Car Rental in Denver
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Why rent a car in Denver?
Located near the center of the state of Colorado and at the foot of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is one of the major cities of the western United States. More than 30 million people visit Denver every year, making it one of the largest tourist draws in the country. The city’s wide range of museums, bars, microbreweries and restaurants along with its arts scene are some of what brings visitors to it. However, most visit Denver for its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and the endless outdoor activities that are available all year long.
Denver is a sprawling city, and although it has a passable public transportation system (for America), there are many places that are better reached with a car. Of course, not many would dare visit without also wanting to head to the mountains if for nothing more than a scenic drive. There is little transportation in the state outside of Denver and especially to the scenic parts of the state. For instance, there is no public transportation connecting either Denver or Granby with Rocky Mountain National Park. Nor are there any connections between Grand Junction and Colorado National Monument.
One-Way Car Rentals in Denver
The most popular one-way rental options for pick up in Denver and drop off in another city include:
- From Denver to San Francisco - 49 offers from $85.94 per day
- From Denver to Los Angeles - 49 offers from $85.94 per day
- From Denver to Salt Lake City - 22 offers from $63.80 per day
- From Denver to San Diego - 52 offers from $85.94 per day
- From Denver to Rapid City - 11 offers from $90.98 per day
Top ways to enter Denver
Denver International Airport (DEN) is the largest airport in the state and the main entry point for most visitors. The airport has non-stop service to more than 200 destinations including both domestic cities and cities in Canada, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia. It is one of the busiest airports in the world. The airport only has one terminal, but different concourses. Most major rental companies have locations at the airport which can be reached with a shuttle from Level 5 of Jeppesen Terminal.
Some might fly into the states second-busiest, but much smaller, Colorado Springs Airport (COS). Most major suppliers have rental desks at the airport. It takes roughly two hours to drive from Colorado Springs Airport to downtown Denver. The ease with which you can get through the airport in Colorado Springs may make in an attractive alternative to Denver International.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr passes through Colorado on its way between Chicago and San Francisco. It stops in Fort Morgan, Denver, Winter Park, Granby (near Rocky Mountain National Park), Glenwood Springs (near Aspen) and Grand Junction. Of these, Denver is the most convenient station from which to pick up a rental car, with many rental companies having offices in the downtown area in which Union Station lies.
It is in most cases possible to bring a rental car picked up in one of the surrounding states to Colorado. Denver is well-connected to the neighboring states, with I-70 connecting the city with both Kansas and Utah and I-25 connecting Denver with Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico along with Cheyenne, Wyoming. Additionally, I-76 connects I-80 coming from Nebraska to Denver. It is worth noting that if you are coming with a rental car to Colorado you almost certainly will not be enrolled in the rental company’s toll program and should, therefore, avoid the toll roads, including E-470, and the Express Lanes completely.
The city of Denver experiences four distinct seasons that include a hot summer and potentially very cold winters. The city has pleasant spring weather when temperatures start to rise and the trees start to bloom again from April to May. Summertime in Denver can bring temperatures much hotter than one would think. The average daily high in Jully is 88°F (31°C).
The weather in winter in Colorado, even outside of the mountains, can be unpredictable in winter. Thanks to Temperatures can be -20°F (-29°C) or, thanks to the Chinook winds, in the 50s Fahrenheit (in the low teens Celcius).
The best time of year to experience Denver and Colorado is probably during fall when temperatures begin to moderate. The season also brings incredible scenery with the leaves changing in the mountains in September and then October in the city. The first snow is usually not far behind. Expect the high elevation roads in the state to close in September. The high altitude roads in the state tend to close in October or November. They generally open in May, but sometimes as late as June due to late snowfall.
Denver is one of thirteen cities that have at least one team in each of the four major sports leagues. Two of them are named after the state as a whole and two after the city. All of their respective stadiums or arenas are located downtown.
The Pepsi Center is home to both the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. The Colorado Rockies of MLB hos their home games at Coors Field. Finally, the Denver Broncos of the NFL have home games at Mile High Stadium. No matter what time of year you visit Denver, there is always a sporting event that you can attend.
