Travel: Exploring the mile high city of Denver

Explore Colorado on horseback at Moraine Park Stable, Rocky Mountain National Park. Picture: Lisa Young
Explore Colorado on horseback at Moraine Park Stable, Rocky Mountain National Park. Picture: Lisa Young
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Scotland on Sunday travel

Today the capital of Colorado attracts a young crowd. It has changed dramatically over the years and emerged as a centre for fashion, art and entertainment. There’s plenty of Western heritage rubbing shoulders with contemporary street art covering old warehouse walls.

Street in Denver. Picture: 'Lisa Young

Street in Denver. Picture: 'Lisa Young

Getting to Denver is straightforward with the introduction of direct flights on Norwegian’s fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft offering the UK’s cheapest year-round direct option. Fares start from just £179 one way.

Getting around Denver is simple. The A Line rail service from Denver International Airport to Union Station and a free shuttle throughout the day transports visitors to 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, the shopping and restaurant hub. Many hotels, such as the new Halcyon, offer free bicycle hire and the city’s B-cycle sharing scheme, with 700 bikes on offer, means cyclists can explore the 85 miles of routes. At the heart of the city is the once rundown Union Station transformed from shabby to chic with a £40 million renovation that has seen its 12,000-square-foot lobby and atrium filled with restaurants and cocktail bars.

The hip Larimer Square – the city’s oldest block – features landmark 19th-century buildings housing upscale speciality boutiques and unique restaurants. Look for Green Russell (an old speakeasy) for a handcrafted, prohibition-era cocktail.

Beer is a big attraction in Colorado, which brews more than any other state in the US and the famous Coors Brewery is located in the nearby town of Golden. In Denver locals trip over each other to get into one of more than a hundred microbreweries, brewpubs, breweries, tap rooms, bars and restaurants in LoDo (Lower Downtown) and RiNo (River North). The craft brewing scene started with Wynkoop Brewing Company, owned by John Hickenlooper, currently the state’s governor.

Denver Union Station. Picture: Lisa Young

Denver Union Station. Picture: Lisa Young

eTuk Denver, an electric rickshaw business, runs free rides to a number of independent craft breweries, cideries and wineries in the trendy RiNo district, ensuring visitors get home safely. The former warehouse district of the town, and covered in street art, RiNo is also home to Denver Central Market, an ideal place for snacks or a meal on-the-go.

Denver’s free city walking tours take in landmarks such as the much photographed 40-foot giant blue bear statue, standing on its hind legs, and Coors Field, and they operate daily from April to October and every Saturday and Sunday year round (no reservation required). Institutions such as the US Mint and the Colorado State Capitol also operate free tours.

Wherever you wander you’ll come across remnants of Denver’s historical pioneering days, nowhere more so than at the family-run Rockmount Ranch Wear, home to the original snap-front western shirts and where country and western royalty flock.

For some outdoor fun under the stars and on the field, head to the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home to the three-time Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos.

Denver isn’t short on culture: the Centre for Performing Arts attracts big-name international musicals and theatrical productions and you’ll know when you’re outside the Colorado Convention Center, as the giant bear peers into the lobby. The Denver Art Museum is an architectural work of art itself, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works. And if you like shopping, there’s no shortage of malls out of town, such as Cherry Creek, all easily reached by public transport or taxi.

In Morrison, just 16 miles west of Denver, is one of the world’s coolest and most renowned live music venues – the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, an acoustically perfect natural setting, surrounded by towering red rock cliffs. Opened in 1906, famous acts who have performed there include the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Prince and Muse, as well as classical performers, and U2 recorded their Under A Blood Red Sky video there in 1983.

The rest of the state of Colorado is a year-round magnet for adrenaline junkies and those drawn to the outdoors, and with over 25 excellent ski resorts, the ideal place to hit the slopes. Surrounded by diverse landscape with no less than 11 national parks and monuments, and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet (known as “fourteeners”), it’s also the ideal launch pad for exploring the Rocky Mountains.

Heading west for an hour and a half will take you to the gateway town of Estes Park and the 100-year-old Rocky Mountain National Park.

There are no lodges in the park, but if you want to sleep on the wild side, there is controlled camping, with five sites to choose from at $26 a night in the summer and $18 in the winter.

For a great American-style breakfast, head to The Egg & I (expect a mountain of food, enough to share) and Estes Park Pie Shop & Bakery is ideal for a packed lunch.

The Ridgeline Hotel offers reasonably priced rooms in the town centre, or splash some cash at the famous Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King stayed and was inspired to write The Shining after an alleged paranormal experience,

The Park was established because of the scenery and tundra, with the best views being above the tree line, and covers 416 square miles of spectacular wilderness. Horse riding at Moraine Park Stable is a great way to explore the higher slopes, and there’s a good chance of spotting deer, lots of birds and coyotes. Hiking fans will love the 300 miles of trails that suit all levels of fitness and there’s also fly-fishing, and junior ranger activities for kids, with cycling, kayaking or off-road driving available in other parks.

If you think you are being watched while in the park, you probably are – by one of the pumas. Don’t worry though, they are not keen on humans and prefer eating deer. People come to the park to spot animals such as pumas, bears, both black and brown, elks and Bighorn sheep – the symbol of the park – and although wolves were hunted out in the 1900s, you can still see wild coyotes.

It’s no wonder it’s a popular place, with park rangers in their traditional Smokey Bear hats struggling to cope with the crowds in peak season, and year round the majestic Rocky Mountains inspire adventures. No matter what time of year you go, you won’t be disappointed.