One of the most populous cities in the Southwestern United States and among the most famous symbols of America’s Western frontier, planning a Denver itinerary is a must on any traveler’s route when they’re visiting the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado.
Since the state capital has such a dynamic cultural landscape, and there’s so much to explore even outside of the urban core, planning for 3 to 4 days in Denver with the city as a home base is an ideal way to plan things.
Your Denver itinerary might consist of several days experiencing all the city has to offer within a few square miles, exploring such neighborhoods as the Capitol Hill and Cheesman Park areas, or you could just as easily plan to drive outside the city for day trips to attractions like Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mt. Evans Wilderness area, and the ski slopes of Summit County.
If you’re planning a trip to the Centennial State and are looking to spend 3 to 4 days in Denver, the itinerary below will give you some ideas and a general sense of how you might structure your visit.
How Many Days in Denver?
When considering how many days to spend in Denver, you might want to look at how much time you have for your Colorado itinerary overall and decide what your priorities are.
If you want as much time as possible feeling like you’ve escaped the “big city” pressures of everyday life, then a major population center like Denver may not be the best choice.
With that said, Denver is obviously a convenient place to rest your head after landing at Denver International Airport (choosing Boulder instead of Denver is another option) —your most likely entry point when not driving into the state—so it’s easy to spend time up in the mountains and return to the city in the evening after a short trip each day, if desired.
Another thing to keep in mind when outlining your Denver itinerary is that it might be convenient to plan for two days in the city and two days venturing somewhere by car within roughly a two to three-hour drive radius.
That way, assuming you’re seeing Denver in 4 days, you can spend two of your days really getting acquainted with Denver proper before doing a short “trip within a trip,” which might take you to a classic Colorado mountain town like Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge, or Estes Park.
But even if you’re only planning to experience Denver in 3 days, the convenient highway layout surrounding the city (assuming you avoid traffic) and many transportation options will leave you feeling like you did your visit justice with a Denver 3-day itinerary.
If you happen to only have 2 days in Denver, plan to spend that within the city itself. This is a good amount of time to be able to see the main highlights in the Colorado capital and is sure to give you a good taste for the city.
Getting to and Around Denver
If you haven’t flown into Denver International Airport, there’s a good chance you’ll be coming to Denver via either Interstate 70 (the main east to west highway corridor) or Interstate 25 (the main highway running north to south).
Once you’re in the city, Denver is an easy city to navigate by car (you can rent a car on Rentalcars.com), on foot, or by utilizing public transportation.
It’s worth considering that the city’s traffic grid wasn’t originally designed to handle quite the level of stress that it sees nowadays, with Denver having gained a reputation as a “transplant city” thanks to the high influx of new residents coming from surrounding states and both the East and West coasts of the US.
This means it’s a good idea to plan on your local drive time happening outside the peak hours of morning and late-afternoon rush hour traffic on weekdays, and avoid the I-70 corridor to and from the mountains on Fridays and Sundays after about 2 p.m. (the ski-season crowds can be especially thick).
If the specific Denver itinerary you’ve planned doesn’t include leaving the city much, then you could easily see Denver in 3 days or 4 without even renting or owning a car.
The city’s “Regional Transportation District” (RTD) buses run like clockwork all around the city, its satellite towns, and its suburbs, and rideshare services Uber and Lyft have been a mainstay here now for the better part of a decade.
Getting from the airport to downtown can be your most important point of logistics, but once you’ve reached your chosen lodgings, you have a lot of options for getting around in Denver.
3 to 4 Days in Denver Itinerary
With its abundance of sunny days, proximity to the Rocky Mountains, and thriving network of recreation and athletic goods shops like Wilderness Exchange and REI, Denver enjoys a well-deserved reputation as an active city with close ties to the outdoors.
This Denver itinerary includes a mixture of outdoor-oriented activities and fun things to do indoors around the city itself, since you’ll have plenty of chances for both.
Day 1 – Hip Neighborhoods, Outdoor Activities and Museums
Explore the Highlands Neighborhood
The part of northwest Denver consisting of the Highlands and Sunnyside neighborhood areas has a welcoming mix of classic brick and stone architecture and newer businesses and restaurants.
