Denver's proximity to the Rocky Mountains makes it possible to spend a day skiing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, hiking, river running, sailing, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, or rock-hounding and return to the city by nightfall. Within the city limits and nearby, visitors will find more than 200 miles of jogging and bicycle paths, over 100 free tennis courts, and several dozen public golf courses.
The city has an excellent system of Mountain Parks (tel. 303/697-4545), covering more than 14,000 acres.
Campsites are easy to reach from Denver, as are suitable sites for hang gliding and hot-air ballooning. Sailing is popular within the city at Sloan's Lake and in Washington Park (both Denver City Parks), and the Platte River is clear for many miles of river running in rafts, kayaks, and canoes.
The Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau can supply detailed information about activities in the city. Information on nearby outdoor activities is available from: Colorado State Parks, 1313 Sherman St., Suite 618, Denver, CO 80203 (tel. 303/866-3437; www.parks.state.co.us); the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, 740 Sims St., Golden, CO 80401 (tel. 303/275-5350; www.fs.fed.us/r2); the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 2850 Youngfield St., Lakewood, CO 80215 (tel. 303/239-3600; www.co.blm.gov); and the National Park Service, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225 (tel. 303/969-2000; www.nps.gov).
Visitors who don't bring the necessary equipment have several rental sources. Sports Rent, 8761 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, (tel. 303/467-0200; www.sportsrent.net), has just about everything imaginable, including bikes, in-line skates, canoes, camping equipment, skis, snowboards, snowshoes, ski racks, and clothing. The REI Flagship store, 1416 Platte St. (tel. 303/756-3100) also has a rental department stocked with tents, backpacks, stoves, mountaineering equipment, kayaks, and other gear.
The paved bicycle paths that crisscross Denver include a 12-mile scenic stretch along the bank of the South Platte River and along Cherry Creek beside Speer Boulevard. All told, the city has 85 miles of off-road trails for bikers and runners, and is Bicycle Magazine's top city for bicyclists. Bike paths link the city's 205 parks, and many streets have bike lanes. In all, the city has more than 130 miles of designated bike paths and lanes. For more information, contact Bike Denver (tel. 303/322-3320; www.bikedenver.org) or Bicycle Colorado (tel. 303/417-1544; www.bicyclecolo.org). Bike tours are available from several companies and clubs. The Cherry Creek Bike Rack, 171 Detroit St. (tel. 303/388-1630; www.cherrycreekbikerack.com), opened in 2004, offering rentals, service, and free parking for bikes.
Denver also has the largest free skateboarding park (3 acres) in the country, the Denver Skatepark, 19th and Little Raven sts. (tel. 720/913-0696). It is quite popular and open between the hours of 6am and 11pm.
A quiet way to view some of downtown Denver is from a punt on scenic Cherry Creek. Venice on the Creek (tel. 303/893-0750) operates from May to August, Tuesday through Thursday by reservation, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10pm and Sunday from 3 to 6:30pm. On weekdays it accommodates only groups of 12 or more; smaller groups are taken on weekends. Guides describe the history of the city while pointing out landmarks. Tickets are available at the kiosk at Creekfront Plaza, at the intersection of Speer Boulevard and Larimer Street. A 1-hour trip costs $15 for adults, $7 for children, and $12 for seniors. Half-hour trips are also available, for about two-thirds the cost.
Commercial rafting companies offer raft trips on the Platte River through Littleton and Englewood in Denver's south suburbs. Water level permitting, Flexible Flyers Rafting (tel. 970/247-4628) offers 2 1/2-hour trips; call for the current schedule. The cost is $40 for adults and $20 children 12 and under.
You'll find powerboat marinas at Cherry Creek State Park, 4201 S. Parker Rd., Aurora, CO 80014 (tel. 303/699-3860), 11 miles from downtown off I-225; and Chatfield State Park, 11500 N. Roxborough Park Rd., Littleton, CO 80125 (tel. 303/791-7275), 16 miles south of downtown Denver off Colo. 470. Jet-skiing and sail-boarding are also permitted at both parks. Sail-boarding, canoeing, and other wakeless boating are popular at , 13401 Picadilly Rd., Brighton, CO 80601 (tel. 303/659-6005), 21 miles northeast of downtown on I-76.
