Roxborough State Park
Flickr/Amarnath

An easy half-hour drive from downtown Denver, Roxborough State Park offers 4,000 acres of Colorado at its most gorgeous, replete with red-rock formations, a wide range of flora and fauna, and opportunities to spot wildlife such as mule deer and even black bears. As a bonus, the park's trail system has much to offer hikers of all ages and skill levels. The five-mile Fountain Valley Overlook provides a lovely way to view the Dakota Hogback without working up too much of a sweat. Meanwhile, the Fountain Valley Trail, the Lyons Overlook Trail, the South Rim Trail and the Willow Creek Trail — all three miles or less — are a bit more challenging, but shouldn't overwhelm the average person interested in spotting birds, including the occasional golden eagle. Carpenter Peak, a 6.4-mile round trip, steps up the difficulty with moderately steeper terrain, but rewards those who make the journey with some of the most spectacular views available near the metro area.

North Table Mountain Park
Flickr/Karina Martens

Depending on how much time you have, a hike on Golden's North Table Mountain can be as short as 1.5 miles or as long as 7.7. Medium-difficult — there's a steep, switchback-filled climb to get atop the mesa — these well-marked North Table loops make for a good lunch-break option or post-work trek, and there are two trailheads with ample parking to choose from. At sunset, the hills of the Hogback come alive, and the panoramic views also include White Ranch Park, the surrounding Front Range and the town of Golden itself. Other payoffs include the intermittent fields of wildflowers in season and the occasional sighting of the golden eagles or red-tailed hawks that call this home. But keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, which are famously abundant here.

Readers' Choice: Buffalo Bill Trail

The beauty of a Colorado trek is often in the quads of the beholder, but most hikers can agree that a few things are requisite: killer views, plenty of parking, the potential to hike without seeing anyone else, dog-friendly but not overrun, easy to navigate. The 10.8-mile out-and-back Elk Falls Trail in Staunton State Park near Pine has it all, including the chance to look out over the 3,828 acres that make up the property and see the highest waterfall closest to Denver, which is just 39 miles away. The going is pretty easy through stands of ponderosa pine until the last mile, when it climbs straight up and then straight down to the falls. Bring $8 for the daily fee along with your fly rod, because Elk Falls pond contains a lot of little brookies.

Readers' Choice: Mt. Sanitas Trailhead

Genesee Mountain Park
Flickr/Hike Doggie

There's a reason that Genesee Mountain Park is a favorite destination for field trips by schools in and around the Denver area: It could hardly be more kid-friendly. Because Interstate 70 runs through it, Genesee is really two parks in one, with the portion south of the highway including Genesee Mountain, whose summit provides an unobstructed view of the area but at 8,284 feet isn't overly intimidating. The same is true of 7,988-foot Bald Mountain to the north. Elsewhere, the park offers relatively gentle elevation changes, trails that third-graders can handle, and a herd of bison that give members of the younger generation a feel for the Old West.

Readers' Choice: Red Rocks Park

Best Snowshoeing Within Two Hours of Denver

The Loch

The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park
Flickr/Andrew Moore
The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to the Loch, also known as the Loch Vale, is just under six miles round trip and is as beautiful in the winter as it is during the summer. The hike begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park and takes you past Alberta Falls and a dramatic gorge before reaching the alpine lake. The Loch can get quite windy, so be sure you have enough winter gear with you (and gloves that allow you to take photos!). The trail, rated as moderate on Alltrails.com, gains 1,072 feet of elevation, but overachievers can tack on a few extra miles by visiting Mills Lake (follow signs at the junction about two miles from the trailhead).

Alpine meadows, tundra and lakes, two summits, and Colorado's largest glacier? All of this and more can be yours for the low, low price of a ten-ish-mile out-and-back accessed from Nederland's Rainbow Lakes or Fourth of July trailhead. Pack up your personal locator beacon and as much water as you can carry to bag these summits, either from the west side of the Continental Divide via Columbine Lake or the Devil's Thumb trailhead near Fraser. The west-side traverse is closer to 25 miles, so while this hike can be done on one of Colorado's arctic-length summer days, the pro move is to reserve a campsite (or two!) through the United States Forest Service and arrange for drop-off at a trailhead west of the divide and pick-up at a trailhead east of the divide.

14ers.com

Readers' Choice: Mt. Meeker

When it comes to fourteeners, Colorado offers its recreation-loving residents a wealth of options — 53 of them, to be precise. Problem is, the ones closest to urban areas such as Denver can actually be fairly crowded, particularly during peak summer periods, while others may not be the right fit for the typical hiker and are often long distances away. That's why Mt. Belford, a 14,197-footer in the Sawatch range, is such a great option. The climb is long enough to justify the approximately seven-hour round-trip commute from Denver, and its switchbacks make the adventure challenging but not so difficult that it feels like a scene from Free Solo. On top of that, the view from the summit is positively breathtaking, and because there's a ridge to another nearby fourteener, Mt. Oxford, visitors have the chance for a second hike. Which they should take.

14ers.com

Readers' Choice: Quandary Peak

Sloan's Lake Park

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

Best Fishing Hole Within Two Hours of Denver

Carter Lake

Largemouth bass are the big haul at Carter Lake, but this super-clean and clear 1,100-acre reservoir southwest of Loveland is also stocked with rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout, as well as walleye, yellow perch and splake, the love child of brook and lake trout. The daily entrance fee is $9 — summer weekdays are the least crowded, but the lake doesn't freeze, so fishing happens year-round — and the rustic camping is extra. But once you're in there, take a break from angling to amble around the plethora of pine trees dotting the surrounding foothills or cool off with a swim. The on-site marina shop sells gear if you forget something.

larimer.org

Readers' Choice: Georgetown Lake

Carla Madison Recreation Center
Nicole Daniels | Body & Glass Photography

Whether you're looking to swim laps, belly-scoot in shallow water with a toddler, play a game of water basketball, walk in a lazy river, scramble up a climbing wall and splash into the deep end, practice your log-rolling skills or zip down a full-sized water slide, Carla Madison Recreation Center has something for you. With long hours and attentive lifeguards, the latest rec center to hit the Denver area also offers magnificent amenities — like locker rooms that are frequently cleaned and equipped with electronic locks, soap dispensers and swimsuit dryers.

Readers' Choice: Congress Park

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