Exterior view of Union Station, the first stop on the Denver Itinerary

3 Day Denver Itinerary (Pre-Planned By a Local)

I’m a local here to make your trip planning easy with this 3-day Denver itinerary!

Just follow this well-rounded itinerary. It includes stops at several of the Denver’s top attractions, and a step-by-step guide for what to do each day. There is even a bonus day to use in case you’re visiting during bad weather.

At the end of the itinerary, I’ll give tips on where to stay and how to get around.

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3 Day Denver Itinerary

Day 1 – Get Acclimated & Explore Downtown

The Colorado State Capitol Building under the clear blue sky from the outside
The Colorado State Capitol Building is covered with gold leaf from a local gold mine

Morning

Start the first day of your Denver itinerary with some delicious food at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery at Union Station. If the weather is nice, sit on the patio and watch the bustle near the train station. Be sure to walk through Union Station before or after breakfast, and stop at the Tattered Cover, a Colorado bookstore chain with a location inside. 

From Union Station, walk or take the free mall shuttle down the 16th Street Mall, stopping to pop into shops. At the other end of the pedestrian mall, take a tour of the Colorado Capitol Building, where you can learn fun facts about Denver

Afternoon

After seeing the Colorado State Capitol Building, head to City, O’ City for lunch — it’s on our list of the best restaurants in Denver! They specialize in delicious vegetarian and vegan food, which even omnivores enjoy. 

After lunch, walk by the South Platte River which runs through downtown. You may even see kayakers! If it’s a warm day, stroll to Confluence Park, where inner tubing and splashing in the river is a popular way to cool off. The REI Denver Flagship Store is right there also and has a climbing wall, gear rentals, and a bike shop. 

Alternate Afternoon

If the river isn’t your thing, head to the Denver Botanic Gardens for a few hours of flowers! In warm weather, there are tons of plants and different gardens to admire. In winter, head to the Tropical Conservatory to feel like you’re in a rainforest. You can also look for the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures in the gardens.

Evening

At night, head out on the town in the Mile High City! Grab some dinner and a craft beer at Work & Class in RiNo, one of the best Denver neighborhoods. This area is also a great place for craft beer or cider tastings. 

Head to Stem Ciders for uniquely delicious drinks featuring hints of lavender, chile guava, coffee, and more. Grab a craft beer at Epic Brewing Company, one of the best breweries in Denver, or sample local wines at The Infinite Monkey Theorem. RiNo also has lots of street art and art galleries you can browse as well.

Day 2 – Check Out Nearby Sights

View of people at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado (photo: Radomir Rezny / Shutterstock)

Morning

On day two of your Denver itinerary, grab some breakfast at The Bindery and enjoy the Highlands neighborhood. There are lots of shops and restaurants, and plenty of people out walking their dogs and enjoying a morning in Denver!

Now that you’ve had time to adjust to the elevation, head to Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre after breakfast. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Denver. Stop at the Trading Post for gifts and to see the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (we love John Denver just as much as you think we do!). 

If you’re up for one of the best Denver-area hikes, the Trading Post Trail is family-friendly and takes you across red sandstone to some great views. Afterward, head to the top of the amphitheater. You can walk from the Trading Post Trail, or drive if you want to skip all those steps!

Afternoon

Make the short drive to Golden and grab a sandwich at D’Deli. The line may be long but it goes quickly… and it’s worth it! Take your lunch and head down to the bridge over Clear Creek. There are tables where you can eat on the bridge, or cross to the park and find a spot. 

After lunch, walk the path next to Clear Creek, stop at the Golden History Park (and feed the chickens!), or walk back up Washington Ave. and do some shopping.

Before heading back to downtown Denver, take a short detour to visit the bison herd off of I-70. 

Evening

People walking at the Denver’s Performing Arts Complex
All under one roof, the Denver Performing Arts Complex is the largest performing arts center in the country!

You’ll want to allow some time to clean up after a day outdoors! Then, head to Rioja in Larimer Square for dinner (two things to try: their sangria and the sourdough tagliatelle). After dinner, catch a musical or concert at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Be sure to get tickets ahead of time. 

If a Broadway show isn’t your style, you can also hit up Dazzle for blues and jazz, or head to The Clocktower Caberet under the historic clocktower downtown. 

Day 3 – Rocky Mountain National Park (Summer)

Scroll down for winter version!

The author with her son smiling for a photo in Rocky Mountain National Park
My son and I at Rocky Mountain National Park on June 1st — be ready for all types of weather here!

If I could send people to only one spot in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park would be it! It takes 90 minutes to two hours to get to the park, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains everywhere you look. Of course, you could spend several days at the park and do lots of intense hiking. But since this is just a day trip, the hikes are easy and get you to the amazing views quickly.

It’s best to get an early start on this last day of your Denver itinerary since you have a bit of a drive (or take a tour and let your guide handle transportation!) Also, I have two separate recommendations for your day, depending on whether you’re going in summer or winter. Summer is my favorite time to visit the park, but you’ll see that there’s plenty to do in winter as well!

