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The old and the new, the rustic and the sophisticated, the urban and the rural--you’ll find all these elements practically side by side in and immediately adjacent to the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs.

Founded in the mid–19th century by both East Coast gold-seekers and European and Asian immigrants in search of a better life, these cities on the Front Range of the majestic Rocky Mountains weren’t as wild as Colorado’s mountain towns (such as Telluride and Creede), but they did have their day. According to Denver's foremost historian, Thomas Noel, in 1890 Denver had more saloons per capita than Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. But these Colorado cities soon became home to a more sophisticated westerner--the mine owner instead of the prospector, the business owner rather than the gambler.

Today, these thoroughly modern cities have virtually all the amenities you’d expect to find in New York or Los Angeles: opera, theater, contemporary dance, art, excellent restaurants, and sophisticated hotels and convention centers. You’ll also find historic Victorian mansions, working steam trains, and old gold mines. You can go horseback riding, hiking, skiing, or shopping; do the Texas two-step to a live country band; or spend hours browsing through a huge theater-turned-bookstore, a gigantic model-train shop, or the world’s largest hardware store. You might also join the locals at what many of them enjoy most: being outdoors under the warm Colorado sun--so don’t forget your hiking boots, mountain bike, skis, sunscreen, and sunglasses.

Although Denver is certainly a city, bustling and growing, it’s still relatively manageable and fairly easy to explore. Boulder and Colorado Springs call themselves cities, but I like to think of them more as big Western towns, where the buildings aren’t very tall, there is plenty of open space, and the wilderness is easily accessible. In all three places, the residents are friendly, relaxed, and casual.

In this guide, I thoroughly explore Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. But I also look at some of the nearby attractions where the locals spend their weekends, including the state’s most-visited natural wonder, Rocky Mountain National Park.