Best Mountain-Bike Trail 2020 | South St. Vrain Figure 8 | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Few mountain-bike trails start off easy, but the South St. Vrain Figure 8 begins with six miles of sufferfest, much of it a rough alpine ride through boulder gardens, loose rocks, ruts and roots that finally eases into nearly four miles of easy road and mellow singletrack before returning to the abuse for another six. The elevation gain is a not-trifling 2,116 feet, making for a great early-season technical training ride; this is also a popular fat-bike ride, with some of the ground gnar covered in snow. The full Figure 8 includes Sourdough Loop, Little Raven, Waldrop and the Brainard Lake Cutoff, all of which adds up to nearly sixteen miles of magnificent misery.

The fourteen miles of point-to-point alternating gravel and dirt that is the Coal Creek Trail winds between open space and residential sections along the creek from Superior to Erie, passing through Louisville and Lafayette on the way. It's flat and easy enough to bike year-round, including in the winter, when the snowpack usually builds up a solid enough surface to bike on fat tires or snow bikes. In nicer weather, picnic tables and benches offer rest stops, and there are a few restrooms, as well. If you long for more time out there, Coal Creek intersects with several other cool paths, including Flagg Park and the Rock Creek Trail.

Beginning in Thornton, this scenic bike path is a great way to escape the city. The Clear Creek Trail follows the creek of the same name over an eighteen-mile stretch that gains 700 feet in elevation as it moves westward. Along the way, bikers pass through green areas that will make them feel like they aren't in an urban area at all. It all culminates in Golden, and the ride back to Denver is almost entirely downhill.

Mount Falcon Park is a great reminder that nature is just a short distance from home. Located in south Morrison, the park encompasses 2,249 acres, with 12.2 miles of everything from advanced to beginner hiking, biking and equestrian trails. For an easy jaunt, head to the Turkey Trot Trail, which can be turned into a three-mile loop by connecting it with the Castle Trail. For more of a challenge, continue up the Castle Trail, which offers 2,000 feet of elevation gain and can be linked to the Meadow and Tower trails to reach the summit of Mount Falcon.

If dogs could describe their perfect off-leash park experience, they'd certainly include plenty of room to run, a creek to splash in and drink from, and lots of smelly things. For humans, the description is more likely to include shade, hiking trails, benches, restrooms and a place for little dogs to feel safe. The 25-acre Bear Creek Dog Park is all of that and more: In addition to the small stretch of Bear Creek that runs through it, the tree-lined (read: stick-filled) park offers doggie drinking fountains and clean-up spots, plenty of poop-bag stations, an agility training area, and two acres for seniors and smalls. The park also hosts themed community poop pick-up days, such as April Stools.

Teaching kids to fish requires enthusiasm, patience — and an easy return to the car in case of bad weather or temper tantrums. Blackrock Lake and the adjacent Red Tail and Eagle Watch lakes in South Platte Park are close-to-home spots where kids can learn to fish and just spend time outside. There's no charge to access the lakes, and anglers under sixteen don't need a license. There are pit toilets near the parking lots. Those lots fill up with cyclists accessing the South Platte River Trail/Mary Carter Greenway, so arrive early...or as early as preschoolers and tweens can manage.

Skip Colorado's most popular fisheries, like the Frying Pan River or the South Platte, and opt for a session on Clear Creek instead. The "Golden Mile" — a stretch of water that runs from Vanover Park in downtown Golden to Grant Terry Park on the other side of town — was restored in 2009, resulting in some primo trout habitat. The fish don't get as big here as they do in bigger rivers, but you should find plenty of feisty brown trout ready to tango (the go-to dry fly is the elk-hair caddis). There are also turnoffs on Highway 6 up Clear Creek Canyon; the best have walk-in access to sections of the river that diverge from the road, offering more secluded angling.

Jefferson County

Trout are a lot like humans: When it gets cold out, they tend to get lazy. This is especially true in mountain streams, where they go nearly dormant in cold weather. Fly anglers are better off fishing tailwaters (the sections of rivers just below the dam of a reservoir), and the Arkansas River Tailwater boasts the best winter fishery in the state. In fact, the Arkansas actually fishes better in winter than in summer. Nymphing is the can't-lose tactic here, but keep your eye out for dry-fly hatches. If you're willing to brave the cold, expect to hook sixteen- to twenty-inch rainbows. Looking to target warm-water species? The Pueblo Reservoir is a great spot for walleye, wiper, catfish, bass and crappie.

Nothing says fishing like a night spent soaking bait for channel catfish — and there's a damn good lake for it in Aurora. The 880-acre reservoir at Cherry Creek State Park offers anglers a chance to target America's favorite whiskered bottom-feeders, which are notorious for getting the late-night munchies. Wrap some chicken liver in old pantyhose and stick it on a circle hook, then chuck the bait out as far as you can and wait for your rod to tremble. (Pro tip: Use a loud strike indicator in case you doze off.) The park closes each night, but rangers will let you stay if you're fishing; after all, the catfish may not start biting until 2 a.m.

Colorado's newest state park offers an innovative way to let wheelchair users enjoy the outdoors. Special motorized chairs on treads let visitors with limited mobility explore certain trails, reach fishing ponds and see wildlife in the actual wild. Volunteers accompany users and their families to help them safely maneuver the specially equipped chairs, which are free to use with a daily parks pass. The park will start taking reservations for the chairs on May 1 at its website.

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