Denver Winter Magic: Guided by Locals

The Mile High City—with its love of community, accessible art, and handcrafted beer—shines throughout the year, but come wintertime, with the sight of 200 mountain peaks dusted in fresh snow, it truly sparkles.
by Morgan Lord
Jan 17, 2019

 

Cliffhouse, Aspen, CO

Meow Wolf Denver is still a little ways off from opening, but we’re so excited to be a small part of such a beautiful, diverse, and accessible community! After interviewing locals, speaking with our growing team in Denver, and consulting our Community Advisory Committee, we wanted to share some of our favorite Denver-area spots and activities that have been introduced to us by this welcoming city. Without further ado, here is what we’ve learned about keeping it local in the Denver winter…

Denver—with its love of community, accessible art, and handcrafted beer—shines throughout the year, but come wintertime, with the sight of 200 mountain peaks dusted in fresh snow, it truly sparkles. Lucky for you, this is the time of year when crowds aren’t at their peak, making it the ideal season to get to know the city. Simply walking the town to take in the crisp air, crunchy snow, and sunshine (even in the dead of winter the sun shines—it’s one of the sunniest cities in the U.S.!) can be a charming way to get to know the Mile High City. But whether you take a full-moon hike, share a hot meal with locals, march the MLK Marade, or watch a herd of longhorn cattle walk down 17th street, it’s easy to feel the warmth of this snowy land.

Here are some suggestions to add to your wintertime plans.

Take a hike

Denver has the largest city park system in the nation, with 14,000 acres of mountain parks and 2,500 acres of natural areas. That’s a lot to explore, so we narrowed it down to three trails worth the trek.

If you’re a local, you may have noticed two-to-three dozen American Bison roaming the land off Interstate 70. These humpbacked beauties have been grazing this land for more than a century, and as you trek the American Bison Trail — a 1.4 mile, kid-friendly hike — it looks down into the Middle Bison Pasture, meaning you may be able to see them close up!

Garden of the Gods is an hour drive from Denver, but it’s more than worth the minor trek. Red sandstone rock formations look unearthly as they jut from the ground and scrape the bold, blue sky. This free park has been a sacred and peaceful space for Native Americans for hundreds of years, and when you’re here you can feel why. You can hike, bike or mountain climb the 1,334-acre park, and when you’re visiting in the winter, Pike’s Peak is snow-capped, making it easier to spot some of the local bighorn sheep.

Snow covered rock formations in Colorado Spring’s Garden of the Gods park. Photo provided by www.VisitCOS.com

For a more challenging hike (leave the kids and dogs at home), make your way to Royal Arch at Boulder Chautauqua Park. You might break a sweat as you hike the 3.5 miles roundtrip, and the countless rock steps and 1400-foot elevation will leave you panting. When you make it to the Arch, though, be sure to explore it, peek through the opening (on a clear day you can see Denver), and plop down arch-side for the perfect picnic spot. Remember to pack plenty of water and trail snacks, but don’t forget to take in the beauty of Bluebell Canyon as you make your way down.

Snowshoe in the moonlight

So often we stay indoors during the darkness of wintertime, but there may not be a better way to soak up a Denver winter than by exploring the backcountry via moonlight (and your headlamp). There’s something a little eerie and quite breathtaking about crunching snow in your snowshoes on a quiet night. For an unguided night hike, check out Bear Lake Loop, with its towering mountain and emerald lake views obscured by darkness, yet lit up by the moonlight. The half-mile trail is slightly elevated, but a fairly easy hike. Pack thermoses filled with hot cocoa for a post-snowshoe tailgate, and be sure to check the full moon dates ahead of time. It’s only once a month, though, so you don’t want to miss your chance!

If you happen to be making the 200-mile trip to Aspen during a full moon, check out the Tiehack-Buttermilk dinner at Cliffhouse.  Skiing, hiking, and boarding are the only ways up the mountain at night, and once at the summit you can refuel on custom-made pho, stir fry, a baked potato bar, and fresh-squeezed juices. Once your belly’s full, it’s time to cruise down the dark mountain, soaking up the magic of the night along the way.

Cliffhouse, Aspen, CO

Ice skate at Evergreen

Ice skating on a frozen lake (that’s actually resurfaced with a Zamboni!), surrounded by pine-covered mountains, is downright picturesque. At Evergreen Park & Recreation District, a half hour from downtown Denver, the admission fee and skate rental are $7 or less. After you’ve reached your lap max, you can head indoors to sip on hot cocoa by the giant stone fireplace.

Absorb local art

Next Stage Gallery is an interactive gallery space run by the University of Colorado Denver and Denver Arts & Venues. The gallery has new shows every few months and is always free.

If you’re a fan of theater, see a show at Denver’s Buntport Theater. The five-human company has been working together for 18 years and creates interesting and entertaining shows. This winter, you can check out the holiday-free comedy called Coyote. Badger. Rattlesnake. And The Rembrandt Room. It’s a dark comedy featuring only one woman and one piece of art.

Buntport Theater. Photo by Armando Geneyro

March the Marade

One of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. parades happen on January 21 in Denver, and you’ll want to plan on being one of the thousands marching. The Martin Luther King Marade formation begins at 9:30 a.m., and the Marade itself starts at 10:45 a.m. from City Park. Make your sign, wear your layers, and gather for a day of marching, speeches, poetry and love.

Shop with inclusivity in mind

When it comes time to shop for some local goodies and souvenirs, spend your money with intention. Refer to the Hope Slinger’s Guide to Denver to find women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses that you’d like to support. The group is currently working on a Denver-based inclusive business directory where you can find businesses that are Woman/Person of Color/LGBTQ-Owned or Businesses that Give Back. You can add a business here.

