When it comes to low-cost entertainment, Colorado is queen. There are so many different free things to do in Colorado year-round, you’ll find it easy to plan a budget-friendly adventure.
Making the most of your time in Colorado shouldn’t break the bank. Sure, more and more outdoor activities are becoming permitted, fee-based things (conservation costs money), but that doesn’t mean you won’t find plenty of awesome free activities in Colorado to choose from.
As a local of 13 years, I spend a lot of my time recreating around the Centennial State at little to no cost. So if you’re looking to explore the free things to do in Colorado like a local, not a tourist, then you’re in the right place.
About this Guide to Free Things to Do in Colorado
Inside this local guide to free things to do in Colorado you’ll find:
- Top free things to do near Denver
- Free activities in Colorado Springs
- Additional free things to do in Colorado
- When to visit Colorado
What is There to Do in Colorado for Free?
When it comes to free activities in Colorado, there are plenty of awesome adventures to be had. Colorado is an outdoor place, so many of the budget-friendly activities revolve around getting outside and soaking up that vitamin D. A few of the top free things to do in Colorado include:
- Scenic drives
- People watching in outdoor districts
- Visiting open space parks
The Top Free Things to Do Near Denver
Denver has grown a lot over the years. Filled with just enough bustle to feel like a city, there are plenty of free things to do in Denver.
1. Visit the US Mint
Want to literally see how money is made? Head to the Denver US Mint. Here you’ll see how America’s pocket change is made. Conveniently located near the famous 16th Street Mall (free shuttle rides available), this is one of the top things to do in Denver. Tours are offered during specific times and require an advanced reservation.
Local Tip: Due to the pandemic, no tours are being given at this time.
2. Go for a Free Brewery Tour
Home to over 148 breweries and counting, Denver knows their sudsy libations. You can tour a LOT of these breweries for the fine price of $0. Some even include a few free samples too! A few fan favorites include:
- Coors Brewery in Golden: The largest brewery in the world
- Wynkoop Brewing Company
- Great Divide Brewing Company
- Denver Beer Company
Each brewery has its own set of rules and times for its tours, so be sure to check with the individual brewery before showing up.
3. Visit Red Rock Amphitheater
The average cost of a concert at the famous Red Rock Amphitheater is…well…expensive, but did you know that it’s completely free to visit Red Rocks during the daytime? If there is no scheduled ticketed event you’re free to roam this world-famous amphitheater.
Walk down the stairs and look up while imagining a full house. It’s not just a workout to visit this famous concert venue, but it’s also home to a few of the best easy hikes near Denver too. All are completely open to you for no cost.
4. Attend the First Friday Art Walk on Sante Fe
The first Friday of every month marks a special occasion in the Mile High City. Art galleries all over town throw their doors open and allow visitors to come and browse the latest exhibits for free. As one of the best free things to do in Denver, mark the first Friday of the month and cruise down the Sante Fe Arts District to scope some art.
Art walks happen every first Friday of the month from 5:30 to 9:30 pm.
5. Visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
Watch the buffalo roam just outside of the Denver metro area. Visiting the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge outside of Commerce City is completely free.
All of the hiking trails are rated as easy and each season boasts different wildlife to enjoy. There are even self-guided Wildlife Drive Tours available too. With over 15,000 acres of land, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal is one of the top free things to do in Colorado any time of year.
6. Enjoy Jazz in the Park
City Park in Denver hosts a bundle of free concerts every Sunday during the sweltering summer months. City Park Jazz meets every Sunday from 6 pm to 8 pm to celebrate different jazz artists from across the city. These much-loved free concerts in Denver are a time-honored tradition. So pack a picnic and your sunglasses to enjoy that summer vibe.
7. Float Down a River
As the snow melts off the mountains, the rivers of the foothills swell with water and…tubers. In fact, tubing in Colorado is quite popular in late spring and early summer past time. The best part? It’s completely free. If you don’t have a tub, inner tire tubes are a cheap alternative. A few popular places to plop in include:
- Clear Creek Canyon in Golden
- The South Platte River, Deckers
- Boulder Creek in Boulder
- South Platte River Littleton
- St Vrain Creek, Lyons
- Cache la Poudre River, Fort Collins
Keep in mind that currents can get quite fierce and some areas are not suitable for children. Always do your homework before you plop in and float
Free Things to Do in Colorado Springs
With all of the things to do in Colorado Springs, you’ll be surprised to learn that many of them are totally free. Here’s a look at a few must-see spots in Colorado Springs you can’t miss.
