Pandemic or not, Denver draws visitors year-round for its outdoor activities, cannabis tourism, craft beer and food scene. According to booking data from TripIt, a travel organizing app, Denver is the third-most popular fall travel destination this year. Skyscanner data also shows Denver as one of the highest-searched cities for fall flights.
Unlike many popular tourism states, Colorado doesn’t have coronavirus travel restrictions for out-of-state visitors. However, Denver locals and visitors alike must follow the Denver face-covering order that has been in place since July that requires those three years and older to wear face masks in public settings.
“I would say if you’re being safe, you’re wearing your mask and you’re being courteous to others, then I’m happy to have visitors come to Denver,” local food blogger Bre Patterson says. “If you’re hesitant to wear a mask, then you shouldn’t be traveling.”
What you can do
Even though the city has had headline-making weather lately (pro tip: dress in layers), locals continue to find ways to enjoy the outdoors. “We still have the 850 miles of urban bike trails in our metro area,” says Jesse Davis, director of public relations for Visit Denver. “We’re still known as being the gateway to the Rockies.” Davis recommends that fall foliage seekers drive through the aspen grove of Kebler Pass in the West Elk Mountains.
Patterson recommends that visitors get outside as much as possible, taking advantage of the city’s nearby trails. Her picks for hiking spots include the 1.6-mile Bear Creek Trail in Lair o’ the Bear park, which is great for families, and the Maxwell Falls trails in Evergreen, Colo., that offer different hike distances and end up at a waterfall.
For exploring Denver proper, Patterson suggests that visitors see the city by bike either on their own or on a guided tour.
“You could do a brewery tour, a winery tour, a distillery tour or just go see different wall murals and art murals down the Cherry Creek trail, which goes straight through the city,” Patterson says. “Riding bikes is probably one of the best things you could do. And if you want to get further out, you can take the trails that go into the mountains.”
Rachel Strobolson, the owner of the tour company Denver Like a Local, says interest in tours, both from Denver residents and out-of-towners, has been strong since August. Her walking tours are now restricted to 9 people per tour.
“We ask them to stay in their group, six feet apart from the other group, and wear their masks,” Strobolson says. “We give out these fun little gift bags on every tour that have a masks, hand sanitizing gel, hand sanitizing wipes, postcards.”
Customers can also book private experiences if they don’t want to be with strangers, although Strobolson says most people have been fine being included in a small group. If customers change their minds before their tour, Strobolson is being flexible with reservation changes, no matter they want to rebook for next month or next year.
Strobolson says people who visit Denver now will enjoy some of the silver linings of the pandemic, like less traffic in town and places like Larimer Square being blocked off to cars. The square is now decorated with string lights, restaurants have their tables in the streets, and during the day, there’s live music playing for pedestrians.
As far as attractions go, the tourism board’s website has a running list of what’s open to visitors, including the Denver Botanic Gardens, the city’s zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Check each attraction’s website before visiting to see if they require a timed ticket.
The same is true for visiting the city’s breweries and distilleries: Check their websites ahead of time to find out their rules for visiting during the pandemic.
Where you can stay
Strobolson, who worked in hotel management for a decade, says Denver, like other cities during the pandemic, is seeing more affordable hotel rates than normal.
“Some of the best boutique hotels that used to be $400 a night, are now like a $100 or $150 a night, which is crazy,” Strobolson says. “As far as lodging goes, you can’t really go wrong anywhere because everyone is giving great service at such a discounted rate.”
Her picks for visitors include the Crawford Hotel inside Union Station, the Halcyon Cherry Creek, which has a rooftop pool, and the Oxford Hotel, which dates back to 1891. Strobolson is also a fan of the Ramble Hotel, which houses one of her favorite restaurants, Super Mega Bien.
For those interested in renting an Airbnb, Patterson recommends searching in LoDo (Lower Downtown) to be near the action. “Then if you want to be more like the locals, I would say stay in Cap Hill or the Highlands,” she says.
Where you can eat
Patterson directs people looking for grab-and-go food options to Snarf’s, a sandwich spot; Illegal Pete’s, a Mexican fast-casual spot; and High Point Creamery, an ice cream spot.
The food blogger has experimented with Denver restaurants’ outdoor dining setups and has felt comfortable with the socially distant experience.
“The best thing about Denver is they’ve passed the ordinance to extend patios or to put out a patio if you didn’t have one,” she says. “So there’s a lot of alfresco dining right now.”
Strobolson urges visitors to book reservations ahead of time because most restaurants have limited seating capacity to promote social distancing. Her restaurant recommendations for travelers include Rioja in Larimer Square and El Five. “It has one of the best views of the Denver City skyline,” she says.
For those in the Lower Highlands neighborhood, Strobolson recommends My Brother’s Bar. “It’s the oldest continuously operating bar in Denver,” she says. “[Writers] Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady used to hang out there; there’s a ton of history.”
For brunch, Patterson suggests Bacon Social House, which, true to its name, has bacon flights on its menu. “They’re doing a great job with their outdoor patios and they have a few locations throughout the city and the suburbs,” she says. “If you’re passing through, it’s a great option.
Patterson would prefer keeping Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar a secret, as there’s already always a wait for a table. During the pandemic, owner Kristy Bigelow turned the front lawn of the brightly painted restaurant into an outdoor dining patio.
“They have the best mojitos … and the Cuban food is just incredible,” Patterson says.