If you walk the South Broadway area, there are plenty of interesting shops to peek into. Hope Tank sells products from companies that are philanthropic and environmentally responsible, and it’s the perfect spot to buy a locally-designed T-shirt. Fancy Tiger Crafts specializes in craft supplies and classes for the modern crafter (yes, please!), with winter classes like “needle felting a gnome” and “knitting help night.” NOOCH Vegan Market is a 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free market and is stocked with local groceries, gluten-free and dairy-free snacks, body care, and accessories.

If you have a little one, be sure to make a stop by the local bookstore, Second Star to the Right. The children’s book haven has drag queen and drag king storytime, social justice storytime, and Spanish storytime.

Second Star To The Right Children’s Books. Photo by Armando Geneyro

Drink your way through Denver

Denver is known to be a beer and booze town, so it makes sense that the first permanent structure was a saloon. Here are a few must-visit locales to grab a drink, alcoholic or otherwise…

Looking for a pick-me-up to start your day? Leave it to Colorado to pair specialty, locally-roasted coffee with all the goodness of full-spectrum CBD from organic Colorado growers. Strava Craft Coffee is only available at a handful of coffee shops in Denver, but you can go to Blue Sparrow Coffee to try the CBD nitro cold brew on tap, or you can buy a bag of Strava locally at SloHi Coffee & Bikes.

When it comes to beer, Denver brews more than any other U.S. city. At the Denver Winter Brew Fest, you can actually taste beers from over 40 breweries while listening to live music. The fest runs from January 25-26, from 6-10 p.m., at Mile High Station.

The Cruise Room is Denver’s Art Deco bar that was modeled after the bar in the Queen Mary, a retired British ocean liner. The bar originally opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and it shows in the style. It’s worth a trip to peek at the unique, etched panels and pink cast lighting. If you’re seeking a night of old-school cocktails and Deco décor, this is your spot!

Cruise Room. Photo by Armando Geneyro

Sommelier Kendra Anderson opened Bar Helix, a modern wine bar in the RiNo Art District, over a year ago. She curates quite a collection of wine, has 12 Negroni varieties, and possesses a love of Miller High Life. Fun, themed nights, such as “Women Crush Wednesday”, spotlight wines and spirits made by women while all-female tunes play.

Bar Helix

For a dive bar vibe with talented bartenders and an impressive range of spirits, check out Star Bar in Five Points. They don’t sell food, but they do encourage you to bring your own. You can even order take-out to be delivered straight to your bar stool (the bartender has menus behind the bar). Look out for the collage of stickers adorning the bar, note that you can’t order “car bombs,” and remember that karaoke is on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 p.m. This local bar has a rare combination of personality and quality drinks!

Eat your way through Denver

Start the day at Sun Valley Kitchen for a cup of joe and an avocado, an egg and cheese sandwich, or a coconut chia and granola parfait (all for under $10!). The restaurant is part of the community center in the Sun Valley neighborhood, where 50 percent of residents are 18 years and younger and living under the median income. The center hosts community dinners, a no-cost grocery program, and hires Sun Valley neighborhood youths to work in the restaurant!

Sun Valley Community Kitchen Staff

For some authentic Denver fare, find a seat at the diner counter at El Taco de Mexico. It’s a classic Mexican restaurant whose crowning jewel is the smothered Chile Relleno Burrito. Order it! You’ll be glad you did.

El Taco de Mexico. Photo by Armando Geneyro

If you want to warm up with a cup of hot miso soup, Domo offers traditional country Japanese. Each entree is served with seven family-style sides, so you’ll have a chance to sample. Domo also has ramen and fresh sushi options, but no matter what you order, we recommend that you don’t ask for a side of soy sauce. Doing so is frowned upon as the chef wants you to give it a taste as it’s prepared.

Maybe food trucks are more your style? If so, try out Little Machine Brewing food trucks for a rotating menu of mouthwatering chow (think burgers, Puerto Rican food, deli fare, Italian sandwiches). Don’t forget to head inside for a tasty beer! They’ve got everything from a “Tangerine Crushsicle,” made with real tangerine and vanilla beans, to a “Limeale Richie,” brewed from gluten-free millet, buckwheat, and three types of limes.

For veggie lovers, this winter brings the exciting opening of Englewood’s newest restaurant/bar, Fellow Traveler. It will open its doors by January with a menu full of coffee, booze, and local, plant-based grub.

Of course, when you’re in Denver, Casa Bonita is a must-see. It’s part amusement park, part restaurant, and all kitsch. It’s worth the cost of admission (you have to buy food to get in, but we recommend the sopapillas) just to see the décor, and you’ll see why the popular attraction took over a year to create. Once inside, there are showtimes for puppet shows, gunfights, and the dive, where cliff jumpers plummet from a 30-foot waterfall into a 14-foot pool. Mariachi bands play, high school thespians perform Vaudeville-style bits, and there’s an old-timey photo studio and gift shop.

Casa Bonita. Photo by Armando Geneyro

Other local favorites

It’s official!

Meow Wolf is making its way to downtown Denver in 2020, which means jaw-dropping, immersive art for all ages. We are also teaming up with our new neighbor, Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, to make a dark ride that will coast in just as winter is ending, this April 2019. When you ride Meow Wolf’s Kaleidoscape, you’ll be engulfed by deep sounds, psychedelic imagery, and wild colors as part of a densely immersive and fully-interactive experience.