Do you need a car in Denver?> USA > Denver ( DEN )
Denver Car hire summary
Overall drive ratingBased on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]
- Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Denver but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
- Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
- Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
- A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.
Cheapest rate for one weekBased on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]
- This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Denver during the quiet season.
- You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
- In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!
How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]
- During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
- For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.
Free parking scoreBased on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 407 - of which 245 have free parking. [full notes - parking]
- Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
- If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
- The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Denver, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
- Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
- By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
Denver public transport quick facts
Train scoreHigher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.
- [full notes trains]
- Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
- Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
- Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.
Water travel scoreThis is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Denver
- [full notes - water score]
- The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.
Overall public transport scoreThis is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.
- [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
- Is public transport in Denver good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
- Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Denver because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.
Walking and Cycling Overview
Active travel scoreThis overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Denver. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.
- [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city / country).
- A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Denver, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.
Car rental in - Denver Need v worth & should!Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Denver", "is it worth hiring a car in Denver", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Denver?
Do you need a car in Denver?This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads.
Is it worth hiring a car in Denver?Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
Should you rent a car in Denver?Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
- By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
What does everyone else do?
Do most people hire a car in Denver?This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
Visitors per year (million)
- [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
- You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.
Who is travelling?Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:
Is it worth renting a car in Denver if I am a solo / budget traveller?Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.
Is it worth renting a car in Denver for 2 people travelling together?A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.
Is it worth renting a car in Denver for families?Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.
- [full notes - group type, size & budget]
Where are you staying?The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:
Do you need a car in Denver if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next.
Do you need a car in Denver if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.
Do you need a car in Denver if we are staying in a rural area?Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.
- [full notes - group type, size & budget]
What is your attitude towards driving?We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Denver, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.
Should I hire a car in Denver if I prefer not to drive?This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.
Should we rent a car in Denver if we are easy either way?This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.
Should I rent a car in Denver if I prefer to drive?For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Denver, or are there good reasons not to?
- [full notes - group type, size & budget]
The mile high city sits dramatically beneath the imposing peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is gateway to some amazing skiing country, not to mention the numerous other outdoor pursuits that can be enjoyed around the year. Does that make this a pretty obvious place to get a rental car, or can you get around without one?
Do you need a car in Denver? IntroductionWhen someone asks "Do you need a car in Denver?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
- Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
- Is it worth hiring a car in Denver? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Why should you rent a car in Denver?What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip? In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Denver?
When and where should you rent a car in Denver?
- Rocky Mountains National Park – and other highly scenic areas. A car is always going to give you the flexibility to see these areas properly.
- Monument Valley – for more details about visiting monument Valley and other spectacular landscapes around it, please see our Phoenix car hire advice page. A one-way car rental from Denver in the direction of either Utah, Arizona or California can certainly form the basis of a fantastic road trip, and I’d put monument Valley as the highlight of such a trip. It’s a good day’s drive from either Denver, Phoenix or Las Vegas, but starting in Denver is also going to give you some fantastic scenery as you go across the Rockies.
- Durango and Silvertown railway – this might, rather obviously, be a railway attraction, but as with other great rail experiences in the Wild West, you still have the small question of how you get there, and that’s why a rental car is almost essential.
- Metropolitan Denver is somewhere that has really been built around the car, and trying to get around by any other means is just going to be very slow and inconvenient.
Why not? Visiting Denver without a carWhat is public transport like in Denver? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 5?
A few reasons why you shouldn’t rent a car in Denver – or why you might get by without a car for a few days!
Visiting the Denver Area without a car
- Airport rail link – at last! More than 20 years after Denver Airport opened in the mid 1990s, a railroad link to the airport finally opened in 2016. This does now mean passengers arriving into Denver can have the advantage of a fast and direct train service serving the city centre at Union Station.
- Local public transport around downtown Denver in itself is just about adequate – in addition to the various bus lines, there are a handful of tram routes, but this is certainly no Zürich.
- Rocky Mountain Railroad – public transport in Denver might not be anywhere near Swiss standards, but the main Railroad heading West into the Rocky Mountains is certainly up there with the best when it comes to views. Sadly, in terms of service standards, there is only one train each day, and there is next to nothing by way of supporting public transport networks, but the trip through Glenwood Canyon in particular is spectacular. This is why we give Denver a **** rating for rail – everything else is relatively average, but this is truly one of the world’s great train journeys.
