For families heading to Colorado for year-round mountain adventures, the Mile High City has traditionally been seen as little more than a waypoint for a cross-country road trip, en route to Boulder or another small mountain town. This is a mistake. There are so many things to do in Denver with kids that the trip can stop there, conveniently right next to the most popular airport in the state.
Where to start? Well, the city has an appealing balance of nature and family-friendly breweries (this is a beer-drinking town), stores, parks, and biking trails right there in the city for urban adventures. To get to it all, we created a four-day itinerary of the best things to do in Denver. Take our word for it, or mix and match and make the trip your own.
Where to Go: Spend your first-day getting sea level-dwellers acclimated to the altitude, keeping things on the chill side of the activity spectrum. Drive roughly 15 miles west of town to the Colorado Railroad Museum to bring that timeless kids book, “The Little Engine That Could,” to life.
At the 15-acre railyard here you can wander with the kids among over 100 engines, cabooses, and coaches and even see a restored roundhouse with a working turntable. Train rides that follow a loop around the rail yard are offered several days a week throughout much of the year.
What to Eat: The cute town of Golden is just five minutes from the museum. Head there for killer Mexican food at Xicamiti la Taqueria, where the Chihuahua-born chef and owner does carnitas, barbacoa and tacos al pastor as authentically as anywhere south of the border (his favorite tacos are the campechanos—a mix of steak, chorizo and grilled onions slathered in chipotle salsa).
Where to Chill: Relax at a former 1960s fire station reborn as a kid-friendly beer garden at Station 26 Brewing Co. in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood. There are board games to keep the kids occupied while you sample the award-winning Colorado Cream Ale, brewed with Colorado barley and hops.
Where to Go: From mid-May into late-August, day trip out of the city to Idaho Springs (40 minutes west) for a white water rafting adventure with Clear Creek Rafting Company through ten rapids on a tributary of the South Platte River. Suitable for kids ages 7 and up, the beginner rafting trips navigate class II and III rapids along a splashy ride that gets decidedly drier later in the season.
Where to Eat: For Denver’s best cheeseburgers in a family-friendly setting, don’t miss The Cherry Cricket, a dive with a heated outdoor patio that’s been around since 1945. Kids love the milkshakes and you can’t go wrong with a build-your-own-burger alongside an Avalanche Amber Ale from the Breckenridge Brewery to wash down the day.
Where to Go: In search of dinosaur tracks and bones—lots of them. Right near Red Rocks Amphitheatre, less than half an hour west of downtown Denver, Dinosaur Ridge makes for a fun and free day out. There are more than 300 dinosaur tracks to ogle along a paved walkway, the Dinosaur Ridge Trail, a two-mile out and back meander. You’ll spot dinosaur tracks, stegosaurus bones at open bone beds, and brontosaurus bulges formed when the large animals were pushed down on the soft ground. Wonder for all ages, for sure.
What to Eat: Please everyone—and with plenty of background din, too, to drown out the kids, as well as crayons and activity sheets at the ready—at Avanti F&B, a lively food hall in the LoHi neighborhood with shipping container restaurants. Everything from pizza and hot chicken to burgers and Venezuelan arepas are on offer.
Where to Chill: Is there such a thing as too many family-friendly beer gardens and breweries? Not in Denver. 2 Penguins Tap & Grill has corn hole and a giant Jenga, 36 craft beers on tap, and soda and milk for the kids.
Where to Go: Now that everyone is used to huffing thin air, pedal out for some family cruising along the Cherry Creek Regional Trail bike path, a mix of concrete and gravel that runs for 40 miles from downtown Denver south to Franktown. Rent bikes at various places around town to hop on the trail from where it starts, near Confluence Park. From there, it winds along Cherry Creek to Cherry Creek State Park and a reservoir.
For something with even better views for easy riders, the Clear Creek Trail goes from Denver to Golden. Along the 18-mile long paved route with views of North and South Table Mountain you might even spot golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.
What to Eat: Start your day with Denver’s family favorite breakfast of champions — the pineapple upside down buttermilk pancakes at Snooze (with several outposts in the metro Denver area) are made with caramelized pineapple chunks and slathered in cinnamon butter. For the best burritos in town, El Taco de Mexico was the first restaurant in Colorado to win a James Beard Foundation “American Classics” award for being a beloved regional restaurant.
Where to Chill: Spark a love for indie bookstores in your kids with some time browsing the shelves at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, a Denver institution with an ongoing schedule of kids activities throughout the year and nooks where you can kick back together and thumb pages. The historic LoDo location on the 16th Street mall is our favorite, with its antique furniture and cozy vibe.
If relaxing at a waterpark with rollercoasters is more your family’s downshifting speed, there’s always Elitch Gardens, the only downtown amusement and waterpark in the U.S.