Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The urban oasis that is Sloan's Lake Park boasts quite a few bests: It's one of the best spots in the metro area for an impromptu picnic, for kids to burn off energy, for anyone who likes to walk, run or bike, and for watching the sun rise or set — all of it enhanced by competing views of the mountains and the Denver skyline. But the fact that the lake is also stocked with Colorado's signature trout — brown, cutthroat and rainbow — as well as bluegill, catfish, carp, minnow and northern pike, makes it a rewarding fishing hole that's easily accessed. Even though the city-dwelling fish are sadly accustomed to snagging unusual snacks from the surface, it's a good idea to bring some worms along — and head for the north side of the lake, which doesn't allow motorized boats and is thus quieter.
Readers' Choice: Lowell Ponds State Wildlife Area
RiNo already has a reputation for being the coolest neighborhood in Denver, so it would make sense that a new 40,000-square-foot climbing gym would quickly become the hippest spot in the 'hood. But it's earned that rep with more than just indoor climbers: While Movement RiNo, which opened in 2018, offers an impressive array of 250 boulder problems, the facility is also conjoined with Improper City, a cafe, food-truck park and beer garden all in one. Unlike gyms that focus exclusively on climbing, Movement's new RiNo location is a whole scene in and of itself. This is where you'll find the beautiful people, from the fit climbers strutting their stuff to the well-dressed watchers sipping kombucha.
Every other Thursday night from around May to October, spectators have the chance to see some of the fastest cyclists in America at the Boulder Valley Velodrome's weekly race series. The velodrome, which opened in 2015, is designed specifically for speed; the 250-meter outdoor track has steep, banked turns, and cyclists use brakeless, fixed-gear bicycles with aerodynamic frames, allowing them to reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Participants range from Olympians to local amateur racers, and the spectating is free. Feel like giving the track a go? Memberships (ranging from $185 to $500) and day passes ($30) are offered to cyclists of all levels.
One summer day in 1988, a group of cyclists decided it would be "fun" to bike 120 miles across the Rockies from Evergreen to Vail. Against all reason and logic, that ride lived on and became immortalized as the annual Triple Bypass Bicycle Ride, named for the three mountain passes — Juniper, Loveland and Vail — and 10,000 feet of vertical gain that cyclists surmount during the ride. Now entering its 31st year, the organized ride draws thousands of participants annually who are willing to sacrifice their lungs and legs for the bragging rights of completing Colorado's most difficult sports challenge. Registration is open for this year's ride, on July 13; the entry fee ($175-$225) covers a complimentary jersey, five aid stations along the route, support vehicles, vehicle-traffic closures and, most important, some well-deserved beer at the finish line.
For more casual athletes, sports leagues offer the opportunity to make new friends and sweat a little. But for more competitive participants, they're about winning — and nothing else. If you're somewhere in between, Play Mile High is the perfect league. It offers indoor and outdoor sports and more than 700 mostly coed teams that get into everything from soccer to beer-in-hand kickball. Players never get too serious, but sweat will definitely pour, and after each game, teammates usually meet at a bar to decompress over cold drinks and food. A percentage of the league's registration fee goes toward free sporting events for kids.
Readers' Choice: Edge Old Time Hockey League
We may have great parks in virtually every neighborhood across our city, but it's Washington Park that Denverites flock to. Built in 1899, this green space, lake included, shares its wealth with the community in the form of a recreation center, playgrounds, fields, basketball courts and even a boathouse that can be rented for special occasions. But it's the park's 2.3-mile loop that gets the most action. No matter the season, outdoorsy folks find ways to walk, bike, rollerblade (or roller skate, depending on what era Denverite you are) and even roller-ski around this city meadow. Rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard and circle Smith Lake, take a ride on a cycle-carriage with friends, prep for a big bike race or take a leisurely stroll with your dog. Whatever your fitness fancy, Wash Park is the place to be.
The Westwood neighborhood found a way to do a lot with a little when its namesake green space received a mighty million-dollar makeover last year. Though small, the area now offers a town-square-like concrete pavilion for community performances and a covered area with beautiful wrought-iron detailing that reflects the area's Mexican and Mexican-American cultures. The park also received sturdy fitness equipment promoting cardiovascular exercise and strength training for any skill level, all connected by a walking trail that lines the area. And there's still plenty of green space for a game of soccer, along with a traditional playground with slides, swings and a jungle gym, plus shady areas for picnics. But the most unique aspect of Westwood Park is its "natural" playground, an area of preserved tree trunks, rocks and sand that surrounds a water pump, creating the perfect way to cool down in the summer.
Imagine what the set of Peter Pan would look like as a playground, and you have this charming Westminster spot. The London Bridge rises next to the Lost Boys rock tower, which is situated near Captain Hook's pirate ship. In the summer, waterfalls pour cool water into a miniature stream, and jets shoot water around the splash pad. Green grass and trees make for comfortable lounging and running about, and a shaded picnic area is great for those days when you want to stay outside for hours. You don't ever have to grow up at Peter Pan Playground; the only thing missing is pixie dust to make you fly.
Candlelight Tavern might seem like a modest establishment near the heart of the Washington Park neighborhood, but it has a secret: Just to the left upon entering the dark and cozy little bar awaits a high-quality, often completely vacant shuffleboard court. Add in the cheap food and drink deals, a collection of loyal regulars and a few televisions showing the most important game of the day, and you can pursue shuffleboard glory until the Banquet keg runs dry...or succumb to defeat.
In the growing divide that is Old Denver versus New Denver, Gerard's Pool Hall occupies a welcome space somewhere in the middle. From its sneaky back-alley entrance to its dark, wainscoted walls, this billiards room has a distinctly throwback feel — and it opened less than two years ago. The high ceilings and low-slung barn lighting that hovers over felted tables feel plucked from a Denver gone by, when mining-themed establishments and Wild West vibes were all the rage. If you want to sit and enjoy the action from above, Gerard's loft bar provides an excellent perch, with bar stools and a comfy hotel-lobby-style couch for seating. Shakespeare's may never rise from the dead, but Gerard's Pool Hall could be the next best thing.
A lot of sports bars in Denver give customers a chance to participate in games rather than simply eyeball them. But the Blake Street Tavern takes the concept to a different level: the basement. Dubbed Underground Social, the space is crammed with arcade games, board games of normal dimensions and supersized ones (such as Giant Jenga and Giant Connect 4), Pop-A-Shot basketball, Skee-Ball, shuffleboard, cornhole, pool tables, ping-pong and, of course, beer pong — and it's all contained in a brick-lined setting that's like a fantasy clubhouse for grownups. Upstairs, the Blake Street Tavern has plenty going for it, especially when it comes to people who want to pre-game before heading to a Rockies game at nearby Coors Field. But there are definitely advantages for those who want to go Underground.
Readers' Choice: Blake Street Tavern
Stoney's may be known as one of the best places in the city to watch Broncos games, but the venue doesn't limit its loyalty to the orange and blue. The enormous joint boasts TVs aplenty (31 HD sets plus two 120-inch projection screens) in a slew of interconnecting rooms, offering opportunities to watch contests of many different kinds — and its website encourages variety by way of a function that allows visitors to click on different dates to see everything that's being telecast when they plan to visit. It's a great place for trivia, too, and has a solid, tasty menu and first-rate happy-hour deals. Just as important, the staff is consistently efficient and professional, even when everyone is losing their mind over a last-minute touchdown or buzzer-beating bucket.
Readers' Choice: Blake Street Tavern