Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Denver Right Now

Fun still exists. We promise.

At a time where mask-wearing is the status quo and social distancing is a way of life, it can be tough to figure out what to do beyond re-watching your favorite show on Netflix one more time. But not for you. You’re in the Mile High City, where we know how to have a good (and safe) time, even as winter temps are dropping. From street art adventures in the city to discovering ice castles a short drive out of town, we’re making the whole winter wonderland thing happen, COVID-style. If you find yourself ready to hit play on another holiday rom-com out of pure bordeom, check out this list instead and find new ways to get out (and stay in) while enjoying the best of Denver. 

Hit the slopes

Various locations
The most Denver thing to do in the winter is to leave Denver and head for the hills where we’re lucky enough to have some of the best ski resorts in the country nearby. The 2020/2021 season’s gonna be… unique. Most resorts are requiring reservations ahead of time and no walk-up tickets, but it’s totally worth the effort for some of that fresh mountain air as you ride down the mountain.

Hit a sledding or tubing hill

Free - $$
Various locations
If the idea of strapping on a board or stepping into a pair of skis leaves you saying “nope,” you can—and should—still get out and play in the snow. The best way to get that flying down the mountain experience without all the equipment and skills? Take it back to your childhood and find a sled. If there’s now on the ground in Denver, head to Ruby Hill for a free sledding experience. Or step it up to tubing level—one of the best places to try out this winter excursion is the Fraser Tubing Hill near Winter Park.

Watch the Colorado Ballet perform The Nutcracker, virtually

Rocky Mountain PBS app
A beloved winter tradition, the Colorado Ballet isn’t able to perform this classic live this year. Instead, they’re keeping the spirit alive with free access anytime to the full show via the Rocky Mountain PBS app. Put on those festive PJ’s, pour yourself a piping hot mug of cocoa (spiked… if you’re into that), and enjoy this tradition from the comfort of home.

Check out some holiday lights

Various locations
All over town, lights are twinkling. From the festive displays at Union Station and the City & County Building that you can enjoy for free while taking a walk downtown to annual favorites like Zoo Lights and Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Garden, there’s no shortage of holiday cheer on display. And if you’re not into being out in the cold, Bandimere Speedway has a drive-thru display so you can turn your heat on high and enjoy the light show from your car.

See some outdoor art exhibits

Free - $
Various locations
Museums may be closed, but the creatives of the Mile High are coming through with outdoor alternatives. In Cherry Creek, you can stroll through a rainbow of lights at Prismatica. At the Botanic Garden’s Chatfield location, you can check out the immersive sculptures made of branches and other natural materials that are part of the One Fell Swoop exhibit from artist Partick Dougherty. And you can head over to the Theatre District where Night Lights Denver features rotating content designed by local artists.

Go ice skating

Various locations
Although the downtown Denver rink at Skyline Park is not opening this year, there are still a couple of great options for a winter skate session in town. The Shops at Northfield have an old fashioned outdoor rink where you can skate through February 28 for $10/person (which includes the skate rental). During the holiday season, head to Four Mile Historic Park where their December Delights event runs through December 27 and includes an outdoor rink along with other festive activities.

Explore ice castles

There is no better chance to feel like you’ve escaped to an otherworldly winter wonderland than a visit to the Dillon ice castles. Set to open once the weather gets cold enough, this attraction is an annual favorite (and prime selfie-taking destination). Pro tip: Try to score nighttime tickets so you can see the beauty of the ice castles illuminated.

Have an at home film festival

Roku TV or Apple TV
Miss going to the movies? Already watched everything on Netflix? Set up a couch-seating only theatre in your living room and check out the amazing lineup of films from Denver Film’s virtual cinema program. The selections range from a documentary about Frieda Kahlo presented in partnership with the Denver Art Museum to  the 35th anniversary restoration of Smooth Talk, one of Laura Dern’s first films.

Get the hell out of town for a day trip

Various locations
As much as there is to do in Denver itself, escaping to the Rockies is one of the best ways to spend your time and options for day trips are plentiful. Head up to nearby Boulder to check out some of the local shops on the Pearl Street Mall, spend a weekend in Steamboat Springs (and don’t skip a visit to Strawberry Park Hot Springs), or head south to Colorado Springs for a winter drive up to the snowy summit of Pikes Peak

Go do anything at Red Rocks

Yes, what you’ve heard is true: It’s the best place to see music in the known galaxy. But, it’s also not hosting many events right now. But even if you can’t catch a live show, this iconic landmark is totally worth the visit for the view alone. There are also hiking trails where you can explore these sandstone formations beyond the stage.

Take a dip at Indian Hot Springs

Idaho Springs
A quick 30-minute drive from town, this small mountain town is the closest spot to enjoy a nice long soak in the waters from a natural hot spring—which feels especially amazing on a cold day. Reservations for an hour-long session are available for $18 on weekdays and $20 on the weekend. If you score one, you’ll enter the jungle-like dome where a pool with an average temperature of 90 to 100 awaits. And when you’re done, you can make a pit stop at Tommyknocker Brewery for beer and a bite on their outdoor patio before heading back to town.

