Photo of a mansion.
Highlands Ranch Mansion's tour takes you through the history of the building. It's self-guided, so visitors can follow along at their own pace. Credit: Photo courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion

The self-guided audio tour has been common in the art world since the 1950s, but like many other virtual tools, there has been a rise in the popularity of audio tours in other industries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Audio tours can add extra elements that visitors do not get when walking the areas alone, according to Luna Hernandez, who works in the Dinosaur Ridge welcome center.

“The audio tour definitely gives you more information than if you were to just walk the trail on your own,” Hernandez said.  “We do have those outdoor plaques and stuff like that on the trail. So you still get some information when you’re walking it. But with the audio tour, there is a resident geologist who guides you up the ridge and gives you a lot of information.”

Today, it’s not uncommon to plan a full-day trip complete with a tour of any place around the globe. This includes communities in the Denver metro region.

Self-guided tours in the region cover art, like the 40 West ArtLine; local landmarks, like Dinosaur Ridge; and whole natural regions, like the I-70 Audio Tour. The key to finding these tours is deciding what to see, the level of planned involvement and time allotment. 

The State Capitol Dome is an important part of the capitol building but is not open to visitors taking the self-guided audio tour. Only guided tours are allowed to tour the dome, including the dome observation area. Credit: Photo Colorado State Capitol Building

What to see

Art was the original self-guided audio tour and is a popular self-guided tour focus. In Lakewood, the 40 West ArtLine audio tours take participants through the growing arts district. There are three tour options, all narrated by “art advocate and tour guide” Corrine Anderson. 

The Grit and Glitter tour is a primer on the importance and legacy of West Colfax. The tour takes listeners through the neighborhoods going toward Aviation Park in Lakewood. The tour gives history and a sort of mini art lecture on the outdoor art, murals and more along the busiest part of the 40 West Art District. 

The Art and Leisure Tour begins at Lamar Street Light Rail Station and follows the track through some of Lakewood’s outdoor art, architecture and more. The Art and Leisure Tour also touches on Lakewood’s agricultural heritage before ending at Mountain Air Park. 

The Transportation and Art Tour also begins at the Lamar Street Rail Station. It runs along Lamar Street to the 40 West Art District headquarters. The tour takes a historic slant and guides listeners through the history of the area in addition to highlighting the murals and outdoor art along the way. 

However, art is not the only focus of guided tours in the area. Take an urban stroll through the history of the Five Points neighborhood with the Five Points Business District Walking Tour. It takes listeners on a reverent tour of Denver’s historic Black neighborhood. 

The kids will love the blast to prehistoric Colorado in the Dinosaur Ridge Audio Tour. The tour is packed with dinosaur facts that will almost make the listener forget about the steepness of the 2.5-mile ridge climb. 

The Wild I-70 Audio Tour is more of a natural Front Range focus that takes listeners from Golden to Glenwood. This tour is best done by car, bike or motorized vehicle. It’s 144 miles long and talks about wildlife, including historic animal migration facts, in addition to other natural history and environmental facts.  

There are other tours like the State Capitol Audio Tours which concentrates on the Capitol building in Denver, The Story Line Audio Tour touches on 15 sites integral to the history of the city of Aurora and Arapahoe County and the Highlands Ranch Mansion, is a self-guided tour. 

What to consider

Choosing a tour can be a chore. There are a few things to consider before deciding, so a little research is required. 

Pricing is one issue to consider. Some apps that offer a slew of guided tours also charge up to $50 per person. However, many of the self-guided tours are free to the public. The 40 West ArtsLine Tours are free, but the Dinosaurs Ridge Tours cost $7 per streaming device. 

Also, consider the activity level and time commitment. It can take about 3 hours to complete the Dinosaur Ridge Audio Tour, but there are actual fossils and tracks along the hike. Parts of the ridge itself is a drag mark from beasts that roamed the area millions of years ago, according to the tour. 

Sun setting behind mansion.
Highlands Ranch Mansion has a self-guided tour option that is free to the public. It’s available when the mansion is open. Credit: Photo courtesy Highlands Ranch Mansion

Only bikes and feet are allowed on the tour, so taking the Dinosaur Ridge tour is much more intense than the Highlands Ranch Mansion tour. There is also the weather and seasons to consider for any outdoor tour. The Wild I70 Tour is a brilliant idea for fall foliage. Also consider the drive in May or June, when the wildflowers are in bloom and the baby animals are about. 

Some of the tours, like the ArtLine tours, have chapters so that listeners can schedule accordingly. Be sure to factor in the time of day. Sitting in traffic after an intense hiking tour is tougher than it seems at the beginning of the trip.

Where to go

The research before you go is key. To find the tours, look at the sites for places you wish to visit. Chances are, there is an audio tour that you can preview before embarking. 

And don’t feel like you are alone in using the audio tours. According to Barbara Farley Dinosaur Ridge’s director of Volunteers and Program Growth, the audio tours have 936 downloads between January and October of 2023. The most popular tour is the main Dinosaur Ridge audio tour. 

Several apps exist that compile the audio tours in the area in one place. However, sometimes the information on the apps is inaccurate and the price higher than the original site requires, so always go to direct websites.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to note that the Highlands Ranch Mansion is a self-guided tour. It does not have an audio option.

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Jonita Davis is a film and culture critic, author, and freelance writer. Her published books include Questioning Cultural Appropriation (2018 Enslow Publishing), Carrying On (2022 Saga Fiction), and the...

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