20th Street Recreation Center

The 20th Street Gym isn't fancy — which is all the more reason to take advantage of this rec center in the city. All of the average gym amenities are here — indoor pool, weight room, cardio equipment — and are paired with a schedule packed with pickleball games, pottery classes and Pilates. Almost as historic as the building itself is the gym's boxing program, offering kids and adults of all skill levels a chance to be trained by professionals and compete in the ring. The soaring windows and wooden rails of the grand staircase are reminders of the gym's antiquity, but it's the no-BS workouts and knowledgeable staff of teachers and trainers that bring the 20th Street Gym into the 21st century.

No private gym can compare with the affordability and accessibility of a Denver Parks and Recreation membership, with its dozens of recreation centers and indoor and outdoor pools in the metro area to choose from. Starting at one dollar for a single visit and topping out at $369 for a year's worth of unlimited access to every center, the city's prices are hard to beat. Financial assistance is available, too, along with discounts for seniors and persons with disabilities, and the city's My Denver card gives free memberships to kids ages five to eighteen. In addition, many classes — from boxing fitness to circuit training — are free once you're a member. The best part? You don't even have to purchase a membership to take advantage of Denver's parks system: Workouts in any of the city's dozens of green spaces are free, year-round.

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If you want a quick pickup game or some easy 3-on-3, it's tough to beat one of the dozens of indoor gyms in Denver or popular parks like Sloan's Lake and Washington Park — but when it comes to working on your long-range skills, it's time to try rooftop shooting at 1125 17th Street. You might have to befriend a resident of the adjacent apartment building that owns the court (or find a way to sneak up there, which we would never tell you to do), but after you hit a few 3s in solitude while downtown Denver conducts its business twenty feet below, you'll be on top of the world — or at least the 5280.

Denver is well known for its views of the Rockies, but turn the other direction and we've got a skyline that's well worth gazing at, too. Barnum Park, named after developer P.T. Barnum (yes, that P.T.), takes the cake when it comes to the perfect glimpse of our rapidly growing downtown. Perched high above the madness that is the Sixth Avenue/I-25 interchange, this simple park sits unhindered — no cranes or new development can get in its way — and gives park visitors a full panorama of the Mile High City. What's more, the surrounding highway and Federal Boulevard thoroughfare have created an immovable transit moat around this fortress of green space, making Barnum's look at the city safe from future obstruction. In Denver, any place free from the optical hindrance of towering construction projects is priceless; lucky for us, Barnum Park — and its view — is always free.

Cherry Creek Shopping Center

In truth, kids just want something to climb on, but parents didn't like it the last time the Cherry Creek mall gave its indoor play area a makeover: The switch from the beloved breakfast-table layout of giant-sized eggs, bacon and pancakes to a fully branded Warner Brothers cartoon-character theme was never a popular move. But when the mall pulled a switch again last November, no one even batted an eyelash. Who wouldn't like Dinosaur Gulch, a fun collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science featuring climbable dino sculptures — a favorite theme in almost every toddler's heart — that are as educational as they are a blast to scramble over? One prehistoric pat on the back for all!

Cheesman Park

Plopped down right in the middle of the bustling cityscape, Cheesman Park is Capitol Hill's outdoor refuge and picnic destination for all types of city dwellers. While the gardens and meadows are stately, it's the park's walking trail and driving loop that make this grassy esplanade a people-watcher's paradise. Hard-core marathoners whiz past stroller moms, while professional dog-walkers take the dirt trail and dudes on inline skates cruise by occupied cars parked bumper-to-bumper along the asphalt circle. Cheesman's unique marble pavilion provides a pop-up stage for social theatrics as punks, parents and business-casual types take full advantage of the free performance space. Grab some popcorn, pull up a lawn chair and watch your fellow citizens in action.

Cranmer Park

The Cranmer Park sundial has been through a lot in its life. Added to the park in the '40s, the sandstone timepiece was destroyed by vandals in 1965. Replaced with a larger version that still stands today, the sundial has come to be a defining piece of the Hilltop neighborhood's history. But its future is still shaky: The flagstone plaza on which the clock rests — built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration — is in need of serious repairs. Neighbors motivated to advocate for their special landmark created a local organization, Save Our Sundial, and have organized park parties to raise money. The Cranmer Park sundial is a great example of the pieces of Denver history that can be found tucked away in plain sight in the city's parks.

Lowry and Stapleton contain a range of green spaces that get a workout from families, dog walkers, cyclists and just about everybody else who's moved to the city's quasi-new-urban 'burbs. While modest, the reading garden has a bit more of a community feel than most of these oases. It's not just the choice of seating areas and contemplative nooks, but also the growing collection of book "spines" along a low wall that give the place a personal touch: Locals donate the titles in memory of loved ones, and the dedications, which often describe the dearly departed's relationship to a particular book, make for interesting reading in their own right.

Even if we were dogs — no, wait, especially if we were dogs — Cherry Creek State Park's Dog Off-Leash Area would be our pick for the perfect park. Referred to as "Disney for dogs" by its many fans, the 107-acre, fenced-in doggie dreamland features everything a canine would put on a fantasy must-have list. First of all, Cherry Creek runs through it, so there's plenty of water to slurp, swim and splash in. There's also a wide gravel trail that's easy to follow, and the endless spurs from it wind through acres of brush and small stands of trees, and across the open plains — all ideal for a good, long, fast run or for wrestling with other dogs. And besides other dogs, there are often small critters that need to be investigated. Adults will appreciate the clean restrooms and abundance of bags and receptacles; the level area is accessible and easily navigated year-round; and sunrise and sunset are usually spectacular — though sunrise is generally far less crowded than at the peak times of mid-morning and after humans get off work. At off-peak times, though, it often feels as though you and your pooches are on your own for a great hike. There's a fee — if you plan to go often, it makes sense to buy a state parks pass — but it's well worth the price if it means your dog will snooze for the rest of the day.

Readers' choice: Chatfield State Park

Denver is generously apportioned with dog parks and pet-friendly green spaces, but for smaller breeds who become understandably skittish when faced with a creature ten times their body weight, the options are slimmer. Fortunately, the Berkeley Lake Dog Park, at Sheridan and 46th, features a separate fenced area specifically designed for dogs under 25 pounds, creating an opportunity for off-leash socialization with other pups while keeping their Napoleonic egos intact. Regular visitors are steadfast in their efforts to ensure clean gravel and fresh water for your little corporals. Scenic and easily accessible from downtown, the park is never lovelier than on summer evenings, when the lights of nearby Lakeside Amusement Park ripple across the surface of Berkeley Lake and the merry sounds of roller coasters echo through the night.

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