Summer road trips to Colorado are a rite of passage for many Kansans, but the additions last year of a low-cost nonstop flight between Salina Regional Airport and Denver International Airport and a rail line from the airport to downtown Denver make flying to Denver an easy, affordable summer trip.
Great Lakes Airlines flies twice daily from Salina to Denver using a fleet of 30-passenger Embraer EMB-120 twin-turboprop regional aircraft. One-way fares range from $79 to $119 with seven-day advance purchase.
Denver International Airport became one of only a handful of U.S. airports with a train connecting passengers to the downtown center when the University of Colorado A Line commuter rail opened a 22.8-mile corridor. The trip between the airport and downtown Denver’s Union Station costs $9 and takes 37 minutes, with trains leaving every 15 minutes most of the day.
Combine affordable transportation with a city core full of hotels and attractions, and you can easily spend a week exploring the Mile High City without a car. Besides walking, there’s affordable and convenient public rail and bus transportation, a bike-sharing system, pedal cabs and ride-hailing options.
Here are some downtown Denver highlights this summer.
Union Station: The city’s historic train terminal reopened in July 2014 with bars, shops, a boutique hotel and restaurants, including several run by James Beard Award-winning chefs. Have a Colorado brewed beer or a handcrafted cocktail in the station’s old ticket window, enjoy a dish using honey from the building’s rooftop honey colonies, or shop at the weekly farmers’ market.
Confluence Park: The site where Denver was founded in 1858 as a gold mining camp is a river park with a man-made, whitewater kayak chute and where two of the city’s most popular biking and walking trails converge. Kayaks, tubes and bikes are available for rent. There’s a free concert every Thursday evening in the summer around dusk and an open air historic trolley car for transportation. The park is surrounded by attractions: the REI Flagship Store, Denver Children’s Museum, Downtown Aquarium and Elitch Gardens, the only downtown theme and water park in the country.
Colorado Capitol: At 5,280 feet, Denver is 1 mile above sea level. If you want to be standing a mile high while in the Mile High City, climb to the 13th step on the west side of the Colorado Capitol. Climb to the rotunda for a view of the 200 named mountains visible from the 24-karat-plated dome. Free tours highlighting the building’s construction and the state’s history are offered every hour 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday from the north entrance.
Denver Art Museum: In the same neighborhood as the capitol, known as Golden Triangle, you’ll find the Denver Art Museum. One of its two buildings resembles a titanium crystal with peaks and shards. The museum’s collection includes 70,000 artworks, including pieces representing more than 100 American Indian tribes.
Through Oct. 22, the special exhibit “Mi Tierra: Contemporary Artists Explore Place” features site-specific installations by 13 Latino artists that express experiences of contemporary life in the American West.
Coors Field: The home of the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team is in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood. Depending on where you’re walking from, you can take the free shuttle along the mile-long 16th Street Mall to get you within a few blocks of the stadium. A seat along the first base side in the upper level will give you the best view of the mountains, located behind left field. There’s also excellent views from The Rooftop, a beer garden above the right field seats that is open to anyone with a ticket.
City Park: Three miles east of downtown, reachable by city bus, is the 330-acre City Park complex resembling New York’s Central Park and where you’ll see the well-photographed view of the Denver skyline and mountain backdrop. The park offers free, one-hour dancing water, light and music shows every summer evening. You’ll also find the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the fourth largest museum of its kind in the nation, and the Denver Zoo, the fourth most-visited zoo in the U.S.
This spring, the zoo opened The Edge, a new exhibit that gives its Amur tigers twice as much outdoor space and gives visitors a closer look at the species through unique viewing areas. From July 1 to Oct. 31, the zoo’s “Dinos! Live” exhibit will feature 17 animatronic dinosaurs throughout the park.
The Museum of Nature and Science has a special “Vikings: Beyond the Legend” exhibit through Aug. 13 that features the largest collection of Viking artifacts in North America.
Denver Botanic Gardens: Also within three miles of downtown is the 23-acre Denver Botanic Gardens with 45 themed gardens including the 3-acre Mordecai Children’s Garden. Through Sept. 24, the gardens are showcasing the bolted steel plate sculptures of American artist Alexander Calder. It’s the first outdoor show in the west of Calder’s work.
Salina to Denver: Great Lakes Airlines offers nonstop daily flights out of Salina. One-way fares range $79-$119 with seven-day advance purchase. Parking is free and just outside the terminal door.
Wichita to Denver: United Airlines offers nonstop daily flights out of Wichita. A recent check of July one-way fares started at $198. There is a parking fee at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.
To plan your trip, check Denver’s tourist information at http://www.denver.org.