Denver, Colorado
United States of America


Denver, city in north central Colorado, capital of the state and its largest city. Denver is the commercial, financial, and cultural center of the Rocky Mountain region and the home of numerous federal government agencies and offices. The city’s dry, sunny climate is favored by tourists. Denver is known as the Mile High City, a nickname it was given because a spot on the state capitol steps is at an elevation of 5,280 ft (1,609 m), exactly one mile above sea level.

Denver is on the western edge of the Great Plains near the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The range’s snowcapped peaks rise abruptly from low foothills and provide a spectacular backdrop to the city. In the city is the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. Denver’s location on the plains gives it a climate quite different from that found in the Rocky Mountains a short distance to the west. Denver experiences more moderate temperatures and receives less precipitation. The average high temperature in January is 6°C (43°F) and the average low is -9°C (16°F). The average high in July is 31°C (88°F) and the average low is 15°C (59°F). Annual precipitation measures 391 mm (15.4 in) on average; most arrives in spring and summer months, with much of the accumulation in early spring in the form of snow.

Denver was founded in 1858 at the beginning of a regional gold rush and named after James W. Denver, territorial governor of Kansas, of which the region was still a part.

Denver and its Metropolitan Area

Denver is a spacious city of parks, tree-lined streets, old, rambling mansions, broad avenues, and modern skyscrapers. The South Platte River flows north through the city and meets Cherry Creek in downtown Denver. The city of Denver and the county of Denver share the same boundaries and cover a land area of 397.0 sq km (153.3 sq mi).

The Denver metropolitan region comprises the counties of Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Adams, and Douglas. Its land area of 9,740.1 sq km (3,760.9 sq mi) includes prairies to the east and the mountains and foothills to the west. The population of the metropolitan area has increased steadily throughout the second half of the 20th century. By 2000 nearly one-half of the state’s population resided in the Denver metropolitan region. Steady growth and housing development are eliminating the farmlands that once covered much of the area. New suburban and industrial areas spread out westward toward the Rockies, northward toward Boulder, and southward toward Colorado Springs. Principal suburban communities in the metropolitan area are Lakewood, Aurora, Arvada, Westminster, Thornton, Littleton, Englewood, and Wheat Ridge.

At the heart of Denver, just east of Cherry Creek, is the Civic Center, a rectangular expanse of lawns partially surrounded by several major public buildings. At opposite ends of the center are the City and County Building and the State Capitol, which is capped by a gold-plated dome. Near the capitol are the Colorado State Museum, the art museum, and the library. The central business district lies northwest of the Civic Center along the eastern bank of Cherry Creek. Stretching for 14 blocks through the center of downtown, the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall is lined with restaurants and shops.


Denver’s population grew by 18.6 percent during the 1990s. By 2000 the population had reached 554,636. Denver’s population decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a low of 467,610 in 1990. The city’s period of population decline mirrored the white exodus found in many other large American cities. People, businesses, and jobs migrated to Denver’s suburbs, which correspondingly witnessed enormous growth. For example, between 1950 and 2000 Aurora’s population increased from 11,300 to 276,393 and Arvada’s population increased from 2,300 to 102,153.

According to the 2000 census, whites are 65.3 percent of Denver’s population, blacks 11.1 percent, Asians 2.8 percent, Native Americans 1.3 percent, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.1 percent. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race make up 19.3 percent of the population. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 31.7 percent of the people.

Education and Culture

Since the very beginning of Colorado’s settlement, Denver has been the region’s thriving cultural hub and a regional educational center. Among the leading educational institutions are the Metropolitan State College of Denver (1963); the Denver campus (established in 1912) of the University of Colorado; the University of Denver (1864); the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (1883); and Regis University (1877). Nearby is the first campus of the University of Colorado (1876) in Boulder, and the Colorado School of Mines (1874) in Golden.

Prominent cultural institutions include the Denver Art Museum, with a fine collection of Native American art and pre-Columbian artifacts. The natural world can be explored at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science; the Denver Zoo, which emphasizes natural habitats and is considered one of the best in the country; and the Denver Botanic Gardens. The Colorado History Museum has displays showing how miners, settlers, and Native Americans lived during the early years of the state. Denver’s history can be seen in the Molly Brown House, Larimer Square, and the Byers-Evans House. Walking tours of historic areas also explore the city’s past. Most of the nearby towns have historical societies and museums, such as the Littleton Historical Museum and the Aurora History Museum. Specialized museums in the Denver area include those devoted to blacks in the West, railroads, firefighting, transportation, and miniatures and dolls. Tours of the United States Mint, the State Capitol, and the Governor’s Mansion are also available.

The Central City Opera, Opera Colorado, Colorado Ballet, and Colorado Symphony Orchestra provide a variety of programs. The Denver Center Theatre Company stages events in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the city’s principal theater complex. Other organizations, from dinner theaters to community groups, are scattered throughout the metropolitan area. The Red Rocks Amphitheater is an outstanding setting for outdoor concerts. The many universities and colleges offer an array of cultural opportunities.


