Literary Tourism: A Book Lover’s Guide to Colorado’s Front Range

With my home base in Denver, I of course wanted to offer readers the best bookish sites of the town. Upon closer examination, however, I realized that while Denver proper certainly has its highlights, by expanding our range a couple hours we can hit some of the best that Colorado has to offer.

The Front Range, as I learned when I moved to CO last summer, includes the three main population centers of the state: Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs. The three cities pretty much form a 132-mile straight line down the middle of Colorado. Included in the Front Range is, naturally, the first mountain range of the eastern edge of the rockies. This is where the plains of Midwest turn into the rugged hills and mountains of the West. The Front Range includes well known spots like Pikes Peak, Mt. Evans (highest paved road in America), Boulder, and the idyllic Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Alright, now that you have your bearings, let’s get to the good stuff. We’ll work our way from north to south, and I’ll surely miss things, so let me know your literary hotspots in the comments!

1. Bizarre Bazaar – Fort Collins

bizarrebazaar

This is perhaps my favorite bookstore in Colorado. The name is obviously fantastic, but beyond that, it’s just a great used bookshop. I’m making my way through some of the classics I missed in high school and college, and I’ve gotten most of my copies right here. Living in Denver, my wife and I will gladly drive the hour-plus for a trip here (along with a beer from nearby fave Odell Brewing).

2. The Stanley Hotel – Estes Park 

We were at the Stanley over Halloween - notice the Jack Nicholson impersonator with an ax.

We were at the Stanley over Halloween – notice the Jack Nicholson impersonator with an ax.

Taking a short detour into the mountains, you’ll come upon the beautiful (and supposedly haunted) Stanley Hotel. Stephen King and his wife stayed here for a while back in the 70s and it served as the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel of The Shining. Also boasting the best whiskey bar in the state, this is a can’t-miss for book nerds. If you’re feeling bold, they offer haunted tours.

3. Sunrise Amphitheater – Boulder 

Credit: weddingmapper.com

Credit: weddingmapper.com

If you can’t already tell, I really love Stephen King. In The Stand, perhaps his most epic work, Boulder is the headquarters for the Good side (duh). Although now a popular wedding spot, Sunrise Amphitheater featured prominently as a meeting spot for both good and evil deeds.

4. Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets – Boulder 

Kerouac, and many other prominent players of the Beat Generation, were fixtures of Colorado in their heyday. While a few Denver bars have been memorialized in spirit, the Jack Kerouac School perhaps offers the most lasting legacy. Part of Naropa University, you can get your MFA in Writing and Poetics or Creative Writing. They also offer an undergraduate writing and literature program.

5. Cussler Museum – Denver 

Credit: Cussler Museum

Credit: Cussler Museum

As a huge Clive Cussler fan, his car museum is tops on my to-do list when it opens in May for the summer season. Cussler pounds out multiple books a year these days and makes a ton of cash, so he’s gotten into antique car collecting, and has decided to show off his wealth to the world for a $7 fee. What really gives this a literary connection is that there is almost always at least one antique car that features heavily in his books, especially the Dirk Pitt series. He uses his own cars as muses for his work. If I did that, a 98 Corolla would be the star – not quite as sexy.

6. Tattered Cover – Denver 

tattered

Tattered Cover is definitely my second favorite bookstore in Colorado, and without a doubt the most well known. There are a few locations, with the biggest and most historic being downtown. My personal favorite, however, is the Colfax Avenue location, which is pictured above. It’s housed in an old theater, making for a very cool atmosphere. Tattered Cover is a very well known indie shop, so it gets all the big names and book tours. They also make a great Bhakti chai if you get a chance. You can’t miss this Denver institution if you’re in town.

7. Pikes Peak – Colorado Springs

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While better known as a song, “America the Beautiful” was actually first written by Katherine Lee Bates as a poem, and only put to music later. There were actually many musical renditions before Samuel Ward’s caught on as the standard classic. Visit the top of this 14,000-foot wonder by auto or by train (or by foot for the ambitious) and see exactly what inspired Bates to write:

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!”

While the mountains and resort towns like Aspen and Vail have long been literary settings and getaways for wealthy authors, the Front Range offers a few unique visits as well for the book lovers of the world.

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