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Denver is the “cool kid” in the travel world right now. Every time I log onto Instagram or peruse a travel mag, I see more photos from Denver than anywhere else in the United States. But it’s not like other hyped-up places. Denver deserves all of this attention. The “Mile High City” has a lot to offer in terms of food, foliage, and fun for children of all ages.
My cousin lives there, so we’re visiting at the end of October. And given all there is to do during the holiday season, I think our getaway is happening at just the right time. If you’re planning a trip to the Mile High City this autumn, her local friends shared their favorite activities and special events. According to locals, these are the best places to visit in and around Denver during the fall.
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Fright Fest at Elitch Gardens
Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park morphs into its own spooktacular world in October. I’ve never taken my kids to a theme park during Halloween but I love the idea of trick-or-treating around an amusement park. And at Elitch Gardens Fright Fest, they’ve got friendly forms of competition like costume and screaming contests. (Kudos to whoever came up with the latter one!)
During the day it’s more family-friendly and geared toward younger kids. At night, Elitch Gardens has a more frightening array of activities, so if you’ve got older kids, this might be enjoyable. My kiddos are still 8 and 10 so we have to wait a few more years for the after-dark experience (minimum age is 12). But they have more than one haunted house, live entertainment, and a “freaky” performance. So I think you’d be getting your share of screaming in, too. Make sure you purchase tickets on the website before you go!
Wild Fall at Denver Zoo
El Chupacabra? Bigfoot? I know my kids won’t say no to catching a glimpse of these guys! We went through a phase of reading books on every mythical creature with my son, and he still gets excited any time they’re mentioned. Located in City Park, the Denver Zoo honors the animals of our kids’ imaginations (or perhaps nightmares) during Wild Fall. Whether your kids want to carve pumpkins or catch an animal demo, they have a good lineup of activities here.
Fuel Up On Good Grub
Speaking of food… I love trying new dishes when I travel. (And then, unsuccessfully, attempting to re-create them when I get home.) It’s fun to eat regional food and show our support to local businesses. I also find that my kids are a lot less picky when we travel (and—gasp—even eat their veggies!).
While Denver’s culinary scene is robust, we’re going to focus on up-and-coming eateries and food trucks. We’re planning on visiting a couple of these new restaurants, like Apple Blossom in Hyatt Centric Downtown Denver, which heavily focuses on local offerings, and Three Saints Revival, a Mediterranean restaurant that serves tapas. I’ve been told that Little Man Ice Cream can’t be skipped, so I’ll be taking my family for a scoop after one of our dinners! I was expecting an underwhelming restaurant scene in Denver but realized it’s a great place for foodies.
It makes me happy how much food trucks have been dominating the food world, too. We’re always on the hunt for food trucks, and luckily, Denver has a ton of them. We have somewhat of a food truck scavenger hunt in mind. My daughter is loyal to her grilled cheeses, so I know we’ll be trying some of Rocky Mountain Cheesery’s creations. We also have an unofficial family tradition of ordering two sweet and two savory crepes to share amongst ourselves, and Moontime Crepes’ menu has my mouth watering. This site conveniently lists all of the food trucks in the Denver area.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
My kids take after me in that they’ll spend hours reading or writing. But get them to do a science project? They’ll pass. Whenever we visit a new city, I’m always on the lookout for a good science museum because it’s one of the ways they’ve gotten (sort of) enthused about the subject.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has a couple of days this fall where admission is free. The museum has interactive exhibits like a temporary mirror maze, where kids can learn how human designs are influenced by patterns in nature. I know I’ll also be taking (and following) my kids into the Genetics Lab and gallery on Egyptian mummies.
Kids not up for a science museum? Not to worry. Denver has lots of epic museums for young minds. The Children’s Museum, Denver Art Museum, and Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum are among a few of the city’s best.
Denver has been the “cool kid” in the travel world for the last several years and deserves all of the attention. The “Mile High City” has a lot to offer in terms of food, foliage, and fun for children of all ages.
Visit a Natural Wonder
We go hiking pretty frequently. During the pandemic, we made a habit of going every other week, but we’ve admittedly been slacking. My kids got their first pair of hiking shoes recently from their grandparents, so we have more of a reason to go now. We’re most excited about the hikes on our trip, and there is no shortage of outdoor activities around Denver. It arguably has some of the most astonishing natural landscapes in North America.
Fall is a good time to go because of the cooler weather, and of course, the stunning leaves. My husband went to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs back in college, so he insisted on bringing us to these giant sandstone rocks that were formed during the Ice Age. I think that’ll be a great chance for us to unplug and be present as a family. If you want to head out to Colorado Springs, it’s a bit over an hour’s drive from Denver.
A trip to Denver wouldn’t feel complete without a visit to the good ol’ Colorado Rockies. Rocky Mountain National Park is also on our list, and I was initially overwhelmed by how big it is (415 square miles!). However, my cousin told us about Trail Ridge Road, saying that it would give us an all-encompassing look into the park’s natural habitats. This is a 48-mile drive within Rocky Mountain National Park. We’re hoping to see as many elk and sheep as we can! Estes Park has excellent food and accommodations and makes a wonderful “base camp” if you’re planning to stay overnight in the Rockies.
Even if you don’t want to head out to the Rocky Mountains, there’s a lot to see within Denver itself. My cousin insists we must take a stroll through City Park, where both the Nature Museum and Zoo are, so it’s urban nature at its finest. The fall leafage here is stunning, so we plan to take our nicer camera and snap some Christmas photos while visiting. If we have time, we’ll also go to Washington Park, which has two lakes and flower gardens, so the kids will have space to run around a bit.
When You Go
You can get nonstop flights to Denver from Los Angeles for under $100… How awesome is that?! Several airlines including Spirit, United, Delta, American, and Southwest offer non-stop service there, and the flight is less than two and a half hours.
Find the best deals using this interactive field from Cheap O’Air!
Where to Stay
Denver has a wide variety of accommodation options for any budget. If you’re looking for an economical choice, the Ramada by Wyndham Denver International Airport is a cozy hotel that offers a free airport shuttle, breakfast and an indoor hot tub. In the middle range, the Courtyard by Marriott Denver Cherry Creek has an unbeatable location and awe-inspiring views. For those of you looking for a pampered experience, the Four Seasons Hotel Denver has its own spa plus in-room dining options.
Or use this interactive map to find a private home or hotel in the area you’d like to stay:
Denver is the perfect place to spend the autumn months. The city offers the best things to do, for first-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike. There are several fantastic activities in and around the Mile High City for kids of all ages, too. In Denver, you can satisfy your cravings at a food truck and then burn off the calories at one of many open spaces in or around the city. Or you can keep it local and make your way to one of the spooky festivals. Whatever your family does this fall in Denver, hopefully, it’s full of the best times for you all!
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