Close up view of a sunflower field and the Denver International Airport at the background

Denver International Airport (A Local’s Guide & History)

If you’re planning a trip to Colorado, there’s a very good chance you’ll be landing at the Denver International Airport. DIA is the biggest airport in Colorado, and the second-biggest by land area in the world. Hundreds of thousands of flights go in and out of Den Airport each year.

I’m a Colorado local, and I’m here to help you navigate Denver International Airport. I’ll also share some interesting history about the airport – including some persistent rumors and conspiracy theories!

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide (click to jump around):

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Denver International Airport Facts & History

View of a full moon over the Denver International Airport at night

Denver International Airport was the third busiest airport in the world in 2021 according to Wikipedia.

Denver International Airport replaced Stapleton International Airport, and planners wanted to make sure there was plenty of lands to expand. Because of this, the airport is 23 miles from downtown Denver and it’s important to allow extra time to navigate traffic, park, and get around the airport when you travel.

The distinct white domes that make up the airport roof are meant to mimic the Rocky Mountains in the distance. 

Although the airport code is DEN, the airport is known to many locals as DIA. It currently has non-stop flights to more than 215 destinations across the U.S. and North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. In 2022, a committee was formed to try and establish flights from DIA to Africa.

The airport opened in 1995, sixteen months behind schedule and $2 billion over the construction budget. Some of that overrun was due to a baggage boondoggle. Although they tried to build a new automated baggage system, when the city held a press day to show it off, reporters were surprised to find chaos instead. 

Clothes and personal belongings were strewn everywhere, and the system sometimes chucked people’s luggage off at random. DIA now has human baggage handlers.

A gargoyles perched in suitcase statue at the Denver International Airport
The gargoyles perched in suitcases near baggage claim are supposed to protect passengers from losing their luggage

Denver International Airport is also linked to a bizarre number of conspiracy theories. Art, including “Blucifer” the Demon Horse, and the gargoyles keeping watch over your baggage lend themselves to creepy theories. 

People are also suspicious of the amount of time it took the airport to be built and the underground tunnels, which they surmise must be where we keep the Lizard People. DIA has embraced their creepy reputation, and while they explain the many theories, they never really debunk them. Hmm…

Denver International Airport Layout

There are four main sections to DIA: Jeppesen Terminal, Concourse A, Concourse B, and Concourse C. Let’s cover them all:

Jeppesen Terminal

Your first stop, and the airport hub

View of people at the Jeppesen Terminal
(photo: Jim Lambert / Shutterstock)

The Jeppesen Terminal is the great hall where most of the airport action happens. 

Services you’ll find here in the main terminal include ticket counters, baggage claim, ground transportation, security checkpoints, shops, restaurants, international arrivals, access to ground transportation, and access to all concourses.

All three security checkpoints for DIA are located in this terminal, so you’ll go through security pretty early in the process, before finding your concourse or gate. 

Generally speaking, the busiest times for security are from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Because there are only three checkpoints, lines can look overwhelming. They generally move fast, but you’ll still want to allow plenty of extra time. 

👉 Visiting Denver? Check out Nate’s list of top things to do and see in Denver to help you plan!

Concourse A

View from the Concourse A of the Denver International Airport
(photo: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock)

Concourse A is the only concourse you can walk to from Jeppesen Terminal, although you can take the underground train as well. The A Bridge Security Checkpoint is along the pedestrian bridge on the route to Concourse A, so you can go through security on your way. 

Restaurants in Concourse A include SK Provisions, Sushi-Rama, Breckenridge Brewery, Snarf’s Sandwiches, Caribou Coffee, KFC Express, and Mesa Verde Bar & Grill (which has reasonably priced, tasty green chili, solid margaritas, and fewer crowds than a lot of other spots).

Concourse B

View from the Concourse B at the Denver International Airport
Concourse B has plenty of tasty food options! (photo: Marcela Abrach / Shutterstock)

Concourse B must be reached by the underground train, and many United Airlines and Air Canada flights go out of this concourse. When you get to Concourse B, you’ll have plenty of dining options. In fact, one of our favorite Denver restaurants, Snooze, has an outpost here. 

You’ll also find loaded hotdogs at Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs, pho at City Pho, healthy options at Modern Market, and delicious burgers and shakes at Shake Shack. You can even grab a swanky steak at Elway’s. 

Concourse C

Concourse C has lots of quick food options like Einstein Bros. Bagels, McDonald’s, and SMASHBURGER & Bar. However, they also have a Root Down, a satellite of the trendy spot in LoHi (and another restaurant favorite of ours!). 

Tamales by La Casita is another popular Denver restaurant with an airport outlet, and you can treat yourself to Colorado’s best ice cream – Little Man – while you wait also.

Coffee shops in airports are a seriously vital service, and my favorite is The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I love it so much I seek out Concourse C just to get my caffeine fix. 

East vs. West Terminal at DIA

An airplane departing on Denver International Airport
(photo: Don Mammoser / Shutterstock)

When you arrive at DIA, there are two options for terminals where you can be dropped off or picked up – the East and West Terminals. It’s important to pick the right one!

Here are the airlines that operate out of each side. 

