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Denver's Urban and Mountain Parks Offer Trails, Gardens, Nature, Music & More



The city of Denver has nearly 20,000 acres of urban parks and mountain parkland. Denver made a brilliant decision in the early 1900s: To acquire parcels of land in the mountains as part of the city's parks system. Genesee Park, home of Denver's famous herd of bison, was acquired in 1912. The acreage of Lookout Mountain Park, which includes the Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave, was acquired in 1915. Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre opened in 1941 and gained National Historic Landmark status in 2015. In addition to providing easy access to an extensive network of trails and spectacular views of the city and Continental Divide, the mountain parks preserve significant Colorado landscapes and intriguing pieces of Western history. Within Denver's Metro Area, the urban parks are no less impressive. Four Mile Historic Park preserves the oldest standing structure in Denver, and within the 330 acres of City Park are two of Denver's premier attractions, the Denver Zoo and stellar Museum of Nature & Science. Although Cherry Creek State Park and Coors Field are not part of the system, they are part of the city's metropolitan landscape where residents and visitors can enjoy green space and recreation. The 10 parks here are just the start. Denver has dozens of parks to explore and enjoy, and one is likely within a few blocks of wherever you're standing.


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Denver was born where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River meet, and that's exactly where Confluence Park is. Among its attractions is a whitewater course for kayakers, but it's also an area where walkers, runners, cyclists and others use picturesque paths along the river for their land-based recreation and relaxation. It is thrilling to watch accomplished kayakers brave the rapids against the backdrop of modern city skyline. The park is also the setting for a free summer concert series and it's an excellent spot for city dwellers to escape the summer heat simply by dipping their toes in the water. Currently a major area of the park is under construction after a long delay, but it will soon be upgraded and made even better, so stay tuned.

Recommended for Parks because: Confluence Park sits at the birthplace of the city of Denver, melding history with outdoor recreation for kayakers and other river lovers.

Christine's expert tip: Confluence Park is currently being reimagined and reengineered. When it's finished, it will be a spectacular river park for those who want to be on the whitewater course and those who want to watch or try something a bit tamer.

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Opened in 1995, Coors Field is a 76-acre ballpark in Denver's LoDo neighborhood, at the corner of Blake and 20th streets. While the park provides a great view of the game from every seat, if you sit along the first base/right field side, you'll also be treated to spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains that tower over Denver's skyline. Fans who arrive early can try for autographs from the players, between sections 116-121 and 142-146, up to 40 minutes prior to the game. Don't miss the Interactive Area, located behind the bullpens on the main concourse at Gate A, where fans can hit baseballs in a video batting cage, test their pitching speed and more. There's also a family seating section of the ballpark, perfect for families with younger children, where alcohol is not permitted.

Recommended for Parks because: Ballparks are parks, too, providing fans with a spectacular green field and a place to gather, relax and root, root, root for the home team.

Christine's expert tip: Tours of Coors Field, offered on various days during the season and off-season, provide a behind-the-scenes look at a top Major League Baseball park.

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At 2,413 acres, Genesee Park is the largest of Denver's mountain parks and the first in the mountain park system, acquired in 1912. It's also home to the city's historic bison herd of about 20 animals, and a Civilian Conservation Corps historic shelter and picnic area near the summit of Genesee Mountain. You've probably seen signs for the Chief Hosa Campground on I-70, the park's overnight spot for both RV and tent campers¬‚Äďa mountain getaway just a few miles from downtown Denver. For experienced hikers, the park offers the historic 11.5-mile Beaver Brook Trail, accessible from May to November and rated as difficult, thanks in part to an elevation gain of 1,900 feet. Whether you visit for the day or overnight, Genesee Park is a true gem in Denver's incredible parks system.

Recommended for Parks because: Genesee Park was the first mountain park in Denver's park system, acquired in 1912. It's also home to the city's historic bison herd.

Christine's expert tip: While it's fun to see the bison herd as you're barreling along I-70 at 65 mph, it's also dangerous. Instead, get off the highway and head to the park itself. The bison are viewed more safety from your own two feet.

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Located within the 110-acre Lookout Mountain Park, part of Denver's mountain parks system, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave celebrates the life and times of one of the West's first superstars. Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show on the road to a thousand cities across the globe, from 1883 to 1913, epitomizing the West and North America for the thousands of people who attended his theatrical events. At his request he was buried at the top of 7,375-foot Lookout Mountain in 1917, above the town of Golden. Today, this is one of metro Denver's most popular attractions. But getting there is half the fun. The twisting, turning Lariat Loop Trail is one of Colorado's most scenic (and for some hair-raising) drives.

Recommended for Parks because: The museum captures the romance of the Old West and tells the story of one of the era's most iconic figures.

Christine's expert tip: A one-mile mountain trail connects the Buffalo Bill Museum to the Lookout Mountain Nature Center. If hiking isn't for you, do go out the museum's excellent observation deck for stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.

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Four Mile Historic Park tells the story of Denver's oldest standing structure and the 12 acres around it. Four Mile House (now Four Mile House Museum) was built in 1859. In 1860, a widow and her two teenage children opened it as a stage stop for weary travelers who could wash up and have a home-cooked meal or spend the night before traveling the final four miles into Denver. In 1864, Levi and Millie Booth bought it, and the Booth family remained there until the 1940s. Today, visitors can see historic and reproduction buildings; take a guided tour; pan for gold; visit the farm's horses, goats and chickens; attend special events related to farms and Western history; and learn about long-ago Denver and the Cherokee Trail. Four Mile Historic Park is a rural gem within the urban city limits of Denver, a worthy visit for all ages.

