Last Updated on June 25, 2023
While nearly everyone knows that Denver is the capital of Colorado, few are aware another town once held that honor. Just three years after the Colorado Territory was formed, Golden became the seat of government in 1862 due to its rapid growth as a gold rush town and its prime location.
As the “last flat place” before the Rocky Mountains, it was an ideal stopping and supply point before miners and prospectors headed into the high country seeking their fortunes.
Although Denver eventually became the new state’s capital in 1876, a visit to Golden, CO for its embrace of living history makes it well worth exploring.
Three places exemplify this.
German immigrant Adolph Coors started this empire back in 1858 when he moved to the area and established his brewing business. In five years, he created the original Banquet beer which is the same recipe used in today’s beer found in Coors’ cans and bottles.
Everything went well until Prohibition shut down operations and more than 500 barrels of beer were destroyed. When Coors resumed production, they could only sell their beer in the Western United States. Soon, it became the Holy Grail for beer lovers everywhere.
People would head west to grab a six-pack or two of the brew made from “Rocky Mountain water,” then “smuggle” the beer back east across state lines.
This was the premise of 1977’s “Smokey and the Bandit,” Burt Reynolds driving his Pontiac Trans-Am in front of Jerry Reed’s 18-wheeler to Texarkana, TX to pick up a load of illegal Coors beer and drive it back to Atlanta in haste while stopping to pick up runaway bride Sally Field on the way.
Coors Banquet, the company’s signature brew, wasn’t legally sold nationwide until 1991.
Today, visitors can take a free tour of the largest single-site brewery in the world in a massive structure that dominates the town. The 1.5-hour tour takes you around Golden and informs you on its colorful history. You’ll then head to the brewery to witness the brewing process on a grand scale. The tour is one of the most popular activities in town, and reservations are booked up weeks in advance.
After the tour, head to the tasting room and try all the beers that Coors makes, including the more craft-oriented Blue Moon and Colorado Native brands. If you’re not able to take the tour when you’re here, just come to the tasting room to enjoy some suds.
Buffalo Bill Grave
Few American historical figures were as legendary as William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. First serving in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, he later hunted bison for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, earning his nickname and becoming a decorated guide and scout.
He then traveled across the country and around Europe in elaborate staged shows, first with a traveling company and then with his own productions. Both popular media and the pulp fiction industry covered the shows, cementing his fame and status.
Cody also invested in business ventures that helped grow the West.
Buffalo Bill’s grave is now at the top of Lookout Mountain, which affords one of the most breathtaking views in the Rocky Mountains.
Head up 19th Avenue from downtown Golden. As you leave the hillside residential neighborhoods, you wind through switchbacks and hairpin turns climbing until you reach the turnoff to the museum entrance. You can also go on a less winding route on Interstate 70 and turn on US 40 and Lookout Mountain Road.
At the graveyard’s visitors center, Buffalo Bill’s resting site is protected by a steel fence with a headstone and tomb constructed of quartz. Just below the gravesite is the visitors center where you can learn about his fascinating story and honored place in American history.
If you are in Golden in late July, there’s another way to celebrate his legacy. Buffalo Bill Days began in the 1940s as an annual trail ride up to the gravesite. Now, over the course of five days, visitors can participate in a golf tournament, an arts and crafts festival, a pancake breakfast and a Best of the West parade. Kids can also channel their inner ranch hand and take part in a “muttin bustin’” where they can safely ride sheep.
Did you know that Colorado was once home to dinosaurs?
When the Western Interior Seaway covered the land between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains then started to recede 150 million years ago, dinosaurs made their home in the present-day Front Range area. Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Allosaurus (now the state fossil) once roamed the flatlands and foothills along a roughly 300-mile route.
It was such a well-traveled pathway, essentially along the shoreline of the Seaway, paleontologists called it the “Dinosaur Freeway.” When construction crews paved the way for a new motor road in 1937, they discovered fossilized tracks along the hogback ridge.
Visiting Dinosaur Ridge today, you can either take a guided bus or walking tour of the area to view these well-preserved fossils up close. With the second option, you can go with a volunteer guide ($18 per person, weekends only) or a geologist ($20 per person and only offered once a month). The fees will also allow entrance into the visitors’ center at the base of the ridge on the eastern side.
Not surprisingly, this place is popular with children. If you are fascinated with prehistoric phenomena, you’ll enjoy this visit back to ancient times no matter your age.
Colorado has its share of historical towns, but with Coors, Buffalo Bill and Dinosaur Ridge, Golden truly makes living history memorable and enjoyable.