East Terminal

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Boutique Air
  • Denver Air Connection
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Southern Airways
  • Southwest Airlines

West Terminal 

  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada
  • Air France 
  • Allegiant 
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cayman Airways 
  • CopaAirlines 
  • Delta 
  • Edelweiss 
  • Icelandair 
  • jetBlue 
  • Lufthansa
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Sun Country 
  • United Airlines
  • Volaris
  • WestJet 

Ground Transportation from DIA to Denver

Denver has lots of ways to get around, and that includes getting yourself to and from the airport. Here are some of the best ways 

Airport Rail

View of the Union Station in Denver from the outside
(photo: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock)

The A Line commuter train runs between Denver International Airport and the Denver Union Station transit center in downtown Denver. It takes about 37 minutes. During peak travel times, the train runs every 15 minutes, and during off-hours it runs every 30 minutes. 

If you’re heading to a suburb or other part of Denver, you can catch the light rail or bus from the Union Station transit center to points all over the metro area. 

Rental Cars

There are more than ten car rental companies that operate out of DIA. The car companies provide a courtesy shuttle from Jeppesen Terminal to rental car parking, and you can find those shuttles on Level 5, Island 4. Exit through doors 505-513 if you’re at the East Terminal, or 504-512 at the West Terminals.

Since there are so many options for car rental services, try Discover Cars to help you find the best deal! 

Ride Shares

Uber and Lyft both operate at the airport. Your best bet is to pick up your luggage, request your ride share pickup, then head to the designated area.

Ride Share pickups are on Level 5, Island 5. Use doors 506-510 if you’re at the West Terminal, and doors 507-511 at the East Terminal. This island is the only area where Ride Share drivers are allowed to pick up passengers. 

Cabs and Taxis 

Taxis are usually ready and waiting for travelers, although you may want to check ahead of time if you’re arriving in the middle of the night. Several Denver area destinations have a flat-rate charge one-way, including:

  • Downtown (Zone A) – $56.03
  • Denver Tech Center (Zone B) – $62.03
  • Boulder (Zone C) – $89.03
  • Tower Road (Zone D) – $29.03
  • Broomfield and Louisville Area (Yellow Cab only) – $71.03

Other destinations around the metro area are metered charges. Some taxi companies will drive passengers even farther around the state, but you’ll want to check with the company ahead of time.

Taxi pickups are on Level 5, Island 1. From Terminal East, use doors 505, 507, and 511 and from Terminal West use doors 506, 510, and 512.

Shuttles

Mountain Carriers

There are a variety of different shuttles or charter buses to take you to various destinations. Mountain shuttles and limo services will bring you to Aspen, Estes Park, Vail, and other popular mountain towns. You’ll need to arrange service by mountain shuttles or limousines ahead of time. 

Mountain carriers pick up on Level 5, Island 1. From Terminal East, head out doors 511-513 and from Terminal West, head out doors 504-506.

Hotel Shuttles

There are also airport shuttles to take you to nearby hotels. Hotel shuttles pick up passengers from Level 5, Island 3. If you’re at Terminal East, you’ll exit doors 505-507. From Terminal West, head out doors 510-512. 

Where to Stay Near the Denver Airport

If you’re leaving early in the morning or arriving late at night, you may want to consider staying near Denver airport to avoid a long drive in the wee hours. 

The closest hotel to DIA is The Westin Denver International Airport, which is directly linked to the Jeppesen Terminal so you can walk to or from your gate. 

Here is a list of the best Denver hotels near Denver International Airport:

  • The Westin Denver International Airport: The absolute closest you can be to the airport. The Westin has an indoor pool, an on-site restaurant, a lounge, a coffee shop, a gym, and cool views of the airport. The Westin is also pet-friendly.
  • Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center: This hotel is a 12-minute drive from the airport. It has indoor and outdoor pools, a lazy river, and waterslides open in warm months. There are four on-site restaurants, a gym, and a spa. The resort also has seasonal activities like ice skating or tubing in winter, themed shows, and other year-round events. 
  • Hyatt House Denver Airport: Hyatt House Denver is about 7 miles from the airport. It’s a good option for business travelers, and has an indoor pool, a gym, and suites with kitchens. It offers breakfast and has a bar. Hyatt House is pet-friendly.
  • Residence Inn by Marriott Denver Airport/Convention Center: This hotel is 5 miles from Denver International Airport. There’s a fitness center and pool and some rooms have a kitchen. The hotel also offers breakfast, and is pet-friendly as well. 
  • La Quinta by Wyndham Denver Airport DIA: The La Quinta has a free breakfast, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. The hotel is pet-friendly, and is about 7 miles from Denver International Airport. 

FAQs about Denver International Airport (DEN)

Is Denver International Airport the biggest airport in the world?

Denver International Airport is the second-biggest airport in the world by land area. The airport is ​​52.4 square miles. However, not all of that land is currently developed, planners made sure to have plenty of extra space to expand in the future.  

Why is Denver such a big airport?

Denver is such a big airport because it’s in the middle of the country, making it a good place for airports to base their operations. The amount of land designated for DIA operations is also large in order to allow for future expansion. The airport had to be moved once because of its small size, so those in charge of planning the new airport wanted to make sure that wasn’t ever a problem again. 

Is Denver airport hard to navigate?

Denver airport is usually not hard to navigate. It is a very large airport, but there are clear signs for picking up and dropping off passengers, for which airlines operate in which terminals, and for the gates where you can find different flights.

Ongoing construction has made navigating the airport a little more challenging on occasion, however, and it’s best to allow extra time to make sure you can find your gate. 

Can you walk between terminals in Denver Airport?

You can only walk from Jeppesen Terminal, the main area of the airport, to Concourse A. Concourses B and C require you to take an underground train to reach those gates. 

***

Hopefully, this article can help you navigate Denver International Airport on your trips to or from this beautiful city!

Before you go, be sure to bookmark all our Denver guides.

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