Denver summer 2022: Tips, tricks and saving money during a busy Colorado visit
This summer looks to be the most “normal” one we’ve had since 2019 — normal being a relative, and relatively meaningless, term in 2022.
Big openings are nigh — Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park (April 30), Lakeside Amusement Park (May 13), Water World (May 28) and more family-friendly mainstays — but so are high-country tourism bookings, large-scale outdoor events and music festivals, plus returning favorites at Civic Center that typically draw tens of thousands of visitors, such as Cinco de Mayo (May 7-8) and Denver PrideFest (June 25-26).
Here are some things to keep in mind as you navigate this wobbly, newly enthusiastic vacation season in Colorado.
Everything’s back, so be patient
We’ve all seen it, especially when trapped on the Interstate 70 corridor through the mountains, but the travel and tourism industry has recovered in a big way, with more than double the arrivals (a.k.a. trips) in January 2022 compared to 2021, or 18 million more visitors worldwide, according to the World Tourism Organization.
That amounts to more crowds than we’ve seen the past couple of summers in Colorado, not only at events but also on the roads, in airports and in will-call lines. Patience is key for your mental health and stress levels, experts say, especially for families with young kids, as staffing shortages continue to limit full-capacity at many venues, resorts, restaurants, museums and other attractions.
Denver’s quiet winter months (during ski season) flip in the summer, as mountain resorts pivot to outdoor activities and the city gets crowded with tourists and street gatherings. That means more traffic downtown, less parking at popular tourist spots like Cherry Creek Mall, and harder-to-find lawn seats at free shows from Levitt Pavilion or City Park’s Jazz in the Park. Get there early.
DIA’s traffic was way up last year, and flights between Denver and Europe in summer 2022 are expected to increase by 23% compared to the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, according to Denver Business Journal, so we can also anticipate more tourists than usual (yes, especially stoned ones). Be nice if you can. It’s our brand!
Check prices frequently
As U.S. News wrote, Denver is an enduringly popular place for conventions, so if you’re considering coming to stay in a downtown or metro-area hotel, check Colorado Convention Center’s calendar to avoid the biggest price jumps (denverconvention.com/events).
Unless you live downtown, hotel-driven staycations can be a good way to reacquaint yourself with the city’s culture, which in summer features near-daily, free live music performances, incredible patios at craft breweries (see denverpost.com/tag/outdoor-concerts or dpo.st/3jL6Lox, respectively) and self-guided walking tours of murals, historic buildings and urban bike/hiking paths.
Businesses are also offering more deals than ever to attract people back to the quieter-than-usual city core, with discounted concert tickets and drinks-included admission at pop-up events. See denverpost.com/things-to-do for our running list of activity-driven previews and Bets Bets.
Save time and money by taking public transportation; check rtd-denver.com for the most updated bus, light trail and commuter-rail times and routes. And despite the recent (and often deserved) reputation for grittiness, the 16th Street Mall, Denver Union Station, the Capitol complex, and other densely populated areas are safe to visit and hang out around during the daytime. Go to historicdenver.org and artsandvenuesdenver.com/public-art for ideas.
Save even more money, and time
A glance at the Scientific & Cultural Facilities’ free-days page will tell you what’s available to visit any given week at no cost (scfd.org/find-culture/free-days). Always-popular spots like Denver Zoo don’t have much in the way of that, but there are discounts for top-notch shows from Denver Center for the Performing Arts, free visits to Denver Botanic Gardens’ expansive Chatfield location, and plenty of reminders of what else is out there (free admission at the excellent Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, Denver Museum of Nature & Science in City Park, Clyfford Still Museum in the Golden Triangle, etc.).
There’s no way to get around the prices at some popular events — see the July 1-3 Denver Fan Expo (fanexpohq.com/fanexpodenver), the comics-rooted popular culture extravaganza that charges nearly $40-$50 per day (or $80-$90 for a three-day pass) for adults just to enter and peruse more things to buy, To be fair, that includes incredible comics and creators, panels, activities and meet-and-greet packages with Star Wars and “Lord of the Rings” celebs; kids are also a reasonable $12.
The key? Buy now before prices go up, which in this case is in June. If you’re wary of the expensive, unhealthy food and drink options at these events, also remember to fill up before or after. Our Cheap Checklist partners at milehighonthecheap.com have hundreds more, easily searchable ideas for affordable, statewide day trips and family activities.
Make a Plan B
Crafting a plan before you head out, whether on a trip to a state-certified arts district or a day-long pedestrian adventure built around a Colorado Rockies game, is essential. Part of that plan is coming prepared with hydration, sunscreen, approved items (for indoor and gated events), and timed tickets or reservations. Part of that is also setting your expectations realistically.
If you’re buying tickets to something on-site, last-minute or at the door, don’t be surprised if it’s sold out. The pandemic has encouraged advance reservations and digital tickets to replace door sales at many institutions. Also, make a backup plan to visit places around your first choice — for example, if your window to visit Meow Wolf Denver’s immersive-art installation closes, there’s the nearby Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, or the Denver Aquarium, or even Confluence Park’s fetching shores.
Bookmark hours, prices and times at your backup activities so you’re not fumbling in the moment. Map apps can be unreliable in urban-Denver’s titled grid, so don’t be afraid to ask a local or check tourism sites like denver.org for landmarks and more information.
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