For a different watersports experience, try river-boarding with RipBoard (tel. 866/311-2627 or 303/904-8367; www.ripboard.com), which entails going down Clear Creek face-first with flippers on your feet and a helmet on your head. It's exciting and exhausting, but can be a lot of fun in the right water. Lessons (including equipment) are $35 for 2 hours; rentals and sales are also available.
For information on other boating opportunities, contact Colorado State Parks, the National Park Service, or the U.S. Forest Service.
The Colorado Trail is a hiking, horse, and mountain-biking route stretching 500 miles from Denver to Durango. The trail is also open to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and llama-pack hiking. Opened in 1988, the trail is still being fine-tuned. It took 15 years to establish, using volunteer labor, and crosses eight mountain ranges and five river systems, winding from rugged terrain to pristine meadows. For information, contact the Colorado Trail Foundation, 710 10th St., Room 210, Golden, CO 80401-1022 (tel. 303/384-3729; www.coloradotrail.org). Beyond being a source of information, the foundation maintains and improves the trail, publishes relevant guidebooks, and offers supported treks and accredited courses.
For hikes in the Denver area, contact the city Department of Parks and Recreation (tel. 720/913-0696) for information on Denver's park system. Or contact any of the following agencies: Colorado State Parks, Colorado Division of Wildlife, National Park Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or U.S. Forest Service. A good source for the many published area maps and hiking guides is Mapsco Map and Travel Center, 800 Lincoln St., Denver (tel. 800/456-8703 or 303/623-4299; www.mapsco.com). Other sources are local sporting-goods stores and bookstores.
Mount Falcon Park offers excellent trails that are easy to moderate in difficulty, making this a good place for families with children. There are also picnic areas, shelters, and ruins of an old castlelike home. From Denver, go west on U.S. 285 and north on Parmalee Gulch Road; the park is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. Mountain bikes and horseback riding are permitted, as are leashed dogs.
Other relatively easy trails near Denver are in Roxborough State Park (tel. 303/973-3959), 10 miles south of Littleton -- the 1-mile Willow Creek Trail and the 2 1/4-mile Fountain Valley Trail. There are several more strenuous trails at Roxborough, but worth the effort if you enjoy beautiful red rocks and the chance to see wildlife. To get to Roxborough Park, exit Colo. 470 south onto U.S. 85 and turn west onto Titan Road, then south again at Roxborough Park Road to the main entrance. Admission costs $5 per vehicle. The park is open daily from 8am to 8pm in summer, with shorter hours the rest of the year. Dogs, bikes, and horseback riding are not permitted.
Equestrians can find a mount year-round at Stockton's Plum Creek Stables, 7479 W. Titan Rd., Littleton (tel. 303/791-1966), near Chatfield State Park, 15 miles south of downtown. Stockton's offers hayrides and barbecue picnics, as well as lessons ($50 an hour). Paint Horse Stables, 4201 S. Parker Rd., Aurora (tel. 303/690-8235), at Cherry Creek State Park, also rents horses, boards horses, and provides riding lessons, hayrides, and pony rides for kids.
Colorado has a number of excellent state parks offering a wide range of activities and scenery. Information on the state's parks is available at www.parks.state.co.us.
Barr Lake State Park -- About 25 miles northeast of Denver on I-76 in Brighton, this wildlife sanctuary of almost 2,800 acres comprises a prairie reservoir and surrounding wetlands and uplands. Boats with motors exceeding 10 horsepower are not allowed, but you can sail, paddle, row, and fish. A 9-mile hiking and biking trail circles the lake. A boardwalk from the nature center at the south parking lot leads to a good view of a heron rookery, and bird blinds along this trail allow wildlife observation and photography. Three picnic areas provide tables and grills; there's a commercial campground opposite the park on the west side. The entrance is at 13401 Picadilly Rd. Admission costs $5 per vehicle. Call tel. 303/659-6005 for more information.
Castlewood Canyon State Park -- Steep canyons, a meandering stream, a waterfall, lush vegetation, and considerable wildlife distinguish this 2,000-acre park. You can see the remains of Castlewood Canyon Dam, which was built for irrigation in 1890; it collapsed in 1933, killing two people and flooding the streets of Denver. The park, 30 miles south of Denver on Colo. 83, east of Castle Rock in Franktown, provides picnic facilities and hiking trails. The entrance is at 2989 S. State Hwy. 83; admission is $5 per vehicle. Call tel. 303/688-5242 for more information.
