and you’ll almost always find a pickup game of volleyball, soccer or kickball going on. It’s the place to kick back with a frosty beverage, go for a dog walk or soak in the 300+ days of sun. Pack a lunch and your hammock and people watch, dog walk or admire the flora and fauna. Washington Park is the most popular with two huge lakes and a garden modeled after Mount Vernon, but Sloan’s Lake and City Park are also busy and popular playgrounds. Pro Tip: a number of the parks also show outdoor movies during the summer months.
Take a Hike
Most people don’t live in Denver for the city; they live there for easy access to the mountains. There are a number of spots to appreciate nature, but one of the iconic, not to miss sights is Red Rocks. Just 20 minutes from Denver, the amphitheater is the most acoustically perfect outdoor concert venue in the world and is crisscrossed by nature trails. Bear Creek Reservoir is another easily accessible hiking spot with campgrounds, SUP and kayak rentals, and horseback riding, and biking trails for a full day of fun in the forest or on the water.
Go For an Iconic Drive
Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, and just about 30 minutes from Denver. Called “the Road to the Sky,” it’s a breathtaking trek through the Rocky Mountains atdizzying altitudes that don’t require summiting crazy peaks. One of Colorado’s classic 14ers, you can drive most of the way to the summit where you’ll be greeted by alpine lakes and herds of bighorn sheep and other wildlife curiously peeking into your car. Pack your gear because there are plenty of hiking and biking trails up there too.
Soak it All In
Colorado is blessed with dozens of hot springs, and while many have been commercialized and converted into official spa facilities, you can still find a natural pool or two if you do your homework. They typically require a bit of a hike in, but these primitive watering holes are perfect for relaxing and soaking in the summer sun.
With 200+ craft breweries, Denver’s beer scene is one of the fastest growing in the country. One of the original residents is none other than Miller-Coors (with the Rocky Mountains commemorated on their silver cans). You can tour the factory to learn about their rich beer traditions and sample three beverages from their lineup for free. If you’re more of a liquor person, Stranahan’s is the local distillery and also offers free whiskey tours and tastings if you reserve a spot in advance.
Get Some Culture
The First Friday Art Walk is a popularmonthly event. Galleries around the city open their doors for visitors to enjoy wine and appetizers, live music and of course, art. Santa Fe is the main neighborhoodto check out, but other areas have been getting in on the fun lately. You can always admire thestreet art and make yourself a mural scavenger hunt in RiNo.
The indie and alternative music scene in Denver certainly draws its crowds, but there are plenty of free concerts to be found too. Jazz in the Park is a popular summer series, which features rotating artists, food trucks and plenty of fun. It’s great for groups so be sure to pack a picnic blanket and catch-up with old friends. The Big Wonderful is another rotating summer series full of artisan craft vendors, good eats and good tunes.
Make Yourself a Photo Safari
From the second you’re greeted by the glowing blue horse sculpture at the airport, you’ll come to realize that Denver has a lot of quirkiness about it. Seek out some of the iconic photo spots like the Blue Bear at the convention center, the State Capitol, exactly 5280 miles high, and the VW van on the rooftop of Linger. A popular happy hour spot, the restaurant defines itself as an eatuary (a mortuary turned food spot). You’ll also want to snapa selfie at Union Station and with the dancing sculptures at the performing arts complex.
Lauren Monitz is a travel and food writer based in Denver, Colorado. She has bylines across the web from the Food Network and Huffington Post to Thrillist. You can follow her (mis)adventures on Instagram, Twitter, and http://thedownlo.com