A DOZEN REASONS TO LOVE DENVER
This progressive and dynamic city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is on a rapid rise. Adele Thurlow looks at what makes the Colorado capital such an appealing destination.
1 Great outdoors
Denver’s location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is the reason much of life there takes place outdoors. Hiking, skiing, rock climbing, camping, and fishing are all readily available — even kayaking within minutes of downtown Denver at the man-made chutes in Confluence Park.
The outdoor amphitheatre created by enormous angular boulders at Red Rocks Park is a concert venue like no other and has hosted acts including The Beatles, U2 and Jimi Hendrix. It is also home to Denver Film Society’s Film on the Rocks each summer, as well as Fitness on the Rocks — an alfresco group exercise festival.
Denver enjoys about 300 days of sunshine a year and only 30-40 days in which the sky is totally overcast. The MileHigh City’s semi-arid climate features low humidity and just a quarter of the annual rainfall that Auckland receives. Nearby mountain resorts receive more than 7.5m of snow each winter, more than three times that of Mt Ruapehu.
Colorado has one of the lowest obesity rates in the US and Denver residents are rated to be more physically active than the national average. Denver is also consistently ranked among the country’s smartest cities. The Denver Public Library even offers a language enrichment programme fo run der-2s.
Denver Union Station is a seriously swoon-worthy public space referred to as “Denver’s living room”. With its leather furniture, elegant period-style wired work stations, Art Deco chandeliers and retailers surrounding the central seating space, it looks more like the lobby of a high-end hotel.
Just 13km from downtown Denver is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal wildlife refuge. The 6500ha site is home to more than 330 species of wildlife, including deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, hawks, raccoons, pelicans and bison. Visiting the refuge is free and can be explored via a variety of shorter trails on foot or cross country skis, and a 18km vehicular Wildlife Drive through mesmerising prairie grasslands framed by the city skyline and Rocky Mountains.
It’s no surprise such a progressive city
has generated hip nicknames for its city suburbs, in a similar vein to New York’s SoHo and TriBeCa. The memorable monikers include LoDo (Lower Downtown), LoHi (Lower Highland), and RiNo (River North Arts District). However, the suggestion that the area west and south of Highlands be referred to as WeSoHi hasn’t been as readily welcomed, particularly by those less keen on the city’s cannabis law reform.
More than 200km of bike trails link the downtown area to some of the city’s hottest neighbourhoods that are dotted with cafes and cocktail bars. Make use of B-cycle, the city’s bike-share system with 700 bikes and 88 parking stations, to pedal your way around an interactive “Denver Story Trek” — a self-guided tour of some of the city’s historic landscapes and landmarks.
Explore some of the 100 brewpubs, microbreweries and tap rooms on the Denver Beer Trail — many of which can be visited on foot, or by B-cycle. Given the abundance of beer producers in Denver, it makes sense that the city hosts the Great American Beer Festival each autumn. It’s the largest craft beer fest in the world, featuring 2000 beers from more than 450 breweries.
In a repurposed old brick foundry building in the RiNo district, you’ll find The Source, an artisan food market with a focus on the slow-food movement. This new hot spot, with its industrial steel and brick interior, has 13 vendors, including two restaurants, a baker, coffee roaster, cheese merchant, butcher, brewery, florist, and cocktail bar. Downtown, in a former parking lot, is Tiri’s Garden. It’s a pocket Eden, with raised beds and pergolas dripping with vines, all inspired by Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden at the White House, with the herbs, flowers and produce sold on-site at a seasonal open-air market.
Exploring downtown Denver is made easy with the help of interactive kiosks which can text directions to your phone, provide public transport info, recommend local retailers and take and send selfies.
Out near Denver International Airport, “smart” is being taken to new levels in a collaboration between Denver and Panasonic with the creation of the futuristic neighbourhood of Pena Station Next. Features include smart LED street lights, autonomous transport shuttles, a parking area covered with solar panels and a storage micro-grid.
And in an entirely different revolutionary move, Denver was the first city in the United States to legalise recreational use of marijuana, giving new meaning to “Mile High City” and “Rocky Mountain High”. However, there are strict guidelines preventing consumption openly and publicly, and you won’t find Amsterdamstyle coffee shops lining the streets.
Denver Arts Week each November sees culture-lovers flock to more than 300 events at galleries, museums, theatres and concert halls throughout the city. Always an integral part of the event is Denver Art Museum, which showcases more than 68,000 works by famed artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Another annual event which draws the crowds is Denver Restaurant Week, held in late-February. Diners have 10 days to eat their way through multi-course menus at more than 250 restaurants.
Denver is the smallest city in the country with so many major professional sports teams. Catch a home game of the Denver Broncos (football), the Denver Nuggets (basketball), the Colorado Rockies (baseball), and the Colorado Avalanche (ice hockey), or take a tour of their stadiums. The city also boasts professional soccer, lacrosse and rugby teams.
Denver is an excellent base from which to experience the Rocky Mountains. Take a day trip up the Mt Evans Scenic Byway — a 24km route known as the “road into the sky” because of the massive altitude change it experiences. The drive to Mt Evans’ summit climbs through nearly 2700m of elevation gain, from the high plains of Denver through five climate zones and three different types of ecosystem. (Note, the road is only open to vehicles from May to September.)
Denver’s altitude of 1609m above sea level — or 5280 feet; exactly a mile — is why it’s dubbed the Mile High City.
Denver, Colorado. Picture / 123RF
Famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison. Picture / 123RF