Best Denver Hike for Summer Solstice

Best Denver Hike for Summer Solstice

With the summer solstice coming up to denote the longest day of the year, you can't miss a great hike in Denver to celebrate. There's one place like no other that will offer up fantastic front range views, an incredible sunset, birds galore, deer and their fawn, barking prairie dogs and blooming wildflowers.

Head out to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.

The Bluestem Loop Trail

Then find the Bluestem Loop Trail.

Then hike a 1.5-mile loop to the bench that overlooks the wetlands, the mountains, and the prairie. It is here you'll enjoy the longest day of the year. And chances are, you'll only drive 20 minutes to get there (if you live in Denver.)

On the Trail

On the trail, you'll find various interpretative signs about Blue Goose, Sedges, Wetlands and the High Line Canal. Thigh-high grasses blow in the wind. Brilliant burgundy and violet thistles dot the prairie, you'll hear meadowlarks singing, and you'll see Swainson hawks soaring. A herd of eight white-tailed deer and their two babies keep watch. Bull snakes slither. Bison bake in the sun just to the north.

It's the perfect place to catch a sunset for the longest day of the year.

It's the perfect place to bring your kids.

It's the perfect place to find some contemplative time.

Directions to Trailhead

Take I70 to Central Park Blvd. Go north. Central Park Blvd turns into Prairie Parkway and goes north of Dick's Sports Park. Take a right on Gateway Blvd. Enter the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. Take a right on Wildlife Drive. Continue for about a mile. Cross Havana St. Derby Lake will be on your left. Continue about a 1/2 mile. The road turns to dirt. Take it to the end. Park. The trailhead is on the south side of the parking lot. The coordinates are 39°48'45.9"N 104°49'17.9"W. There is no address.

Directions for Hiking the Trail

The Bluestem Loop Trail loops from the trailhead. You can go left or right. If you go left, you'll reach the bench mentioned above in about 1/3 mile. Go right, and you can follow the several loops (just keep going right) until the trail loops back to the left. You'll find the bench about 1/4 mile past the High Line Canal sign as you are working your way back north. The entire loop is just about 1.5 miles if you take all the little detours. Parts of the trail to the left are on elevated boardwalk; the remainder is soft surface. We saw wheelchair tracks on the entire loop.

If you go and hike the Bluestem Loop Trail, post a picture and tag it with #denverbyfoot. I love seeing your pictures!

See you on the trail,
~Chris


3 Great Denver Hikes for Music Lovers

Three Great Denver Walks for Music Lovers

Denver draws some of the best musicians in the industry. It's been happening for almost a hundred years. From the first performance of Ave Maria at Red Rocks to the giant Garth Brooks show at Mile High Stadium, Denver attracts musicians and music lovers alike.

Yet even though Denver brings musicians here, it has also provided the background for great musicians to rise out of its neighborhoods and onto the stage.

Take the neighborhoods of Whittier, Five Points and Baker. Home to music halls and dance beats, these neighborhoods have held musical court long before Mile High Stadium and the Pepsi Center played tunes.

Here are three great urban hikes in Denver that musicians and music lovers will like.

Whittier Neighborhood

In the Whittier neighborhood, you'll find the George C Morrison Park. It's a linear park along Martin Luther King, Jr, Blvd which connects you to other wonderful parks that feature portions of Denver's African-American history.

Violinist and musician, George Morison, Sr, impacted the jazz scene in Five Points while living in Whittier. He grew up in Boulder, graduated from the Columbia Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and performed with  Cuthbert Byrd, Desdamona and Leo Davis, Hattie McDaniel, Eugene Montgomery, Theodore Morris, Jimmy Lunceford, and Andy Kirk.

Morrison also gave back to the community through free music lessons to the kids at Whittier Elementary, Cole Junior High, and Manual High Schools. When walking in the neighborhood, you might want to pass by where he lived at 2558 Gilpin Street.  This home became a gathering spot for many famous musicians, including Count Bassie, Jelly Roll Morton, Nat King Cole and other celebrated musicians.

