Best Denver Mountain Park 2013 | Summit Lake | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

How many major cities can offer a stroll in the tundra, 12,840 feet above sea level? Only one. High on Mount Evans, Summit Lake is the jewel of Denver's century-old mountain-park system, offering spectacular views to photographers and a highly manageable trail for youngsters and elders. Summer this high in the Rockies is all too brief, but that's all the more reason to enjoy the drive (the U.S. Forest Service charges a fee for access) and the brilliant wildflowers.

There's a noble reason behind the Denver Zoo's breeding program, which produces some of the most effing adorable baby animals we've ever seen. For instance: The Amur leopard, a species of spotted, blue-eyed leopard native to Russia, is nearly extinct due to poaching and trophy hunting, but by pairing a male and female Amur leopard, lighting a few candles and playing some Marvin Gaye, the zoo is hoping to help bring the species back. Last April, they succeeded in the cutest of ways when mom Dazma and dad Hari-Kari became the proud parents of a male baby leopard that the zoo named Makar.

The Denver Zoo is much like a meddling mother when it comes to love. It's constantly bringing in potential mates for its most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes under the auspices of a "species survival plan" — the animal equivalent of your parents inviting the neighbors' unmarried son over for supper and then commenting about how a grandchild or two would be nice. The best of the zoo's matches this year involved Chewbacca, a red panda with an adorable face and the bushiest tail you've ever seen. Originally from Detroit, Chewbacca has one mission in Denver: to make babies with Daisy, the zoo's female red panda, because the world needs more adorable faces and bushy tails.

Tucked away in Boulder's north end, this modest two-acre retreat has much to recommend it, pooch-wise — including separate fenced areas for large and small dogs, great surrounding scenery, and a less chaotic vibe than larger parks or the sprawling off-leash areas at the reservoirs. Recent upgrades at Foothills Community Dog Park, including shelters and water lines, make this an even more ideal retreat for you and your Boulder-ready, bandanna-wearing canine.

Vail celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this season — as well as the 25th anniversary of the day snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton persuaded the ski area to allow snowboarders on the hill — by hiring Snow Park Technologies to build the longest and steepest 22-foot superpipe on the international competition circuit. Olympic gold-medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark took top honors at the U.S. Open — surprise, surprise — but the real winners were the locals who got to ride it all season.

Talk about a no-brainer. John Grant Jr. isn't just the most valuable player on the Mammoth. He's been the most valuable player for the entire National Lacrosse League for two consecutive seasons. And that's appropriate, since he set a new single-season points record (116!) despite missing a couple of games due to a fractured sternum — an injury that no doubt caused him a great deal of pain even after he was cleared to play again. Now that he's back to full health, can we expect even greater things from him? That'd be tough in light of his achievements over the past couple of seasons. But it'll be fun watching him try.

Rocky has ruled the Denver mascots roost since the era when he was pretty much the only reason to pay attention during the second half of Nuggets games, and he's become such an institution that players from other teams are eager to bask in his limelight. Witness Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, who had the gall to block a couple of Rocky's trademark over-the-head backwards shots during time-outs — an act of villainy that made Nugs fans despise him even more than they already did.

Winter Park's Trestle Bike Park puts the resort so far ahead of other ski areas wrangling to offer off-season adventure that it might just as well be dubbed Summer Park. The bike park is open daily from mid-June through late September, with up to three chairlifts spinning during peak hours to service a vast network of singletrack trails, downhill bombers and terrain-park features all but guaranteed to push your bike, body armor and helmet to the limits. No, seriously: Pad up. Bob Holme, a former Winter Olympic Nordic ski jumper who is also responsible for the resort's winter ski and snowboard terrain parks, is the man behind the madness, and Trestle Bike Park events like the Colorado Freeride Festival have helped move the sport so far that Mountain Bike Slopestyle will make its debut as an X Games medal event this summer at in Munich.

Last September's inaugural Pedal the Plains couldn't have gone better. The three-day ride through the close-knit communities of Colorado's eastern plains inspired plenty of people to trade in the painful slow climbs and downhill rocketing of mountain marathons for the flat roads of the prairie and its anachronistic small-town atmosphere. A focus on history and heritage made it fun for all ages, as did the folksy off-road activities dreamed up for the evenings by event maven Dana Cain. Go east: The second annual Pedal the Plains rolls on September 20 through 22; this year's route will be announced in late April.

Why ex-Morehead State standout Kenneth Faried fell to the 22nd pick in the 2011 NBA draft despite an astonishingly electric performance at that year's NCAA men's basketball tournament is beyond us. But we couldn't be happier. Faried is energy personified, consistently outworking and out-hustling everyone on the floor at any given time — and while he's still prone to defensive lapses and focus drifts, rim-rattling dunks and impossible rebounds against much bigger players make up for a multitude of sins. As a bonus, Manimal is a positive presence off the court, too.

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