Best Place to Hike With Blazed College Students 2019 | Chautauqua Park, Boulder | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The jaw-slackening angle on the Flatirons offered by Chautauqua Park helps explain why locals have been drawn to the attraction since 1898, when the city purchased these eighty acres of land. But its location, only a short distance from the University of Colorado, is just as much of a lure for students, who make up a sizable chunk of the crowds that can be found enjoying the park's amenities, including a picnic area, a playground, tennis courts and (in a very Boulder touch) a "Demonstration Garden." Long before recreational marijuana sales were legalized in Colorado, plenty of CU enrollees (and many others) used a certain herb to enhance this experience, and that's continued to this day. It's regularly Colorado's stoniest hike, and we're not talking about the geology.

The Clear Creek Trail in Golden provides the perfect combination of nature walk and urban experience. The city's trail system spans 24 miles, offering alternate access to neighborhoods and open-space areas alike. But the gateway to the system is just steps from Golden's downtown, giving folks an opportunity to stroll along a waterway that, during warm weather months in particular, seems to be constantly bustling with activity. Kayakers are able to practice their moves a short distance from shallow areas where families congregate to get wet and cool off. Strollers can eyeball displays in the Clear Creek History Park, too, and parking is a snap, with free lots nearby. It's a perfect capsule of everything that's great about living in Colorado.

Dog parks are all about location, location, location — and that's the reason Fuller Dog Park has become so popular of late. Set at 2801 Williams Street, near Manual High School, it's a small slice of pooch heaven in the rapidly changing Whittier neighborhood, where the canine population is growing almost as quickly as the human kind. Next to the appropriately named Fuller Park, long a favorite of children (and parents) who live in the area, the dog zone is modest in size but still offers enough space for four-legged visitors to race up and down hills, interact with mutts and pure breeds alike, and even take a break when all the excitement leaves them overstimulated. In a part of town where a lot of young people with pets might not have access to a back yard, Fuller Dog Park is a godsend.

Readers' Choice: Cherry Creek Reservoir

Coloradans are known to take their dogs everywhere — even on potentially dangerous adventures. After experiencing a serious accident with his dog in the backcountry, Paul Hoskinson was determined to create a lightweight device that could carry an injured pup without too much difficulty for its owner. Enter the Fido Pro Airlift, a light, packable, hammock-style backpack meant to carry a dog to safety if it's injured during backcountry adventuring. The Airlift distributes weight evenly through the frame (which includes four leg holes) so larger dogs won't weigh you down, and the shoulder and chest straps help you get your dog to safety as quickly and as comfortably as possible.

Located just thirty miles from Denver, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an oasis of Rocky Mountain nature porn: aspen-rimmed meadows, verdant forests, jagged peaks, all crisscrossed by a well-maintained network of hiking trails. Also inside the park are two large campgrounds — Reverend's Ridge and Aspen Meadows — with scores of tent sites (and even a handful of yurts and cabins), allowing for multi-day escapes from Denver's concrete jungle. While you won't reach the level of isolation you'd find by backpacking farther out, Golden Gate Canyon is still a great option for car campers who want a break from the bustle of the city without having to drive too far. Reservations get snapped up quickly here, so book early.


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.

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

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

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, 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).

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