In the summer of 1858, a small group of prospectors from Georgia crossed the great plains of the Colorado Territory and made a region-changing discovery at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Gold. And although not much of the precious metal was found, the mere whisper of the word was enough to start a veritable stampede into the region. After all, the California Gold Rush had occurred just nine years earlier. You can still get a taste of Denver's golden history by following this itinerary.
Why not start your Denver experience right at the spot where Denver started? It was at Confluence Park, in 1858, at the nexus of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River that a couple of gold panners saw flecks of gold in the water, thus setting in motion the developments that would turn Denver into a world-class metropolis. Today, Confluence is one of the city's most beloved parks, with beautiful views of downtown Denver and the South Platte River's popular kayak chutes.
For the next two years, Denver was a rough and tumble pioneer town, with no real civic identity - it was essentially a collection of different camps, expanding every day with new settlers looking to make their fortune. An estimated 100,000 people rushed into Colorado between 1858 and 1860. As a result, in September 1860, the People's Government was formed in Apollo Hall, a saloon in what is now Larimer Square. Larimer Square is perhaps as far from an Old West setting as it can be today. Instead, it's filled with chic boutiques, fashionable Denverites, lavish nightclubs and fantastic restaurants.
LODO AND UNION STATION
Walk a few blocks east and you'll find yourself in the heart of Lower Downtown - now known as LoDo by Denverites. Here you can still see a great deal of architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries - much of which has been lovingly restored into restaurants, shops and office buildings, blending perfectly with the more modern architecture of today's Denver. The vintage buildings in LoDo give a good picture of the way that Denver rapidly evolved from a gold rush town to a major Western stopping point. Visitors and settlers began arriving via railroad at Union Station on Wynkoop Street in the 1880s. The original structure was destroyed by fire, but the station was rebuilt in 1894. In 2014, Union Station is poised to become yet again the hub of Denver's transportation world, as the city's innovative FasTracks initiative moves forward.
CHERRY CREEK TRAIL
Cherry Creek Trail winds its way around the city, and offers a beautiful, relaxing walk away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Of course, it wasn't always so relaxing. Back in the Gold Rush days, a flash flood swept down Cherry Creek, killing 20 people and causing a million dollars in damage. Don't worry; flash floods aren't going to happen these days. You can take your time, either on foot or on a bike, enjoying the peaceful feeling the creek imparts.
MOLLY BROWN HOUSE MUSEUM
No Gold Rush tour of Denver would be complete without a stop by the house of its most famous prospector, Molly Brown. Margaret "Molly" Brown gained wealth during Denver's gold rush days and fame as a Titanic survivor, earning her the nickname "Unsinkable Molly." The Molly Brown House Museum contains original furnishings and mementos including furniture, china, silver, artwork, photographs and textiles. Her adventurous travels often overshadowed her philanthropic and political contributions and the Molly Brown House is a great place to learn about all facets of the woman and the times in which she lived.
COLORADO STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
The Colorado State Capitol Building wasn't completed until the early 20th century, but it serves as a perfect cap to our tour of Denver's gold rush past, because of that sparkly stuff you see on the dome. Yep, it's gold. 24 kt. Gold to be exact. You can tour the building and get all the way up to the top of the dome for an unparalleled view of The Mile High City and the Rocky Mountain Front Range ...
THE HISTORY COLORADO CENTER
Celebrate Colorado's glorious landscapes on a three-story multimedia presentation. Traverse an 80-foot map of the state using a "time machine." Virtually travel the plains in a Model T Ford. Don a headlamp and descend into the hard rock mine of Silverton. Soar off the world's first ski jump in Steamboat Springs. Do all this and more among Colorado's most historic treasures. True Colorado experiences come alive at the History Colorado Center, located in downtown Denver.