If you've worked up an appetite walking through Whittier, stop in at the Whittier Cafe and get a Denver Egg Burger.

Whittier Walking Map (click for interaction)

From Whittier, head over to Five Points.

Five Points

five points urban hiking denver eatwalklearn

Five Points is a giant neighborhood that includes Curtis Park Ballpark and RiNo, which aren't "technically" neighborhoods according to the City of Denver. But for a music lover, the center of Five Points is the place to uncover.

At the Five Points intersection, where you can catch the light rail going downtown, the beat of the neighborhood is itching to drum again. The Rossonian, once the heartbeat of Five Points and filled with be-bopping jazz and energetic sounds that attracted some of the best jazz musicians of the '20-60's, sits across from a wonderful mural telling Five Points' story and the musical impact the "Harlem of the West" made on the industry.

The City of Denver has a love-hate relationship with Five Points, that, over time, has morphed it into an interesting eclectic set of homes filled with the rich and the poor living right next to each other. On one street you'll find Neal Cassady's father's barber shop across the street from what was once the Snowden, his boyhood home, that has been replaced by million-dollar town homes. Across from it you'll find a refuge for homeless women which is diagonal from an actors' studio. You can also read many excerpts about the music scene and the area from Denver lover, Jack Kerouac's, On the Road, or native son, Neal Cassady's, First Third.

Sandwiched on blocks full of residences, you'll find fabulous places to eat. The Curtis Park Deli has the best smoked trout sandwich I've ever eaten, and around the corner is the restored Curtis Park Creamery, a long-standing, dine-out only, Mexican cafe serving up the neighborhood's best tamales.

Five Points Walking Map (click for interaction)

After Five Points, head to Red Rocks.

Red Rocks

Set between the famous Ship Rock and Creation Rock, the Red Rocks Amphitheater has welcomed stair-climbing, live-performance music lovers to its 6,450 feet of elevation since 1941. Infamous performances include the Beatles, U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, the Eagles, Santana, Willie Nelson, Journey, Grateful Dead, Tears for Fears, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Sting, Stevie Nicks, B. B. King, Nora Jones, Duran Duran, and DeVotchKa, among others.

Of course, you can climb the amphitheater or hike the 1.5-mile loop through the seven rock formations, and you can visit two stop-worthy music showcases in the park. The first is the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in the Trading Post, which tells musical performance history with an emphasis on John Denver. Or, you can climb to the top of the amphitheater and enjoy the Red Rocks Visitor Center which houses great artifacts and stories of the famous performances of this infamous outdoor theater.

To enjoy your day fully, begin your day with the Trading Post Trail, stop in at the Trading Post to grab a snack and see the Hall of Fame, then climb the amphitheater to the Visitors Center. Return to your car and head to Morrison; grab a bite at The Cow Eatery and get the Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese.

Red Rocks Walking Map (click for interaction)

Do you have a walk to add to the best places for musicians to walk in Denver? Post about it and tag it with #denverbyfoot so I can see!

See you on the trail,

~Chris


Where to Walk around a Lake in Denver

Where to Walk Around a Lake in Denver

When people think of Denver, they think of the Rocky Mountains. But the truth is, Denver is flat. And dry. Super dry. It's the high plains, after all. Although Denver is the west's water tower, it's tough to find water. Just ask the engineers who built the High Line Canal and the series of ditches around Denver. Water is scarce. But there are several neighborhoods with great lakes that invite wonderful walks, ranging from one mile around to over six.

Here are five great places to take a walk around a lake (and ALL are dog friendly.)

Be sure to click the links for maps and more details about the parks.

Berkeley Lake

In the Berkeley neighborhood, which originally watered the alfalfa of John Walker's farm, you'll find Berkeley Lake in Berkeley Park. It's also got a great dog park next to it. Although leashes are required around the lake, your pup can run free in the dog park. A lap around the lake clocks about a mile. Be sure to stop in on the hip Tennyson neighborhood for a quick bite and cold craft. See a video about the park.

Find Berkeley Lake at 5031 W 46th Ave, Denver, CO.