Top destinations and activities
- Coors Brewery - Tap the Rockies by heading to neighboring Golden, Colorado to tour the largest single-site brewery in the world. The tour is first-come, first-served and begins in the parking lot on the corner of 13th Street and Ford Street. From there, you must take a bus to the brewery. You’ll enjoy a presentation of the history of the brewery and the process from start to finish. After the tour, you get three samples of the beer and a commemorative glass. Of course, craft beer pursuits will scoff at Coors. No worry, as there are plenty of microbreweries in town, some of which can be toured and at all of which tastings can be had.
- Denver Botanic Gardens - Located in the larger Cheesman Park just to the southeast of downtown, the Botanic Gardens. From May until September you can enjoy plants from around the world at the gardens. There are also concerts that take place in the park. The park has a small Japanese garden and a separate location in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Chatfield Farms.
- Museums - There are a plethora of museums in Denver. Many of them cover the pioneer history of the city and state. Highlights include the Denver Museum of Art, with a collection that includes artworks from all over the world, and the Children's Museum of Denver, a great educational place to go if you are traveling with kids. The Federal Reserve’s Money Museum is free to visit and includes a room with $30 million in cash.
- Denver Mint - Denver is one of six cities in the country with a United States Mint facility and one of only two that can be visited by the public. Free tours are available Monday through Thursday up to six times a day. Visit the Tour Information window starting at 7 AM to get free tickets which are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Refuge - On the way from the airport to downtown Denver, drivers pass by this national wildlife refuge that was once the site of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a chemical weapons factory of the United States Army. After extensive cleanup of the site, it was turned into a refuge to protect the many species of animals which were already living there. Later, a small herd of bison were introduced, which if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see. There are many other species of animals, all of which you may be able to see while walking around the refuge’s trails.
- Red Rocks Amphitheater - One of the most famous concert venues around, the Red Rocks Amphitheater is located just ten miles outside of Denver. The open-air venue seats less than 10,000 making it somewhat intimate. The real draw though is that it is set amongst red rocks with the mountains in the background and overlooks the city of Denver. It has been a very popular place for artists to record live performances, particularly with video due to the scenery. John Denver, Colorado’s almost native son, recorded multiple live concerts in the 70s and 80s. Though there is a concert every night of the week in summer, it is also possible to visit at other times to explore the Colorado Music Hall of Fame or eat at the Ship Rock Grille.
- Lakeside Amusement Park - Opened in 1908, Lakeside is an old-school amusement park with various rides and attractions. It is one of the oldest operating theme parks in the country. There are two options for admission. One is to pay a small fee to enter (note, this is the entrance fee, not a parking fee) and then for tickets to be used for the rides. The other option is to purchase a pass that is good for both admission and unlimited rides.
- Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum - This museum is located at a decommissioned Air Force Base east of downtown. The former airbase is preserved as a museum now. In the large hanger space, visitors can see more than fifty types of aircraft, both military and civilian. The oldest of these dates back to 1939. The B-52 Stratofortress might be the most iconic of them. The museum also contains exhibits related to both the history of flight in both air and space.
- Downtown Golden - Lying about 15 miles west of Denver at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Golden is a former mining town. It is now most famous as the home to the Colorado School of Mines and the Coors Brewery. The city is worth a visit for its historic downtown and western feel. The city hosts the Colorado Railroad Museum and the America Mountaineering Museum, both places to visit on days with bad weather. Of course, like most other Coloradian cities, the outdoors is the real draw. The city even has a white water park where you can canoe or kayak right in the middle of town.
Traffic and parking
Don’t expect to find free parking in Denver. There are unlikely to be any free parking spots in or near Downtown and any you might find in a residential neighborhood will have a posted time limit after which you must move your car. Denver now uses smart meters for parking spots which can be paid for with coins or a credit/debit card. These meters have a maximum time limit, though, after which the meter can not be topped up and you must move your car. As in other cities, there are many parking garages in the downtown area.
While previously you could park for free at night, the city has now instituted an overnight program. It now costs $6 to park on a metered street between 10 AM and 8 AM, though you don’t have to move until 10 AM. This may be useful if your hotel does not offer parking, though you should be aware of the associated risks, particularly with a rental car.