- City park – to get a sense of the sheer setting of the city of Denver skyscrapers sitting with the peaks of the Rocky Mountains behind, head to City park to get this full panorama. It’s easy enough to reach by bus from anywhwere downtown.
- Stapleton – you can visit this newly developed part of the city, which is situated on the site of the old Stapleton Airport. For historical perspective, the old control tower is still standing. Like city Park (above), you can get a great view of the city with the Rocky Mountains behind. Stapleton is easy to reach by bus, or by train using the Central Park station.
- Boulder dash – you could base yourself in the wonderfully trendy and attractive university town of Boulder, which has a half decent network of cycling and walking routes. There is no point in getting a car just to get to and from a place like this (and same thing if you are staying in Denver city centre) – even without any trains, frequent shuttle buses hop between Boulder and Denver airport, and also serve central Denver.
- Ski transfers – plenty of transfer shuttle buses are available between Denver airport and the various different ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains.
- Ski transfer flights – it is also possible to fly direct to Aspen from within the USA, including short transfer flights from Denver Airport. Depending on who you are booking with and when, these might not necessarily cost any more than a flight to Denver itself.
- Aspen year round – the resort of Aspen makes for a great place for outdoor activities at any time of the year. Once you get here, local public transport is excellent – with shuttle buses running through as far as Glenwood Springs as often as ever y15 minutes. There are free buses in town, and it’s easy to get to hiking trail heads, just as it’s easy to rent and use a bike. However, you still have a problem in getting to Aspen in the first place. You can take an executive shuttle transfer from Denver airport, but expect to pay upwards of $120 return per person for a shared van. Now even with two people ,this will still be cheaper than renting a car just to make the return trip, but with a rental car you’d also be able to see much more beyond just the area around Aspen.
- Colorado Rockies by train and bus – you can visit the Colorado Rockies by taking the train as far as Glenwood Springs, and then using the excellent local bus services from there. However, you will be relying on making connections with the one daily Amtrak service which plies this route. Note this involves a 5-6 hour epic train ride right through the heart of the Rocky Mountains – it’s spectacular, but it’s still a lsow and inconvenient way of getting to Rocky Mountain resorts, if you just compare journey times with driving.
Do you need a car in Denver?
Should you rent a car in Denver? – Specific questions
Is it worth renting a car in Denver just for part of my stay?
Not really – Colorado really is a state that celebrates the great outdoors, so the chances are that even if you want to use Denver as a base, you are going to want to be visiting a lot of places which are well outside of the city.
Denver has invested heavily in light rail in recent years, and in 2016, a fast rail link was finally opened out to the airport. All this will be perfectly fine for getting into, and then around the city, but other than some half decent bus links to nearby towns like Boulder, which has a massive student population anyway, rail and bus services really are very few and far between once you get out of the Denver metropolitan area.
Even if you want to spend a day or two in downtown Denver, there are plenty of hotels around the edge of the city which will provide free parking, and then if you don’t want to drive into town, you can still use transit for that.
Is it worth renting a car in Denver even for backpackers, students and other travellers who are on an extremely tight budget?
Yes, it probably will be. Getting a rental car can always be a problem for younger drivers, but as long as at least one member of your group meets the criteria to be able to hire a car, then it really is the best option. You need really do need to hire a car in Denver to explore the amazing landscapes that Colorado has to offer.
Given the relatively limited number of bus services which operate into the Rocky Mountains, you really should rent a car in Denver, whatever your budget.
Do you have an Amtrak pass?
The big exception to the above might be that if you are already travelling around the USA using Amtrak, then the rail journey through the Rockies is a really amazing trip to experience anyway. However, you are still going to want to see something beyond the tracks.
For this, it might be worth getting off at Glenwood Springs and then taking advantage of the numerous shuttle buses which can connect you through to Aspen. Once you are in Aspen, you should have access to year-round resort facilities, including hiking and mountain biking in the summer. However, as a budget traveller, you might still find yourself constrained by the price of resort hotels. If you have a rental car you’ve obviously got a lot more flexibility to shop around the region for hotels, and this is why it is probably still worth getting one anyway, even if your budget is tight.
Rockies by bus
If you really don’t feel it’s worth it to rent a car in Denver for any reason (or you simply can’t), then you can at least get a bit deeper into the Rockies by bus, using the Colorado state “Bustang” service. This will get you as far as Glenwood Springs in the west (see trains, above), or down to Colorado Springs. However, the buses to Glenwood Springs only operate twice per day, with services operating so close together, it really is more like just a daily service.
