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Although it is literally a 'Mile High City', situated one mile (1.6km) above sea level, Denver is flat and sprawling, overwhelmed by the backdrop of the majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains. It was founded as a gold-mining camp in 1858 and, situated at the centre of the Old West, was filled with cowboys, gamblers, saloons, gunslingers, Native Americans, and crooked characters such as the infamous con artist, Jefferson 'Soapy' Smith. Although very little gold was actually discovered in the area, the city still grew from the gold rush.
Having since shed its cow-town image and most evidence of its cowboy past, Denver has developed into a modern city with wonderful museums, historic architecture, cultural attractions, shopping venues and a world-class airport. It has more than 200 parks, tree-lined boulevards and a completely refurbished lower downtown area (LoDo to the locals), where blocks of old Victorian buildings and warehouses have been carefully restored to house restaurants, galleries, antique shops and jazz clubs. Historic Larimer Square is the heart of the dining and nightlife scene. Besides Chicago and San Diego, Denver brews more beer than any other city in America and most of it can be sampled in LoDo, where the city's brewpubs proliferate.
Most residents are active nature lovers who take advantage of the city's beautiful setting, the pleasant climate and unlimited outdoor adventures just minutes from the centre, including skiing, hiking, mountain biking and fishing. Tourism focuses on its natural setting and the outdoors, and as such it is a major destination for travellers heading into the mountains. Visitors to Denver will be pleasantly surprised by its welcoming and friendly nature and by how good-looking the city is.
Documenting the colourful history of Colorado and the stories of those who have lived here over the centuries, the History Colorado Center brings to life the world of cowboys and gunfighters, Native Americans, miners and gold panners, explorers, buffalo hunters, wagon trains and railroads. The museum is hugely innovative, blending technology with fascinating artefacts: explore an enormous map of the state with a storytelling time machine, grab a headlamp and enter a hard-rock mine, traverse the plains in a Model T, then soar off the world's first ski jump. Exhibits include portrayals of life in 19th-century Denver, Buffalo Soldiers and the Mesa Verde cliff.
Housing one of the largest Native American art collections in the country, the Denver Art Museum is a huge, seven-storey structure that also features the works of American Western artists, and art from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. The growing Native American collection displays work from about 150 tribes throughout the country, arranged geographically and spanning almost 2,000 years. Discovery Libraries contain shelves of art objects and prints, a costume closet that allows visitors to try on olden-day clothing, as well as reading corners. The museum is interesting for people of all ages.
More US money is made in Denver than anywhere else in the country, and visitors can take a tour of the Denver Mint to see exactly what's behind that tiny 'D' on most US coins. The Denver Mint opened in 1863, and originally melted gold dust and nuggets into bars for the Federal Reserve. Today it churns out billions of coins each year. Self-guided tours through the visitors' gallery provide a birds-eye view of the coin-minting process, with signs and displays explaining how it works. The whole tour takes about an hour, and reservations are required. There is a gift shop selling historic coins and replicas, which make great souvenirs for travellers (it is also possible to purchase coins online via the official website).
Mount Evans, with an altitude of over 14,000 feet, offers visitors truly spectacular views from its summit, as well as the opportunity to see various forms of Rocky Mountain wildlife (American Elk, mountain goats, marmots, big horn sheep) in their natural habitats. Just 65 miles (about 100km) from Denver - including an exhilarating 15 miles on 'America's highest paved road', the Mount Evans Scenic Byway - Mount Evans is perhaps the easiest way for visitors to Colorado to get an authentic 'Rocky Mountain experience'. Mount Evans also offers fishing opportunities, and hiking and bicycle trails; although it is most commonly visited as a day-trip from Denver, and is easily accessible by car for the less fit. Remember to pack a lunch for the summit, as the views will keep you up there for hours.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is one of those rare attractions that is as entertaining as it is educational, and as suitable for kids as it is fascinating for grown-ups. The museum draws thousands of teachers and students each year, and countless more tourists, all of whom value the unique, hands-on presentation style of the exhibitions. Boasting an IMAX theatre, Planetarium, and an assortment of high-tech, interactive 'discovery areas' (most famously, the 'Space Odyssey' and 'Prehistoric Journey' sections), visitors of all ages are sure to come away from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science enriched, and more enthusiastic about the world's natural treasures. The museum also houses a popular gift shop and cafe.