The one substantial toll road in Colorado is the E-470 which traverses the eastern portion of the Denver area as a ring road. At I-25 south of Denver, it becomes C-470 heading west which is not a toll road. At I-25 in the north, it continues as the Northeast Parkway, also a toll road. The toll on E-470 can only be paid with an ExpressToll transponder or by LicensePlateToll which takes a picture of your license plate. This requires the rental companies toll package for which the company will charge a daily fee either for every day of the rental period or every day in which a toll is incurred (depending on the company). If you fail to opt into the rental company’s toll program but pass through a toll barrier anyway, you will be charged a hefty fee.
A big caveat to this is if you happen to already have an ExpressToll account. In this case, you can add a rental car to your account BEFORE traveling on a toll road and have it billed to your account.
While the E-470 is convenient if you are traveling from Denver International Airport either south to Colorado Springs or north to Boulder of Fort Collins, it is not necessary to use the road. You must decide rather the convenience is worth the rental company’s fees or not. Be sure to avoid the road if you opt-out of the rental company’s toll program, though.
In addition to the E-470, I-25 in through Denver has express lanes whose direction changes depending on the time of day to relieve traffic congestion during peak times. While the lanes are free to use if there are three people in the car (the driver and at least two more), a transponder is required. Rental companies will likely off this, but it will come with a fee. Others can use the lanes by paying a variable toll via the ExpressToll transponder or LicensePlateToll as described above.
There is one other road that requires an admission fee to drive that is not in a national park. That is the road the Pike Peak Highway. It ascends Pikes Peak from Cascade, Colorado. It currently costs $15 per adult in summer and $10 per adult in winter and $5 for children over 6 years of age all year long. This is a winding, steep mountain road which takes about two hours to make the round trip to the summit. Be prepared with at least half a tank of gas and do not ride your brakes on the way down. A mandatory brake check is required before making the descent.
Ideas for a day-trip
With the foot of the Rocky Mountains at the border of the city, there are countless destinations for day trips from Denver.
- Rocky Mountain National Park - The third-most visited national park in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit when in Colorado. The park can be reached in about an hour and a half from Denver. Almost every visitor will drive the Trail Ridge Road (see Top Driving Routes below) through the park. Aside from driving, hiking is the most popular activity. The park is open year-round, though, so cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also popular.
- Skiing - Colorado is the most popular ski destination in the United States, and by quite a large margin. Though known for its backcountry, adrenaline-pumping white powder, there are also a plethora of bunny hills and schools for learning. Aspen is probably the most famous of Colorado’s ski resorts, being a destination for celebrities and many wealthy individuals. Vail and Breckenridge are also well known. The only resort to offer night skiing is Keystone. Many ski resorts are within an hour or two dive of Denver.
- Pawnee National Grassland - In the far northeast corner of the state bordering Wyoming and Nebraska, Pawnee is flat grassland with a couple of impress buttes. The grassland being popular for birds, there is a bird trail and associated campground. Of course, the most popular hike is the hike to reach the buttes.
- Colorado Springs - The second-largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs is the main center of the south-central region of the state. Colorado Springs is perhaps best known for being the home of the Air Force Academy, which can be visited by tourists. Like other places in Colorado, the city itself is not the biggest attraction; the nearby nature is. In fact, you don’t even have to actually leave the city for stunning nature. The Garden of the Gods, a huge area of sandstone formations with multiple hiking trails, is in the city as is the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Head just outside to the stunning mountains, such as Pikes Peak, the only 14er in the area. You can reach the peak by driving, taking the cog railway or hiking up.
- Fort Collins - Roughly 60 miles north of Denver, Fort Collins home to Colorado State University. The primary attraction for tourists is the Historic Old Town which is full of shops and restaurants. The city is also home to one of the first microbreweries in the country, New Belgium Brewing Company whose Fat Tire beer is now sold across the country. There are six daily 90-minute tours that are free, though they should be booked in advance. Three other breweries or brewpubs are located nearby and many others can be found in the city.
- Fourteeners - 14ers are mountains in the United States whose summits are above 14,000 ft. (4267m) in elevation (and generally with at least 300ft of topographic prominence). Though the highest peaks are located in Alaska, Colorado has more 14ers than any other state. It is also the only state where the Rocky Mountains rise above 14,000ft. Mount Elbert is the highest of them and therefore the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains.