Denver provides ample opportunities for recreation. The city has more than 250 urban parks and about 210 km (about 130 mi) of trails for cycling, running, and walking. Denver also has a unique collection of 51 parks in the mountains to the west, including the Winter Park ski resort and a park featuring a city-managed herd of buffalo. Cheesman Park, City Park, Platte River Greenway, Confluence Park, and Washington Park are among Denver’s best-known and largest parks. Other nearby parks and recreation areas include Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Red Rocks Park, and Chatfield State Recreational Area. The city of Denver constructed a road to the top of Mount Evans (4,348 m/14,264 ft), a paved road at the greatest elevation in the United States. National forests and Rocky Mountain National Park are also nearby.

Denver is the center of professional sports in the Rocky Mountain region. Major league teams are the Denver Broncos (football), Colorado Rockies (baseball), Denver Nuggets (basketball), and Colorado Avalanche (ice hockey). Coors Field (opened in 1995) is the home of the Colorado Rockies. The Broncos began play at the newly constructed Invesco Field at Mile High in 2001, and the Nuggets and Avalanche play at the Pepsi Center. The National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, one of the largest such shows in the country, is held every January.


Light industry, tourism, mining, and agriculture are the principal economic activities of the Denver region. Also fueling the economy are financial institutions, federal and state governments, and the corporate headquarters of numerous companies. Technology industries are important, and the region has numerous medical technology and aerospace companies. Denver is home to AT&T Broadband, one of the world’s largest providers of television, telephone, and Internet services. The city is the center of the region’s gas, oil, and coal extraction industries. Denver serves the vast Rocky Mountain region as a communications, industrial, transportation, and marketing center.

Denver has one of the largest concentrations of federal workers outside of Washington, D.C., with nearly 250 federal offices in the metropolitan area, including 30 at the Federal Center in Lakewood. The United States Mint produces much of the nation’s coins and is the best-known federal facility. Denver also has branches of the Federal Reserve Bank, United States Customs, and the federal court system. The closure of Lowry Air Base and Fitzsimmons Hospital beginning in 1995 ended a long era of military bases in the Denver area.

Denver is the transportation center of the Rocky Mountain region. The vast Denver International Airport, opened in 1995, is one of the most modern in the United States, and several other smaller airports serve the metropolitan area. Three interstate highways (I-25, I-70, and I-76) pass through Denver. Several railroads provide freight services, and the city is a major stop for Amtrak passenger trains. In 1994 a light-rail transportation system was opened for passenger travel. Numerous trucking lines link Denver with other cities.


The City of Denver and Denver County were merged in 1902 and operate under a single government composed of a mayor and council. The nonpartisan mayor and council members are elected to four-year terms. The mayor exercises strong executive powers and the council acts as the legislative body. Eleven council members are elected by district and two are chosen citywide. There are several metropolitan government agencies, including the Metropolitan Sewage District, Denver Fire Academy, Regional Service Authority, and Regional Transportation District.


Cheyenne and Arapaho visited the Denver area for decades before the first white trappers and explorers passed by the site. Word of the discovery of gold in 1850 by a California-bound group eventually resulted in the arrival of a party of prospectors led by William Green Russell in 1858. They too found gold and the news spread, beginning the “Pikes Peak or Bust” gold rush. Two little settlements, Denver and Auraria, grew near the gold discoveries. They merged and incorporated as the city of Denver in 1860. Denver grew as a destination point and shipment gateway for the mountain mining communities to the west. Denver was designated the territorial capital in 1867. However, because of rivalries between towns, Denver did not become the official state capital until a special election in 1881, five years after Colorado achieved statehood in 1876.

The arrival of two railroads in 1870 assured Denver’s prosperity. The discovery of silver near Leadville in the late 1870s provided the money to turn the town into the region’s major city. Horace Tabor built the Tabor Grand Opera House and five-story Tabor Block in Denver with part of his silver fortune. Denver’s population jumped from 4,759 in 1870 to more than 106,000 in 1890. The crash of the silver markets in 1893 severely hurt the community. Silver mines closed and banks folded, bringing to an end a boom that started a decade before. Denver would go through several boom and bust periods in the century that followed.

World War II (1939-1945) was an important period in the history of Denver. Many federal offices moved to the city during the war, relocating away from the coasts to the perceived safety of the country’s interior. During the war Denver was referred to as the nation’s “second capital” because of its concentration of federal facilities. Manufacturers geared up to produce war materials, and important military installations were built near the city. After the war, Denver and its suburbs entered a vigorous period of growth and development.

Today Denver faces the challenges similar to all large urban areas, including pollution, overburdened transportation systems, crime, rising poverty, and a changing economy. Denver has had some success in facing these problems. In the mid-1980s the city recorded 49 days in which air quality failed to meet acceptable quality standards; by the mid-1990s the days with poor air quality had been reduced to two. The vast Rocky Mountain Arsenal, adjacent to the city and once home to the manufacture of chemical weapons, is being cleaned up and rehabilitated as a wildlife refuge. In the first five years of the 1990s, Denver’s leadership showed great faith in the future by building a new airport, baseball stadium, light-rail system, convention center, and revitalizing the downtown district.