Recommended for Parks because: Denver and western history come alive in this park that was once a stage stop for westward-bound travelers, four miles from Denver.

Christine's expert tip: Check the park's website for information on a variety of special events held during the year, including a celebration of winter holidays, Victorian style.

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Denver Botanic Gardens includes two facilities. The main gardens are on York Street, 24 acres on the east side of Denver's Cheesman Park, just 10 minutes from downtown. Chatfield Farms is south of the city in Littleton. The York Street facilities showcases several kinds of gardens including Gardens of the West, Internationally Inspired Gardens (Japan, South Africa and the tropics supply some of the inspiration), Ornamental Gardens, Shady Gardens and Water Gardens. Mordecai Children's Garden is a place for families with young children to learn about plants and nature through hands-on experiences and play. Also interactive is the Science Pyramid. A variety of tours are available at the Gardens, and the summer concert series and seasonal plant sales are Denver traditions. In summer, the Botanic Gardens also offers guided wildflower hikes on a moderately difficult trail on Mount Goliath, a mountain peak section of Mount Evans.

Recommended for Parks because: In addition to its acres of flowers and plants on display, Denver Botanic Gardens provides learning, concerts, guided hikes and a wealth of worthy events.

Christine's expert tip: Free days are scheduled throughout the year, thanks to funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. Check the Botanic Gardens website to find which days are free.

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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Photo courtesy of 5/09 from the website: http://www.redrocksonline.com/pages/media/media_pics.html


One of Denver's truly unique and inspiring attractions, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre combines 640 acres of natural geological wonders with a concert and event venue known for its stunning acoustics. Attending a concert is just one reason to visit this park. Equally awesome are the ancient red sandstone formations, some more than 250 million years old and 300 feet high. Two relatively short, moderate trails within the park provide photo-worthy views. A longer trail is also accessed here. Don't miss the park's Visitor Center, which provides a wealth of information on all that makes Red Rocks so special, from the geology created by nature to the impressive music history made here. A summer film series and the famed Easter sunrise service are just two of the noteworthy events held annually at Red Rocks.

Recommended for Parks because: It's one of the top music venues on the planet, set in a park with inspiring geologic formations and trails.

Christine's expert tip: Although the two trails within the park are short, they traverse some rough terrain so wear or bring good hiking boots/shoes for exploring.

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Cherry Creek State Park is located just to the east and south of Denver proper, in Aurora. It offers a huge expanse of natural prairie land, 12 miles of paved trails and 35 miles of multi-use trails, plus birding, fishing, camping, boating, cross-country skiing, education programs and so much more. In a nutshell, it's a full-on nature experience within a major urban metropolitan area. At its heart is an 880-acre reservoir, the big draw for boaters as well as for swimmers and sun lovers who enjoy the sandy beach in summer months. On the west side of the park is the popular Model Airplane Field, which has two paved runways. There's also a stables, a shooting range, a marina and two boat ramps, to say nothing of excellent picnic sites.

Recommended for Parks because: It's everything a state park should be, except it's not out in a wilderness area but smack in the middle of a busy metropolitan area.

Christine's expert tip: Avoid the crowds by enjoying the park during off-peak periods such as weekdays or any time in spring, fall and winter.

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Washington Park


"Wash Park," as it's known locally, is not just a gorgeous expanse of gardens, lakes and green, it's also a place where Denver's outdoor-loving residents work out and play, biking, walking, running, practicing yoga and tennis, or joining classes at the rec center. In summer, surrey bikes and pedal boats are available to rent and most evenings the large central field is crowded with volleyball players. A couple of nights each week, the croquet/lawn bowling court is open for newbies to learn from club members, and summer Sundays there's music. Wash Park's flower gardens are among the city's most beautiful; one was modeled on gardens at George Washington's home in Virginia, Mount Vernon. For families with small children there are two playgrounds. In spring when the resident goslings and ducklings appear, it's hard not to smile as they waddle across park roads stopping all traffic.

Recommended for Parks because: Washington Park is a beauty with its two lakes, vibrant flower gardens and expansive lawns and walkways, and it's home to a popular rec center.

Christine's expert tip: Join local shutterbugs who come to photograph the park's spectacular sunsets, then head east a few blocks to Gaylord Street or west a few blocks to Old South Pearl, two of Denver's prime thoroughfares for restaurants and taverns.

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City Park

When it was created in 1882, City Park was 320 acres of windswept prairie. Today, it's acres of green and gardens, lakes, the 18-hole City Park Golf Course and it's home to the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, including the IMAX theater and planetarium. The park lies within five miles of 85 percent of all Denver residents, and is both a local destination and prime destination for visitors to the Mile High City. Weather and season permitting, activities include kayaking or pedal boating on Ferril Lake, two playgrounds, tennis courts, golf, fishing and horseshoes. Historic glass houses have been located in the park since 1895. Today, the City Park greenhouses grow over 330,000 plants and flowers for the flowerbeds in Denver's park citywide.

Recommended for Parks because: City Park's acres of parkland are complemented by two of the city's prime attractions: The Denver Zoo and Museum of Nature & Science.

Christine's expert tip: For panoramic views of the Denver skyline rising over City Park's lawns and trees, head to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and find several photo-op locations.

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Meet Christine Loomis

Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York,...  More About Christine

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