Tennyson Street is a local’s favorite strip where art galleries and small boutique shops line the block, and weekends bring in the nightlife crowds thanks to live music acts playing in bars like Local 46.
There are some great breakfast and brunch places too (try Cozy Cottage for a great eggs benedict), making a stop through this part of the city a great way to kick off your first day in town.
Mountain Biking at Buffalo Creek
If the weather is good and you’re up for a drive of roughly an hour and a half from Denver, the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area is a favorite of local mountain bikers that’s located near Pine, Colorado.
The big draw here is that, along with being so close to Denver, Buffalo Creek has some of the Front Range’s best smooth singletrack trails.
Highly detailed trail maps and reviews are available online for most of the routes, and those looking to ride who haven’t brought their own bikes will find plenty of rental opportunities in and around the Denver area.
This can be a great outdoor activity if worked into a day on your Denver itinerary with clear skies and relatively dry conditions (the trails can get very muddy at times).
Visit the Denver Art Museum
When you’ve had a chance to regroup after your first day’s activities, consider getting a dose of downtown by visiting the Denver Art Museum and its many collections showcasing art from all around the world.
The museum itself is a brilliant example of modern architecture, and exhibits have focused on Latin American art, empowered feminine fashion, and American painters in France, just to name a few.
After you’re done browsing, be sure to stop in any of the museum’s dining areas—including a restaurant, café, and outdoor terrace—for a meal or dessert and coffee.
Day 2 – Explore Denver’s Parks, Craft Beer Scene & Art Districts
Morning Walk in Cheesman Park
For a more urban outdoor experience that will be a refreshing start to a day on this Denver itinerary, take a walk around the sprawling Cheesman Park.
This park connects to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which is also worth a stop while you’re in the neighborhood, and next to City Park and Washington Park is as close to a Central Park-style greenspace as anything in Denver.
In the summertime, keep an eye out for live concerts in the amphitheater area. You can even sip a cup of coffee or a cocktail and enjoy the music from afar at one of the cafes and bars that line the adjacent city blocks.
Tour the Craft Beer Scene
At this point, Denver’s burgeoning craft beer scene and the local sentiment of “throw a stone in any direction and you’ll hit a craft brewery” is embedded to the point of becoming cliché.
All the same, Denver really is a craft beer aficionado’s paradise, so no Denver itinerary would be complete without mention of a few hours spent exploring some of the city’s top establishments like Denver Beer Co., Ratio, Prost, Wynkoop, and Great Divide, to name just a handful.
If you’re really lucky, you may even find yourself in Denver when the city plays host to one of its major annual beer festivals, such as the Mile High Beer Festival or the Great American Beer Festival.
If you want to learn more about the breweries and visit a number of popular spots, consider booking this craft beer tour.
Visit Local Art Districts
For a dose of nightlife on this evening of your day spent in the city, take a tour around one or a couple of Denver’s art and retail districts like Larimer Square, RiNo (a local’s nicknaming of “River North”), and the famed 16th Street Shopping Mall.
Larimer Square has a historic feel with unique shops housed in Victorian-style buildings, while RiNo is one of Denver’s trendier areas with a great mixture of contemporary art galleries, food halls, concert venues, and cocktail bars.
For anyone looking to get their shopping fix, the 16th Street Mall and Cherry Creek areas are not far from each other and together feature the city’s best concentrations of high-end shopping and dining establishments.
Day 3 – Explore the Rocky Mountains
On at least one of your 3 to 4 days in Denver, be sure to plan for some Rocky Mountain sightseeing and hiking.
If you haven’t already stopped in REI to gear up for mountain biking, this is another opportunity to see Denver’s “Flagship” REI store. This massive retail storefront is among the largest of its kind in the nation (rivaled by a sister Flagship REI in Seattle) and stands not only as a gear shop but as a full-on shrine to outdoor recreation.
You’ll see climbers roped in and trying out shoes on a towering climbing wall, and expert staff members are always on hand to answer questions and swap stories. There’s even a Starbucks on-site if you need to grab some caffeine before heading up into the mountains.
