Winter can be difficult to get through, even in normal times. Usually, we can count on trips to the theatre, Santa visits, or holiday parties to brighten our spirits. This year, as COVID-19 cases rise, we’ll have to get a little more creative.
From camping to surreal audio walking tours of the city, here are some activities you can do in Denver to maintain your sanity over the next few months while also keeping social distance.
A lot of people are struggling right now. Volunteer Match helps you find volunteer opportunities based on your skills and interests, and you can even select “virtual” or “on location” opportunities, depending on your comfort level.
Take a self-guided public art tour
Over the summer, we dropped a series of street art and mural tours, each curated by a different Denver artist. All of them can be experienced on foot, by bike or from the warmth of your car. And once you finish those, Denver Arts & Venues has its own list of public art tours.
Get to know the city better
Speaking of tours, Denver Walking Tours has a wide selection of tours of the city, including free or private tours, ghost tours, and self-guided audio tours. Denver Architecture has a series of free, self-guided audio tours of the city’s most iconic buildings and landmarks. And if you want to get to know Denver on a whole new level, the MCA has a surreal audio tour of the city created by the poet Mathias Svalina. Check out this piece we wrote about Dreaming Denver back in September.
Make the season bright(er) with some holiday lights
Tickets are going fast to Denver Zoo’s 30th anniversary Zoo Lights, which is open to members starting Nov. 23 and to non-members from December 4-31. You can also check out the Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light at its Denver location and Trail of Lights at Chatfield Farms, both of which offer otherworldly illuminations experiences, as well as concessions with holiday snacks and drinks.
Denver’s 110-foot tall “Mile High Tree” is back this year, with added safety measures like 6-feet standing markers, limits on group sizes, a face covering mandate and staff on hand to enforce the rules. On select dates, from Nov. 20 to Jan. 2, you can visit the tree at 16th St. Mall on Welton Street to experience an immersive light and music show, and the rest of the time it can be enjoyed from a distance.
9NEWS’ Annual Parade of Lights is now a stationary parade. All of the classic floats from years past will be displayed around downtown for several weeks, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31.
Mini golf with a holiday twist
Adventure Golf and Raceway in Westminster does Holiday Light-themed mini golf with festive snacks and beverages, including spiked hot chocolate for adults. It’s an outdoor activity with built-in distancing from other pods, since groups are spaced out between holes. The lights will be up from Nov. 6 to Jan. 10.
Outdoor art installations
Understudy is an art incubation run out of the Colorado Convention Center. Lately, they’ve been displaying their installations in a fishbowl format: Guests can stand on the sidewalk and safely look in on the exhibit through the glass walls of the CCC. Understudy’s latest installation, Lumonics Mind Spa, is a series of soothing light sculptures that can be enjoyed any time of day, but is best experienced at night. The installation launches on Nov. 27 and runs through Jan. 30.
The Fence is an outdoor photography exhibit in Cherry Creek Park so that bikers, walkers or joggers can stop and look at the photo stories. The series, which is touring 11 cities, features the work of 40 photographers around the world. It’s only around until Nov. 30, so check it out before it moves on.
Check out the MCA’s newest exhibition
Citizenship: A Practice of Society explores our nations conflicted idea of what it means to be a citizen. The exhibition features the work of more than 30 artists, including three from Colorado. Earlier this month, we dropped a feature about one of the pieces, an interactive installation that asks visitors to sit down and have an intimate conversation. The exhibition will be up until Feb. 14. Tickets are limited and must be booked in advance.
Carne y Arena
The director behind films like “Birdman” and “The Revenant” created an intensely visceral virtual reality experience that walks guests through the experience of refugees trying to cross into the U.S. Three individuals go through at once, in separate rooms, so it’s something you can do alone. Aurora is the first stop on the experience’s North American tour, so check it out before it leaves on Jan. 30.
Holiday markets and outdoor fests
This year, the Denver Christkindl Market is moving to a more spacious open-air location at Civic Center Park. From Nov. 20 to Dec. 23, visitors can enjoy live performances, festive beverages, artisan gifts, and European cuisine at a German-style outdoor Christmas market.
Cherry Creek North will have its own market as well, as part of its Winter Wonderland celebration. Starting Nov. 19, visitors can enjoy a choreographed light show, giveaways and holiday treats and beverages, served out of an open-air market in Fillmore Plaza.
Four Mile Historic Park is having an outdoor winter festival of its own, complete with a temporary ice skating rink. December Delights will celebrate the holidays with a scavenger hunt, seasonal drinks and snacks, ice skating, kids’ craft activities, art installations by local artists, holiday lights, immersive motion-based video games, and an evening skate and DJ event for adults only. The festival runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 4 through 27, and the rink will be open Wednesdays through Sundays.
Some activities outside Denver
Ice rinks around Denver
Rinks that have announced that they’ll be open this season include Longmont Ice Pavilion, The Rink at Belmar, Acacia Park, Beaver Creek, Louisville. And Fort Collins’ Old Town Square rink offers free skating and rentals.
