I get an email or message about once a month from people who are either going to visit Colorado for the first time or just moved here. I am a rare Colorado native and have been to every corner of this beautiful state. So where should you visit and what should you do if you have only a week to experience Colorado? I write about travel the way I like to experience it. Leave some time for improvisation, stay in places that have an incredible sense of place (but don’t cost more than $150 a night), eat all things local, that I can’t eat back home and experience the great outdoors. We are looking for curious adventures and want to meet curious people that leave us better and refreshed. This begins in Denver because most flights will arrive here and well, you should begin in Denver, my home, anyway.
A Curious Adventure: 7 Day Travel Itinerary Colorado
Day 1: Arrival Day Denver, Colorado
Where to stay in Denver? Remember we want sense of place. More and more I am using Airbnb because the experiences have been pretty incredible. The neighborhood depends on your personality. The extrovert party type, go out on the town, clubber will want to stay downtown. This is no longer my preferred local so if searching for a neighborhood on Airbnb I would suggest the Baker neighborhood. I am biased because this is where I live and it is by far my favorite neighborhood in Denver (I don’t list on Airbnb so you can’t stay with me:) Why Baker?
Just like any neighborhood in any city, Baker attracts a certain crowd. The local watering holes and breweries on south Broadway are filled with curious locals like myself. The neighborhood is an eclectic mix of hipsters, artists, writers, beards, tattoos and those who enjoy things that are unique, even if it is ridiculous sometimes. If you book a place to stay in this neighborhood it will likely be a victorian home that was built in the late 1800’s. The neighborhood is filled with Car2Go’s, is an easy 10 minute Uber or Lyft ride downtown and during the summer you can rent a bike from the many bike share stations around and enjoy a relaxing bike ride to almost 20 breweries in the surrounding neighborhoods or along the cherry creek trail to downtown Denver.
Spend your first night in Denver exploring this neighborhood and the many restaurants, bars and breweries that offer local suds and dishes in Baker.
Day 2: Explore Denver
My favorite thing to do in Denver is a neighborhood bike brew/food truck tour. Rent a bike (in warm weather) and head downtown on the Cherry Creek trail, a bike trail that runs along a small river, which will lead you downtown. My favorite Breweries include Prost, Baer Brewery and Renegade. It seems almost everywhere you turn in Denver there is a brewery so just go nuts. Check out this great map which features a few of the good breweries in Denver here.
Stop on the 16th street mall downtown but don’t linger. This is where most tourists head in Denver because of its location downtown but it is mostly good for people watching, chain restaurants and shopping. I have not visited 16th street in years despite being within a 10 minute bike ride.
If the Rockies are playing go catch a baseball game at Coors Field. Even if you don’t like baseball the views of the mountains and the truly American experience are worth the cheap admission. Sit in the rockpile for $4. Stop at the Colorado State Capitol building to snap a few pics and check out the step that is exactly 1 mile above sea level to experience our namesake, The Mile High City.
If you are in the mood for a nice dinner that features local food, then head over to Larimer Square downtown. This charming street framed by a idilic ceiling of white outdoor lights on strings, is filled with amazing restaurants worthy of your vacation. Grab a table outside on the sidewalk during the summer to enjoy an almost European like dining experience.
Day 3: Day Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
I don’t love the crowds here, as this is becoming increasingly popular, but, if you come to Colorado you have to see Rocky Mountain National Park and go for a hike. This area is truly spectacular and will be your first taste of the stunning Rocky Mountains that Colorado is famous for.
Spend your time in the park hiking and exploring, but don’t linger in Estes Park. It has become a tourist trap filled with shops that each offer surprisingly similar trinkets and souvenirs. Take a minute to take in the famous Stanley Hotel (stay there if it is late) before the hour and a half drive back to Denver.
Day 4: Road Trip to Paonia, CO
I doubt you will find this small mountain town on many recommended stops from the big name travel sites. However, if you want to experience a true mountain town (void of the pretentiousness of Aspen and Vail) then make the incredibly scenic 4 hour drive from Denver to Paonia.
Head west into the mountains on I70 until you get to Glenwood Springs. Either take a break to take a dip in the popular hot springs in Glenwood Springs, or keep following you gps towards Paonia. Stop at Penny Hot Springs just off the side of highway 133 for a free dip in a natural hot tub. Chances are you will be joined by naked mountain hippies but this is a great place to stop, that not many people know about.
Once you get to Paonia go grab a beer at Revolution Brewing. When I was a kid this small white building was a church. Now it is a brewery serving up great beer, local food, and is packed with people who live in the valley.
Day 5: Hiking, Wine Tasting and Orchards Paonia
It is funny. Growing up in this small town I wanted nothing more than to leave. Now I view it as a true gem. Paonia features some great local wineries so spend the day sampling local offerings. If you are there during the fall go to one of the many orchards to pick apples or whatever fruit is in season from the U-Pick offerings.
Colorado is filled with 14’ers which has become the thing to do. If you lean introvert and want to get into nature to get away from the crowds avoid the 14’ers, especially during mid summer. The crowds are crazy. A truly beautiful hike, where you may never see another soul is near Paonia. So if you are up for it spend pat of your day hiking to the top of Mount Lamborn.
Day 6: Road Trip Through Crested Butte, Gunnison and Back to Denver
Take your time making your way towards Crested Butte on a truly beautiful mountain dirt road, Kebler Pass (only open during summer). Stop at Lost Lake Campground for a picnic lunch then head to Crested Butte. Stop in Crested Butte to explore an amazing small mountain town before heading back to Denver. This drive is one of the most beautiful in the state.
Day 7: Fly home
Back in Denver, before you fly home, grab a breakfast burrito anywhere near where you are staying. Austin, Texas has breakfast tacos. Denver does breakfast burritos right. Generally the sketchier the hole in the wall restaurant looks, the better the burritos will be.