It’s tough to stay indoors in Denver. With sun and blue skies practically year-round, plus mountain views and an outdoorsy culture, people here just want to be outside. Luckily, with over 200 hundred parks and open spaces, the city makes it easy to do just that. From walking paths and playgrounds to skate parks and kayaking spots, there’s someplace for just about everyone.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there may be additional travel restrictions. Check the latest guidance in Denver before planning a trip, and always follow local government health advice.
A small park tucked into downtown Denver, Confluence Park is all about terraced lawns, dramatic skyscraper views and water play. The South Platte River and Cherry Creek meet here, hence the park’s name, creating a small beach and shallow waters that are filled with families during the summer; a short white-water section entices kayakers and tubers. The Cherry Creek Trail starts here too, meandering 40 miles through Denver-metro’s urban landscapes and green spaces – a popular trail for cyclists.
Commons Park is nestled between the South Platte River and the swanky LoDo neighborhood, just next to Confluence Park. A nexus of sorts, the park is popular with Denver’s urban set, its verdant hills lined with curving bike paths and a waterfront trail, modern works of art dotting the landscape. To the south stands the impossible-to-miss Millennium Bridge, with its towering 200-ft mast-like cable structure; it connects Commons Park to the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian walkway traversing downtown Denver. In the other direction, a second bridge crosses the river into LoHi, one of Denver’s trendiest neighborhoods. And to the north is Denver Skate Park, a 60,000 sq ft cement gathering place for some of the best skaters in town.
City Park is the largest of Denver’s municipal parks: a 330-acre megastar just east of downtown. Jogging trails and paved walkways crisscross the leafy park while two lakes are popular for fishing and paddle-boating. You’d think sprawling playgrounds and a splash pad, lighted tennis courts and free jazz concerts would be the icing on the cake but that title is held by the superb Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, both on the north side of the park.
Ruby Hill Bike Park
Ruby Hill Bike Park is a gem, a seven-acre park cut into a neighborhood of warehouses. Rippled pump tracks, a skills course, even steep ramps and wall rides make this a challenging park for all levels of riders. Observation areas along an outer loop make it easy to ooh-and-ahh at experts catching air on gnarly lines as well as to keep an eye on kids on pedal-less bikes riding their first dirt tracks.
Lush playing fields, sparkling lakes and vast flower gardens are the hallmarks of Wash Park. (One of the gardens is a replica of Martha Washington’s garden at Mt. Vernon.) It’s a fitness hub too, with a tree-lined jogging loop and bike paths as well as a bustling rec center with an indoor pool, weight and cardio rooms; summers see the lawns crowded with volleyball nets and the lakes dotted with paddle boarders. One of Denver’s finest parks, Wash Park is set in an upscale but still Rockwellian neighborhood, with historic homes, specialty boutiques and welcoming eateries.
Cheeseman Park is a historic park located in its namesake neighborhood, one of the most LGBTIQ +-friendly in Denver. The city’s annual PrideFest parade always starts here, when a sea of rainbow flags and bedazzled folk fill the park. The rest of the year, Cheeseman is popular for its jogging paths and wide grassy expanses, ideal for sunning, picnicking and epic volleyball games. Sitting on a former 19th century cemetery, the park is also notorious for its paranormal activity, attracting ghost hunters year-round. (An estimated two thousand unearthed bodies might be the reason!)
Paco Sánchez Park
Dr. Seuss meets Denver’s west side at Paco Sánchez Park, a hilly expanse of open space with perhaps the best playground in town. Eye-popping play structures include zip-lines, aerial walking loops, curly cue ladders, undulating play pods and psychedelic climbing structures – all sturdy enough for parents to join in the play (and they do). The centerpiece of the park is a 30-ft climbing tower shaped like a vintage microphone, a nod to the park’s namesake, a radio pioneer who launched Denver’s first Spanish-language radio station from his living room in 1954.
Golden History Park
Take a peek into homesteader life at the Golden History Park and its re-created pioneer settlement. The grounds feature original 19th-century buildings, including a cabin, two-seat outhouse, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop...even an antique chicken coop stocked with chickens. Open and free to the public, visitors can wander or take self-guided tours (there are free Walking Guide pamphlets at the entrances). Volunteers sometimes staff the site in period dress, serving as guides and experts on what life was like in the Wild West. Located on the banks of Clear Creek in Golden, just minutes from downtown Denver.
Lair o’ the Bear
Lair o’ the Bear is a popular Front Range park just 20-miles west of downtown Denver. It’s a shady, mountainous place with a gurgling creek running through it. A small network of easy to moderate trails make hiking with little ones possible (there’s even a ‘castle’ – a popular wedding site – at the end of one trail), while brown and rainbow trout entice anglers of all ages. Picnic tables can be found throughout the park and a small pavilion often serves as a spot for educational nature talks.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is one of the country’s largest urban refuges. Located on the outskirts of Denver, this one-time chemical weapons production facility is now home to over 330 species of wildlife, including bison and bald eagles. The park features over ten miles of hiking trails that pass through wetlands, woodlands and grasslands; its lakes are popular weekend fishing spots too. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center with its well-curated exhibit hall and hands-on ‘Discovery Room’ for kids. Free tours of the refuge are a bonus!
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