The author's son walking at the Coyote Valley Trail
Scenic views along the Coyote Valley Trail

Morning

Grab a quick breakfast at one of Denver’s excellent coffee shops, and hit the road! Head to the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, roughly a two-hour drive from Denver. Stop in Winter Park along the way and grab sandwiches at Rudi’s Deli to bring with you for lunch.

Inside the park, stop at the Coyote Valley Trail. This is a short, flat, one-mile loop near the start of the Colorado River. It’s smooth and manageable for strollers and wheelchairs. Look for wildlife, read the signs about the river animals who live there, and admire views of the Never Summer Mountains. 

Afternoon

A heard of elk at the Trail Ridge Road in Colorado
A herd of elk along Trail Ridge Road

After your walk, grab a picnic table near the parking lot to enjoy your sandwiches! Next, head to the Holzwarth Historic Site. The Holzwarths made this spot their home in 1917, and you can learn about the challenges they faced including snow, animals, lack of supplies, and more. 

From here, continue along Trail Ridge Road as it climbs higher. Make plenty of stops at overlooks along the way to admire the view! Also, a good rule of thumb at this park is that if you see a group of cars pulled off to the side, people have usually spotted a wild animal. Be sure to stop at the Alpine Visitor Center at the summit for pictures and souvenirs.

After driving down to the eastern side of the park, stop at the Moraine Park Discovery Center to look at exhibits. From here, head to Sprague Lake. The walk around the lake is flat and easy, and the mountains are reflected perfectly in the crystal-clear water. On one visit here, I saw a mama moose and her two babies getting a drink (although moose can be found in many parts of the park — keep your eyes peeled)!  

Evening

From Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s just a short drive to Estes Park, where you can stop for dinner. Swing by the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s book “The Shining.” Before making the 90-minute drive back to Denver, stop at Kind Coffee for a caffeine boost!

Day 3 – RMNP (Winter)

The Rocky Mountains covered with snow during winter season
A winter wonderland full of outdoor activities!

Morning

Begin your morning the same way regardless of the weather — with a stop at one of Denver’s excellent coffee shops! You’ll want to head to the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Your drive there will take you through Boulder, Lyons, and Estes Park before you get to the entrance. In Estes Park, stop at Scratch Deli & Bakery to pick up sandwiches for lunch. Also, stop at the Estes Park Mountain Shop to rent snowshoes and sleds for the day. 

After you’re inside the park, head to Hidden Valley, about seven miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance. It’s the only spot you’re allowed to sled in the park.

Afternoon

Strap on your snowshoes to explore the park in a new way! Most summer trails can be snowshoed in winter, and Bear Lake is a popular place for snowy treks. There are also ranger-led snowshoe walks — just be sure to make reservations ahead of time. Since you brought your lunch with you, you can eat wherever you find a pretty spot (or get really hungry!)

As you leave the park, stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to see displays and shop at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Nature Store.

Evening

Stop in Estes Park for dinner before the drive back home. You can also visit the Stanley Hotel, and warm up with a cup of java from Kind Coffee!

Where to Stay in Denver

See quick recommendations below or Nate’s full guide to where to stay in Denver.

Best Hotels 

Denver has some great hotels for travelers of all kinds! If you want to be in the thick of things, stay in downtown Denver. If you want to save some money, consider nearby suburbs like Highlands Ranch or Littleton

Best Denver Neighborhoods & Areas

Nate posing for a photo at the RiNo District
Nate in the RiNo district

From artsy to family-friendly, there are a variety of neighborhoods in Denver. Pick one that best suits your style!

  • Union Station / Lower Downtown (Search apartments in LoDo) – Denver Union Station and the Lower Downtown (LoDo) areas are great places to stay if this is your first time in Denver! You’ll be near great Denver restaurants and shops, Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies play baseball, and several Denver museums
  • Five Points / RiNo (Search apartments in RiNo) – River North Art District (RiNo) is another great spot for restaurants and bars. The Denver Central Market has a variety of places where you can grab a bite to eat. RiNo also has lots of trendy hotels, galleries, and street art.
  • Central Business District (Search apartments in CBD) – The Central Business District is the best spot to stay if you’re visiting for a convention or have business meetings downtown. You’ll also be close to the Denver Performing Arts Complex, where you can take in a show, ballet, or orchestra concert. The 16th Street Mall is nearby, too, where you’ll find lots of restaurants, shops, and entertainment. 