Day Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, and its basecamp town of Estes Park, is less than two hours away from Denver by car. Just a few minutes inside of the Park’s main Beaver Meadows entrance station, you’ll find yourself looking out across far-ranging views of the glacial Moraine Park and the Continental Divide.
The highest mountain in view, Long’s Peak, keeps at least some snow at its heights of over 14,000 feet all year-round, and you always have a chance at seeing wild animals such as elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, among many others.
Trailheads are in good supply at the Fall River area (Lawn Lake is a favorite if you can endure the steep, switch-backed first mile or so), near Moraine Park and Glacier Gorge, and all the way over on RMNP’s Grand Lake side. Traversing the Divide via Trail Ridge Road is a must if you’re here when weather permits.
Dinner at a Local Mainstay
Now that you’re back in Denver after another full day of activities, take the chance to go out for dinner at one of the best local restaurants in the city like Blackbelly, Tavernetta, Fruition, or El Five, to name just a few.
One could drive themselves nuts trying to sample all of the best restaurants in Denver, so a good strategy might be to settle on a style of cuisine you’re in the mood for and go from there.
Do you want authentic Vietnamese food? That’ll narrow things down to at least a more manageable dozen or so options… But good luck, if the best tacos are what you’re after, as the list of great possibilities, is likely to number in the triple digits considering all of the great Latin American restaurants sprinkled around the greater Denver area.
If you want an insider’s guide to the Denver food scene, consider booking this downtown food tour.
Day 4 – More Day Trips
Day Trip to Summit County or Mt. Evans
If happen to be visiting Denver during winter in the ski season months of roughly December through March, then you’ll want to consider making the drive up the I-70 West corridor to the powdery slopes of Summit County.
Big-ticket mountains owned by the Vail Resorts group such as Keystone, Breckenridge or Vail are a great option, but you can also consider smaller-time resorts such as Loveland and Eldora when looking to economize.
If your Denver itinerary falls in the other two-thirds of the year when skiing is off the menu, consider making the relatively short drive to the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area.
This is worth a day trip even if you’re not much of a hiker, as the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America and affords some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see of the Colorado high country. Bring your camera and keep an eye out for mountain goats.
Red Rocks Evening Show (seasonally dependent)
You’ll want to check the Red Rocks Amphitheatre events calendar when planning for this one, but if the timing is right, you’ll be able to see a big-ticket musical act at arguably the best outdoor concert venue in America.
Natural crimson rock formations loom all around, and rows of seating climb up to expansive views looking out to Denver’s skyscrapers in the east. Famous musical acts the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Daft Punk have played here over the years, and some of the biggest names on the charts always make the annual lineup.
Also keep in mind that even if you’re here outside of the main concert season in the colder months of the year, you can still access the interior venue space and explore any of the surrounding hiking trails.
Where to Stay in Denver
No matter how long you’re spending in Denver, you’re going to need to find a place to rest your head in the Colorado capital. There are lots of places to stay in Denver that can suit and travel style or budget. If you’re searching for accommodation, have a look at these options:
Westin Denver Downton — This hotel is an excellent option in Downtown Denver if you’re after a great, high-end hotel option. Situated within easy reach of all that the city has to offer, they have countless large and clean rooms available along with numerous other amenities. Click here to see their availability
Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver — If you’re after a great, predictable option located in downtown Denver, then this hotel is a solid choice. There are a myriad of clean and comfortable rooms available and a breakfast spread is included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you want to experience Denver from a local’s perspective, then a private vacation rental — like this centrally located farmhouse — is a fantastic choice for you. There are tons of properties to choose from in the city that are sure to suit your needs. Click here to browse Denver private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Denver hotels
This Denver itinerary is just one example of how you might structure a trip to the Mile High City. Be sure to consider whether you have 3 or 4 days in Denver, how much time (if any) you’d like to spend up in the mountains, and how you’ll be getting around. With these things in mind and some good seasonal planning, you’ll be sure to make the best of your visit to Colorado’s state capital.
Are you planning a Denver itinerary? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!