And as always, our 2016 edition is packed with ideas about ways to enjoy the great outdoors — sometimes in more ways than one.
Our "Best Hike for a Quickie" category is a perfect example — one that's shared here. But we've also collected a slew of other items that you can enjoy with your clothes on and your zippers zipped.
If that's the way you roll, that is.
Continue to check out ten photo-illustrated selections focused on outdoor fun, complete with text from our entire Best of Denver crew and links to the original awards — and to check out the entire issue, click here.
BEST PEOPLE-WATCHING PARK
Plopped down right in the middle of the bustling cityscape, Cheesman Park is Capitol Hill's outdoor refuge and picnic destination for all types of city dwellers. While the gardens and meadows are stately, it's the park's walking trail and driving loop that make this grassy esplanade a people-watcher's paradise. Hard-core marathoners whiz past stroller moms, while professional dog-walkers take the dirt trail and dudes on inline skates cruise by occupied cars parked bumper-to-bumper along the asphalt circle. Cheesman's unique marble pavilion provides a pop-up stage for social theatrics as punks, parents and business-casual types take full advantage of the free performance space. Grab some popcorn, pull up a lawn chair and watch your fellow citizens in action.
BEST POCKET PARK
Lowry Reading Garden
Lowry and Stapleton contain a range of green spaces that get a workout from families, dog walkers, cyclists and just about everybody else who's moved to the city's quasi-new-urban 'burbs. While modest, the reading garden has a bit more of a community feel than most of these oases. It's not just the choice of seating areas and contemplative nooks, but also the growing collection of book "spines" along a low wall that give the place a personal touch: Locals donate the titles in memory of loved ones, and the dedications, which often describe the dearly departed's relationship to a particular book, make for interesting reading in their own right.
BEST PLACE TO CATCH ASPIRING DAREDEVILS IN ACTION
Trestle Bike Skills Course
Nestled into a strip of Barnum Park running along the north side of the Sixth Avenue highway is the Trestle Bike Skills Course — a series of bumps, berms and jumps made just for bicycles. BMX, mountain-bike and downhill cyclists of all abilities are welcome on this circuit, with man-made dirt hills and wooden ridges created to challenge both first-timers and experienced risk-takers. Maintained by the city and dedicated volunteers, this specialty bike course is like no other in the nation — plus it's part of the Parks and Recreation system, so it's free to use. A treat for both riders and onlookers, the Trestle Bike Skills Course entertains drivers along the congested freeway and allows high-flying cyclists to get air while exercising.
BEST BIKE PATH IN METRO DENVER
Clear Creek Trail
While the rest of the hordes dodge each other on the Cherry Creek Bike Trail, savvier cyclists go for long stretches without seeing another soul on the 21.8-mile Clear Creek Trail, a mostly paved bike path (with a few dirt or gravel sections) that parallels its namesake waterway. With killer scenery regardless of direction, the path makes its way from the South Platte River on one end through residential neighborhoods (many with historic buildings right by the trail), local parks and rural locales before reaching Golden, where the reward for a bit of uphill is a panoramic view of the buttes. There's also plenty of off-bike activity at this end; take a rest at one of the many restaurant and coffee shops and watch the kayakers playing in Clear Creek, or pop in for a tour and a brew at Coors Brewing Company. Occasionally the trail requires a sharp eye to watch for signs connecting pieces of the path over residential streets, but they're mostly in heavily populated areas with plenty of places to take a break and regroup if you get lost. Looking for longer mileage? Clear Creek connects with the Platte River, Ralston Creek, Little Dry Creek and Sixth Avenue trails.
BEST MOUNTAIN-BIKE TRAIL
Buffalo Creek Recreation Area, Conifer
Just an hour west of Denver near Pine sits the trail system known as Buffalo Creek, a series of singletrack routes offering just about everything a mountain biker can ask for: slow but steady climbs, slickrock segments, roots-and-rocks technical sections, sandy or crushed-gravel lines, fast descents, creek crossings and lots of alpine time among the ponderosa pines. The skill levels vary by trail and sometimes within the trails in this mostly intermediate system that includes the first three miles of the Colorado Trail (from Waterton Canyon), but there are good beginner rides — such as Baldy, which offers several bailout options — and a few more challenging ones, including Homestead and Buck Gulch. The areas surrounding the Strawberry Jack and Skipper trails take you through the three large fire zones, eerie but beautiful with extensive views that include ghostly downed trees and a clear look at the mountains. The best part is that the more than fifty miles of trails — which are being added to annually — can be combined to form dozens of loops, which means it will take a while to do them all.
Continue for more Best of Denver 2016 tips for having fun outdoors.