While many of us yearn for a mountain escape in the Rockies, it isn’t always possible to sneak out of Denver to the safe and solitary confines of the Front Range. Still, that doesn’t mean that outdoor adventurers in the Denver area can’t fulfill their hankering for nature within or near to the city limits. Denver pumps $81 million per year into their parks system, and the city has protected 6,000 acres for public use and enjoyment. The outdoor opportunities here are as myriad as those in the mountains, and some of them may be just a few blocks away. Whether you’re crunched for time on a busy weekend or just want to stay closer to home, Denver has a park with trails for hiking or mountain biking, open waters for sailing and stand-up paddling, or rugged and beautiful sandstone formations to appreciate.
Floaters making their way down the South Platte River at Confluence Park. Photo by Outdoor Project Co-Founder Tyson Gillard.
At the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, visitors to Confluence Park can dip in Cherry Creek or use the site as a launch point for river floats. Coffee service at REI’s patio is nearby, and the park hosts a summer concert series, as well.
With 330 acres encompassing the Denver Zoo and Museum of Nature and Science, City Park is Denver’s biggest park—and with walking paths and a boathouse, there’s enough here to fill an entire day.
A lower key park option exists at the City of Cuernavaca Park, named for Denver's sister city in Mexico. Open space, field and picnic facilities, and pedestrian routes make this a great spot to unwind in the city.
Lakes and Reservoirs
Boulder Creek at Eben G. Fine Park. Photo by Outdoor Project Co-Founder Tyson Gillard.
Cherry Creek State Park offers 880 acres of open water with a marina and a boat ramp for boat use, and everything in between—including blessed waters that were the site of a papal mass with Pope John Paul II in 1993.
Boasting a whitewater park, Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder is a must-visit for kayakers and tubers.
With nearly 4,000 surface acres of water, Chatfield State Park attracts hundreds of bird species for birders to watch, horseback riding, and cycling, in addition to a campground and amenities, including showers and a boat ramp.
Bear Creek Lake Park offers 2,600 acres of open space, which includes miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding and boat ramps at both Bear Creek Reservoir and Big Soda Lake.
Sloan's Lake Park may not swimmable, but there's no better place to go for birdwatching from between the gunnels of a canoe or on a stand-up paddleboard or kayak. A robust park space and a 2.6-mile paved path around the lake make this park popular for land-based pursuits as well.
Rock and Stone
South Rim area of Roxborough State Park. Photo by Outdoor Project Co-Founder Tyson Gillard.
Roxborough State Park, 20 miles south of Denver, offers 300-million-year-old sandstone flatirons similar to those found north in Boulder, but with the ruddy, red color of the desert Southwest. Six hiking trails cross its 3,000 acres.
Watertown Canyon Recreation Area, although a short drive from Denver to Littleton, offers the opportunity to see wildlife, like black bears and bighorn sheep, which reside in the canyon year-round.
A mecca for climbers, Eldorado Canyon is a dirtbag destination, but snowshoers and kayakers can find opportunities in the winter and spring.
It doesn't get much more iconic than Red Rocks Amphitheater + Park, home to some of the Denver area's most memorable outdoor events and concerts. The dramatic views and the distinctive rock walls make this a must-experience venue. And even if you can't catch a show, this is a great spot to head for a workout!
Chautauqua Park with a view of Boulder's Flatirons. Photo by Outdoor Project Co-Founder Tyson Gillard.
Chautauqua Park is a sort of YMCA for the outdoors. At the base of the Flatirons, it offers an extensive trail network as well as the picnic tables, tennis, and a dining hall that offers an afternoon happy hour.
Golden's Lookout Mountain Park is a nature preserve that provides visitors with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities in addition to plenty of park amenities. The park also includes interpretive trails and a route that links up with Windy Mountain Park.