8. Hike at Garden of the Gods
Gaze upon dreamy red rock towers butted against snow-capped peaks at the famous Garden of the Gods. Long known as one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, the Garden of the Gods is also completely free. Arguably one of the top free things to do in Colorado if you’re into dreamy landscapes, this is a must-see.
Local tip: To avoid the throngs of people, consider visiting in the cooler months. As one of the top things to do in Colorado Springs in winter, you’ll want to scope out this incredible park dusted in snow.
9. Sip Mineral Water at Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs is well-known for those threatening stairs at the Manitou Incline, but did you know that you can score free mineral water in the city? Sure, you may have to pay for a heinous stair climb these days, but there are 8 natural springs throughout the city where you can fill up on refreshing mineral water.
They say each one has a different taste, so go on a tasting tour and decide for yourself.
10. Visit the Painted Mines Interpretive Park
As one of the top Colorado Springs hikes, a visit to the Painted Mines Interpretive Park needs to be on your list. Featuring several easy trails, that wind their way through a canyon that looks more like a coloring book, the Painted Mines Interpretive Park is entirely free to visit. Don’t miss out on this top free activity in Colorado Springs.
11. Check Out the Air Force Academy
Home to world-famous architecture and one cool school, the Air Force Academy is a great option for free things to do in Colorado. Visitors can check out Barry Goldwater Visitor Center and learn all about cadet life, check out aircraft and even have a picnic. The Cadet Area has plenty of walking trails too.
No trip to the Air Force Academy is complete without stopping at the chapel. As a top American architectural monument, it’s pretty sweet to see, even if it is closed for a private event.
Local Tip: The Cadet Chapel is currently closed for repairs and isn’t scheduled to reopen until 2023.
Other Awesome Free Things to Do in Colorado
With so many different things to do in Colorado, we are just scratching the surface between Denver and Colorado Springs. These top free attractions in Colorado get you out and about without breaking the bank.
12. Enjoy Free Admission Days at Colorado’s 4 National Parks
Colorado is home to 4 different national parks and eight national monuments. During a few select days of the year, you can access these public spaces for free. So if you’re looking to spend the day in Rocky Mountain National Park for free, mark your calendar.
Just keep in mind that free parks days are extremely popular, so expect a lot of people. 2022 free dates include:
- Martin Luther King Jr Day: Jan 17th
- April 16th: Start of National Park Week
- August 4th: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 24th: National Public Lands Day
- November 11th: Veterans Day
Local Tip: If you pick up an America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($85 with fees) it’s good for 12 months and gets you into over 400 parks across the country. It’s a great budget-friendly option if you’re visiting lots of national parks and monuments in a 12 month period.
13. Go for a Scenic Mountain Drive
Okay, so if we’re getting technical, you have to pay for gas. But, if you’re looking to score beautiful mountain views without an entrance fee, then look no further than these amazing scenic drives in Colorado:
- Loveland Pass near Idaho Springs
- Guanella Pass
- Kenosha Pass
- Cottonwood Pass
- The Million Dollar Highway and San Juan Scenic Byway
- Alpine Loop: 4×4 with high clearance required, summer only
- Peak to Peak Scenic Byway
14. Visit Bishop’s Castle
Did you know that one of the most unique things to do in Colorado is completely free? Yup, that’s right. Head out to the weird and wild Bishop’s Castle, a man-made castle of wild proportions. The castle is open year-round and offers a glimpse into the unique off-the-grid world of fantasy.
Featuring a fire-breathing dragon, bridges, ballrooms, and 3-story towers, this is a must-see free Colorado attraction.
15. Ride the Breckenridge Gondola
There are a lot of things to do in Breckenridge, but one of the most entertaining ways to jet across town is to ride the gondola. Usually, a scenic gondola ride costs a pretty penny, but you can ride the Breckenridge Gondola completely for free. Open (almost) year-round as a way in and out of town, this free ride takes you into the heart of the Tenmile Range.
So hitch a ride on the Breck Connect to enjoy hanging around downtown Breckenridge. Dogs are welcome on the gondola. Right now hours vary based on Covid requirements so call 800-536-1890 for hours.
Local Tip: The gondola closes for maintenance from the time the ski resorts close until mid-June and then from mid-September until the resort opens again.
16. Take a Wildflower Hike
One of the absolute best free things to do in Colorado is to hit the trails. Colorado hikes are an incredible experience, and many of the top trails don’t require you to spend a dime. Of course, many are in restricted, paid, or permitted areas, but if you’re looking to enjoy the summer blooms, there are plenty of options for you.