This popular amusement park is conveniently located in downtown Denver, offering about 50 rides and attractions for families in Denver. Rides range from the thrilling ten-storey Twister II roller coaster, to the pretty hand-carved carousel that dates back to 1925. The connected Island Kingdom Water Park offers relief on hot summer days, with around a dozen waterslides, raft rides, and family play areas. Entrance to the theme park includes entrance to the water park at no extra cost. Elitch Gardens Theme Park is seasonal, open between April and October and closed the rest of the year. Visitors should note that the park is open daily in the peak summer months but only sporadically in April, May, September and October; it is essential to check the calendar on the official website listed below before visiting to avoid disappointment. The E and C light rail lines stop near the entrance to the theme park.
A laid-back university town, located roughly 25 minutes northwest of Denver, Boulder is a sophisticated and artistic city. The large population of students from Colorado University gives Boulder a lively nightlife, a sense of fun, and a liberal attitude. Taking full advantage of its close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is a city fanatical about outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and skiing, and has positioned itself as a tourist hub for travellers on their way to the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. Boulder is stunningly situated and has enough impressive views to satisfy anybody in search of Colorado's beauty.
Denver experiences a semi-arid climate with dry, cold winters, warm summers, rainy springs, and pleasant, mild autumns. Winter temperatures average between 17°F (-8°C) and 46°F (8°C). The weather in Denver is influenced by the nearby Rocky Mountains, which block the winter storms somewhat. In summer, the humidity from the Gulf of Mexico causes afternoon thunderstorms. Summer temperatures average between 50°F (10°C) and 89°F (32°C). Denver's weather can also be unpredictable, with unseasonable snowstorms occurring. The average annual rainfall is low, and sunny skies are the norm.
The weather in Denver is notoriously unpredictable, but the best time to travel to Denver, especially for lovers of the outdoors, is during late spring or early autumn, when there are plenty of sunny days and, consequently, a number of outdoor events. Winter sports enthusiasts travel to Denver for the ski resorts during winter.
Every September in the city of Denver, beer brewers and tasters gather together for America's largest collection of beer served under one roof. More than 330 breweries are represented and there are close to 1,500 brands of beer on offer on the festival floor. The accompanying brewers' competition draws around 2,000 entries for the coveted award of the best beer of the festival. The beer swilling is accompanied by wholesome American food paired with certain beers for a full culinary experience. Tickets are limited and the event tends to sell out quickly, so book early if you are planning to attend.
The Greeley Stampede in Colorado is a truly American celebration. The festivities include a fantastic fireworks display, live concerts, art shows, a large carnival, a demolition derby, and of course, some crazy rodeo that attracts hundreds of thousands to share in the Independence Day celebrations. The festival is a great fun for children too, who can enjoy their own rodeo and special kids' concerts. Check out the official website listed below for details on who is performing and what exactly the celebrations will include each year. Don't miss out on an immersive American experience.
The public transport system in Denver is excellent, with an outstanding, comprehensive bus network that is supplemented by a light-rail line operating throughout the metropolitan area and outlying towns. Along the 16th Street Mall, the Regional Transportation District provides a free service called MallRide. Taxis can be hailed on the streets, but it is better to find them at taxi ranks or to order them by phone. Cars are not necessary for downtown and parking is expensive.
