Best Mountain-Bike Trail for Kids 2018 | Shadow Pine Loop | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Teaching kids how to mountain-bike in Colorado is just like teaching them how to ski: You can't make it so painful and unpleasant that they never want to do it again. The clean, clear Shadow Pine Loop in Conifer — not so far that it's a chore to get there, but far enough into the foothills to feel like you're mountain-biking — is just right for introducing the finer points, from pushing a little on the uphill and navigating singletrack to watching for pedestrians and crossing a small bridge. Most of the 3.4-mile lollipop loop trail, some of which is a little wider than typical singletrack, is completely shaded by trees, and the initial ascent is about as gentle as it gets, a very gradual climb that opens onto a meadow and the chance to see some elk and deer. The return downhill is easy but fun, too, and pretty much guaranteed to make your budding biker a lifelong fan.


Mountain bikers have discovered what cross-country skiers have known all along: The Dirty Bismark, which runs alongside the Morgul Bismark road-race course, is a winter wonderland, a rural paradise that's perfect for fat-tire fun in the snow. More plains riding than mountain, the fifteen-mile loop trail, known locally as the "Happy Meal Loop," alternates between singletrack and dirt road, but you still get plenty of mountain views all around, as well as a little bit of uphill and a lot of wide-open prairie to fall into without hitting anything but powder (and maybe a few cows).

Marshall Mesa Trailhead

From Fort Collins, head west through Poudre River Canyon on Highway 14 toward Walden for the 220-mile-long Walden Loop. It makes for a lovely day trip, bookended by Fort Collins on one end and the North Park town of Walden — aka the Moose Capital of Colorado — on the other, cutting through Rocky Mountain National Park and zipping right past Grand Lake. Less popular than other motorcycle routes, Walden is thus much less trafficked; while there are a few restaurants and stops on the way, expect long stretches of just you and the well-maintained roads. For an even more isolated journey, hop onto County Road 27 at Rand, a nicely graded gravel road that leads to Gould, where you can get back onto 14.

Castlewood Canyon State Park Facebook page

For those of us who like a little afternoon delight in the great outdoors, Colorado is getting a bit crowded; it can be dang near impossible to find open space that isn't already occupied. But Castlewood Canyon near Franktown attracts few enough people on the weekends, and mid-day during the week, it's pretty much empty. Because it's located on the plains and not in the mountains, this state park with thirteen miles of trail is often overlooked, and the paved, wide-open trail that leaves from the parking lot definitely does not foreshadow what lies ahead, which includes a canyon with plenty of nooks and crannies and a cliff-lined path leading past a small cave to a trail edged by thick forest with plenty of soft ground. Looking for a little romance? Check out the waterfall on the Creek Bottom path, and remember, the trees aren't talking.

A hike with kids can be a fun, easygoing day blowing off steam in the fresh air, or it can be hours of misery, with endless whining and a temper tantrum or two. That's why there are a few requisites for a successful family-friendly outing: the drive to get there can't be too long; there must be plenty of shade; the terrain should be a mix of hiking, climbing and chilling options; and there has to be a payoff. Located about a half-hour's drive from downtown Denver, the easy 1.6-mile Bear Creek Trail is a tree-lined paradise, home to lots of birds and small critters and picnic tables with charcoal grills, plus Bear Creek itself, right there alongside the path. If your kids are having a blast, you can keep going past the park boundary for another eleven miles. The only downside is that this is a mountain-biker mecca, too, especially on the weekends — so make a game out of counting them as they whiz by.

Courtesy Rocky Mountain Road Runners Facebook page

A welcoming community of runners of all types and skill levels — from occasional joggers to weekend warriors and marathoners — Rocky Mountain Road Runners hosts a monthly race series of reasonably priced, fully supported and officially timed ten- and twenty-milers ($10-$20 for non-members), along with free track workouts on Wednesdays at North High School for those looking to improve their interval training. You don't have to be a member, but for the $35 annual fee (or sixty hours of volunteering at the races), you get free entry into all of RMRR's races, plus discounts at area running-related retail outlets and a year subscription to Colorado Runner magazine, in case you need a little more of a push.

Readers' Choice: bRUNch Running

Best Running Club for Finding Your Soulmate

bRUNch Running

Courtesy bRUNch Running Facebook page

If pursuing something you love is the way to find a like-minded mate, then bRUNch Running is ideal not only for runners, but for brunch fans, too. Each run has a 5K and a 10K option and costs between $35 and $55 per person. Most Sundays, about thirty to fifty runners show up, which ups the odds of making a match. While you're recovering from the miles, you can get to know each other over French toast and lattes at an area eatery. Not a morning person? BRUNch Running hosts periodic dinner outings, too. The group sponsors one or two annual races, as well, but the rest of the get-togethers are purely social and all about running at your own pace, eating some good food and taking down a mimosa or two. Headed out of town? The Denver founders have started bRUNch clubs in seven other cities, including Boulder and Fort Collins.

The killer scenery alone would make Alderfer/Three Sisters Park in Evergreen a top pick for getting in a good trail run, but this 1,127-acre park — with its fifteen miles of trails and ample parking at either trailhead — features a variety of trail types, from easy and level to steep, steep, steep and rutted and rocky. Plan a weekday jaunt, because that's when you're likely to have the sections farther from the trailheads all to yourself. When you need a break from the blazing sun, pull over into the dense old-growth ponderosa pine, and be sure to stop at the top for the Continental Divide views. There are nice restrooms at the trailheads, which start at 5136 South Le Masters Road to the west and 30357 Buffalo Park Road in Evergreen to the east.

Readers' Choice: Highline Canal

Sloan's Lake has been our top choice for the best trail before, but its combination of urban and mountain scenery and the breeze that's usually coming off this pretty lake is worth another shout-out. You get the Denver skyline for half of the 2.6-mile loop around the lake, and the Front Range on the other half. Because the trail and the surrounding grassy park are as flat as your arches (it gains only 17.71 vertical feet), it's a popular pick for intervals — not to mention that the path is plenty wide enough for dogs, strollers and cyclists. Once you finish, celebrate with a picnic and people-watching, or head across Sheridan Boulevard to one of the many hip eateries in Edgewater.

Avalanche Ranch Cabins Facebook Page

With its eighteen charmingly decorated cabins, Avalanche Ranch in Redstone has been an overnight destination since the '70s, but its springs have only been accessible since 2011. Since then, what had always been a lovely place to bring family or friends has turned into a must-visit for fans of natural springs. Three pools, with temps between 92 and 104 degrees, are tiered against the hillside in a way that makes each one feel secluded, with views of Mount Sopris across the way and the sounds of the Crystal River running through the property. The public is allowed in during the day, but the ranch limits the number of visitors to keep your hot soak chill; guests staying at the ranch get unlimited 24-hour access daily except Wednesdays, when the pools close for cleaning. Between soaks, visit the barn and its chickens, sheep, donkey and llamas, play horseshoes or badminton, or hike, bike and ski nearby.

Readers' Choice: Strawberry Park

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