Chatfield State Park -- Sixteen miles south of downtown Denver on U.S. 85 in Littleton, this park occupies 5,600 acres of prairie against a backdrop of the steeply rising Rocky Mountains. Chatfield Reservoir, with a 26-mile shoreline, invites swimming, boating, fishing, and other watersports. The area also has 18 miles of paved bicycle trails, plus hiking and horseback-riding paths. In winter, there's ice fishing and cross-country skiing. The park also has a hot-air-balloon launch pad, a radio-controlled model aircraft field, and a 21-acre manmade wetlands area.
Facilities include 197 pull-through campsites, showers, laundry, and a dump station. Admission is $5 to $6 per vehicle; the camping fee is $16 to $22 daily. The entrance is 1 mile south of C-470 on Wadsworth Boulevard (tel. 303/791-7275).
Cherry Creek State Park -- The 880-acre Cherry Creek Reservoir, created for flood control by the construction of a dam in 1950, is the central attraction of this popular park, which draws 1.5 million visitors each year. Located at the southeast Denver city limits (off Parker Rd. and I-225) about 12 miles from downtown, the park encompasses 4,200 acres in all.
Watersports include swimming, water-skiing, boating, and fishing. There's a nature trail, dog-training area, model-airplane field with paved runways, jet-ski rental facility, rifle range, pistol range, and trap-shooting area. Twelve miles of paved bicycle paths and 12 miles of bridle trails circle the reservoir (horse rentals are available). Rangers offer guided walks by appointment, as well as evening campfire programs in an amphitheater. In winter, there's skating, ice fishing, and ice boating.
Each of the park's 102 campsites has access to showers, laundry, and a dump station. Most sites have full hookups with water and electric. Many lakeshore day-use sites have picnic tables and grills.
Admission costs $6 to $7 per vehicle; the camping fee is $12 to $22 daily. Campgrounds are open year-round. The entrance is at 4201 S. Parker Rd. in Aurora. Call tel. 303/699-3860 for general information or tel. 800/678-2267 for camping reservations.
Golden Gate State Park -- One hour west of Denver, this 14,000-acre park ranges in elevation from 7,400 to 10,400 feet and offers camping, picnicking, hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and horseback-riding opportunities. A daily vehicle pass costs $5, and camping fees range from $10 to $18 in developed campgrounds, $7 for backcountry camping. There are around 160 developed campsites, with a limited number of electrical hookups. Reverend's Ridge, the park's largest campground, has coin-operated showers and laundry facilities.
To get to Golden Gate, take Colo. 93 north from Golden 1 mile to Golden Gate Canyon Road. Turn left and continue 13 miles to the park. For more information, call tel. 303/582-3707.
Several ski resorts are close to Denver. They include Eldora Mountain Resort, 45 miles west (tel. 303/440-8700; www.eldora.com), which covers almost 700 acres and has 53 trails, with skiing rated 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, and 30% advanced. Loveland Basin and Valley, 56 miles west on I-70, exit 216 (tel. 800/736-3754 or 303/569-3203; fax 303/571-5580; www.skiloveland.com), covers 1,365 acres and has 70 trails, rated 17% beginner, 42% intermediate, and 41% advanced. Winter Park Resort, 73 miles west of Denver on I-70 and U.S. 40 (tel. 800/729-5813 or 970/726-5514; fax 970/726-1572; www.winterparkresort.com), boasts 2,762 ski-able acres with 134 trails, rated 10% beginner, 36% intermediate, and 54% advanced.
Eldora and Winter Park offer Nordic as well as alpine terrain.
Full information on statewide skiing is available from Colorado Ski Country USA, 1507 Blake St., Denver, CO 80202 (tel. 303/837-0793; www.coloradoski.com), and the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association (www.colorado-xc.org).
Some useful Denver telephone numbers for skiers include: ski-area information and snow report (tel. 303/825-7669), weather report (tel. 303/337-2500), and road conditions (tel. 303/639-1111).
For more on what to see and do in Denver, visit our complete guide online at www.frommers.com/destinations/denver.
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