Denver: City, County and Capital
When you think of Denver, Colorado, your mind may immediately go to the city by that name. It might surprise you to learn that Denver is both a city and a county. In fact, the borders of the city and the county are nearly identical. That's why this place is officially known as the City and County of Denver. It's also the capital of Colorado.
The Denver region frequently ranks near the top of U.S. News and World Report's annual Best Places to Live. For example, it took the No. 2 spot on the 2020–2021 list with an overall score of 7.4. That same year, it also took the No. 55 spot on U.S. News' Best Places to Retire list.
Denver also frequently earns high rankings for population growth. For example, it landed at No. 5 on WalletHub's 2020 list of fastest-growing large cities. Plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities, a thriving arts scene and a robust local economy are just a few of the many reasons that people enjoy living in or visiting Colorado's Denver County.
A Brief History of Denver
In the late 1850s, settlers in pursuit of gold began pouring into the area that is today known as Colorado. Many of those adventurers took up residence near the South Platte River. When General William H. Larimer arrived, he began plans for a town. He named it Denver City in honor of James Denver, who led the Kansas Territory from 1857–1858. A few years later, his settlement merged with a few other local communities. The newly enlarged town retained the Denver City moniker.
In 1861, the town was chosen as the county seat of Arapahoe County. Even still, life in the first years of Denver City wasn't easy. In the early 1860s, a fire destroyed the business section of town. Not long after, a flood swept through, destroying property and claiming 20 lives. The people of Denver City didn't give up, though. In 1867, the city become Colorado Territory's capital. At that time, the simpler name of Denver was adopted.
In the years that followed, the residents funded the creation of a railroad that ran from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming. That connection to the outside world fueled continued growth. When Colorado gained statehood in 1876, Denver became the state capital. Then, the nearby discovery of silver in 1879 drove even more people to the area.
Denver County was finally born in 1902. An amendment to the state constitution of Colorado removed the city from Arapahoe County and established Denver as both city and county.
The Mile High City
The City and County of Denver sits 1 mile above sea level. That elevation is the source of Denver's most famous nickname: the Mile High City. One of the steps leading up to the Colorado State Capitol Building has a marker indicating exactly where the 1-mile elevation is located.
Based on the Mile High City name, you might assume that Denver is mountainous. In reality, though, it's more of a plain. It's hilly, yes, but the actual foothills of the Rocky Mountains lie several miles to the west of Denver.
The City and County of Denver is along the water. The South Platte River runs through the heart of the town. Cherry Creek goes through Denver too. These two bodies of water meet at Confluence Park, a popular recreation spot with trails and water activities.
Downtown Denver spans a large area. This part of the county measures about 1 square mile. That makes it one of the largest downtowns in the U.S.
Although Denver is both a city and a county, the borders of these two entities don't line up exactly. There are small patches of the city that don't belong to Denver County. Instead, for various historical reasons, those spots belong to neighboring Arapahoe County.
The People of Denver County
Over 700,000 people live in Denver County. They're spread out across nearly 80 different neighborhoods. Beyond the official city and county limits, the metro Denver area boasts more than 2.8 million people.
Just over 80% of Denver County's population is white, nearly 10% is Black, and approximately 4% is Asian. Ethnicities represented among the Asian population include Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. Over 29% of the people in Denver County are Hispanic or Latino. These residents have ties to a variety of Latin American regions, including Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Denver County is a well-educated area. Nearly half of residents age 25 and up have earned at least a bachelor's degree.
On the Cutting Edge of Technology
Colorado is the top state in the nation for aerospace jobs in the private sector. Also, this state takes the No. 2 spot in the nation for overall aerospace activity. Some of Colorado's aerospace innovation takes place in and around Denver County. Employers include ispace and York Space Systems.
Other technology-driven industries thrive in Denver County as well. Examples include telecommunications, cleantech, bioscience, software development and information technology. Around 33% of metro Denver's IT-software jobs are found within Denver County.
Healthcare is the sector of Denver County's economy that is experiencing the fastest growth rate. The many employers include National Jewish Health, Denver Health and HealthONE.
Best Things to See in Denver County
Though you'll need to drive out of town for mountain adventures, you may still be on Denver County property. The Denver Mountain Parks system includes 14,000 acres of non-urban land with opportunities for hiking, fishing and picnicking.
Even if you don't want to leave town, you'll still find plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities in Denver County. Denver Parks and Recreation operates more than 200 parks, many of which are right in the city. You can swim, bike, golf, play ball and more. Thanks to the area's mild climate, you can take advantage of many of these outdoor resources all year long.
Denver's Colorado Convention Center is home to the annual Great American Beer Festival. Even if you aren't among the 60,000 people who attend this event each year, you can still enjoy Denver County's beer scene. Hundreds of different varieties are produced in the metro area each day. You can sample some of them in the outdoor Skyline Beer Garden in the downtown district.
In fact, downtown Denver boasts a wealth of must-do activities. On a tour of the Denver Mint, you can learn about U.S. coin production. The Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second-largest performing arts center in the country. If you like museums, check out the Denver Art Museum or the Denver Firefighters Museum. Within the downtown district, you can also catch a baseball game at Coors Field, find a bite to eat at Union Station, hop on a ride at Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, or browse the boutiques of the 16th Street Mall. While you're in the area, don't miss the Big Blue Bear statue outside the Colorado Convention Center!