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Denver is a city made for walking and hiking, with an enormous number of paths and trails of varying difficulty all over the metro area. Now that it's springtime, visitors and residents alike need to get outdoors and see the incredible beauty in person, not just through a window! Here are my ten favorite places to go for a walk.
City Park is Denver's answer to New York's Central Park, a sizeable nature area where the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science are located. Gardens, fountains, lakes and monuments adorn the area and give it the feel of a big city park. There are numerous paths throughout the park and around the lake that make it the perfect location for a family stroll, as well as activities such as paddleboating, picnicking and golfing. The absolute best view of the city with the Rockies majestically towering behind it can be found on the west patio of the museum.
The Cherry Creek Trail is an urban oasis that extends from the heart of downtown Denver to the Cherry Creek Reservoir about ten miles away. Many people use this trail to walk, bike and rollerblade. It connects to many other Denver trails and is accessible from many points including Lower Downtown, Cherry Creek (behind the mall) and Cherry Creek State Park in the southeast. It is generally a very flat concrete path, so it is an easy stroll in most places. All you need are comfortable walking shoes!
Red Rocks is a Denver City Mountain Park where the famous Amphitheatre is located. This is perhaps the most spectacular setting for a theatre in the world! The park also has a hiking trail, the Trading Post Loop, which is 1.4 miles in length, and goes through spectacular rock formations, valleys and a natural meadow. Some of the terrain is rough, so hiking boots/ shoes are recommended. Also, hikers should be prepared for adverse weather conditions as the weather can change very quickly. Although this trail is challenging in its vertical climb, it is well worth the effort for the incredible views of the city and the plains.
The Platte River Trail extends from downtown Denver south many miles to Chatfield Reservoir. It is a flat concrete bike path which is well used by cyclists and rollerbladers as well as walkers. It extends through an industrial area closer to downtown, but eventually starts to meander through wilder settings the further you get away from the city. A great daytrip would be to take the Light Rail south to the terminus at Mineral. Cross over the bridge, go through the parking lot and you'll be right on the river path. The Theo Carson Nature Center, located at the trailhead, has displays on the local flora and fauna. A walk in either direction will afford some great views of the mountains and the wetlands.
Highline Canal is 60 miles of trails throughout suburban residential neighborhoods that parallel old canals used by farmers many years ago. It is still administered by the Denver Water Board and has become a major recreational amenity in the Denver area. The multi-use dirt trails accommodate walkers, cyclists and even horse riders. The southern end of the trails offer the best views over rolling hills and quiet valleys. The private property that borders the Highline Canal often boasts very pricey homes, which are interesting to see close up!
South Valley Park is located in Littleton, Colorado about 15 miles southwest of Denver. It is part of the Jefferson County Open Space Parks and offers a small park with huge views of the local geology and wildlife. Coyote Song Trail is a 1.5 mile trail from the parking lot down to the end of the valley through a number of red rock formations and towering cliffs. Coyote, deer and elk are frequently seen from the trails. It's an area that the locals enjoy, but is not crowded with tourists.
Roxborough State Park is an area known for its spectacular sightseeing amid ancient red rock geological formations, as well as diverse climate zones and abundant wildlife. The most popular path is the Fountain Valley Trail, a 2.2-mile loop throughout the most scenic parts of the park. It is a moderate descent and climb on a gravel road. It has a very informative Visitors' Center as well as an old homestead which been preserved and can be toured inside. It is about a 45-minute drive from downtown and there is currently a $5.00 per day entry fee per car.
Barr Lake State Park is known as an exceptional wildlife habitat, particularly for bird watchers who can spot over 300 species of birds at the park. It is home to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and an important Colorado wildlife refuge. The Barr Lake State Park Loop is a flat dirt trail along the shoreline of Barr Lake offering great views to the Indian Peaks and even Long's Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park. This is great area for the whole family to get out and enjoy some excellent outdoor activities in a wonderful wildlife area. It is about 15 miles north of Denver and the airport near Brighton, Colorado. It also has a $5.00/day entrance fee.
Green Mountain Park is another very popular destination for mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians. Visitors to the park can enjoy the incredible views of Denver and the Front Range, as well as the opportunity to observe a variety of plants and animals. A good trail is the Hayden Loop, about a three-mile walk up the mountainside (a steep trail at first), over the top of the mountain, then meandering down along the side back to the main parking lot. I would describe it as a moderate hike, on a dirt trail. Do watch out for some crazy mountain bikers zooming along behind you (they're generally courteous and will announce their presence).
Bear Creek Lake Park in nearby Lakewood, offers recreational opportunities and environmental educational programming for all ages. The park is also home to an array of wildlife - snakes, birds, coyotes, prairie dogs, birds of prey and deer. The park contains three lakes - Big Soda Lake, Little Soda Lake and Bear Creek Lake as well as 15 miles of dirt trails for biking and hiking. I particularly enjoy the trail through the park that emerges from the trees onto a ridge with a great view of the Hogback, the first line of high foothills before the "real" mountains begin! There is a $4.00/day entrance fee for the park.