How to Get Around in Denver

People waiting for a train in lightrail station in Denver
A lightrail station in Denver (photo: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock)

There are plenty of options for getting around Denver! Here are a few of the most popular:

  • 🚗 Rental Car – Hoping to take some day trips from Denver? You’ll want to rent a car, as it’s the most convenient way to get around. Discover Cars is a great option that checks all car rental companies to find you the best deal!
  • 📋 Private Tours – If you want to explore Denver with a local guide, try a private tour. You can leave the navigation to someone else and learn about the city from a pro!
  • 🚕 Taxis/Ride Shares – This is a great option if you’re headed somewhere crowded like a concert or ball game, or if you simply need a ride home at the end of a long night!
  • 🚈 Light Rail – Denver has a great light rail system, and this is an inexpensive way to get around town! There is also an airport rail train that can get you from Denver International Airport to downtown Denver. 
  • 🚊 16th Street Mall Ride – If you’re staying near the 16th Street Mall, there’s a free shuttle that runs from one end to the other. It’s a great way to get to restaurants and shops, and makes it easier to herd tired kids!
  • 🛴 Biking, Scootering, Walking – If you plan to stay downtown for your entire trip, you can get to many places on your own power (or on electric power!). Denver has bikes and scooters that can be booked using Lyft or Lime, and it’s a great city for getting outside and walking when it’s not too cold!

Tips on Visiting Denver

Tip #1 – Take It Easy

The Denver Art Museum from the outside under the clear blue sky
The Denver Art Museum (photo: Kit Leong / Shutterstock)

It takes many people a day or two to acclimate to the Mile High City’s elevation! As you’re setting your Denver itinerary, be sure to plan lighter activities for your first day. Consider visiting one of our many amazing museums like the Denver Art Museum as a lower-energy activity. Stay in tune with your body — drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks as you need them. 

If you’re heading to one of the awesome ski resorts near Denver, or want to hike one of the state’s fourteeners, plan a day or two of rest before tackling those strenuous activities. It’s also helpful to ease your way into higher elevations — stay a day in Denver before heading to higher Colorado mountain towns

Tip #2 – Plan For The Weather

The author with her dog during a hike in Denver at winter season
Bring plenty of layers, regardless of when you visit!

Your plans for a July Denver itinerary are going to be very different than plans for 3 days in Denver in the middle of winter! Although we love getting outdoors year-round, even in frigid temperatures, you will want to plan for the heat or cold. You may also want to have a backup plan in case a winter storm or summer thunderstorm force you to cancel your activity.

Also, be sure to pack for your activities and the weather you will have while you’re in Denver! 

Tip #3 – Visit In The Off-Season

The author with her dog and daughter posing for a photo in Meyers Ranch
Posed with my family at Meyers Ranch, a gorgeous place for a fall hike!

September and October are the best times to visit Denver, along with April and May. You’ll get great weather and you’re likely to find some great deals. These are our off-seasons, so hotels, ski resorts, and other attractions are generally cheaper.  

Tip #4 – Plan For Your Pooch

Close up view of the author's dog during their hike in Denver
There are lots of great hikes for dogs near Denver!

Denver is a very dog-friendly city! There are lots of places for great walks, and many hotels and apartments allow pets (sometimes with an extra fee, so check for that). 

There are also tons of dog-friendly trails — most of them, actually! Just be aware that Rocky Mountain National Park and a few other trails don’t allow pets, usually to preserve the natural wildlife and for the safety of your dog. It’s best to check that the trail you plan to hike allows dogs before you go. Don’t forget to bring a leash and harness, and a collapsible water bowl for the hike!

Also, if you’ll be traveling in winter, make sure you have a warm spot for your dog if he won’t be accompanying you somewhere. It can get very cold outside!

Tip #5 – Make New Friends

People inside the Avanti Food & Beverage in Denver
Avanti Food & Beverage has lots of communal seating

Lots of Denver’s food halls like the Denver Central Market and breweries, especially those with outdoor seating, have long tables that require you to sit near people you don’t know. It’s a great chance to strike up a friendly conversation, and maybe even get a travel recommendation or two!

Denver Itinerary FAQs 

People wandering at the Denver’s LoDo neighborhood
Denver’s LoDo neighborhood on a beautiful summer afternoon

Do you need a car when visiting Denver?

You do not need a car when visiting Denver. If you plan to stay in the city for your entire trip, you can get around Denver using public transportation, walking, e-bikes, and the occasional rideshare. 

If nearby sights like Red Rocks, Rocky Mountain National Park, or mountain towns are on your Denver itinerary, you may want a rental car

How many days do you need in Denver?

You need at least three days in Denver when visiting. Although you can spend even more time touring this great destination, our three-day Denver itinerary will allow you to experience some of the city’s best things to do

What is the best month to visit Denver?

The best month to visit Denver is September or October. Visiting Denver during the off-season will save you money and allow you to avoid crowds. If you visit in September or October, you will also be able to see the beautiful fall foliage in Denver and the Rocky Mountains. 

***

Hopefully, this Denver itinerary has given you some ideas for spending three days in the city — or even longer! There is no shortage of things to do in the Mile High City, and I’m certain you’ll find plenty to entertain you. Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Colorado if you’ll be visiting other areas of the state as well. 

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