While researching my summer road trip, I was pleasantly surprised by the affordability of Denver, Colorado. The bustling city offers activities and sights to see that are low-cost, diverse, and plentiful.
I’ve already signed up for Denver’s Deals & Discounts to print coupons and get updates on two-for-one ticket sales and other great money-saving offers. By purchasing affordable airline tickets, saving money on my hotel expenses, and taking advantage of these low-cost activities, my bank account will be in great shape when I return home.
Museums and Tours
Whether learning about Buffalo Bill or the Unsinkable Molly Brown, or seeing where money is minted, Denver has a rich history to explore and fantastic museums and attractions to visit. Many museums and other sites of interest offer free or low-price admission.
1. Colorado State Capitol
Stand exactly one mile above sea level on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol Building, constructed in the 1890s, then stick around to check out the incredible view of the mountains. Today, it’s home to the Governor of Colorado and the Colorado General Assembly. Tours are offered on weekdays only from 10am to 3pm every hour at no charge.
2. United States Mint Tour
See where money is made during this hour-long tour of one of only six U.S. Mint facilities. The Denver facility was founded in 1863 and produces all types of coins and coin dies. Admission is free, but you’ll need to make a reservation before you go. Tours start at every hour from 8am until 2pm, Monday through Friday.
3. The Children’s Museum of Denver
Kids will have so much fun at this interactive, hands-on museum, they’ll forget that they’re actually learning something. Children can use their imaginations in a number of “play-scapes,” including a veterinary office, a rocket ship, a firehouse, a shopping market, and an art studio.
Entry is free the first Tuesday of every month from 4pm until 8pm, and children under a year of age are always admitted for free. If you can’t make it during that time, tickets for children and adults age 2 to 59 are $8, and admission for seniors 60 and older, as well as children that are 1-year-old, are $6. Hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 5pm.
4. Denver Museum of Nature and Science
At the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, learn how the human body works, see Egyptian mummies, explore cultures all over the world, view gems and minerals, and learn about space and wildlife.
The museum offers 12 free days throughout the year. If you can’t make it those days, adults pay $12, seniors $8, and juniors (ages 3 to 18) and students with an ID $6. The museum is open every day from 9am until 5pm.
5. Denver Story Trek
Learn about Colorado’s history by taking a free tour that you design yourself. Simply download an audio file and listen as you bike, walk, or drive the tour. Choose from dozens of indoor and outdoor historic landscapes and landmarks such as museums, parks, homes, and more. Start with a location, such as the Four Mile Historic Park or Black American West Museum, or a person such as historical figures like Margaret “Molly Brown” or Vance Kirkland. Once you choose your sites, you’ll be able to see the suggested route. Or you can choose an established theme or route, like “Women of the West” or “Mile High Art and Culture.”
6. Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
Buffalo Bill Cody was a United States soldier who became a Wild West actor. At the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, artifacts including a Stetson hat worn by Buffalo Bill and a peace pipe that belonged to Sitting Bull are on display.
Admission for adults is $5, $4 for seniors, and only $1 for children ages 6 to 15. Children age five and under are admitted for free. The museum is open daily from 9am until 5pm, May 1st through October 31st, and Tuesday through Sunday from 9am until 4pm, November 1st through April 30th.
Art and the Outdoors
With a robust art scene and picturesque surroundings, Denver is a gorgeous city. Enjoy the outdoors and the art scene at many of the city’s inexpensive or free art museums, cultural areas, and parks.
7. Denver Art Museum
Whether your favorite art is African, Textile, Photography, or Spanish Colonial, the Denver Art Museum has what you’re looking for. Admission on the first Saturday of every month is free, as well as the last Sunday in April and the first Saturday after Labor Day. Children ages five and under are always admitted for free. Kids ages 6 to 18 pay $3 if they are Colorado residents, while the price is $5 for non-residents. Admission for college students and seniors is $8 for residents and $10 for non-residents. Adult tickets cost $10 for residents and $13 for non-residents.
The Denver Art Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am until 5pm and is open from 10am to 8pm on Fridays. The museum is closed on Mondays.
8. Clyfford Still Museum
Clyfford Still was one of the most influential painters of the 20th century, and this museum honoring him and his work is not to be missed. Adult admission is $10, but you can save $1 if you book online. Admission is $6 for students and seniors with an ID, $3 for children ages 6 to 17, and free for children ages 5 and under.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am until 5pm, and stays open until 8pm on Fridays. The museum is closed on Mondays.
