As the school year winds down, summer in The Mile High City is about to heat up. Between blockbuster interactive exhibitions, exciting new festivals, kid-friendly attractions and plenty of urban adventures, Denver is the perfect spot for a family summer vacation.
“Denver is a perfect choice for families, and summer is a great time to explore everything there is to do here” says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau. “From our 300 days of sunshine and warm, Western hospitality to family-friendly festivals, attractions and outdoor adventures, The Mile High City a great destination for all ages.”
Below are just some of the things to do and see in Denver this summer. For more ideas, including hotel deals, go to the VISIT DENVER website.
Degas: A Passion for Perfection (through May 20) – Denver Art Museum is the only U.S. venue to host Degas: A Passion for Perfection, will showcase prolific French artist Edgar Degas’ works from 1855 to 1906. More than 100 works consisting of paintings, drawings, pastels, etchings, monotypes, and sculptures in bronze will be on view. The exhibition will focus on the most prominent and recurring themes throughout Degas’ 60-year career. These include his interest in learning from the art of the past and that of his contemporaries, a passion for horses, and his strong interest in opera and dance. Families are always welcome at the Denver Art Museum, and kids under 18 visit for free. The museum is home to everything from world-class traveling exhibits to daily activities such as coloring, costume creation and building in the Just for Fun Center, to weekend activities; there is something for every guest, every day. Note: Degas: A Passion for Perfection is a special, ticketed exhibition, and there is a fee to view it for guests ages six and older. The rest of the museum is open via general admission.
Creatures of Light (through June 10) – Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s new exhibition Creatures of Light explores the mysterious world of bioluminescence, visible light generated by living things through a chemical reaction. Lifelike models, spectacular immersive environments and simulations, unusual animals, videos, and engaging hands-on activities create an enlightening experience. The exhibition features a dark cave illuminated by glowworms, an interactive “lagoon” and more.
Dead Sea Scrolls (through September 3) – The regional premiere of the exhibition that has captivated millions around the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see authentic Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient manuscripts that include the oldest known Biblical documents dating back over 2,000 years. The scrolls are dramatically presented featuring carefully regulated individual chambers, along with the full English translation. In addition, the largest collection of artifacts from the Holy Land ever assembled for display allows guests to explore the traditions, beliefs and iconic objects of ancient Israel that continue to impact world cultures today, including inscriptions and seals, weapons, stone carvings, terra cotta figurines, coins, shoes, textiles, mosaics, ceramics and jewelry.
Pixelated: Sculpture by Mike Whiting (April 28 – September 23) – Pixelated: Sculpture by Mike Whiting will explore the relationships between the natural world and the artificial world of digital media this summer at Denver Botanic Gardens. Whiting’s sculptures also represent the intersection of two distinct visual styles: 8-bit pixel graphics—which have enjoyed a recent resurgence in games like Minecraft—and minimalist sculpture. Technological limitations in early video games reduced the graphics to simplified shapes, while the minimalist art movement created artworks that purposely lacked detail. Pixelated investigates the opposite intents of these two artistic approaches that result in a strikingly similar visual outcome.
America’s Musical Journey (through December 31) – On the IMAX screen at Denver Museum of Nature & Science, experience the sounds of jazz, blues, zydeco and old-time country music, and see how they have shaped our nation’s distinctive musical heritage. In America’s Musical Journey, singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc takes viewers to vibrant places where American music was born, from New Orleans to New York City. Meet artists, music makers, and innovators who are shaping culture today with the creative risk-taking spirit that has always characterized America.
Rodeo All-Star Weekend (April 13-14) – Highlighting the best in pro rodeo, the Rodeo All-Star Weekend features two days of competitions in seven popular events, including bull riding and bareback riding. In addition to the chance to see top-ranked cowboy and cowgirl athletes compete to be named Rodeo All-Star Champion, the weekend also features a fashion showcase, mutton bustin’, VIP social events and live music – including country music headliner, Ashely McBryde.
Denver Chalk Art Festival (June 2-3) – Denver’s most historic block – Larimer Square – turns into a vibrant street museum thanks to the chalk art work of more than 150 professional and amateur artists. Honoring the traditional Italian Piazza dell’Arte (“square of art”), the temporary works of art will be accompanied by music, Italian food, wine tasting tents and an art gallery, plus a kids’ corner where kids will have the chance to create chalk art of their own.
Denver Comic Con (June 15-17) – Denver Comic Con is a three-day, family-friendly fan convention at the Colorado Convention Center featuring the best in comics, along with sci-fi and fantasy TV shows, movies, Japanese animation, cosplay, toys, gaming and celebrity panel presentations. The 2018 event will feature Luke Perry, who plays Fred Andrews on the CW’s hit show "Riverdale" (and previously as Dylan on "Beverly Hills, 90210"); Gaten Matarazzo and Noah Schnapps from the Netflix series "Stranger Things"; Ron Perlman of "Hellboy" and "Sons of Anarchy" fame; Ray Park, Daniel Logan and Joonas Suotamo, who each appeared in various "Star Wars" films; Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny Weasley in all eight films in the "Harry Potter" series; and many more.
The Denver Barbecue Festival (June 15) – Mile High Stadium will be home to the inaugural Denver Barbecue (BBQ) Fest this Father’s Day weekend. The Denver BBQ Fest will bring together pitmasters from Denver and around the country to serve award-winning BBQ. The festival will also feature live music, cold drinks and BBQ tutorials and demonstrations. Admission is free.
Denver PrideFest (June 16-17) – Recognized as one of the top 10 pride events in the country, Denver PrideFest is a free, two-day festival that takes place in Denver’s Civic Center Park. The weekend features activities and entertainment for adults, kids and pets – from a Dogs in Drag Parade and the annual Gay Pride Parade to the Big Gay 5K and three stages of music and cultural entertainment. Headliners and the full entertainment lineup will be announced in April.