You can also reach Glenwood Springs, and other locations south of Denver by Greyhound – but again, scheduled are sporadic.
Do I need a car in Denver if I am planning on staying downtown?
Yes, you probably still will! If you only ever stick to the city, then you’ll be missing out on everything the Rockies have to offer, and if you try to travel around the Rockies using only bus and coach services, you’ll still be heavily limited.
Of course, the big exception to this is the Amtrak service through the Rockies, which departs from the very central Union Station – now the centre of an impressive mixed use urban district.
There are also various transfer and shuttle services if you are trying to get to resorts like Aspen or Vail. However, if your aim is to stay in the city but then to go out anywhere scenic and then come back within the same day, the only way you’ll have this kind of flexibility will be to get a rental car.
Even if you prefer to stay in one place, rather than to do a “road trip”, then there are so many possible driving loops into various different parts of the Rocky Mountains that you really should rent a car in Denver if you possibly can.
I usually try to avoid driving if I can – so should I hire a car in Denver?
Probably, yes! Carornocar has rated 300 cities around the world from places like Hong Kong or Singapore at the “no car” end of the scale, through to cities like Phoenix and Tampa which we would basically define as “absolute car”. In other words, although these cities do have local public transit services, anybody who has the choice or the ability to get a rental car when on vacation there will almost certainly do so.
We rate Denver as being just below “absolute car”, largely because even if the state of Colorado is very car oriented, it also offers some of the most amazing railway trips that you will find anywhere in the world. Even without riding Amtrak to take this California Zephyr service, you can still get to major destinations in Colorado by bus, although scheduled are very limited.
I am a train enthusiast – do I still need to hire a car in Denver?
Yes, absolutely! In the case of two of the three most impressive tourist/heritage railway lines, you need to rent a car in Denver to get to the start point.
You may be able to cross the Rocky Mountains by train in comfort with a wonderful window seat view, but this train trip really isn’t suitable for any kind of local journeys, because it only operates once each day. Even if you are thinking about taking the train to Glenwood Springs and back to enjoy the best section of the Rocky Mountain rail journey (the highlight being Glenwood Canyon, just before Glenwood Springs), you will still have to spend at least one night there, as the west and east bound trains pass each other on the other side of that canyon.
You could look at hiring a car in Glenwood Springs instead of Denver, but this is unlikely to be very good value due to the much more limited choice here.
If you want to combine rail trips with driving, you really should rent a car in Denver (or at the airport) first, travel around Colorado, and then drop it off at Union station before continuing onwards by train.
I am mainly interested in architecture and urban/cultural attractions – should I still hire a car in Denver?
Probably! I think it is reasonably fair to say that Denver has relatively few buildings of substantial architectural merit, other than the airport, which you will see anyway, assuming that you fly here.
You can reach everything in central Denver without a car, since there is a good standard of transit within the city, and this has improved dramatically in recent years.
Whatever buildings you may be interested in, the architectural setting of Denver is all about the landscape of the Rockies behind. This is most pronounced in the hugely impressive tent structures of Denver Airport, but you can also appreciate the city centre from many different parks and other such vantage points.
Even if you aren’t the skiing or hiking type, you can’t really appreciate this city without also enjoying these landscapes – at the very least, you should rent a car in Denver for one day, look at a simple driving loop which brings you back into the city for dusk.
How many people would we need in the car before a rental becomes better value than using transit?
Probably just one! Unless you really are just looking for shuttle transfers between Denver airport and wherever you are staying, you will almost certainly find that it’s worth renting a car in Denver anyway, even if you are a solo traveller. The major exception here would be anyone who is already travelling on Amtrak or Greyhound pass (see above).
Certainly for two friends travelling together, for a couple or any kind of family travelling together, getting a rental car is likely to be so much more convenient anyway. You might not even consider adding up the costs of public transit (and the inevitable taxis) for a group of 3 or more, as it’s almost certainly not worth it.
We are senior citizens, should we rent a car in Denver?
Yes, there are no particular reasons why older drivers and senior citizens would want to avoid getting a rental car in Denver.
Colorado has an extensive network of highways around the urban areas, whereas major highways through the Rockies like into to Interstate 70 have regular rest stops. In some places, you can stop for services and local information at facilities promoted by the local visitors’ bureau. This might make for a nicer rest stop than using franchised service areas.
