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10 Best Things to do in Denver this Summer

Posted at 06/17/2020 02:30 PM by Pat O'Connor

(The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many of Denver's popular events this summer. Most large gatherings have been cancelled or postponed until the fall. However, there are still plenty of activities to take advantage of this summer). 

Regardless of whether you’re a native or a newcomer, it’s good to have a plan of attack when it comes to selecting the best things to do in and around Denver this summer. This is my personal favorite list and it includes places, venues and events that I’ve enjoyed for decades. As Denver has grown, so has the number of events, festivals, attractions and outdoor activities, and it’s hard to keep it to just 10. The bottom line is Labor Day will be here before you know it so don’t delay in getting out and enjoying all that Denver and Colorado have to offer.

Visit These 5 Denver Landmarks

denver union station

Denver's downtown is an exciting urban landscape. From great restaurants to craft breweries, independent boutiques to lovely parks, you'll love the sights and sounds of the Mile High City. While your in the city, make sure to visit these renowned and historic places:

Union Station

Originally built in 1881, almost destroyed by fire in 1894 and completely renovated in 2012, this building has had many lives but remains the focal point of Lower Downton. Re-opened in 2014, Union Station Denver is not only a transit center for RTD and Amtrak but is also home to the Crawford Hotel, numerous restaurants, and many events throughout the year.

State Capitol

Colorado’s state capitol building, with its distinctive gold leaf inlay dome, commemorates the Colorado Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The beautiful building features stained glass windows, white granite and rose marble, and is part of the National Historic Landmark District.

Civic Center Park

Located across the street from the capitol, Civic Center Park is a favorite gathering place for festivals and concerts. The Greek amphitheater, flower beds and benches make for a wonderful respite for lunch hour or weekend activities.

16th Street Mall

Since 1982, people have been enjoying the 16th Street Mall. Served by the free RTD shuttle bus, this one-mile long pedestrian mall features retail shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, historic office buildings and special events throughout the year.

Brown Palace

Since 1892, the Brown Palace has been attracting guests in search of opulent accommodations, impeccable service and savory food. Renowned for its downtown location, amenities and, of course, high tea, the Brown Palace continues to impress over a century since its inception.

Hike Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes

nymph lake

Reservations are now necessary to visit Rocky Mountain National Park so make sure you plan ahead. Check with the RMNP office (970) 586-1206) if you are concerned about the condition of the trails. This gorgeous hike can be found at the Bear Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. Come prepared as this hike is not for the faint of heart. But it's totally doable as it clocks in round-trip at 3.6 miles. Bring your phone to snap photos of these gorgeous bodies of water. The Bear Lake area is very busy, especially in summer and on fall weekends. Parking often fills by early morning and roads are congested.The park’s free shuttle bus is available so you can ride  to this popular trailhead, all while avoiding the hassle of dealing with traffic and searching for parking. Learn more about this hike at ProTrails.com.

Climb a 14er

best denver summer activities

If you live in Colorado, this is a rite of passage. There are 52 of them so do your research. Due to the heavy snowpack this year, however, many of the peaks will not be accessible until mid-August. The Colorado Mountain Club publishes a pack guide, “The Colorado 14ers” which covers all the climbs and is quite thorough with descriptions and difficulty level, and offers great insight. And don’t cheat by driving up the road to Mt. Evans or Pikes Peak! If you’re looking for an “easy” and “convenient,” consider Mt. Bierstadt, Gray’s (and Torres -- might as well, they are right next to each other) or Quandary. With the population boom along the Front Range, however, you’re best advised to make the trek during the week. The weekend traffic on 14ers can take on the appearance of I-25. Get an early start (best to be on the trail at sunup or before) as thunderstorms are common by early afternoon. Bring plenty of water and most of all, enjoy the view.

Visit Red Rocks

best summer things to do in denver

While the concert schedule is on hold and the amphitheater is currently closed, you can still scope out this beautiful setting from the nearby trails. There is no other outdoor concert venue quite like Red Rocks. Nestled in the foothills north of Morrison amidst towering red sandstone, the amphitheater is a naturally formed arena with breathtaking acoustics and views. It was dedicated in 1941 and received National Historic Landmark status in 2015. Some of the best bands in the world would normally be playing at Red Rocks from April to October. The Red Rocks amphitheater is part of the Denver Mountain Parks system and also features great hiking trails.

Drive to Echo Lake (via Hwy. 103), Idaho Springs

Unfortunately Hwy. 5 leading up to Mt. Evans is closed to motor vehicle traffic due to COVID-19. However, cyclists and hikers are still welcome. You can park at Echo Lake and walk/bike up the road to the summit of Mt. Evans. This is a spectacular wilderness area and so close to Denver. You're sure to see mountain goats if you get an early start.

Explore Eldorado Canyon State Park

This idyllic state park, located just south of Boulder, was selected as "one of the state parks you can't miss" by SmarterTravel.com.

