How to Navigate the Denver Airport

We’ve been to quite a few airports. Some are small where you walk through security and then a few more steps to your gate. Others require very long walks through underground walkways. Figuring out how to navigate the Denver airport can seem like a big deal, but it doesn’t have to be.

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Check out step-by-step of how to get through the Denver airport to the gate you need, and find your questions about parking, terminals, kids play area, lounges, and more.

Denver Airport pin image with 4 images- young girl walking on a moving sidewalk, exterior gate and airplane, outside turf, train arrival info with text How to Navigate the Denver Airport text overlay

How Early do I need to be at the Denver Airport?

We use to leave our house 2 hours before our flight. That gave us about 1 hour and 15 minutes at the airport.

Use to.

That is not enough time anymore.

We went on vacation in October and for whatever reason, got to the airport 2 hours early. We made it to the gate as they began boarding!

I’d say 2 hours early is usually enough time. But be aware of holidays, school breaks, or other factors that would make the airport extra busy.

Last time we went and got to the gate 2-1/2 hours early, which gave us plenty of time to get snacks, go to the bathroom, and honestly, just wait around.

But we weren’t stressed out at all about making our flight.

Sometimes bag-check lines are incredibly long, sometimes not. Sometimes security is 5 minutes, sometimes it’s over an hour.

It’s a risky guessing game, so I would arrive at the Denver Airport earlier than you think, just to be safe.

Related Post: Check out fun, FREE things to do in Denver with the kids!

Departing at Denver International Airport- Where do I go?

When you arrive at the Denver airport, there are two sides you can go to for check-in: east and west. Each side has certain airlines at each side.

The major airlines on the West side are:

  • United
  • Copa
  • American
  • British Airways
  • Aeromexico
  • Air Canada
  • Lufthansa
  • Icelandair

Major Airlines on the East side are:

  • Frontier
  • Southwest
  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Jet Blue
  • Spirit

It’s important to know which side to check-in on so you know which side to park on (or get dropped off at.) However, if you end up on the wrong side once you are inside, just head to the middle or either end and walk all the way across the airport. It’ll just take a few minutes, and then you’ll be on the opposite side.

If you end up on the wrong side while still in the car (east, when you should be west), you can loop around the airport to come back into the correct side. However, this will take longer than just walking across inside.

There is covered (short term) and outdoor (long term) parking at Denver International Airport on each side. There are also parking lots nearby that run shuttles to the main terminal.

It’s great having so many airlines at Denver. There are over 20 airlines currently, with Aer Lingus about to join in Spring 2024, offering direct flights to Ireland from the Denver airport.

Whether overseas or just trying to get to Aspen or Telluride regionally, Denver is a huge hub of air travel.

Denver Airport Map of Terminals

To get a good visual of how to navigate the Denver airport, it’s good to see the layout of the Denver Airport. Check out the Denver airport map of terminals. This is an interactive map, meaning you can zoom in and out to see specifics of shops, gates, restaurants, and everything else in the airport.

Check-In and Bags at Denver International Airport

Once you are on the correct east or west side, find the ticket counter for the appropriate airline. Check in as you would at any airport and drop your bags.

*Note- many airlines offer curbside check-in for your checked bags outside of departures. We have done this a few times when getting dropped off and it works great. There is no extra charge, and it saves a lot of time from standing in line inside! If you have already checked-in online and don’t need further assistance, this is a great option.


Top Rated Luggage for the Whole Family!

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Rockland– Hardside luggage for carry on, in plenty of colors kids will love


Head to Security at the Denver Airport

There are 3 security check points to choose from at the Denver airport, including one brand new security area that opened in February 2024. Choose from South, West, or Bridge Security.

If you are going to Concourse B or C, I suggest using the South Security check point, which is located down 1 level from check in. You can also use the new West security check point.

Note: With the opening of the new West check point, the north check point is now permanently closed.

If you are going to Concourse A, you can use those checkpoints OR the third option.

To get to the south security check point:

After dropping your bags, head inward in the airport. You’ll then take an escalator down a level to the security area. There is a north and south security here. It doesn’t matter which you go through.

