Field guide: Denver, Colorado in the fall

On September 2nd, 2016

Denver is famously the mile-high country. And now, with the legalization of marijuana (only one of three states to do so), Colorado is more popular than ever.

Denver holds the best of both worlds in her two hands: world-class mountains just an hour west of downtown and a thriving urban downtown home to five major sports teams, a great symphony and theater district, and booming craft beer scene.

I’ve lived in five states, but Colorado is my favorite by far. With amazing weather and more than 300 days of sunshine per year (more than Hawaii gets!), the state offers limitless adventures to be had. And, if you get tired of restraining your adventures within Colorado’s boundaries, the international airport offers a quick getaway.

Best hiking trails

One of the best parts of Denver is how the city has embraced open space filled with trees, grass, coyotes into its city planning. Green areas break open neighborhoods. Just minutes away, mountains beckon for relaxing hikes through pine-scented air.

Mount Falcon Park

Hike up an easy 3 mile hike to the quartz cornerstone of the would-be summer White House for U.S. presidents overlooking a jaw-dropping valley.

Or tack on a few extra miles to see the fire-charred ruins of train tycoon, John Brisben Walker’s house, and squint over the plains where Denver’s skyscrapers glisten in the sunlight. Just 30 minutes west of Denver, you’ll feel like you’re miles away from the hustle and bustle.

Buffalo Bill’s Grave

In the mood for a 4 mile hike with barely no altitude gains that ends in a grave? Check out this trail in Lookout Mountain to see Buffalo Bill’s grave (and museum). You’ll get scenic views over valleys studded with pines and topped by mountains. Only 45 minutes west of Denver.

What are two great day trips from Denver?

Breckenridge, Colorado 

Hit the road for a quick 1.5 hour road trip from Denver and check out this ski town in fall. Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s oldest and largest town that began life as a mining town. Now charming shops line the main street. Ride a gondola up the barren ski hills.

Or get out of town and wander through an avenue of golden trees, dazzling your eyes before their leaves fall to darken on the ground. If you want a spectacular display of golden aspen trees in fall, Boreas Pass Road is your paradise.

Fort Collins, Colorado

Just an 90 minutes north of Denver is Fort Collins: a university town nestled next to a reservoir and within eyesight of craggy mountains. Check out Old Town Fort Collins with its bricked buildings and ghost stories. While you’re in town, visit New Belgium Brewing, one of Colorado’s most famous breweries. Make sure to get a reservation for this brewery is super popular.

Can’t miss fall festivals

Yampa Valley Crane Festival

Watch as hundreds of sand hill cranes gather just outside of Colorado’s famous sand dunes. Every September, the cranes stopover in Steamboat Springs to their wintering grounds in New Mexico and Arizona.

Where: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

When: September 8-11, 2016

Telluride Blues & Brews Festival

Sip craft beer in one of the most gorgeous mountain destinations surrounded by mountains, listening to good blues music. This year’s lineup includes Gary Clark Jr., Joe Walsh and Jason Isbell and many others. Discover great craft beers from around the nation, including many of the finest of Colorado’s burgeoning craft beer phenomenon like Fiction Beer Company and Roaring Fork Beer Company.

Where: Telluride, Colorado

Cost: $199-25 (for 3-day pass or one-day pass)

When: September 16-18, 2016

Great American Beer Festival

Gather with thousands of your fellow beer aficionados to taste your way through the largest collection of U.S. beer ever served. If you love beer, this is the event for you. (It’s also the hottest ticket in town come October, so if you want to go, cross your fingers there’s a ticket left for you.)

Where: Denver, Colorado

Cost: $80

When: October 6-8, 2016

Best state parks

Sand Dunes National Park

White-topped mountains plus sandy dunes resembling those of Arabian Nights is Sand Dunes National Park. These sand dunes are the tallest in North America. Thanks to a fast-flowing creek, you can play in the waves and sand with mountains at your back. Or surf down the sand dunes in your shorts and tee shirt.

Cost: $15

Rocky Mountain National Park

Those postcard photos of lush green hills, deep valleys, and snow-capped mountains? That’s Rocky Mountain National Park. 90 minutes northwest of downtown Denver, this 250,000+ acre national park is a must-see. Like my cousin, you may even see elk running across your camera’s viewfinder.

Denverite’s local food recommendations (not found in a guidebook)

Denver is a budding foodie town — it’s a good town to be hungry in. For a full list of which restaurants are the best in town, check out this list. But if your stomach wants good, filling meals that don’t break the bank, here are my vetted recommendations:

D’Corazon: Mexican comfort food served in a bustling restaurant blocks away from the baseball stadium. Cost: $

Wazee Supper Club: come here for the atmosphere, a white and black checkerboard floor, and the lick-your-fingers pizza. Housed in charming old building, Wazee has been in Denver since 1974. Cost: $

Buckhorn Exchange: Denver’s oldest, original steakhouse. It’s been open since 1893, serving buffalo prime rib, elk, game hen, and more. Opt for their house specialty: Rocky Mountain Oysters. Cost: $$$

Laura Lopuch is a copywriter and incurable traveler. She blogs at Waiting To Be Read where she helps you find your next great book to read because life’s too short to read crummy books.

Photo credits: UC DenverDayHikesNearDenver, author’s, Denver, David Henderson, Westword