Independence Eve (July 3) – Held in Denver’s Civic Center Park, the annual Independence Eve celebration features a free patriotic concert, an innovative light show on the Denver City & County Building and a stunning fireworks finale over the city.
Cherry Creek Arts Festival (July 6-8) – Every Fourth of July Weekend, the Cherry Creek North neighborhood hosts the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, a world-class and award-winning display of visual, culinary and performing arts. More than five full blocks of the neighborhood feature the works of local and nationally known artisans, vendors and activities, including Artivity Avenue with interactive activities for the whole family. There are also concerts, artist demos, pop-up performances and more throughout the weekend.
Colorado Classic and Velorama (August 16-19) – Professional bicycle racing returned to Colorado in 2017 with the Colorado Classic, a series of men’s and women’s races in three Colorado cities. This year, world-class pro teams will compete in circuit races in Vail and Denver – ending in The Mile High City on the final stages. In addition to the race, there will be a three-day music, beer and food festival in the River North (RiNo) Art District for spectators and athletes with performances by Glass Animals, Cold War Kids, Vince Staples and more.
Professional Sports – Colorado Rockies, Colorado Rapids and Denver Outlaws
Denver is home to seven professional sports teams, including Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies, celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Festivities will include special events, alumni player appearances, fan gifts and more.
Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids and Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws will also have full seasons this summer. The Rapids play the Seattle Sounders on the Fourth of July, and fans can stay late to watch the fireworks display over the field after the game. The Outlaws will have fireworks after their July 4th game against the Boston Cannons, and the Rockies will have several nights of fireworks after competing against the San Francisco Giants. Schedules for all teams can be found online.
Denver Zoo is home to more than 4,300 animals representing 650 species including Asian elephants, African lions, Komodo dragons and Western lowland gorillas; and it is the greenest zoo in the country. Open daily with numerous animal shows, feedings and meet and greets, along with new animals and interactive exhibits, Denver Zoo is one of the city’s top cultural attractions.
Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park
Located in the heart of downtown Denver, Elitch Gardens is America’s only downtown theme and water park. All weekend – and all summer – long, kids of all ages can experience more than 50 rides and attractions, including the new Star Flyer thrill ride (which opened last season), 14 pint-sized adventures, exhilarating roller coasters, cool water slides, Dive-In Movies, free concerts and more. Elitch Gardens’ opening day is April 28.
Located just north of downtown, Water World features more than 45 water adventures on 64 acres of land – the largest variety of water attractions in the U.S. Families can enjoy everything from a lazy river to speed slides; children’s play adventures to Colorado’s only magnetic water coaster, the Mile High Flyer. The park features kid-friendly food vendors, but picnics are also welcome and parking is free. Opening day is May 26.
Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
Located in downtown Denver, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus features hands-on, interactive exhibits for children as young as newborns. There are also daily activities, year-round special events and always something to learn. The exhibits feature plenty of Colorado-themed activities, from climbing over “boulders” to trekking up “mountain” paths to ziplining and spelunking, all within a kid-friendly, creative and safe environment.
The Downtown Aquarium showcases more than a million gallons of underwater exhibits that highlight fascinating ecosystems from around the world. The complex houses more than 500 species of animals, the interactive Stingray Reef touch tank, the Aquarium Restaurant, Dive Lounge, shopping and amusements for the entire family.
Extreme Sports Parks
The Mile High City loves sports, and extreme sports are no exception. Denver features a collection of extreme sports parks where visitors can bike, kayak, skate and more, all within the metro area. From year-round rugby at Infinity Park to BMX and mountain biking at Evolve Action Sports Park to whitewater kayaking in the center of downtown at Confluence Park, extreme sports are readily available all around Denver.
Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre and Dinosaur Ridge
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is consistently named the top outdoor venue in the country and is on every music lover’s bucket list; it is also a family-friendly attraction day or night. Recently named to the National Historic Register, Red Rocks is a world-famous outdoor concert and recreation venue some 300 million years in the making. Families can enjoy free hiking, biking and exploring during the day; and nearby Dinosaur Ridge is also free and features trails with real dinosaur fossils. The free Visitor Center at Red Rocks features interactive educational displays and a short film on the geologic and musical history of the venue. The park is open daily; and Summer Concert Series, Film on the Rocks and event schedules can be found online.
Outdoor Movies in Denver Parks – Several Denver parks offer free or very affordable outdoor movies in the evenings, and they are an ideal way to spend time as a family. Many spots allow picnics or have food trucks, and restless young viewers have plenty of open space to expend some extra energy without disturbing a silent theater.
Free and Discounted Activities
Mile High Culture Pass
VISIT DENVER offers the Mile High Culture Pass, a three-day pass which allows admission to many of the city’s top museums and cultural attractions for a great deal. Visit the website for additional details on the attractions included and how to purchase one.
First Friday Art Walks (First Friday of every month) – Explore Denver's creative neighborhoods on the First Friday of every month when galleries, studios and cultural attractions stay open late for a mind-expanding night of art, food, drink and fun. Find the pulse of Denver's vibrant creative community year-round on the first Friday of each month in The Mile High City's seven neighborhood art districts.
City Parks & Denver Bike Trails – The Mile High City boasts more than 4,000 acres of traditional parks and parkways, which include 2,500 urban natural acres, more than 300 acres of designated rivers & trails and an additional 14,000 acres of spectacular mountain parks, plus many miles of paved, off-street bike trails. Whether families rent a bicycle through the Denver B-cycle program, create a picnic feast from their favorite food trucks or select their favorite recreation activity (kayaking, paddle boating, running and more), there is no shortage of space to enjoy for free or very low cost.