Best Pocket Park 2016 | Lowry Reading Garden | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

Six years ago, the owners of the doggie daycare and grooming spot Woof in Boots decided to start a painting class for dog lovers that would allow them to mingle with like-minded pet people and their pets while raising money for a local animal-related charity. And thus Paw Prints & Cocktails was born. It has since grown into more than just a First Friday event: Several times a month, Woof in Boots hosts people and their pups for a sometimes raucous mixer that involves a local host artist, live music, beer and wine (for an extra fee), and snacks for all involved. And you'll walk away with a piece of art of your own making — probably of your favorite pooch.

It's like the swimming-pool version of dogs playing poker, and quite the sight to behold: Dogs of every size and breed jumping in and hauling themselves out of the Scheitler rec center's outdoor pool, chasing balls and Frisbees, swimming laps and, yes, even sunbathing along the edge. On the last day of the season every year, Scheitler opens the pool for a pooches-only Pawpalooza (though a few brave people jump in, too). The cost is $5 per dog, and proceeds go to local animal shelters and kids' programs. Bonus: The rec center is located next door to the Berkeley Lake Dog Park, which has plenty of room for the pups to shake off the excess.

When dogs want to watch the big game, they head to the Ugly Dog, which not only has a fenced-in outdoor dog area — complete with fire hydrants and doghouses for them and picnic tables for people — but also allows Fido inside to relax on the floor and check out the score. The employees (all women sporting sleeveless referee shirts, by the way) at this north Denver eatery are generous with the dog treats, too.

Nestled into a strip of Barnum Park running along the north side of the Sixth Avenue highway is the Trestle Bike Skills Course — a series of bumps, berms and jumps made just for bicycles. BMX, mountain-bike and downhill cyclists of all abilities are welcome on this circuit, with man-made dirt hills and wooden ridges created to challenge both first-timers and experienced risk-takers. Maintained by the city and dedicated volunteers, this specialty bike course is like no other in the nation — plus it's part of the Parks and Recreation system, so it's free to use. A treat for both riders and onlookers, the Trestle Bike Skills Course entertains drivers along the congested freeway and allows high-flying cyclists to get air while exercising.

While the rest of the hordes dodge each other on the Cherry Creek Bike Trail, savvier cyclists go for long stretches without seeing another soul on the 21.8-mile Clear Creek Trail, a mostly paved bike path (with a few dirt or gravel sections) that parallels its namesake waterway. With killer scenery regardless of direction, the path makes its way from the South Platte River on one end through residential neighborhoods (many with historic buildings right by the trail), local parks and rural locales before reaching Golden, where the reward for a bit of uphill is a panoramic view of the buttes. There's also plenty of off-bike activity at this end; take a rest at one of the many restaurant and coffee shops and watch the kayakers playing in Clear Creek, or pop in for a tour and a brew at Coors Brewing Company. Occasionally the trail requires a sharp eye to watch for signs connecting pieces of the path over residential streets, but they're mostly in heavily populated areas with plenty of places to take a break and regroup if you get lost. Looking for longer mileage? Clear Creek connects with the Platte River, Ralston Creek, Little Dry Creek and Sixth Avenue trails.

Readers' choice: Cherry Creek Trail

Just an hour west of Denver near Pine sits the trail system known as Buffalo Creek, a series of singletrack routes offering just about everything a mountain biker can ask for: slow but steady climbs, slickrock segments, roots-and-rocks technical sections, sandy or crushed-gravel lines, fast descents, creek crossings and lots of alpine time among the ponderosa pines. The skill levels vary by trail and sometimes within the trails in this mostly intermediate system that includes the first three miles of the Colorado Trail (from Waterton Canyon), but there are good beginner rides — such as Baldy, which offers several bailout options — and a few more challenging ones, including Homestead and Buck Gulch. The areas surrounding the Strawberry Jack and Skipper trails take you through the three large fire zones, eerie but beautiful with extensive views that include ghostly downed trees and a clear look at the mountains. The best part is that the more than fifty miles of trails — which are being added to annually — can be combined to form dozens of loops, which means it will take a while to do them all.

Readers' choice: Bear Creek Trail

Keystone Resort enjoys a reputation for being a solid family mountain in winter, a laid-back place where many of Colorado's kids learn how to ski. But come mid-June, Keystone turns into a pretty hard-core mountain-biking mecca. With 55 trails comprising 100 miles' worth of lift-served and famously technical singletrack — complete with rock gardens, natural and man-made obstacles and plenty of places to get air — Keystone features some terrain that gives even the most gnarly mountain biker pause, all for $42 for a day pass (multi-day and season passes are available, too). The black and double-black runs offer serious speed, and the newer TNT section, an old logging road turned into a berms-and-jumps ride, has been revamped with sheer drop-offs in the smoother sections and "The Yacht," a wooden structure that gives you one last big move at the end. There's also a skills park that allows riders to practice on jump trails with rollers, logs and rocks at less-steep pitches than in the main park, as well as the Drop Zone, a series of ridgelines perfect for free falls from five to fourteen feet. There are a few beginner- and intermediate-level trails here, but for the most part, it's experts-only — and while you don't have to wear body armor, you'll probably want to.

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