9. Art Walks
From July to September, Denver’s art district stays open later the first Friday of the month for a festive evening. During these art walks, art lovers browse various pieces throughout 60 venues and enjoy music, entertainment, and the artistic ambiance. The festivities take place along Santa Fe Drive between 5th and 10th Avenues.
10. Washington Park
Whether you’re venturing on one of the several walking or biking trails, or reading a book next to scenic Smith Lake, Washington Park is a great, free place to visit. With 165 acres, the park is one of Denver’s largest. The park has a tennis court, basketball court, paddle boat rentals, and a playground to keep everyone busy. Picnicking is made easy with access to picnic benches and shelter.
11. Denver Skate Park
Denver Skate Park is built for every level of skater and is completely free. From 5am to 11pm, you can skate away as long as you have a required helmet.
Summer is filled with a variety of free festivals in Denver. Whether concerts or food or art festivities, there is something for everyone. Downtown Denver Arts Festival, Chalk Art Festival, Capitol Hill People’s Fair, Denver Pride Fest, and Cherry Blossom Festival are just a few of the most popular choices.
Whether you are a dedicated enthusiast or are simply looking for a leisurely nature walk, the Queen City of the West has endless options for hiking that are as rewarding as they are easy on the budget. Just remember that even a beginner trail presents inherent risks, especially when considering the volatile weather of the Rockies and extreme altitudes. Always mind the posted signs, be prepared with water and provisions, and use caution while enjoying the unmatched beauty of America’s quintessential mountain landscape.
13. Cherry Creek Trail
Hike, bike, or jog right within the city limits of Denver on this popular paved path. Diversions run the gamut on the Cherry Creek Trail as you come across local shopping, historic landmarks like an old stagecoach stop, outdoor recreation areas, and more challenging trails.
14. Sand Creek Regional Greenway
One doesn’t have to leave the city to encounter nature when accessing Sand Creek Regional Greenway. Whether you are out for a rigorous walk, mountain biking, or horseback riding, or you simply want to get your fill of the local flora and fauna, this well-maintained trail is a local gem.
15. Alderfer Three Sisters Park
Just a short drive to the southwest of Denver delivers you to Alderfer Three Sisters Park, where 10 miles of easy to moderate trails lead to diverse landscapes and open meadows. Amidst the lush scenery of Ponderosa pines and granite boulders, you’ll find The Three Sisters and The Brother, the impressive rock outcroppings from which the park takes its name.
16. South Valley Park
Located on the edge of Lakewood, just a few miles outside Denver, is an urban escape that keeps locals enthralled with natural beauty. Offering a mix of soft and hard surface trails, South Valley Park features vistas of stunning red stone, abundant wildlife, and rare geological formations.
17. Devil’s Head Fire Lookout
This moderately challenging mile-plus uphill hike near Sedalia concludes with a wonderful reward, as you are treated to breathtaking panoramic views and a visit to the historic Devil’s Head Fire Lookout. Built in 1912 and still actively patrolled, the lookout station serves as a landing to take in the forest of Ponderosa Pines and Douglas-firs with views of the famous Devil’s Head rock outcropping.
18. St. Mary’s Glacier
This easy glacial trail an hour west of Denver lends the opportunity for a real alpine adventure without a major investment of time or resources. Walk and play in the snowfields, enjoy the picturesque lake, and look on in wonder at the true beauty and allure of the Colorado Rockies.
19. Red Rocks
Located at the legendary Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre sits the rambling Trading Post Trail and more expansive Red Rocks Trail loop. With diverse settings ranging from radiant rock formations to rolling, flower-filled meadows, Red Rocks offers both leisurely trails and challenging terrain.
20. Boulder Falls
A favorite among locals and tourists, this short and easy trail delivers sightseers to the unique natural wonders of the Boulder area. A perfect place for a picnic with the family, set amongst granite boulders, steep rock outcroppings, and spindly pines, Boulder Falls is an escape that’s been pleasing the masses for generations.
21. Eldorado Canyon
Lichen covered canyons, the burnt-out ruins of an Old West hotel, and inspiring views from the Continental Divide Overlook highlight this natural playground just under an hour from downtown Denver. Eldorado Canyon features a range of hiking and activities, from the easy half-mile Streamside Trail, to the longer and more difficult Eldorado Canyon Trail.
22. Roxborough State Park South Rim Trail
For viewing wildlife (black bears, mule deer, red foxes, bobcats, and golden eagles), dramatic rock formations, and indigenous plants and flowers, this Littleton park just south of Denver delivers. With six distinctive trails representing easy to moderate hikes at Roxborough State Park, the South Rim Trail boasts easy access from the visitor’s center and delightful natural encounters along its three-mile unpaved path.
Food, Drinks, and Entertainment
Before you set foot in a Denver restaurant, save money on dining out by looking for deals on Restaurant.com, Groupon, and Yelp, and save on entertainment by looking for coupons in the local paper. Here are a few low-cost activities for entertainment and eating.
13. Hammond’s Candy Factory
Hammond’s Candy Factory has been making candy since 1920. Watch the chocolate being made during the free tour that, of course, includes free samples. Tours run every half-hour Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm, and on Saturdays from 10am to 3pm.
14. Denver Microbrew Tour
The Denver Microbrew Tour costs $25 but is well worth it for beer lovers. The guided walking tour of downtown Denver’s breweries is one-and-a-half miles. During the walk, you can try more than 10 beer samples while visiting four local breweries and a tap room. In addition to beer samples at each stop, you’ll receive a pint of your choice at the end, as well as interactive beer trivia and the history of both beer and the City of Denver throughout the tour.
The tours run Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 3pm until 5:15pm. There is also an afternoon session on Saturdays from noon until 2:15pm.
15. Denver Zoo
The 80-acre Denver Zoo offers free programs each summer that allow you to get an up-close encounter with exotic birds, reptiles, and small mammals. The cost of admission to the zoo is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children ages 3 to 11, and free for children under 2. For that price, you’ll see 3,500 different animals and one of the world’s largest habitats for endangered gorillas.
The zoo is open from March 1st to October 31st from 9am until 6pm with the last admission at 5pm. From November 1st until February 28th, the zoo is open from 10am until 5pm, with the last admission at 4pm.
16. Visiting Denver’s Neighborhoods
Denver’s neighborhoods are as diverse and colorful as the residents of the Mile-High City. Explore the different architecture, restaurants, bars, and shops of each neighborhood. There are more than 25 unique neighborhoods, including the Golden neighborhood and its Wild West flare, the hip Uptown neighborhood, or the Art District on Santa Fe.
17. 16th Street Mall
There’s plenty to do besides shop at the 16th Street Mall. With 200 trees and 50,000 flowers along this mile-long outdoor promenade, it’s a great place for people-watching and taking a stroll. There are 28 outdoor cafes and plenty of stores, so download some smartphone shopping apps to save money.
How to Get Around Denver
In addition to all the fun activities and great places to see, Denver is very easy to get around. Whether walking, biking, or taking public transportation, getting around Denver is simple and affordable.
Walk or Bike
Whether you’re walking or biking, you can enjoy Denver’s 850 miles of paved bike trails. This bike-friendly city allows you to save money and the environment at the same time.
Since I’ll be visiting Denver during a multi-stop road trip, I won’t be able to lug my bike all the way from Chicago. But I will be able to take advantage of the awesome citywide public Denver Bike Sharing program. Rent a bike at any B-station for 24 hours ($8), 7 days ($20), or 30 days ($30), and simply return it to the another station within 30 minutes to encounter no usage fee. Each additional 30 minutes is $4. As a bonus, the GPS system on the bike keeps track of your duration, distance traveled, calories burned, and the carbon offset from choosing a bike.
MallRide is the best choice when traveling around the two-mile area of downtown since it’s a completely free bus service. Stops are located at every intersection on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. The rides start at either 5:30am or 7am depending on the day of the week, and run until 1:53am.
Bus and Light Rail
Denver’s public transportation system is a reliable and affordable option for getting around the city. There are more than 140 bus routes throughout Denver, and five light rail lines through central, southwest, and the southeast metro areas. The cost is $2.25 to $5 depending on which zone you’re headed to. Use the trip planner to find the easiest way to get to your destination.
If you plan ahead and take advantage of these money-saving resources, you can have a fun, affordable vacation to the Queen City of the West. But also keep in mind that Denver is one mile above sea level, which can take a toll on your body if you’re not used to the elevation. Drink plenty of water before and during your trip, as the high elevation results in dry air. Watch your alcohol intake and physical activity, since both will impact you more, and be sure to bring sunscreen.
What other tips do you have to save money in Denver? What are the must-sees in the city?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)