Explore our amazing street art scene

RiNo and the Santa Fe Arts District
Over the past few years, Denver’s streets have become a whole lot more colorful thanks to a slew of new works by street artists, especially in these two neighborhoods. All you need is some free time to wander to find eye-catching examples painted everywhere from alleys and underpasses to the outsides of prominent businesses. If you’re looking for a socially distant friendly outdoor activity, these two districts are like open-air museums for modern art, just waiting to be (safely) explored. 

Roxborough State Park
Roxborough State Park | Aly Morrison/Shutterstock

Hike a nearby state park

Various locations
With 41 State Parks in Colorado, including many close to the Denver area, it’s incredibly easy to get outside and spend some socially distant time in nature, even if you’ve gotta bundle up a little more than usual. And as the weather cools down, hiking these spots gets even better. Roxborough near Littleton has over 4,000 acres to explore that include forests, red rock formations, meadows, and the historic Waterhouse Homestead—as well as birds, mule deer, and fox. Cherry Creek, Chatfield, and Castlewood Canyon are also great, nearby options for hiking and biking trails.

Sample local eats at a food hall

Various locations
The food hall craze is going strong in Denver, even if you’ve gotta enjoy your eats at home. Avanti, an OG of the movement, boasts an impressive lineup of rotating concepts. Denver Central Market not only has prepared foods from their vendors, but also great items to take home and cook including meats, cheeses, and other provisions. Milk Market currently has 10 venues open from restaurateur Frank Bonnano serving everything from pasta and pizza to burgers and salads. Stanley Marketplace is not only home to eateries like Annette and Rosenberg’s, but also has shopping. And there’s Zeppelin Station! And there’s The Source! And Broadway Market! And Tributary Food Hall in Golden! And... you get the point.

Go brewery hopping

Various locations
The sheer number of Denver breweries can be a bit daunting, but with extra time on your hands, this is the perfect chance to explore as many options as you can. Many breweries are still offering to-go options along with outdoor patios for sipping in person... Scan our roundup of the best breweries to check out now for good options to start with, from newer additions to the classics. Some, like Ratio and Breckenridge Brewery, have also added home delivery to the mix to make it even easier to sip local.

Go distillery, winery, and cidery hopping

Five Points
Sure, beer gets most of the attention when it comes to boozy beverages, but the Mile High is also packed with plenty of locally made non-beer options that are absolutely worthy of your attention... Some must-trys: Bigsby’s Folly and Infinite Monkey Theorem for a wine fix, Stem Ciders for bright, dry hard ciders, and The Block Distilling Company for vodka and gin made right in the neighborhood along with to-go cocktails.

Find your favorite bowl of Denver's most popular dish

Various locations
Everyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in Denver has a favorite spot for green chile. Everyone. But even if you’re loyal to a certain bowl of this pork-studded regional go-to, there are countless options to try. Pretty much any restaurant with even a slightly Mexican or Latin slant will have a version so start sampling ASAP. Some must-visits on your green chile adventure? El Taco de Mexico, Uno Mas, and North County. Bonus: These spots are all offering to-go.

Crush a breakfast burrito

Various locations
If you’ve accomplished the task of eating green chile on its own, it’s time to take it up a notch. Perhaps no dish is more uniquely Denver than a breakfast burrito with green chile piled in or atop it. And there are a ton of options to satisfy your quarantine hungover urges—bonus, these babies are made for the to-go life. Santiago’s handhelds are ubiquitous, while at El Taco de Mexico (yeah, we mention the spot a couple of times, you need to go) when they ask if you want it smothered and with onions and salsa, your answers should be a resounding “yes” and “yes.” They’re also a brunch go-to at spots like Bacon Social House and Sam’s No. 3.

Do Union Station... differently

Union Station
If you’ve done even a minimal amount of research on Denver, you’ve probably read that the capital’s historic train station has been renovated and stuffed to the gills with awesome stuff to do. And it’s true! Though indoor dining is closed, you can still grab a beer on the patio while enjoying the holiday lights. The Iberian Ultreia is set up for outdoor dining so you cancop a gin & tonic as large as your head. If you’re hungry, head out the back of the station to Tavernetta, an Italian hot spot where you can grab fresh pasta and more to-go.

Go to My Brother’s Bar

Pretty simple instructions, right? Just go. They’ve got two winter-ready outdoor patios open for dine-in so you can  satisfy your craving for a Johnny Burger and a cocktail at Denver’s oldest bar where Kerouac used to imbibe. 

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Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado who is always on the lookout for fun things to do. Follow her Mile High adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.
Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer, editor and joke maker. He's written for Rolling Stone, Deadspin, Esquire, and Pitchfork.
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