It´s been great news a few months ago when Lufthansa announced the new nonstop service from my homebase Munich to Denver after a long pause. The capital of Colorado and 19th most populous city in the U.S. can be well described as the Gateway to all of the state´s beautiful Nature reserves and impressive landscapes. They make the city a fantastic destination year round and therefore highly attractive for outdoor activities during the summer as well as an excellent winter sports location during the winter. But since I am not a winter´s person, what´s there to explore during a 48 hours layover in 2016´s “best place to live in the USA” (U.S. News & World Report) in August?
Things to have in mind before going
First of all, pack for sun & storms. Particularly during the hot summers, the endless plains of Colorado are vulnerable to heavy thunderstorms or even tornadoes. With Denver lying very close to the outskirts of the Rocky Mountains, weather can change several times during the day.
Especially if you plan trips into the mountains for hiking, always have warm clothes along to layer as well as high sun screen and head protection!
And never forget: Denver is called the “Mile high city”! Those of you being very sensitive to High Altitude Sickness should prepare themselves. Elevations in the Rocky Mountains climb easily up to 4,500 m. This could affect your well-being, so I recommend you to consult a medical doctor an advance. But enough of that, let the fun begin!
With roughly 650,000 inhabitants, Denver is great to explore by foot. There is also a great public bus system if you want to take some short-cuts or you take advantage of the city wide offers for rental bikes.
To explore the surroundings, you actually have three options:
- Get yourself a rental car
- Make use of public transportation (trains, buses, etc)
- Book a guided tour
If you are like me and you simply love to be independent for the whole time being, the rental car is probably the most accommodating (yet also the most expensive) option you want to consider. I can highly recommend to place a reservation from your home as prices are considerably higher if you book on site!
I have made very good experiences with Hertz! We did not only get an SUV for the same price as a small KIA when I booked online from home, we even got an upgrade at the time of pick-up from a smaller Jeep to a Mercedes-Benz G Class!
I have not tried any of the bus or train connections yet, but colleagues of mine reported that they work fine if you are planning to visit any of the cities around. When it comes to Nature sightseeing, this option is rather unsuitably, particularly speaking of the firm schedules.
Guided Tours are available in vast numbers! The largest operators are Gray Line, Colorado Sightseers or World Outdoors! If you´re looking for a rather special city tour of Denver, check out Banjo Billy´s Bus Tour!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Since I only had two full days in the area, I wanted to see as much as possible. For this reason, I had not planned any hikes inside the Park. But there is a fantastic scenic drive that takes you pretty much through all the different sections that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer and that gives you a slight idea what beauties must be waiting if you decide to explore the reserve on the beaten paths.
The Park´s entry lies approximately a 90 minutes drive northwest from Denver close to Estes Park. There is a huge Safeway supermarket in Estes where we stopped and stocked up for a picnic. If you have time, check out the shiny white Stanley Hotel towering above Estes Lake. This hotel is not only reminiscent of Steven King´s horror movie “The Shining”, the author actually did reside there while he wrote the novel.
Since there is a constant speed limit inside the park, plan at least four hours for the whole drive inside the Park. You will find so many spots for gorgeous views or wildlife observation, you will not notice how fast time might pass. Enjoy the photo gallery!
The Gold Rush
When you visit Colorado, how could anyone not dig into the golden history that this state inherits? Well, at least I wanted to smell a little bit of that fame and glory of these old days and this is how we ended up in Idaho Springs and Georgetown.
Idaho Springs formed the center of the regional mining district back in the mid 19th century when the Pike´s Peak Gold Rush was just about to begin.
These days, it is a cute little Mountain village with a wide array of tasteful cafés and restaurants and quite a few remains of the mining industry that can actually be toured. There is also the possibility for wild river rafting!
When walking the main street of Georgetown, I felt like in the movie Back to the Future. Even though the remodeled downtown area gives a little bit the impression of being in Disneyland, Georgetown made it perfectly possible for me to travel back in time in my imagination!
Make sure to pay visit to the local candy store, Kneisel & Andersons grocery store and the Hotel de Paris.
The main reason for the drive to Georgetown was the Georgetown Loop Railroad though. This heritage railroad was completed in 1884 and was used as mine workers transportation back then. These days, it serves solely as tourist attraction with gorgeous views of the valley, the mountains and the surroundings. One of the runs is also carried out by the historic Shay locomotive! Eye-candy for every railroad fan!
So you see. Even with only two days in Denver, there is tons of fun stuff and activities do to and see! So I really cannot wait for next time and the adventures, that will be awaiting me then…