Make sure you have plenty of fuel and also drinking water if you are driving on some of the more remote roads in the Rocky Mountains, as they can sometimes run for tens of miles without any kind of junction, and they often don’t pass anywhere near even small towns.
The most relaxed way to experience the Rockies may be from the window of a train, but spending a day or perhaps two travelling this way isn’t really a substitute for getting a rental car for the rest of your stay, but trains and buses are infrequent.
Do I need a rental car if I am flying into Denver airport but staying in another destination outside Denver?
Not necessarily, if you are visiting one of the popular ski resorts, where regular transfers are available year round.
There are also various airport commuter shuttles to places such as Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
However, you will probably still need a rental car to get around your destination city, unless you are just staying in resort, where local buses are usually available (especially in Aspen).
If I’m planning on touring around, is this best done in a rental car?
Yes, there really aren’t many other options! Travelling from place to place is always going to be a challenge using nothing but public transport, other than the exception is already listed above.
Although Colorado offers some amazing driving roads, this is challenging terrain for cycling, in terms of both the physical effort needed and the general lack of provision of safe cycling routes. (See cycling section)
Should we try to visit Denver without a car because that’s better for the environment?
There are a lot of very good environmental reasons for walking, cycling and using transit instead of driving, at least where these options are available, and usable.
In Colorado, it’s very hard to make this argument. If you’ve come this far, then you will want to see the Rockies, and unless you can plan around the limited bus routes, it could be a wasted trip.
The environmental argument is much stronger when you have a well used electric train as an alternative to an urban car journey in a diesel or petrol car. This isn’t the case in Colorado, as only the local light rail services use electrified lines.
The Rockies are not really geared up for touring cycling, but you can hire mountain bikes in several resorts during the summer – for example in Aspen or Vail.
The bottom line is that Colorado isn’t Switzerland, and Denver isn’t Zurich. We can never say “yes, you really should rent a car in Denver because it will be better for the environment”, but the alternatives here are really not that good.
Should I hire car in Denver to start a road trip?
Absolutely! Denver is one of the best places in the world from which to start a road trip, not just because it provides such easy and direct access to the Rocky Mountains, but also because it’s only natural to continue onwards from here through to iconic locations such as Monument Valley and then the Grand Canyon.
Looking to the north, there are various loops which will take you through Yellowstone National Park and then possibly on to Devils Tower in Wyoming and then Mount Rushmore.
Depending on which other places you might have in mind, it’s always worth looking at combinations of flight and car rental options to other western cities such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas or Phoenix.
Arriving from Europe/Asia
If you are looking at flying into Denver from Europe or Asia, then you may find a wider choice of flights to Las Vegas, or alternatively it might be better to fly to Los Angeles or San Francisco and then start your Great American West road trip from there.
Should I rent a car in Denver and return it somewhere else?
Advice on One Way Rentals from Denver
Generally, we don’t think this is a good idea. The problem with a one way rental is that you can expect to pay a huge amount in surcharges for doing this.
Denver in particular is a substantial distance away from the next nearest major city, and you would almost certainly be returning your can in another state.
Many rental companies will let you drop your car off in another location in the same city without extra charge. It might be worth renting a car at Denver Airport, and then returning it to Union Station to continue your journey by bus or train. Although that is technically a one way city, it’s still the same urban area.
You may also find a deal where you rent a car in Denver and then return it to Colorado Springs or vice-versa. This could work out if you can get cheaper flights that way.
In a state like California, you can escape one way rental charges by using a hire company which will allow you, for example, to pick up a car in Los Angeles, and then return it to San Francisco without extra fees. Other than Colorado Springs (which is nearer to places like Pikes Peak), you don’t really have this option here.
Should I rent an RV / camper in Denver, instead of a car?
Do you need a car in Denver
Yes, Denver is an obvious place to start a road trip using an RV / camper, since there are very few cities between here and the Great Salt Lake.
Are we saying you should rent a car in Denver just because that’s what we say on every page?
Do you need a car in Denver
Not at all! AS we said above, Denver is one of the most “car” oriented destinations of any of the 300 featured on this site. It makes no difference to us whether you book a rental car or not, the advice is free to read. We hope the advice is useful, and that you enjoy your trip to Colorado, however you get around.
RatingsOur slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
What is our final score for Denver on the Carornocar scale?Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.
Do you need a car in Denver?