I was once just like any other tourist visiting Colorado. I flew into the airport, rented a car, and was excited to go skiing, snowboarding, bicycling and hiking. But eventually, I decided to move to Denver in order to enjoy Colorado all year long. After living in the Mile High City for nearly 20 years, and having the chance to see most of the state, I've picked up a few nuggets of wisdom that I wish I'd known as a tourist.
Here are four tips you can use the next time you visit Denver or pass through on your way to the Rocky Mountains.
1. Don't fall for the tricks played by the rental car companies. When you rent a car at Denver International Airport (D.I.A. to us locals), the representative behind the counter will always ask you where you are driving. If your destination is in the mountains, you'll likely be asked to pay extra to rent a larger vehicle. You'll even be told there's no way a compact car can make it up those big hills. If you just stepped off an airplane a few minutes ago, and you've never driven in Colorado, then your instinct will be to trust a friendly local face.
But thankfully, any car you rent will be able to make it up any paved road in Colorado. Certainly, having all wheel drive and/or snow tires will be invaluable for winter driving conditions, but paying extra for a larger car won't make any difference.
Another option is to just skip the rental car altogether. There are several shuttle services that specialize in taking visitors from the Denver airport to mountain destinations in comfort and safety, and you won't have to pay for parking during your stay. In fact, you can redeem your miles from Barclaycard Arrival Plus to pay for these services. And for a limited time, you can earn 50,000 bonus miles when you open a new account and spend $3,000 on purchases within 90 days.
2. Take some time to see Denver. Once you've arrived, you'll want to head straight to the mountains. That's why you came to Colorado, right? You could do that, but then you'd be missing out on an up and coming major city that's rapidly becoming its own destination. If you are looking for nightlife and terrific restaurants, visit LoDo (Lower Downtown) and the nearby RiNo (River North) district. If you'd prefer to relax and take in a museum, consider the Denver Art Museum with its collection of Western art and its renowned new wing designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind. Even if you'd like to see wildlife, you can visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. Just minutes from downtown, it's home to deer, elk, buffalo, and bald eagles, and it's free! As you're headed west out of Denver, visit the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is free and open to the public when there isn't a concert scheduled. Bring your favorite musical instrument, and you can tell your friends that you played Red Rocks like so many legendary musicians before you.
3. Gear up in Denver. The mountains are beautiful, but they're also expensive. Instead of trying to pick up outdoor gear in a small mountain town, you can find better prices and selection in the Denver area. In fact, REI has an enormous flagship store in a historic building in downtown Denver. It's even worth visiting if you don't end up buying anything.
4. Avoid I-70 traffic. Sometimes it feels like the only thing more astounding than the Rocky Mountains are the traffic jams created by everyone trying to visit them. Denver residents and tourists alike quickly learn to avoid driving west on Interstate 70 on Friday evenings and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Also, try to schedule your trip back east to miss the epic traffic jams regularly seen on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Alternatively, consider picking a mountain destination that avoids I-70 altogether. You can take US-285 to visit some great mountain towns south of the highway including Salida, Gunnision, and Crested Butte. Or you can go north of I-70 and visit the town of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
I fell in love with Colorado decades ago, and I strongly encourage people to visit my state and experience it for themselves. As with any destination, you can enjoy your Colorado vacation even more when you follow a few tips from the local residents.
*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Jason Steele and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
Photo credit: iStock
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