To get to the West Security Check point:

West Security check point is located near the United check in counter on the northwest end of level 6. This newer check point prides itself on getting passengers through quicker and at a higher rate. You do not need to remove small (less than 3.4 oz) liquids from your carry on.

To get to the third option: Bridge Security

The third option is convenient if you don’t mind some walking AND are taking a Frontier flight, (or other flight in Concourse A.)

After dropping your bags, head all the way to the north end of the airport. Turn into the center of the airport, and then continue north for the walkway.

There is a skybridge that you’ll walk through to get the the 3rd security checkpoint. This will lead you right into Concourse A.

** We have gone through DIA with a 5 minute security line, and with an 1+ hour line that stretched back into the baggage claim area. You can check Denver security times ahead of time, but by the time you get there it may have drastically changed. Always give yourself more than enough time! **

Denver Airport looking down to train landing
Denver Airport train arriving, doors closed

Riding the Train at DIA

If you choose one of the 2 main security checks, you will then head down an escalator to the train.

The train will transport you to concourses A, B, or C.

The train has a countdown on the display above the doors. It is not long between trains, so if you miss one, there will be another shortly.

You have to hurry onto the train, as the doors are open so long, and then close automatically. And if you force the door open to squeeze in, the automated voice will reprimand you! 😉

As you navigate the Denver airport, using the train to get to Concourse A is definitely faster as it’s a bit of a walk. However, if it’s high-travel season, security is going to be crazy at the main security area. So if you are flying out of concourse A, it may be worth the walk to A security.

Riding the Train for Connecting Flights at DIA

If you are making a connection in Denver and you are staying with the same airline, chances are high that you do not need to change terminals (your next departure ticket will have the same letter for the next gate as your current gate you are at).

If you ARE changing airlines, there’s a chance you need to change terminals. If your ticket gate reads a different letter than where you get off, then you’ll need to hop on the train and switch terminals.

For example: if you land and de-board at gate A22 on Frontier and your next flight is on United at gate B42, you’ll need to follow the signs to the train (baggage claim signs). Once you are on the train, get on the side that has the letter for your next terminal. This MAY not be the same side that everyone else is waiting on!

Denver Airport Terminal little girl walking on moving walkway with zebra pattern backpack

Getting to Your Concourse at the Denver Airport

The train will announce which terminal it is arriving at.

Hop off, then take the escalators all the way up to the terminal. At the top, there will be plenty of screens showing you departure gates.

The gates are split in half on the east and west side. Look to the left and right to see which way your gate is.

From here it’s simple. Just walk and find your gate. If it’s far, there are moving walkways to help speed up your transfer.

Denver Airport outdoor terrace seating couches
Denver Airport outdoor terrace pet area with fake turf

Outdoor terrace area at the end of concourse B

Facilities at the Denver Airport

You’ll see as you walk through the terminal that there are plenty of places to stop and grab a snack or meal.

Food and Shops at DIA

Choose from Newstands, bookstores, clothing shops, Starbucks, cafes, restaurants, and more. I love the variety, especially since there are so many options for gluten-free meals or other preferences.

There are plenty of bathrooms, plus you can fill your bottle at a water fill station. You’ll most likely find one of these wherever you see a bathroom and water fountain.

I’ve even seen a few indoor rooms and outdoor areas to take your dog to the bathroom.

Hidden Gems at the Denver Airport

We’ve been at the airport early enough before that we had lots of extra time. We decided to navigate the Denver airport to see what cool stuff we may have been missing. Here’s what we found:

Chapel

In the main terminal (where you have check-in and security), you can pray or meditate in the Interfaith Chapel. Find it on level 6 on the East side.

If you have extra time and look closely, you’ll find many hidden gems at the Denver Airport.

Plaza at the Denver Airport

What sits at the plaza between the Main Terminal and the Westin Hotel varies by year and by season.

In the past, there has been goat yoga, mini golf, concerts, and other fun events for the family.

For summer 2024, it is an open area that anyone is welcome to hang out in, as it is accessible before the security check.

