Denver, CO

10 mistakes tourists make when they come to Denver

Brittany Anas

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Nearly 32 million people visited Denver in 2021.So GNAR Creative Division

By Brittany Anas / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, CO) You can’t spell Colorado without the word “rad,” and our fine state attracts tourists craving high-country adventures, craft beer, museums and so much more.

In 2021, the Mile High City welcomed 31.7 million visitors, bouncing back from losses experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Visit Denver. The top states (outside of Colorado) sending travelers to Denver include Texas, California, Florida and Arizona.

But even the most well-intentioned visitors make some mistakes here and there—remember the time New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd documented her paranoia after indulging with a THC chocolate bar during a post-pot prohibition trip to Denver?

Beyond that infamous pothole (a term coined by Vice), here are 10 more common traps Denver tourists can easily fall into.

1. Mistakenly booking a hotel outside of downtown

Denver has a stellar lineup of hotels, with some newcomers joining the mix, like the luxury Thompson Denver and the playful CatBird Hotel where guest rooms have pull-down projector screens.

But tourists looking to save a buck might not understand that some of the “close to the airport” hotels with Denver addresses aren’t anywhere near downtown or that the Denver Tech Center isn’t Denver proper. What’s more, there are no easy public transportation options that zip between the airport, tech center hotels and downtown.

2. Underestimating the altitude in the Mile High City

If you’re coming from sea level, expect to feel winded when climbing the stairs of Red Rocks and to potentially catch a heightened buzz when drinking. The altitude is, indeed, high in the Mile High City, which is why it’s so important to stay hydrated to help your body acclimate and not double down with altitude sickness and dehydration.

Altitude sickness symptoms usually hit within 12 to 24 hours after arriving and lessen in a day or two as your body adjusts.

Speaking of the Mile High City: There’s certain spots around Denver that are precisely 5,280 feet in altitude and denoted as such, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, steps at the State Capitol denoted by a brass plaque and 865 seats at Coors Field, which are in the 300s and purple.

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At the 'Mile High' altitude, expect to feel more winded when hiking or climbing the steps at Red Rocks.Visit Denver

3. Not knowing what Rocky Mountain oysters are

Colorado is landlocked, so it might seem strange that there are local oysters on restaurant menus.

Those “oysters” are actually bull’s testicles and on the menu at places like Buckhorn Exchange and The Fort should you be interested in the local fare. Or, imbibe with a Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, billed the “ballsiest canned beer in the world,” from Wynkoop Brewery.

4. Thinking the mountain resorts are an easy drive

The ski resorts might seem like an easy day trip from Denver. Vail, for example, is 100 miles from Denver, and, in the best of conditions, you can make the drive in about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

But when you factor in snow and weekend crowds, cars crawl to the mountains and I-70 traffic can come to a complete standstill at some points.

Plus, state laws require that any vehicle you’re driving can handle winter storms, with traction laws that go into effect requiring your car to have 4 wheel or all-wheel drive or snow tires.

5. Expecting guaranteed snow

Think of Denver in December, and you might think of a winter wonderland, complete with falling snow.

But, actually, March is our snowiest month and February is our second snowiest and April tends to get more snowfall than January.

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Gondolas at Vail.Jack Affleck

6. Not giving yourself enough time at DIA

Denver International Airport is the third-busiest airport globally, so you can bet on crowds when flying in and out of DEN. The airport is also under major construction.

Since the security screening lines can get backed up, you’ll want to arrive early—especially if you don’t have TSA PreCheck or CLEAR (or both). You can keep tabs on current wait times here.

7. Going to Casa Bonita

If you caught the “South Park” episode with Cartman crashing a birthday party at Casa Bonita, know this: The wonders of Colfax’s pastel pink strip mall castle weren’t made up. Casa Bonita was home to cliff divers, tabletop flags you could raise for sopapilla delivery and the maze-like Black Bart’s cave.

But the eatertainment spot remains temporarily closed.

In 2021, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker purchased Casa Bonita out of bankruptcy and tapped James Beard award-winning chef Dana Rodriguez to take over the culinary program.

But the Mexican restaurant was so badly neglected and it’s taking longer than expected to renovate it, according to The Denver Post.

8. Thinking you can smoke pot anywhere

It’s illegal to consume pot openly and publicly in Colorado (though you’ll still probably get the occasional whiff of marijuana when you’re downtown!)

Plus, most hotels have no smoking policies.

However, you can look for 4/20-friendly Airbnbs and the historic Patterson Inn's owner Chris Chiari journey this fall is opening the nation's first legally-licensed cannabis consumption lounge in a boutique hotel.

9. Sticking to just Coors

The Coors Brewery in Golden is a popular tourist stop.

But Colorado’s craft beer scene is robust, and many craft breweries and distilleries offer tours!

If you’re looking to scratch the surface, these 23 local breweries brought home coveted medals from the Great American Beer Fest that was staged in Denver earlier this fall.

Plus, Denver has a burgeoning craft cocktail scene and a Spirits Trail to try made-in-Colorado booze.

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Mythology Distillery crafts whiskey, gin, vodka and specialty spirits.Visit Denver

10. Not respecting wildlife

Visitors make a slew of mistakes when interacting with Mother Nature when they come to Colorado, from getting too close to bugling elk in Estes Park to not bear-proofing their campsites and ignoring signs to climb on logs in Hanging Lake, disrupting the ecosystem.

Obey the signs (they’re there for a reason!) and follow these tips from Colorado Tourism for caring for wildlife.

What other mistakes do you notice tourists making when they come to Colorado?

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Brittany is a journalist in the Denver metro area with more than two decades of writing and editing experience. She covers travel, restaurants and other lifestyle topics.

Westminster, CO
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