July and early August mark wildflower season in the high country. The mountains burst with color as the yellows, orange, and purple hues poke out of the deep green mountain valleys. Many of the most beautiful wildflower hikes in Colorado are completely free.
Local Tip: Trampling flowers in the alpine destroys decades of growth. Stick to the trails, and pick up after yourself (including your pet).
17. Visit a Ghost Town
As people pushed west in search of riches, Colorado mining boomed. But like every big boom, there were lots of busts too. The result? Infamous ghost towns in Colorado. Since many of these towns are totally free to visit, why not add it to the list of budget-friendly activities in Colorado?
A few awesome ghost towns that you can visit for free include:
- St Elmo and Tin Cup near Buena Vista
- Winfield near Buena Vista: 4WD, high clearance required
- Animas Fork near silverton: SUV recommended
- Teller city near Walden
- Mayflower Gulch and the Boston Mine: On foot
18. Enjoy Camping for Free
If there’s one thing that this mountain state is known for, it’s free camping. Free camping in Colorado means you’ll need to bring in and out all of your supplies. There are no restrooms or facilities so be prepared to know how to Leave No Trace.
But for the intrepid traveler, you can have an entire weekend getaway in Colorado without paying for lodging. All you need is a tent or a car that you can sleep in.
19. Stargaze in Dark Sky Territory
So the cities in Colorado are booming, but there are still several slices of designated Dark Sky Territory in Colorado. The Dark Sky designation means that there is no light pollution affecting the stary nights. One of the top places to enjoy stargazing in Colorado is the Smokey Jack Observatory outside of Westcliffe, Colorado.
This tiny, unassuming mountain town is home to some of the best stargazing in the country. Their array of free events from May through early October is utterly awesome if you want to discover what lies in the great beyond.
Local Tip: If your budget allows for it, consider leaving a donation so that these programs can continue to be low-cost for everyone.
20. Summit a Colorado 14er
If you’ve got summit dreams, then you’ll want to tackle the challenge of hiking to the top of one of the 50-plus Colorado 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet tall). But don’t take this challenge lightly. Even the easiest 14ers in Colorado are super difficult. Only attempt these hikes if you’ve got ample mountain hiking experience under your belt and you understand how to be safe while hiking a 14er.
Local Tip: Many of the 14ers near Denver are now paid, permitted hikes, so do your homework before you set out.
21. Check Out the Continental Divide
The Continental Divide rips through Colorado, dividing the rivers that flow east and the ones that flow west. It’s kind of like the Equator of North America. Although it’s not officially labeled everywhere you go, you can gaze upon this glorious mountain ridge that runs north and south across North America for free in several places across Colorado.
A few popular points to see this epic landmark for free are:
- Loveland Pass: Paved Road
- Independence Pass: Paved Road
- Grays Peak: very challenging hike
- Rabbit Ears Pass: Paved Road
- Collegiate Peaks Wilderness: hiking, camping, and scenic driving
- Monnarch Pass: Paved road
What is the Number 1 Attraction in Colorado?
In terms of the sheer number of visitors, Rocky Mountain National Park is the number one attraction in Colorado. With over 4 million visitors annually, it’s the most popular attraction in the state. Other popular attractions include:
- Hanging Lake hike near Glenwood Springs
- Maroon Bells in Aspen
- Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
When is the Best Time to Visit Colorado?
Colorado is an amazing destination to visit year-round. If you’re looking for free things to do in Colorado, you may want to stick to June through September, since many of the top free attractions are dependent on snow-free access.
Colorado in spring is pretty mellow. The weather can be quite variable, but snow is common in the mountains through May, with most of the higher elevations melting out by the beginning or middle of June.
Summers are an amazing time to visit Colorado, but it’s exceptionally crowded. This also means higher prices if you’re on a budget. However the mountains are warmer, open, and the wildflowers are in bloom.
Fall in Colorado is a dream, with stunning orange and yellow aspen displays. It’s a popular time for locals to get out and explore, so expect crowds.
Winters tend to be cold and snowy. Although it is sunny and 50-degree days aren’t uncommon at lower elevations. It’s definitely the time to ski, however, there are plenty of things to do during winter in Colorado that doesn’t require you to pay $200-plus for a lift ticket.
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Additional Local Colorado Travel Resources
Wanna visit Colorado like a local? You’re in good company. I’ve lived in Colorado for well over a decade and I’ve got a lineup of kick-ass travel resources for you.