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15 Best Things to do in Denver this Summer

Posted at 06/09/2021 11:12 AM by Pat O'Connor

With the COVID-19 pandemic almost in our rear view mirror,  it's gratifying to see concerts, special events and cultural activities back on the summer radar. There is nothing not to love about warmer temps, getting outside and enjoying all the amenities of our Mile High City.

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 15. 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 you're 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

For 129 years, 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 be the choice location to impress that special someone.

Hike Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes

nymph lake

Reservations are still 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. Many of the peaks are not be accessible until July unless you are comfortable traversing snowfields with traction devices and other appropriate climbing gear. 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  “easy” and “convenient (but know in advance, there are no easy 14ers),” 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.

Attend a Red Rocks Concert

best summer things to do in denver

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 play 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 up Mt. Evans, Idaho Springs

Mt. Evans has reopened for 2021 but you will need a reservation for a timed entry. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs more than 7,000 feet in just 28 miles, reaching an altitude of 14,130 feet. The views are breath taking, but the road is in poor condition and has no guardrails so be prepared for slow and possible difficult driving conditions. Also, beware there are many bicyclists that cycle this road. This is a spectacular wilderness area that is easily accessbile froms 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, is a truly spectacular area that is cherished by climbers and hikers alike.

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 have required the pool to be closed again this summer (2021).  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.  

Visit Denver's Beloved Attractions

botanic gardens denver | free days

Denver Zoo

Everyone's favorite, you can't go wrong with a visit to the Denver Zoo. Here's your chance to see how baby rhino Joona has grown up over the last year. 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. During the summer, you'll 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

History Colorado provides artifacts, stories, and art 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. Check out the fabulous exhibit: "Building Denver: Visions of the Capital City," which runs through Aug. 31. 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  5280 Paddlesports  and Colorado Water Sports at the Reservoir, and take advantage of SUP Yoga classes,  kayak and paddle board rentals, and lessons.

Listen to Live Jazz

City Park's Sunday night jazz concerts are a ton of fun. Starting June 13th through August 8, this volunteer-run, totally FREE event is all about bringing the community together and supporting musicians. If you forget to pack your own picnic, food trucks will be there to help you out! BYOB! And don't forget your dancing shoes!

Attend a Rockies Game (preferably July 4th game)

Regardless of whether they are winning or losing, attending a Rockies game at Coors Field is an event to remember. Coors Field is a magnificent venue to watch the Rocks battle their Major League Baseball opponents. Whether you get a seat behind the plate to watch Dinger’s antics or in the “Rockpile,” you’re sure to enjoy the game. Check the schedule for special events and promotions. If you’ve never been to a game over the 4th of July, make this the year. Receive a hand held flag and enjoy fireworks after the game.

Dragon Boat Festival

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival debuted in 2001 at Sloan’s Lake Park in Denver to showcase the growing and diverse Asian community in Denver. At the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, the sport has grown from 16 teams to almost 50 competing in two divisions. More than 120,000 people are expected to attend the event that is now the largest of its kind in the country, drawing more attendees than even the long-established dragon boat races and festivals in cities like New York, Boston, Houston, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco! CDBF features more than 160 vendors and performers, a Wellness Village, Dragonland interactive children’s area and over 100 performances on five stages that feature traditional Asian to contemporary Asian American culture.  Normally, this event takes place in July but this year, erring on the side of caution due to the pandemic, the dates are  Sept. 25-26, and will feature the year of the Ox.

Union Station Buskerfest

The Union Station Buskerfest will take place outside Denver’s Union Station on Sept. 10-12, after Labor Day but still packed with fun and incredible performances. Featuring an international lineup of artists, this extravaganza aspires to cultivate a tradition of live street art and performance in the Mile-High City. Buskerfest enlivens Union Station’s public plaza and introduces Denver audiences of all ages to skilled performers specializing in the traditions of busking and street theatre. Fire performers, musicians, face painters, hula-hoopers, jugglers and others will provide entertainment. This event is free and open to the public.

Cherry Creek Arts Festival

Since 1991, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival has attracted artists from around the country and now hosts 350,000 visitors over the three-day event. Scheduled for Sept. 4-6 (a month later than usual),  people congregate to view award‐winning art, enjoy culinary delights, and listen and watch performances in Cherry Creek North between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, and Clayton and Steele Streets. 

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.

(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