Take a Hike! Denver's Ten Best Urban Trails This Winter

Denver has urban trails galore.
Denver has urban trails galore. Kyle Harris
Your need for fresh air is growing faster than the traffic jams on westbound Interstate 70. Fortunately, the Denver area has plenty of hiking trails, whether you're looking for a quick escape in the middle of your workday, an epic weekend trek in town, a toe-dip into the wild or a culture-rich excursion.

So bundle up, and then head out into the urban jungle.
click to enlarge Bluff Lake in warmer weather. - KYLE HARRIS
Bluff Lake in warmer weather.
Kyle Harris
Bluff Lake Nature Center
Distances vary

If you want to spy ducks, owls, beavers, wild turkeys, deer, coyote, hawks and more, take a trip to the Bluff Lake Nature Center, where you can wander trails around the lake, read the educational signs and enjoy what feels like a journey deep into nature. (It's actually between a residential area in the newly named Central Park neighborhood, a shopping center and a jail.) Go to the Bluff Lake website for information about self-guided tours and other educational opportunities.
click to enlarge A mural by Nigel Penhale near 11th Avenue. - KENZIE BRUCE
A mural by Nigel Penhale near 11th Avenue.
Kenzie Bruce
Cherry Creek Trail
12.7 miles

Beginning at Confluence Park, the Cherry Creek Trail takes users from downtown Denver through the Golden Triangle and Cherry Creek neighborhoods all the way to the Cherry Creek Reservoir. Along the way, you'll see public murals and go through Four Mile Park, City of Takayama Park, the Cherry Creek Country Club and more. In the summer, the trail is often clogged with bikers, but on a cold winter day, walkers can enjoy it without the dangers of so many cyclists zipping by.
click to enlarge Geese at City Park. - KYLE HARRIS
Geese at City Park.
Kyle Harris
City Park Mile High Loop
3.1 miles
If you're looking for a short walk with plenty of cultural offerings, playgrounds, tennis courts, a golf course, ponds and glorious views of downtown and the mountains, nothing beats City Park. A popular spot for 5K races, the park has a host of trails, and if you want to incorporate other activities in your walk, head to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Zoo, or walk a few blocks south to Colfax Avenue and pick up a coffee or to-go snack and bring it back to the park for a picnic.
click to enlarge Looking toward the city from Green Mountain. - KYLE HARRIS
Looking toward the city from Green Mountain.
Kyle Harris
William F. Hayden Green Mountain Park
Distances vary

With wide-open vistas of downtown and glorious views of the Front Range, this Lakewood park offers miles of intersecting trails on an exposed mountain. It's a popular spot for mountain bikers, but don't let that deter you: If you hike any of the offshoots of the main Green Mountain loop, there's a good chance you'll have a few moments of peace and quiet. Summertime is more crowded and you have to watch for rattlesnakes, so winter is an ideal time to experience this area. 
click to enlarge Enjoy a stroll on the High Line Canal Trail. - FLICKR/JAMES PAULL
Enjoy a stroll on the High Line Canal Trail.
Flickr/James Paull
High Line Canal Trail
71 miles

Cutting through Arapahoe, Denver and Douglas counties, the High Line Canal Trail, one of the nation's longest urban trails, includes everything from public art to ponds, forests, residential areas, golf courses and industrial zones. Bikers, horse riders, rollerbladers and joggers are often out and about, but considering that 350,000 residents live within a mile of the trail, many stretches still feel very remote. Find more information on highlinecanal.org.

Red Rocks Park
Distance varies

While Red Rocks Park is best known for its world-famous amphitheater nestled between 300-foot-high rock formations, the 640-acre Denver mountain park also offers two hiking trails: the 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail and the six-mile Red Rocks Trail, which leads to Matthew Winters Park. During concert season, these trails are packed, and the roads to them can be clogged with traffic. In winter, they're considerably less crowded and offer the same stunning views of the plains and the rock formations.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
9 miles

Ten miles northeast of downtown, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge has nine miles of trails where you can check out more than 300 species of animals, from bald eagles to bison. If it's open, head to the visitors' center for information about educational opportunities and more; otherwise, just enjoy the wide-open spaces.
click to enlarge Sometimes you see wild animals, other times you see grocery carts. - KYLE HARRIS
Sometimes you see wild animals, other times you see grocery carts.
Kyle Harris
Sand Creek Regional Greenway
12.4 miles

Stretching from Commerce City into Aurora, the Sand Creek Trail offers views of everything from a jail and smoke-spewing industrial buildings to suburbs, secluded wooded areas, meadows and more. You might see deer, coyotes, foxes and prairie dogs, and while the trail cuts through Central Park and other residential neighborhoods, it's often less trafficked than many other Denver trails. You can even extend your walk with a detour to the Bluff Lake Nature Center.
click to enlarge The South Platte River Trail has fewer bikers in the winter months. - TIM CIGELSKE / FLICKR
The South Platte River Trail has fewer bikers in the winter months.
South Platte River Trail
36-plus miles

Starting in Brighton and stretching through rural, industrial and residential areas along the South Platte River, this path takes you through downtown Denver and Littleton all the way to Chatfield State Park, if you tack on the Mary Carter Greenway Trail. While this jaunt cuts through industrial and residential areas and is entirely paved (though there are dirt footpaths alongside much of it), it was used by Native Americans long before European settlers came to this region. Along the way, you'll pass iconic spots like Riverside Cemetery, Ruby Hill Park, Elitch Gardens, Broncos Stadium, Hudson Gardens and Confluence Park.
click to enlarge Give your dog an off-leash romp at the Westminster Dog Park. - KYLE HARRIS
Give your dog an off-leash romp at the Westminster Dog Park.
Kyle Harris
Westminster Dog Park
Distance varies
With 420 acres of open space and plenty of trails where your dogs can wander off leash, the Westminster Dog Park, adjacent to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, is a dog owner's dream destination for hiking (if you don't think about the plutonium processing that took place nearby). The dog park has long been a popular spot, but during the pandemic, throngs are flocking here. While it's easy to keep your social distance while enjoying epic views of the Front Range, don't expect seclusion. And while you won't see any wildlife, you're bound to be sniffed by the cutest dogs you've ever seen.

What are your favorite urban walks and hikes around Denver? Let us know at [email protected]
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris