Once a rugged cow town filled with gamblers and gunslingers, the Colorado capital has grown up. Today, it meets cosmopolitan halfway and learns to play nice while still kicking up a little dust.
AUTHOR RACHEL STURTZ PHOTOGRAPHS JEN JUDGE
ONCE UPON A TIME, Denver was the ultimate Wild West town. Its very creation was almost an accident. No roads led here, no railroads or major waterways. The nearest city at the time of its establishment was 600 miles away. Then one day in 1858, a prospector hit a vein, and Denver was born—sired by a few ounces of gold shiny enough to lure men from across the continent who were looking for more. Together, they built a town where there was no other reason to have one.
But now, the capital of Colorado and the great outdoors enjoy equal footing on the high plains, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. And the people who live here—some of the healthiest and most active in the country—are more than happy to share. Today, you can finish a fresh cup of Brazilian drip coffee in the time it takes for you to drive to South Table Mountain for a prework mountain bike ride. After sampling a mixologist’s happy hour agave cocktail, you can stroll the path along the South Platte River and watch freestyle kayakers flip and twist on the slow-moving water. Or you can learn to rock climb with some of the world’s top mountaineers before making it back to enjoy a seven-course tasting menu at one of the best restaurants in the West.
After spending a long weekend in Denver, you’ll find that even though it’s no longer the Wild West, it’s as close as a big city can get.
Image – Jen Judge
DAY ONE Wake up in your opulent room at the Teatro Hotel (1), a boutique property lined with Indonesian sandstone and black Italian marble housed in the old Denver Tramway Building, which offers a view of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts across the street. No wonder the Police, Green Day and Paul McCartney like to stay here.
Waste neither time nor sunshine, and make your way over to The Market (2). This deli, a Denver staple, was founded by a couple of New Yorkers who claim to have personally introduced Colorado to the espresso machine. The honeyed hardwood floors are unique to the neighborhood, but gawking at the décor will have to wait. Get that hearty breakfast pocket to go—you’ve got Red Rocks to explore.
Change into your outdoor clothes (packing hiking boots and a jacket). It’s time to hit the trail. Unless you’re an experienced mountain biker who’s ready for the übertechnical Matthews/Winters trail, stick with the four-mile running and hiking path that takes you to an overlook at the edge of Red Rocks Park. Guide Nick Miller leads the way and points out the local fauna and particularly large outcroppings of rock along the trail. His main goal is to keep you from falling, so he won’t have to carry you home. But the view from the turnaround point—an outcropping of tilted 250-million-year-old sandstone monoliths that hang over a valley of paths—makes the rugged trails worth the risk.
In the shadow of an on-ramp to I-70, pull over for lunch at Kermitts Roadhouse (4). On weekends, motorcycles pack the parking lot and live rock ‘n’ roll blasts while you polish off a bowl of the best green chile stew in the state. Wash it down with a Colorado brew and marvel at the hundreds (thousands?) of dollar bills that paper every surface, before moving outside to enjoy the tunes. (Word to the wise: The proprietors have heard every Muppet joke in the book.)
Image – Jen Judge
You’re feeling slightly roasted from sitting in the sun, so you and Nick pedal toward St. Mary’s Glacier (5) to cool off in earnest. In a scene worthy of an Ansel Adams shot, you find a few brave souls cliff diving off a rock ledge into the freezing mountain lake below. Refreshing! At the bottom of the glacier, strap on a pair of snowshoes (provided by the outfitter) and prepare to feel the effects of elevation as you climb up the steep tongue of ice to its peak—10,500 feet. You’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Rockies. Throw a few snowballs and contemplate using your jacket as a sled on the way down (then think better of it).
When you turn your key in the door back at the Teatro, you’re thankful you called ahead and had the concierge draw a bath. You slip into the water redolent with aromatherapy oils and sip champagne while savoring a plate of tiny dark chocolates.
Later, when your stomach starts to growl, you head down the street to Vesta Dipping Grill (6), which serves Western bistro food with dozens of spicy sauces. The warehouse-chic spot has exposed beams, wrought-iron flourishes and mini-streetlights that illuminate the bar. Order up the Madras grilled venison and pair it with the chimichurri, barbecue and red pepper rica rouille dipping sauces for a range of Western flavors, after which, it’s back to the hotel for some much-needed rest.