The Rocky Mountains are a top vacation spot for travelers from around the world, with good reason. Have your own adventure without breaking the bank by following these basic travel hacks, specific to Denver and the surrounding areas.
Denver is a travel hotspot during the winter months, thanks to world-renowned ski resorts. To avoid peak season airfare, purchase tickets for a less-travelled time of the year: sometime between August and October. Keep an eye out for specials and discounts, and be willing to travel on a Tuesday or a Saturday to get the best rates. I recently purchased a round-trip ticket from Dallas to Denver on Southwest airlines for $98. That’s cheaper than it would have been to drive… by a lot.
You don’t hear much about hostels in the United States, but they exist. Hostel Fish just opened in Denver in June of 2015. Located just a few blocks from Union Station and the 16th Street Mall, this is one of Denver’s best-kept secrets. For approximately $50 per person each night you get a comfortable bed, air conditioning, a hot shower, a groovy community area, and a continental breakfast. When you compare that rate to a Motel 6 in rural Texas, it may not seem like a great deal, but when you compare it to the average hotel cost in the Denver area, it’s a steal—especially if you’re travelling alone or with just one other person.
There are two cost-prohibitive reasons to NOT rent a car on your trip to Denver: the cost of the rental itself and the cost to park in Denver. In a city with such great public transportation, a rental car just doesn’t make sense. For less than the cost of a rental car for one day (somewhere in the neighborhood of $79), you could purchase an all-inclusive, regional 5-day bus pass ($52) from RTD. The pass must be used on five consecutive days, but it includes light rail service as far south as Littleton and bus service as far north as Eldora.
If you want to travel farther into the Rockies and enjoy the scenery along the way, Amtrak’s California Zephyr line can take you from Union Station as far west as Grand Junction, with stops near Winter Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Aspen along the way. (Note: Amtrak tickets are not included on the 5-day bus pass.)
Denver is a people-watching, nature-lover’s dream with free entertainment around every corner. Be sure to hit these hot spots while you’re there.
- 16th Street mall is a pedestrian mall in downtown Denver. Window shop, grab a bite to eat, or use the free shuttle to get from one end to the other when the Rockies have a home game. You’re bound to see some street performers along the way.
- Pearl Street in Boulder is one of the best places in the nation for watching street performers. Stroll along the foothills and watch hula-hoop dancers, contortionists, jugglers, musicians, and any number of other characters on your journey.
- Celestial Seasonings factory tour is free while the factory is open and shows visitors all the ins and outs of making herbal teas. (Pro tip: don’t miss the mint room.)
- NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) is located just outside the beaten path in Boulder. It’s a great place to visit for two reasons: the tour and the hiking trails. Learn all about weather at the interactive exhibits that are available for free to the public during regular office hours. Then walk out the back door to a series of hiking trails.
- Nederland is a quaint, mountain town that falls outside the typical tourist experience. The bus ride through Boulder Canyon is worth the trip alone, but Nederland is a fun visit, too. Take a walk around the reservoir with the mountains in the background, get a bowl of soup at Mountain People’s Co-op, or watch a mountain shower with a warm cup of coffee in your hand at the local roasting house. For more intense hiking, ride the bus all the way up to Eldora ski resort. When the slopes are closed, the hiking trails are open.
- Chautauqua Park in Boulder is the trailhead to the picturesque Flatirons. If you’re adventurous enough and energetic enough, you can travel via trails from Chautauqua all the way to NCAR. Be sure to fill your water bottle first.
Additional Pro Tips
Pack a reusable water bottle when you go. There are plenty of faucets and fountains where you can refill along the way. The city’s supply of Rocky Mountain Spring water won’t disappoint. Save the cost of bottled water by drinking from the tap.
Go to the grocery store. It seems like common sense, but many people forget that you can buy groceries on vacation. Purchase non-perishables like granola bars or dried fruit to throw in your backpack for a less-expensive snack.
Save gift cards and loyalty card rewards to use on vacation. Using free stuff on vacation just makes the free stuff feel that much more special.