Denver, Middle America's hub, where the Great Plains melt into an urban sprawl at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, is a popular city with tourists. A holiday in Denver offers all the modern tourist amenities and attractions to fill your time, with the bonus of plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities just beyond the city limits. People of most ages and diverse interests will find something to enjoy during a Denver holiday. The city is well-geared towards families, with several educational attractions in the downtown area. Culture vultures will thrive on a full programme of musical and arts events.
Within the Mile High City, major sightseeing attractions include the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the State Capitol Building, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Elitch Gardens Theme Park, Washington Park, the History Colorado Center, and the Denver Mint. Sports fanatics will enjoy taking in a game at the Coors Field Baseball Stadium, and shopaholics will relish a stroll through Denver's 16th Street Mall, an outdoor shopping and dining centre packed full of restaurants and boutiques.
And yet, the city's many attractions pale in comparison to the beauty on its doorstep. Most travellers that end up in Denver are embarking on holidays set to be full of outdoor adventures in the Rocky Mountains.
The most popular attraction in Colorado is the spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park, with its snow-covered peaks, flower-flecked meadows, alpine lakes, thundering waterfalls and wildlife. These images of beauty have graced countless calendars and coffee-table books and are instantly recognisable as belonging to Colorado. Because of the high elevation of the park, a third of which is at an altitude of more than 11,500 feet (3,505m), there are large areas above the tree line of alpine tundra, meaning constant snow and flora seldom found outside the Arctic.
Although usually considered the realm of hikers, climbers, fishermen and horse riders, it is possible to enjoy the park without breaking a sweat thanks to one of America's most scenic drives, the Trail Ridge Road. Crossing the Continental Divide at over two miles (3km) above sea level, the 48-mile (77km) highway linking Estes Park to Grand Lake is one of the highest continuous highways in the country, affording dizzying views in all directions. The sweeping vistas of snowy peaks and glaciers, forests, streams and meadows where elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep can be seen, are exceptional. The road also provides access to several walking trails. In winter the road is closed, but activities such as cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snow-shoeing are popular.
Most visitors come during the summer months, but the park can get quite crowded and the roads congested; the best time to enjoy the park is early autumn, after the crowds and before the winter snows. The resort village of Estes Park is the eastern gateway to the park and very popular with visitors, while the western resort of Grand Lake is quieter with an idyllic setting on the shores of a large lake.
Boasting some of the world's top ski resorts, such as Vail and Aspen, to name two of the best, the main attraction of the Rocky Mountains has to be its plethora of ski resorts. Travellers looking for the ultimate winter ski holiday are spoilt for choice when they visit Colorado's Rockies as there are at least 20 resorts to choose from. From amateurs and intermediates to those looking to carve their way down pristine black runs, there's a skiing or snowboarding opportunity for everyone. Some of the resorts are glamorous and upmarket and others are more family-friendly. See our more comprehensive resort listings for or a more detailed look at the Rocky Mountains ski resorts.
Mesa Verde National Park provides a glimpse into the Ancestral Pueblo culture (also called the Anasazi), a tribe which inhabited the area for over 700 years from the year 600 to 1300. The park contains thousands of archaeological sites, including hundreds of cliff dwellings. Travellers can start at the Far View Visitors' Center, located 15 miles (24km) from the entrance, and join a ranger-guided tour of popular sites like Cliff Palace, Balcony house, Spruce Tree House, and Long House. Many sites are only accessible on the tours, and may be difficult for those who aren't physically fit. The ruins are incredibly impressive and very well preserved; some of the greatest archaeological treasures in the Americas.
One of the best places to see prehistoric dinosaur fossils in the US, Dinosaur National Monument is home to the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, a famous archaeological site that still displays thousands of fossils for the public to see, along with exhibits on life during the late Jurassic period. The park was also home to outlaws and homesteaders in the 1800s, and there are a few historic sites relating to their presence, including the Rial Chew Ranch Complex and Denis Julien Inscription to explore. The area is scenically splendid and offers many fun outdoor activities: there are great hiking trails and the extra adventurous can go river rafting down the rapids of the canyons.
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