In case you haven't noticed, it's been hellishly hot around here lately -- which naturally got us thinking about the best places to cool off in the Denver area and beyond. Fortunately, our Best of Denver archive features more than twenty years' worth of great ideas about pretty much everything under the sun at its most blazing. We picked our ten favorite wet and wild recommendations from our archive. Count them down, and chill out, below. Number 10: Soda Lakes Water Ski School
Just off C-470 at Morrison Road are two bodies of water: the Soda Lakes. The larger one is open to all manner of water activities, such as wind surfing and kayaking, but the smaller lake is reserved for one activity: water skiing lessons. You can rent skis, towrope, life jackets, lessons and a guy with a boat to tow you around. Chuck Blood is the guy with the boat and the proprietor/instructor of the school; his ski school is a real liquid asset in this land-locked state.
Number 9: Pirates Cove Family Aquatics Park
Ahoy, mateys! When the season fer swimmin' the briny deep's upon us, get ye down to Englewood, where the Jolly Roger flies o'er Pirates Cove. The City of Englewood water park, replete with three pools, debuted last summer to rave reviews by just about everyone, from the tots in swim diapers to swimmers with serious agendas, and no wonder: There are six lanes for lap swimmers, a lazy-river feature and a leisure pool with play islands, a super-soaking 750-gallon dump bucket (look out below, me buckos!), smoke-belching cannons, a spray park, slides and sound effects. Load up your towels, beach toys, sunscreen, flip-flops, peg legs and eye patches, and head for the pool.
Page down to see more of our top ten places to stay cool in Denver and beyond during a heat wave. Number 8: Splash Family Water Park
It's a sweltering summer day, and you and the kids want to get cool but don't necessarily want to take out a loan to do it. Drive west to the year-old Splash water park, thoughtfully provided by the citizens of Golden. It may not have the latest 1.5 million-gallon tsunami scrambler, but with an eight-lane lap pool, a 300-gallon bucket dump, two giant slides (one for inner tubes), and a geyser-shooting splash pad and sandpit for the kids, there's plenty to occupy your time.
Number 7: Devil's Punch Bowl
Tucked away on the other side of the Continental Divide, on the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River about seven miles above Aspen, lies one of the state's singular treasures: the Devil's Punch Bowl. It's not just a swimming hole; it's Nirvana with a river running through it. Imagine a cool, refreshing stream (okay, it's Ice Station Zebra cold), a glorious, in-the-raw alpine setting (um, would it be too much to ask for a bathroom?) and numerous launching sites for flinging your body into the abyss of a watery embrace (as long as you're not afraid of dizzying heights). Best of all, this mountain-stream madness is but a Frisbee throw from Highway 82 -- just close enough to run back, naked and screeching, when Mr. Bear comes stumbling out of the woods looking for an easy meal.
Page down to see more of our top ten places to stay cool in Denver and beyond during a heat wave. Number 6: Golden Community Center
The Golden Community Center's got it all under one roof: a six-lane lap pool, a therapy pool and an awesome kids' pool designed to provide a great swimming experience for all, regardless of age or level of water wisdom. Babies in swim diapers are in their element in gradually graded shallows that mimic the seashore, while older kids can romp through everything from fountains and waterfalls to a challenging floating bridge and a gigantic, 150-foot water slide. But the GCC really makes a splash with its birthday parties. Packages include all of the above plus a large private party room. And because everything's indoors, the parties are perfect in any season.
Rock Canyon may seem a bit far afield, but any beach bum worth his grain of sand is no stranger to committing a full day to a cool dip. And hey, it's closer than the coasts. On this beach, at the base of the 200-foot-tall, 10,500-foot-wide Lake Pueblo Dam, swimmers can enjoy their own private lake and swim beach. Huge cottonwoods rim the entire swimming area, offering protection from the scorching southern Colorado sun. Still, slather on the sunscreen before you wet yourself wild in the lake or on the water slide and bumper boats. Hot dogs and cold drinks are available for the picnic-challenged.
Page down to see more of our top ten places to stay cool in Denver and beyond during a heat wave. Number 4: Apex Center
An incredible site, the Apex Center features a huge swimming area complete with water slides, hot tubs and a clubhouse-like "pump station" that sprays water from every conceivable angle. There's also an excellent ice rink, workout areas, weight rooms and an enormous climbing wall, plus a place to get food so people who've just worked off lots of calories can replenish them again.
Number 3: Wheat Ridge Recreation Center
Most metro-area indoor rec centers struggle to decide what they are. A splash area for kids? A workout pool for adults? As a result, many end up inadequate. Not Wheat Ridge Recreation Center. One side of this massive complex boasts a 120-foot water slide, fountains, a lazy river (free flotation devices available) and an outdoor patio for summer. On the other side, separated by a glass wall, is an eight-lane, 25-yard pool large enough to accommodate anything from a gaggle of geriatric breast-strokers to an entire competitive swimming meet. For the more daring, the adult side also has a springy one-meter diving board where grownups can practice their very mature cannonballs.
Page down to see more of our top ten places to stay cool in Denver and beyond during a heat wave. Number 2: Stapleton pools
Stapleton may not have too many shade trees, but it has three public pools (the Aviator, the Puddle Jumper and the F-15) where overheated new-urbanists can cool off during the summer. Although all three can get crowded on the weekends, there are usually plenty of chairs and sufficient space to stretch out. The pools themselves are new and clean, and the areas around them feature grassy areas, barbecues and picnic tables. While Stapletonians get in free with a neighborhood resident card, the rest of city can enjoy the pools, too, at $3 for kids and $7 for adults. Oh, and you can bring in canned beer (no bottles, please), and they kick the kids out of the water every 45 minutes for adult swim time.
Number 1: Grant-Frontier Park
This hidden corner of Denver has a proud history of being the best place to test the waters. Grant-Frontier Park commemorates the alleged location of Montana City, the first settlement established by pioneers on the South Platte River a year before the city of Denver. The width of the river narrows just north of the park's foot bridge, and the bike path is routed away from the river, leaving a stretch of river bank perfect for reenacting the pioneer peel. In the summer, the slow-moving shallow water is quickly warmed by the hot sun. A trek through the thick undergrowth is a must for the more secluded wallowing spots away from hostile witnesses and bored park police. Also, it's probably best to keep your face out of the river water, as the Englewood city sewage treatment plant is less than a mile upstream. As all skinny-dippers and pioneers know, keeping your head up and your eyes and ears open is the smart way to keep your ass out of hot water.
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