It is very popular to climb one, a few, or all of the 14ers. This is not only for experienced mountain climbers though. For instance, Mount Elbert and most of the other 14 14ers in the Sawatch Range are relatively easy climbs in that no technical equipment or skills are necessary. They do require long, strenuous hikes, though, so you should be in good physical shape. The Denver Post has a good map of all of the fourteeners.
Most popular cars
As road trips through the state are popular with renters in Colorado, it is no surprise that larger cars are generally preferred. The most popular class of rental car is the intermediate of which the Kia Forte is a good example. Economy cars like the Toyota Yaris and Full-Size cars like the Toyota Camry are also extremely popular amongst renters.
Colorado, and Denver specifically, is a great place to begin (or end) a road trip through the Southwest of the United States. One-way rentals from and to Denver International Airport are readily available. Below is a description of the surrounding states and why they are worth including in a western road trip itinerary. See our article on Colorado for more about the state as a whole.
Utah, the Mormon state, is an outdoor paradise. If entering from Colorado, you’ll likely arrive on I-70. Though the capital of the state and most of its population lie in the northern part, most of the tourist attractions can be found in the southern part. Of particular note in the northern part are the Uinta Mountains with the highest mountain in the state (Kings Peak), the ski resorts clustered around Park City, and the Great Salt Lake.
While all of these are worth the detour north, the five national parks are all located south of I-70. The first you’ll come across when arriving from Colorado is Arches National Park known for its plethora of natural arches including the famous Delicate Arch. From there, it takes only a short drive to reach Canyonlands National Park full of canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The town of Moab between the parks makes for a great place to spend the night.
Next when heading west along I-70 is Capitol Reef National Park. This park is defined by the Waterpocket Fold, a geological warp in the earth’s crust that is about 100 miles long. It gets its name from a line of white domes that remind of the United States Capitol building. From there, travelers can leave the Interstate behind and take the scenic State Road 12 southwest to Bryce Canyon National Park which is centered around Bryce Canyon which is actually a group of natural amphitheaters and not a canyon. Finally, you should head further southwest to Zion National Park, whose prominent feature is Zion Canyon.
Of course, this only scratches the surface of the natural beauty of the state of Utah. Many National Monuments, state parks, and monuments on Native American land can also be enjoyed. Visitors could easily spend weeks to months enjoying the state’s nature or come back time and time again. Before heading on to Las Vegas, it’s probably best to stop at the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park, the second most visited national park in the U.S., is likely to be the primary reason many visit Arizona. The majority of the amenities are located on the South Rim of the canyon. This means that the majority of the visitors go here. The North Rim is more remote and inaccessible during winter. However, if you are traveling during summer and coming form Utah, it may be rewarding to make the trip to enjoy the canyon without the crowds. If heading to the South Rim, take US-89 around from Utah. If venturing to the North Rim, continue on US-89A at Kanab.
Part of the Grand Canyon is located within two Native American reservations. One of the most popular attractions at the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk, is located within the Hualapai Indian Reservation. This is a glass walkway extending into the Grand Canyon. Although an interesting experience, some may find the entrance fees too steep.
Las Vegas - Sin City, U.S.A - was once just a gambling town, now a resort mecca. Travelers flock from all over the world to partake in the cuisines of celebrity chefs, lounge by the luxurious pools, shop in high-end shops, experience the plethora of entertainment options, and do things that you can do nowhere else. Head northwest of Phoenix on US-60 along the Joshua Tree Parkway to reach it in about five hours.
After Las Vegas, the next convenient point for a road trip is Southern California. The natural starting point would probably be Death Valley National Park, home to the lowest point in the United States, Badwater Basin. This point is just 85 miles from the highest point in the lower 48, Mount Whitney which is in Sequoia National Park. After this, travelers should head to Los Angeles and experience the hip city and the home of the television and film industries. From there, a trip down to Orange County including possibly Disney Land is warranted. San Diego is also a popular place for travelers, after which they can stop by Joshua Tree National Park on the way to Arizona.
From Southern California, I-10 and I-8 head toward Phoenix, Arizona's capital and one of the fastest-growing cities in the western United States. From there you can head north to Prescott or Sedona for great hiking and resorts. The state also has lots of ghost towns to experience. When you’re done with the desert and ghost towns, head through Tucson to El Paso, Texas.
