Get away by staying nearby this summer in the Denver metro area

Where to go for outdoor fun in and near Denver


For adventurers, Colorado offers fourteeners, national forests and famous sand dunes, but if you live in the Denver metro area and aren’t fond of hours-long drives, the state is still home to many places where you can escape city life.

“It depends on what you’re looking for,” said Lauren Truitt, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman, about state parks. “With Cherry Creek, you forget there’s city all around you. Roxborough has that stunning, vista-style view that looks over Denver and south to Castle Rock.”

And Barr Lake, up north near Brighton, is still less than an hour away from much of the rest of the metro area — out on the eastern plains but still boasting a “phenomenal view of the whole northern mountain range,” Truitt said.

More getaways sit in your backyard. Here’s a look at nearby state, federal and local stops and the kinds of eclectic activities they offer.

Cherry Creek State Park

The massive park located between Aurora, Denver and the Centennial area isn’t just about its reservoir.

The park also allows camping, a shooting range and even rides on horses that parkgoers can rent, Truitt said. Enthusiasts can also fly model airplanes there, and, of course, the reservoir is open for fishing, she added.

Cherry Creek State Park is located along Interstate 225 and along South Parker Road.

Chatfield State Park

South of Littleton along C-470 and South Santa Fe Drive, Chatfield also offers fishing, model-airplane flying and camping.

Horses are available for rent, and riding lessons and hayrides are also part of the fun, Truitt said.

Barr Lake State Park

Northeast near Interstate 76 and E-470 sits Barr Lake State Park, where you can try your hand at archery.

“Barr Lake is fantastic for bird watching,” Truitt said. “They have a concessionaire that can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. They have a great little river walk to look at eagle’s nests.”

The park includes trails for horses, but visitors must bring their own, Truitt said. Fishing is also allowed.

Roxborough State Park

Located a few minutes south of Chatfield, Roxborough offers trails for every level of hiker, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s website.

“It’s got that beautiful red-rock formation that goes straight through the park,” Truitt said. Distinct plant life, as well as wildlife ranging from black bears to mule deer, add to the atmosphere.

And while the park is “extremely well-visited,” it’s one of the few state parks in the nation that has a gold standard recognition by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, Truitt said. That organization encourages visitors to leave natural areas “as good or better” than they found them, according to its website.

“The park feels remote,” Truitt said.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

East of Castle Rock near Franktown sits Castlewood Canyon State Park, where climbers and hikers can get their fill of another area along the Cherry Creek.

The park “has great hiking trails,” Truitt said. “It’s busy, but not as busy as Cherry Creek or Chatfield.”

A natural amphitheater and the Bridge Canyon Overlook gazebo at the edge of the canyon serve as places for weddings or other outdoor ceremonies, and the park also offers picnic areas, according to the parks and wildlife site.

Some seasonal closures affect where climbing is allowed. See for information. The park sits along State Highway 83.

In the middle of the city

If you’re looking to stay even closer to home, Crown Hill Park in the Wheat Ridge area typically has decent bird-watching opportunities, said Rosemary Dempsey, spokeswoman for Great Outdoors Colorado.

“I just discovered Cherry Knolls park,” said Dempsey, whose organization oversees a state trust fund to protect Colorado’s natural areas. “It’s got a trail going through it, but the most awesome thing is the creek with plenty of sandbars for the kids to splash around in.”

Cherry Knolls is located in west Centennial near South University Boulevard. And in the middle of Denver proper, City Park — not far outside downtown — offers views of the mountains and city buildings, Dempsey said.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Sporting a strange name for a wildlife region, Rocky Mountain Arsenal is larger than many cities in the metro area.

Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army converted the land into a chemical weapons manufacturing facility to support World War II, according to the refuge’s website. Congress designated the site as a national wildlife refuge in the early 1990s.

Located in the Commerce City area north of Interstate 70, the refuge offers “wildlife viewing and urban escapes,” Dempsey said.

Visitors can take a self-guided drive in their cars to watch wildlife on the land, a sanctuary for more than 330 species of animals, including bison, black-footed ferrets, deer, coyotes, bald eagles and burrowing owls, its website says.

It also offers 10 miles of hiking trails — and it’s free.

Other getaways

For enjoyable views, William F. Hayden Park on Green Mountain — in Lakewood along C-470 — and North Table Loop Trailhead in the Golden area along State Highway 93 are notable spots, Dempsey said. Inspiration Point Park, near I-70 and North Sheridan Boulevard, also overlooks a steep drop in elevation.


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