Our annual Best of Denver issue is a user's guide to the Mile High City and the areas that surround it.
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.
BEST MOUNTAIN-BIKE PARK
Keystone Bike Park
Keystone Resort enjoys a reputation for being a solid family mountain in winter, a laid-back place where many of Colorado's kids learn how to ski. But come mid-June, Keystone turns into a pretty hard-core mountain-biking mecca. With 55 trails comprising 100 miles' worth of lift-served and famously technical singletrack — complete with rock gardens, natural and man-made obstacles and plenty of places to get air — Keystone features some terrain that gives even the most gnarly mountain biker pause, all for $42 for a day pass (multi-day and season passes are available, too). The black and double-black runs offer serious speed, and the newer TNT section, an old logging road turned into a berms-and-jumps ride, has been revamped with sheer drop-offs in the smoother sections and "The Yacht," a wooden structure that gives you one last big move at the end. There's also a skills park that allows riders to practice on jump trails with rollers, logs and rocks at less-steep pitches than in the main park, as well as the Drop Zone, a series of ridgelines perfect for free falls from five to fourteen feet. There are a few beginner- and intermediate-level trails here, but for the most part, it's experts-only — and while you don't have to wear body armor, you'll probably want to.
BEST DISC GOLF WITH BEVERAGE
A permanent nine-hole disc-golf park in Longmont, Loomiller is mostly flat, surrounded by trees, and features a lake and a pond that make for some fun challenges on several holes. The pin placements can be tough, too, but for the most part, this is a beginner's course with a variety of lines on the holes, and the tee pads are concrete. There's a picnic area near one of the ponds, but one of the best reasons for working up a thirst here is that you can hop, bike or skip onto Hover Street and hit Oskar Blues for "homemade liquids and solids," or take a short drive down U.S. 287 to the inviting patio at Pumphouse Brewery and toast your victory — or drown your sorrows over losing a disc to the lake.
BEST SKATE PARK
Team Pain's concrete crew was at it again this year, adding a field-trip-worthy 15,000-square-foot skate park at Loveland's new Mehaffey Park to a Colorado portfolio that now includes thirteen of the state's finest skate spots. The City of Loveland Parks and Recreation Department started consulting with local skaters on the design three full years before the official August 2015 grand opening, and collaborated with Fort Collins-based landscape architecture and environmental planning firm Logan Simpson to integrate it into the 64-acre, $13.6 million park. The skate park itself is a beauty, with a large flow section, a street course with several innovative rails and ledges, a self-contained bowl with stairs in the shallow end and pool coping all around, and a very cool snake run winding around a feature designed to look like a giant tree stump.
BEST QUICKIE HIKE
Beaver Brook Trail
Slightly more than a mile off I-70 sits the trailhead for the hidden gem called Beaver Brook, actually a well-shaded trail system with several options, from easy to strenuous. The Braille Nature Center Trail is a short, informative walk with interpretive signs that share information on the flora and fauna in the area, while the Gudy Gaskill Loop takes hikers above Clear Creek and the Robert Chavez Trail follows right along the water. You could do a twelve-mile out-and-back here if you have the time, but even doing a few miles both ways will still give you a backcountry feel while on a nearby trail.
BEST HIKE FOR A QUICKIE
Forsythe Canyon, Boulder
It takes only about a minute of holding hands at the 25-foot-high waterfall in pretty Forsythe Canyon to realize that there's no one else around — and that there are a lot of big, shady trees everywhere...and that the gentle burbling of the water makes for some convenient background noise. The mild-to-moderate hike — no need to get all sweaty before you're ready — is partially shaded along the way by fir and spruce that make it easy to duck off the path at nearly any point, and as soon as the foliage starts growing, the wildflowers make for a nice thank-you bouquet.
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