Minigolf

This is not ideal for quick layovers, but if you have time, head to the main terminal on The Plaza for some mini golf. It runs through the summer months in the open air plaza between the Jeppesen terminal and the Westin Hotel.

Denver Airport Kidspace-

Unfortunately, Denver airport doesn’t have a kids play area like at some airports. But there are a couple things you can still do to play with the kids while you wait!

Need to entertain the kids? It may not have all the fun things that the city has, but there are still a few ways to pass the time.

Try out mini golf! It’s in the main terminal on The Plaza. See the big plane shaped hotel when you get to the airport? The Plaza is between the airport terminal and that hotel.

During the holidays, you’ll find an ice skating rink in the same area as mini golf.

Is there a play area at the Denver Airport?

Once upon a time there was a Denver airport play area. As far as I know, it is no more. We’ve been through this airport so many times and have not seen one in years.

I’ve seen that the play area at Denver airport was removed years ago and I haven’t seen a new one go in. Sorry 🙁

Lounges at the Denver Airport

If you are of status with an airline (or have credit card benefits with a specific airline), you can relax in one of the lounges.

The Centurion Lounge– by American Express. Find the Centurion Lounge in Concourse C near gate 46.

United Club- United Club members have two lounges in the B concourse.

Admirals Club, Delta Sky Club, and USO Lounge– these can all be found in Concourse A.

International Terminal at Denver Airport

For international departing flights out of Denver, you will access either terminal A, B, or C according to which airline you are flying (as noted above).

For incoming international flights, you will arrive in the International terminal. You’ll collect your bags and go through customs and then walk right through a door that drops you right into the main terminal with the check in counters.

If you’re arriving internationally but still have a connecting flight, you’ll have to recheck your bags.


Arriving at the Denver Airport (arriving flight)

Here are a few good things to know if you are arriving:

  • You’ll take the train (just like above) back to the main concourse. Listen for the automated voice to say “baggage claim.”
  • Baggage Claim is on level 5, with passenger pickup on level 4. When you come up the escalator for the train, look to the sides of the airport for signs with your airline on it. Then you’ll know which side to go to for baggage claim.
  • If you’re taking a shuttle or ride share, you’ll exit out level 5.
  • If you are riding the light rail (the train that goes from Denver to the airport and vice versa), you can catch it on level 5, heading toward the Westin hotel.
  • If you are arriving and laying over from an international destination, you’ll have to collect your bags, go through customs, and then re-check your bags to your final destination.

Finding the Denver Airport Baggage Claim

After getting off your flight and following the signs to baggage claim (which will include getting on the train, unless you are arriving in terminal A. Then you have the option of the train OR walking across the skyway).

Get off the train at “Main Terminal and Baggage Claim” (the train voice will announce this).

Your only option once getting off the train is to go up two sets of escalators. Then you’ll arrive in a large area with the famous 3-D mountain ceiling. Look to the ends of the large room to see if you need to go to the east or west side for your baggage claim.

The baggage claim signs will note which airlines are on which side (or, if you paid attention upon flight landing, the flight attendant will have noted which side).

Exiting the Airport: Transportation

Denver Airport Train to Downtown

To get straight from the airport to downtown Denver, you’ll need to go to level 5 in the main terminal and head toward the Westin hotel side. Here you can catch the light rail, (or, the Denver airport train to downtown).

The A line runs between the airport and Denver, specifically to Union Station. It runs everyday and every 15 minutes during the daytime. Early mornings and late evenings are scheduled every 30 minutes.

The A line is specifically designed for access from the airport, meaning you don’t have to carry your luggage over stairs. It also has specific space for luggage than other lines.

Union station is where you’ll make connecting transfers for getting around Colorado by ground transportation. Amtrak rolls into here, as well as plenty of buses like the Bustang or Snowstang for getting up to the mountains.

Check RTD fares here.

How to Exit the Denver Airport- Driving

If you don’t need the train, but are driving, it’s not too difficult figuring out how to get out of the Denver Airport area.

From short term parking, follow the signs to exit. This will put you on Peña Boulevard.

