Best Dog Park 2021 | Westminster Hills Dog Park | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
City of Westminster

The 420-acre Westminster Hills Dog Park is a glorious oasis from the ever-rising drama plaguing smaller dog parks. With so much space and plenty of trails, you can hike the hills as Fido roams far from bullying dogs — but there are also opportunities to make new friends of both the two- and four-legged variety. In recent years, parking has become an issue, but between two lots — one at 10499 Simms Street and another at 11610 West 100th Avenue — you can usually find a spot. Once you snag one, both you and your dog can have an unparalleled adventure in an otherworldly landscape.
Brandon Marshall

Across the South Platte River from Overland Park Golf Course, Ruby Hill Park offers plenty of crowd-pleasing amenities: Levitt Pavilion, a sprawling outdoor concert venue that puts on fifty free shows each year; a bike park where mountain and dirt bikers can practice their skills; a baseball field; picnic areas; and some of the best sledding in town. Despite all that, the sprawling grounds, with stunning panoramas of downtown Denver, also have room for reflection and solitude. Pick a spot in the bright-green grass and lie down, look up at the sky or out over the skyline, and experience peace in the middle of metro Denver.

Are you and your kids hoping to bump into families for an impromptu play date? Or are you looking for love? A jogging buddy? A football or Frisbee game? Something a little more risqué? Maybe even a ghost to chat with? No matter what kind of company you're looking for, you're bound to find it at Cheesman Park. (Yes, even ghosts. The park was built on the former Mount Prospect Cemetery.) Between picnickers at the pavilion, roughhousers on the playground, and runners and bikers circumnavigating the park on the trail, Cheesman is your destination for free community fun.

Bristlecone offers an encouraging environment for people who want to learn more about firearms but aren't draped in a "Don't Tread on Me" flag (though those people would probably be welcomed, too). Owned by husband-wife duo Bryan and Jacquelyn Clark, the shop offers affordable ammo and firearms to rent and buy, multiple ranges and a virtual-reality shooting and training simulator. Unlike most spots, when the ammo shortage of 2020-2021 hit, Bristlecone didn't jack up its prices; it's also known as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly ranges in town. Bristlecone has instructors who are well trained, sensible and friendly, teaching classes in self-defense as well as shotgun, rifle and pistol training, with special attention to the importance of addressing mental health issues and gun safety.

Love blasting things out of the sky? Whether you're interested in sporting clays, skeet or trap, Colorado Clays Shooting Park, on the outskirts of north Denver, is a must-visit destination for shotgun enthusiasts. But the park, which sports a variety of classes and even party packages, also has offerings for rifle and pistol shooters. There are classes for beginners through masters, as well as some targeting women and youth. Don't have the gear to shoot? No worries: You can rent a gun and buy ammo and eye/ear protection on site.

Urban hikes have a reputation for being short, one-day jaunts around a park. Not so with the historic High Line Canal trail, which ventures through eleven municipalities, starting in Waterton Canyon in Douglas County and continuing for 71 miles to Green Valley Ranch in northeast Denver. Coursing alongside cottonwood banks, the trail takes hikers through parks, golf courses, cemeteries and more. And although more than 500,000 people use the trail each year and roughly 350,000 people live within a mile of it, there are plenty of spots where city hikers can find a bit of much-needed solitude.

A stone's throw from Denver, the first segment of the Colorado Trail takes you up a semi-accessible dirt road from Littleton into Waterton Canyon and on to the epic, 200-some-feet-high Strontia Springs Dam. The scenery here turns spectacular fast. Although the wide trail — which doubles as a road for Denver Water — is often packed with mountain bikers and hikers, dogs aren't allowed. But the throngs trekking into the canyon for the relatively easy walk (800 feet of elevation gain over 12.4 miles out and back) share the corridor with deer, Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears and golden eagles.

There is no shortage of magnificent camping in Colorado, and the state and federal park systems offer terrific options. But if you're looking for a one-of-a-kind memorable experience, make a reservation at Sedalia's Everland Eco-Retreat and Immersive Art Park. At this new facility, you can submerge yourself in narrative-based installations and landscapes, try out a variety of adventures, and explore the surrounding streams, ponds and forests while camping — or even glamping. No, this isn't your average rustic trip into the backcountry, but it's a chance to connect with the environment and your community through art, yoga, wellness and play.

676 Pine Creek Road, Sedalia

During the pandemic, many of us got hooked on the solitary, safe activity of fishing. And when we wanted to escape the cares and concerns of the all-too-real world, there was no better place to take the plunge than Cheesman Reservoir. After a scenic drive along Highway 285, then down Jefferson County Road 126 and forest Service Road 211, a quick hike takes you to the dam, named for Denver water pioneer Walter Cheesman. It was the world's tallest when it was completed in 1905, and acquired by Denver Water in 1918. But while it remains an engineering marvel, we're most intrigued by the fishing hole below the dam, on the scenic Goose Creek Arm Trail, where you're almost guaranteed to bag a big Northern pike — and plenty of alone time.

Yes, there are smarter places to go swimming in metro Denver than Confluence Park. But is there anywhere that's more fun? People will warn you that the water's not safe and that syringes and broken glass cover the ground — and they're probably right. Still, on a blistering summer day, cooling off where the South Platte River and Cherry Creek collide is just what the doctor ordered. Keep your shoes on, don't drink the water, and plan on showering after your dip. But when you do take the plunge, know that swimming at that spot is a tradition that long pre-dates Denver's founding, and it's one that won't go away any time soon.

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