Eldorado Canyon is a hidden treasure for hiking amidst the towering cliffs, picnicking along scenic South Boulder Creek or climbing the sheer towering rock faces. It offers over 500 technical rock climbing routes, luring climbers from around the world to challenge their skills on “Eldo’s” golden cliffs.  Hike or mountain bike the picturesque trails that vary from easy to difficult and connect with Boulder's trail systems. 

Eldorado Canyon is also home to the Eldorado Swimming Pool. This historic swimming pool has been a popular destination since its opening in 1905. Renovations to the pool as well roadway improvements (which were approved earlier this year) has required the pool to be closed again this summer (2020).  Once the pool opens next summer, visitors will be treated to much improved facilities and increased energy efficiency. 

The pool is fed directly by a constant flow from the artesian spring, and has such a deep hue that most people think it is artificially colored. The water comes into the swimming pool at 76° F, and a temperature of 80° is maintained by a heating system. The grounds around the pool used to be a world-renowned resort and bottled water is still produced from the natural artesian waters. In 1978, the State of Colorado purchased over 400 acres from the resort, thereby establishing Eldorado Canyon State Park. Five years later, the pool and grounds were purchased by the Eldorado Artesian Springs, Inc., which operate not only the pool but continues to bottle water. An immense, natural artesian spring pressure forces the water through a layer of sandstone up to the surface in Eldorado Springs, creating a natural filtering system. The Eldorado Springs filtered water is considered by some to be the purest and best tasting water in the country.

Visit Denver's Beloved Attractions

botanic gardens denver | free days

There is always something to do in Denver but the outdoor venues for music, art and activities are especially vibrant. On any given weekend, you’ll find a number of street festivals and fairs which provide a great opportunity to get outside and support local vendors and small businesses.

Denver Zoo

Everyone's favorite, the Denver Zoo is now open. Here's your chance to see the new baby rhino Joona among the other hundreds of animals. Tickets need to be purchased in advance; click on this link to find out what's available.  And remember to consider buying a membership to the Zoo. You'll help support all the Zoo's programming as well as receive free daily admission for a year and discounts on souvenirs, food and drink. 

Botanic Gardens

Stroll through the beautiful gardens and enjoy learning about Colorado's climate and what flowers and plants thrive at 5,280 feet above sea level. The Denver Botanic Gardens is thrilled to once again be open! Here's your chance to see Denver in full bloom. Click here to purchase tickets and reserve your time slot. Limited numbers will be allowed in the gardens at any given time.

History Colorado

Reopening June 22, History Colorado provides artifacts, stories, and art intermingle to tell the tale of Colorado and the American West. Designed for multi-generational audiences, the museum captures the pioneering and individualistic spirit of Colorado with exhibitions and programs. Colorado’s story is constantly evolving, and new exhibitions and displays The John Denver ExperienceWhat’s Your Story?, Beer Here! Brewing the New West, Game Changers and This is What Democracy Looks Like bridge the gap between the history of this great state and its impact on the here and now. Purchase your tickets here.

paddle board denver

Rent a Paddle Board or Kayak at Chatfield Reservoir

There is no better place to spend a hot summer day than on the water at Chatfield Reservoir. Check out the 5280 Paddlesports at the Reservoir, and take advantage of SUP Yoga classes,  kayak and paddle board rentals, and lessons. 5280 Paddlesports are conveniently located at Chatfield Reservoir and Barr Lake. Sign up for classes and rentals online today!

farmers market denver

Shop Local - Denver's Best Farmers Markets

Cherry Creek Farmer's Market

  • East 1st Ave. and University Blvd. 
  • Now – Nov. 14, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Saturdays)
  • TBA (Wednesdays)

Highland's Square Farmer's Market

  • 32nd Ave Between Newton & Lowell
  • Now – Oct. 11,  9 a.m.– 1 p.m. (Sundays)

Union Station Farmer's Market

  • 1700 Wynkoop Street
  • Now - Oct. 24, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. (Saturdays)

Old South Pearl

  • 1500 Block of Old South Pearl Street
  • Now – Nov. 15, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. (Sundays)

Santa Fe Arts District

art gallery denver

Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF) is a nationally known arts and cultural district, encompassing hundreds of artists, galleries, studios, theaters, and creative businesses along Santa Fe Drive in Denver. Founded in 2003, ADSF is a nonprofit membership organization and one of the first Certified Creative Districts in the state. You can stroll along north Santa Fe between 7th and 10th Avenues, and visit the many establishments that feature unique art,  culture and creativity. Check out this link to discover the shops that have opened and safety requirements that are in effect.

(Editor's note: This blog was originally published in June of 2018. It has been updated and revised based on current information).

Posted by Pat O'Connor

Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.

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Topics: Things to Do in Denver