Most car rental areas and long term parkings are located a street off Peña as well.

To head south toward Colorado Springs or north toward Brighton:

For the fastest way to get on your way, take E-470 from Peña. The first exit will take you north toward Brighton, and the second will take you south toward Colorado Springs. E-470 is a toll road, and you will be charged to use it. There is no stopping and you are charged with your license plate and sent a bill.

To head to Denver OR to avoid tolls:

If you want to avoid a toll, you can continue driving on Peña until you get to I-70 (west). This is the best route if you are heading to Denver. If you need to go south, you can take I-70 to 225 south. If you need to go north, take I-70 to 270 or to I-25.

Where to Stay Near the Denver Airport

There are a few hotels near the Denver airport (and one right at the airport). Here’s a quick guide.

The Westin at Denver International- this is the “Denver airport hotel“. It’s a nicer hotel right at the end of the main terminal and designed into the shape of an airplane. If you have an early morning flight, this is the best, most convenient place to stay.

The Gaylord Rockies – this hotel is great for a stay with families. It has a great pool, lazy river, multiple restaurants on site, fun activities, and is famous for its Christmas events. It’s just a quick 15 minutes drive from Denver Airport.

Hilton Garden Inn – a 15 minute drive from the airport, Hilton Garden Inn has an indoor pool and is in walking distance to multiple restaurants. Free airport shuttle provided.

Home2 Suites – a Hilton brand hotel, this one is great for families. You can sleep up to 6 people in one room (including a sofa sleeper). These rooms are a little more spacious than a standard hotel room, have a small kitchen, free breakfast and free airport shuttle. 10 minutes from the airport.

Courtyard Marriott- this Denver Airport hotel is just 10 minutes away from the airport. You’ll get a fitness center, small convenience store for snacks, and a restaurant on site. Families can request adjoining rooms.

Embassy Suites – Just 10 minutes from the airport, this is another hotel great for families. Sleep up to 6 in one room (with a sofa bed). Enjoy the nice indoor pool, free breakfast, and a free shuttle to the airport.

Hopefully that helped you figure out how to navigate DIA! Safe travels 🙂

FAQ about the Denver Airport

What is the Denver Airport code?

The airport code for Denver International Airport is DEN

Is the Denver airport easy to navigate?

The Denver airport may seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not bad. There are 3 concourses that you access by underground train after going through security. Signage is good, making it easy to navigate your way through the Denver Airport.

How long does it take to get through security through the Denver airport?

There is no specific answer to this. Some days it could take over an hour, and some days it may take just a few minutes. The Denver airport has one main security point for all airlines, and one smaller checkpoint you can take a long walk to if you are flying Frontier (or another flight in concourse A). Leave at least an hour-and-a-half to get through security during high-travel times to play it safely.

Is the Denver airport DIA or DEN?

As a title, the Denver airport is called “DIA” for Denver International Airport. However, the code for the Denver airport is DEN when booking a flight.

How to take the train from Denver Airport

To access the light rail, Denver’s commuter train, head to the main terminal on level 5 and walk toward the Westin hotel. The train arrives here and will bring you to Union Station in downtown Denver.


Staying in the Denver area?

Don’t miss a day in Colorado Springs,

FREE Things to do in Denver with Kids

hiking in Eldorado Canyon State Park,

Rocky Mountain National Park,

or other fun day trips from Denver!


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7 Comments

  1. This is a great guide to navigating the Denver airport! Airports can be so confusing. Thanks for all the detailed information. And I love that they have mini golf!

    1. Right! Who knew you could mini golf at an airport. They’ve gotten so much cooler over the years.

  2. Thank you! Super helpful for anyone planning a trip through the Denver airport. Makes traveling with kids so much easier when I know what to expect!

    1. going through airports can be so stressful if you’re not familiar. Especially with kids!

  3. This is so helpful! Even after a couple of times at the Denver Airport we find ourselves still getting lost. We will absolutely utilize several of these tips.

  4. Great information! I always give myself 3 or 4 hours at the airport because you never know what to expect these days!

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