Hit your favorite hiking trails on snowshoes. Rent them from REI or various local outfitters. Our own Kevin Beaty went snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park for just $5 back in 2018.
Head for the hills
Grab a sled, a tube, a cardboard box, or whatever your preferred mode of snow travel, and hit one of Denver’s nearby sledding hills.
You can get up close and personal with wolves, even before they’re reintroduced into the state. The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center does $15 tours.
And the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary rehabilitates wild animals like lions and tigers and bears, as well as emus, ostriches, porcupines and alpacas. Guests can observe them safely from an elevated walkway.
DIY paint and sip
Grab some paint, a canvas, brushes and a bottle of wine, and stage your own “wine and paint night.” You can follow a video tutorial, get inspiration from Bob Ross, try to recreate a photo of your pet, or do your own thing entirely. Painting Soiree offers remote lessons, and Canvas and Cocktails sells take-home kits to accompany its virtual classes.
Check out a book (or ten)
Denver Public Library might not be fully open yet, but you can still check out books. The library allows you to hold books through its online system and pick them up curbside. And if you’re missing the feeling of browsing a selection of works within your favorite genre, you can also sign up for a curbside bundle, which includes ten library items (books, movies, music, etc.) based on your interests.
Recreate the movie theatre experience in your own home
Consider buying cheap projector and some speakers to really immerse yourself in the cinematic experience. It’s not quite the same as sitting in the dark surrounded by strangers, quietly and independently sharing in the same story, but it’s a safe way to make movie nights feel a little more special. For a more Denver-centric experience, you can look into screening Denver Film’s Virtual Cinema selections.
Bring the outside in
Now that we’re spending more time indoors, it can help to make the indoors nicer. One way to do that is to try to take elements of nature that naturally improve our mood — plants, natural light, vitamin-D — and bring them into our homes. Happy lights are supposed to mimic sunlight.
Have a camp-in
Camp in your backyard, or even in your own house! Set up a tent and sleeping bags and play some nighttime ambient sounds like crickets or rain. Set a fire in your fireplace if you have one and roast marshmallows (you can also do that in a microwave). If you have a projector, project images of the stars on your ceiling.
When the weather turns, you’ll want a way to be able to work out indoors. Good Elephant, Endorphin, Kindness Collective, and YMCA of Metro Denver have free or donation-based online classes. Shoshoni has free YouTube courses as well as live Zoom ones that start at $2, and Gravity Yoga does virtual classes for $10 on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
…or, at least check in on yourself. We’ve all been storing stress for the last few months, and even if you’re not a routine meditator, it might be worth trying a breathing exercise or a body scan every now and then. Apps like Calm and Headspace offer free meditation guides. You can also take virtual meditation classes taught by Denver locals through groups like Denver Meditation, The Meditation Place, and Shambhala.
Join a virtual book club
DPL has several book clubs for all age groups and genres. They pick a new book every Monday and send new chapters to your email every weekday. There’s also a ton of clubs on Meetup, including special interest ones (Bookish Queer Women, 19th Century Lit, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy).
If there’s something you’ve been itching to learn more about, you can take free classes on Coursera provided by Colorado universities and schools around the world. Alternatively, if you’re someone who doesn’t have the time, energy or funds to enroll in a course, you can design one for yourself. If there’s a topic that interests you, create a personalized curriculum so you can become an expert in that field! For instance, if French film is your thing, check out some texts by André Bazin, make a list of New Wave films to hit, dig up some copies of the Cahiers du Cinéma. Give yourself deadlines, and maybe even write an essay, if you’re so inclined.
Speak someone else’s language
It’s hard to learn a new language without the opportunity to practice it. Apps like Tamdem allow you to converse with native speakers, operating as a sort of virtual language exchange. There are also lots of language groups here in Denver, many of which have now gone virtual. You can find some on Meetup.
Dine-in… inside your own house
This week is Denver Restaurant Week, and multi-course meals for pickup and delivery start at $25.
Your favorite live shows are moving to radio/TV
The winter is typically one of the most exciting times for live performance. While we might not be able to pack into a crowded theatre any time soon, performance companies are finding creative ways to bring their shows to you. Colorado Ballet, for instance, will be airing a performance of “The Nutcracker” on Rocky Mountain PBS from Nov. 26 through Dec. 25.
Virtual performances of Cleo Parker Robinson’s beloved “Granny Dances to a Holiday Drum” run from Dec. 5 to Jan. 2. The Denver Gay Mens chorus will give virtual guests “A December to Remember” on Dec. 5. And starting Nov. 15, the DCPA is hosting ticketed virtual performances of “Until the Flood,” a show written and performed by the Pulitzer Prize finalist and Obie Award winner Dael Orlandersmith, based on interviews she had after the killing of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprisings that followed.