Numerous lists of the world’s greatest amphitheaters include Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The experts agree. Music trade publication Pollstar repeatedly named Red Rocks its Best Small Outdoor Venue. Finally, in 1999, they changed the award’s name to the Red Rocks Award.
In the Westword Readers Choice poll, Red Rocks was named the Best Place to Photograph the Sunset in Denver. Watching the sun go down and the Denver metro lights come on is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can repeat any time you want.
Our first Red Rocks concert defined memorable. My dad had just died, and our stress level was nearly unbearable. To ease the pain, we attended a Chicago concert during which the Colorado Symphony backed the band. The show was everything that we imagined. In perfect weather, we rocked out under the stars as our grief receded into the background. I hadn’t smiled so much since the awful day my dad left us. Red Rocks has been one of our favorite places ever since.
Pro Tip: Red Rocks is open daily during daylight hours. But it closes early on event days. Before you visit, check the event calendar.
1. History Of Red Rocks: From Amusement Park To World-Class Concert Venue
Red Rocks’ first concert took place on Memorial Day 1906 when it was an amusement park, the Garden of the Titans. Early performers stood on a temporary platform between the park’s monolithic walls.
The southern monolith is named Ship Rock because it looks like a ship. The northern rock is called Creation Rock.
The City of Denver bought the park in 1928 and built a road through it in 1930. In 1936, Denver’s government persuaded the Department of the Interior to construct the arena. The Civilian Conservation Corps leveled the seating area. Denver held the grand opening on June 15, 1941. On August 26, 1964, the Beatles played at Red Rocks, one of only two tour dates that did not sell out.
Fun Fact: Judge Martin Van Buren Luther named the area Garden of the Angels on July 4, 1870. Then he cursed anyone who would change the name. People still called it Red Rocks, as they do today.
2. Work Out For Free In The Amphitheater
Walking up the amphitheater steps is a very Colorado thing to do. Red Rocks’ altitude is 6,400 feet above sea level. Walking the 100 feet from the stage to the top plaza requires 194 steps. That is a workout, and it’s after an often steep climb from the parking lot.
Exercising at Red Rocks is free. The multi-level seats offer excellent platforms for calisthenics and stretching. To challenge your heart and your balance, run between the seat rows for 2.7 miles of training. You’ll experience plenty of burn.
Pro Tip: Make stair climbing easier by using the side aisles. Grab the handrail as far ahead as you can reach. Use your hand and arm for leverage and pull yourself upward.
3. Take Yoga On The Rocks (And SnowShape Winter Fitness Classes)
Step climbing and calisthenics aren’t the only way to get in shape at Red Rocks. The venue hosts Yoga on the Rocks and SnowShape.
Pro Tip: Bring water and a yoga mat to Yoga on the Rocks. For SnowShape, also bring a towel.
4. Tour Red Rocks In The Mornings
In the mornings, Red Rocks staff lead guided tours. Learn about the park’s geology, history, and the performers. Red Rocks must have 15 people for a tour with a maximum of 50. Off-season tours (November through March) include backstage access.
5. Visit Two Music Halls Of Fame
In 2011, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class during an induction concert in Denver. Red Rocks was in the initial group. Inductees include Judy Collins, John Denver, Firefall, and Dan Fogelberg.
Red Rocks has its own Hall of Fame, too. The inductees range from opera star Lily Pons to the Beatles, STS9, Lyle Lovett, and Willie Nelson. Find the Hall of Fame in the Southwest Heart of the Rock Theater, part of the Visitor Center.
6. Shop And Enjoy The Views At The Trading Post
Start exploring the rest of Red Rocks Park at the Trading Post. Soak in the views from the patio. We collect Christmas ornaments on our travels, and I cherish the Red Rocks ticket ornament I bought at the Trading Post.
7. Hike Or Ride Red Rocks’ Trails
The shop is on the Trading Post Trail, an excellent introduction to Red Rocks. Hike the 1.5-mile trail with your leashed dog.
The park offers four more trails. Pack a picnic and hike the moderate Geologic Overlook Trail. The Red Rocks Trail joins the Dakota Ridge Trail and the Matthews/Winters Park Trail.
Pro Tips: Red Rocks is the only trail that allows horses and mountain bikes. Wear hiking boots, and carry water and trekking poles.
8. Where To Sit
Even though the venue enjoys excellent acoustics, Colorado’s fickle weather affects the experience. A sound engineer recommended Row 17 for the best sound. Common sense says the closer you are, the louder the performance will be. Common sense is right. Red Rocks’ winds push sound around. The higher seats are more exposed to wind, so they’ll have more sound distortion than the lower ones.
9. Bring Food And Drink
The problem: Colorado’s climate is dry. Buying drinks at the concession stand is pricey. The solution: Wear your hydration backpack. Staying hydrated helps prevent altitude sickness. Red Rocks permits food and non-alcoholic beverages but limits coolers to a six-pack size. Food must fit in a gallon-size clear plastic bag. Slice fruits and vegetables and use plastic utensils.
Pro Tip: Unzip your hydration pack before you reach security. The security staff will be able to see that it’s empty. Water fountains are available after the checkpoint. Preserve your body’s electrolyte balance by floating lemon slices in your water.
10. Be Prepared For Chilly Weather
At altitude, even summer evenings can be chilly. Wind makes the air even colder. You’ll be grateful for a blanket and a jacket. Blankets must not extend beyond your seat. The park holds its events rain, snow, or shine, so bring ponchos and wear sunscreen.
Pro Tip: Read Red Rocks’ prohibited and permitted list.
11. Parking Is Limited, And The Trails Aren’t The Only Hikes
Parking lots open two hours before event start times. Arrive early for the best spots and to tailgate. Just be respectful of other people’s parking spaces. Carpool whenever possible.
Walking from the parking lot to the gates takes you on long, unpaved, hilly paths. Wear comfortable shoes. Leave the parking lot with plenty of time to arrive. Remember to open all your bags for inspection ahead of the security checkpoint. Bring a flashlight because parts of the walks are poorly lit.
Pro Tip: Red Rocks explains what to expect at the venue. Smoke only in designated areas. Yes, marijuana is legal in Colorado, but no, you can’t smoke it at Red Rocks.
Rows 1 and 70 are accessible to wheelchairs, but Red Rocks does not offer wheelchair rentals. You may remain in your own wheelchair or transfer to a park-provided folding chair. If you use a folding chair, ask the staff to store your wheelchair near your row. Select accessible seating when you buy tickets. Red Rocks has accessible parking and an accessible shuttle.
Row 2, Seats 6-21 are reserved for vision and hearing accessibility. Request a sign language interpreter or reserve an assistive device at least seven days in advance.
Pro Tip: Read more about the park’s accessibility features and policies.
13. Where To Eat
Ship Rock Grille wraps around two giant boulders. Look over the amphitheater or the mountains. Enjoy a bite after your Red Rocks workout, reserve a pre-show dinner on concert nights, or hang out at the grill during a concert. Reserve your table for concert nights up to 90 days ahead.
14. Where To Stay
The Origin Hotel is Red Rocks’ official hotel. Campers will enjoy Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon.
Pro Tip: Before or after your Red Rocks outing, we recommend visiting Buffalo Bill’s Grave and enjoying the Coors Brewery Tour in Golden and driving the Lariat Loop.