West Texas - Though the eastern part of Texas is 1,000 miles away from Phoenix, West Texas is actually pretty close and should certainly be in the running to be part of any western road trip. Once you reach El Paso, head south to Big Bend National Park which is one of the least visited national parks in the country due to its remote location. Neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park makes for a great scenic drive and a great place to camp and hike. To the north of those parks, stop by Marfa to see its famous lights (even if they are just car headlights or small fires), visit historic Fort Davis, enjoy the stars in the night sky at the McDonald Observatory and finish at Guadalupe National Park.
Located east of Arizona, New Mexico is similar in many ways. Though there are many other sites and a traveler could spend weeks in the state, here is a quick set of highlights as if starting from the Texas border. Just north of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where you can experience the crowds of bats emerging from Carlsbad Cavern at sunset from May to October and enjoy walking down to the Big Room at that or any other time of the year. From there, a short drive north will bring you to Roswell, famous for an alleged UFO crash. Even the McDonalds in town is alien-themed. A great place if you can take it tongue in cheek.
From Roswell, head west along US-380 to Lincoln, famous for its ties to Billy the Kid. Further along, you’ll pass by historic Fort Stanton. And not far after that is Captain, the hometown of Smokey the Bear. Of course, this route skipped White Sands National Monument, though you can head south once reaching US-54 to get to it. If skipping it, then continue to I-25 and go north until you reach US-60. Head through the quaint town of Magdelena to the Very Large Array, a radio astronomy observatory which can be toured.
At this point, turn around and go back to I-25 to reach Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the largest city and the capital city of the state, respectively. Sante Fe is particularly interesting for its arts and cultural scene. This part of the state is also where the Rocky Mountains begin to rise up out of the desert. Taos is the most famous resort town in the mountains in New Mexico. From there, it’s time to head back into Colorado.
Car Rental Prices in Denver
- Convertibles - from $212 per day
- Large cars - from $168 per day
- Medium cars - from $147 per day
- Vans - from $224 per day
- Premium cars - from $196 per day
- Small cars - from $143 per day
- SUVs - from $224 per day
Top 6 Cities near Denver
Colorado Springs Car Rentals from $133.43 per day117.4 km / 73.0 miles away
Montrose Car Rentals from $133.43 per day315.7 km / 196.1 miles away
Aspen Car Rentals from $187.68 per day201.2 km / 125.0 miles away
Grand Junction Car Rentals from $133.43 per day340.7 km / 211.7 miles away
Durango Car Rentals from $162.11 per day403.3 km / 250.6 miles away
Broomfield Car Rentals from $40.75 per day37.8 km / 23.5 miles away
Top 7 Locations near Denver
Denver Airport Car Rentals from $69.07 per day6.1 km / 3.8 miles away
Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport Car Rentals from $40.75 per day37.8 km / 23.5 miles away
Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport Car Rentals from $46.13 per day76.7 km / 47.6 miles away
Colorado Springs Airport Car Rentals from $133.43 per day111.5 km / 69.3 miles away
Montrose Regional Airport Car Rentals from $133.43 per day311.8 km / 193.7 miles away
Grand Junction Regional Airport Car Rentals from $133.43 per day338.2 km / 210.1 miles away
Durango La Plata County Airport Car Rentals from $162.11 per day398.0 km / 247.3 miles away
Map of Car Rental Locations
Which is the cheapest month to rent a car in Denver?
What’s the usual rental length in Denver?
What's the most popular month to rent a car in Denver?
Most Popular Car Models of Rental Suppliers
|Routes Car Rental||Kia Sorento||5||1||SUVs|
|Routes Car Rental||Jeep Wrangler||4||2||SUVs|
|Routes Car Rental||Dodge Durango||5||3||SUVs|
|Routes Car Rental||Jeep Gladiator||4||5||Large cars|
|Ace Rent a car||Chrysler Pacifica||4||4||Vans|
|Routes Car Rental||Infiniti QX60||4||4||SUVs|
|Routes Car Rental||Dodge Grand Caravan||5||2||Vans|
|Routes Car Rental||GMC Sierra||4||2||Premium cars|
|Thrifty||Mazda 3||5||3||Large cars|
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