Rocky Mountain Park Lake

Next door to Berkeley is Rocky Mountain Park, which is loaded with cedar, oak, pine, birch and cottonwood trees. Not to be confused with Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain Park and its small lake offer up great views of the front range. Also a mile around and dog friendly (on leashes), you can finish your walk with a game of tennis! See a video about the park.

Find Rocky Mountain Lake Park at 3301 W 46th Ave, Denver, CO.

Sloan's Lake

Always bustling with skaters, riders, walkers, joggers, and strollers, the 3-mile lap around Sloan's Lake offers picturesque views of the front range as well. You'll often find different boating activities happening on this historic lake, including dragon boat races and sail boat regattas. From the historic Manhattan Beach, which housed circles acts, ostrich-drawn Cinderella sleds, elephants, and even flying human cannons, to pleasure boats that cruised the lake yet ultimately sank, Sloan’s Lake has invited Denverites to its shores for over a century. Now the banks have sail boats, paddle boats, and if it ever gets cold enough again for the lake to freeze for consecutive days, ice skating. Plenty of benches and playgrounds encircle the lake and in the spring and summer, you can seek out budding rose gardens. See a video about the lake.

Find Sloan's Lake Park at 1700 Sheridan Blvd, Denver CO.

City Park

Not only will you find lots to do in City Park, including playing in the water fountains, meandering through the rose gardens, and playing tag in the open fields, but you can do the mile-walk around Ferril Lake, named after Denver's Poet Laureate. In the summer, rent paddle boats or kayaks and float your way to the aviary in the center of the lake to watch geese and cormorant thrive. Be sure to find the Six Legs statue! See a video about the park.

Find City Park at 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO.

Wash Park

With several choices of lakes to circle, including Smith's Pond, Grasmere Lake and Lily Pond, you can walk over 6 miles around Wash Park if you round all the choices. In addition you'll find formal and informal gardens, fireplaces, a new playground, and even summer volleyball tournaments. Thriving with activity year round, be sure to stay in the proper lane when traveling throughout the park, as there are well-designated lanes for walkers, runners, and bikers.

Find Wash Park at 701 S Franklin St, Denver, CO.

What is your favorite lake to walk around in Denver? Post your pictures and tag them with #denverbyfoot so I can see them!

See you on the trail,
~Chris

PS If you'd like to see more videos about the parks, subscribe to my YouTube video channel where I review over 150 parks!


Hiking Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

Hiking Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

Need a great hike that's close by, is fantastic for kids, invites world travelers, and includes world history?

And you might even see bison, deer, foxes, prairie dogs and bald eagles?

Then head over to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.

From Homesteaders to Bison

The Wildlife Refuge, which now hosts a bison herd of close to 100, two types of deer, lots of foxes, coyotes, prairie dogs and ferrets, used to be the dirtiest land in the country. Seized from homesteaders after Pearl Harbor, the Army built munitions and chemical warfare, creating a toxic cocktail of mustard gas and dioxins. On top of this deadly soup, the space race created fuel for the Apollo space mission.

By the time the 80s rolled around, Denver’s Stapleton airport and a disgusting dirt pile of tainted soil called out for solutions. Leaders came together, moved the airport, and got the old Army base declared a Superfund site. At the same time, bald eagles appeared. With legislative maneuvering and citizen support, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge appeared.

Hike or Drive to See Bison

And now, you can view the bison on this wonderful urban resource, just a few miles off i-70 just north of the old Stapleton airport tower. The bison’s range behind fences. In a car, you can drive along a designated route within the range and get very close to the bison. Yet, you must stay in your car. If you decide to walk, you can get close, but a fence will always be between you and the bison.

Let’s be honest, right up front. Bison aren’t friendly. They don’t want your company. They weigh almost a ton. So, no, you won’t actually be hiking with them. You’ll more be walking near them, in view of them, or within range. If you don't see them walking the Legacy Trail, hop back in your car and drive the Wildlife Drive Trail.

Get Up Early or Go Late

The best time to view the bison is early in the morning or later in the afternoon. But it’s really a guessing game at best. The bison roam the Refuge throughout the day, and there are many days you can’t see them from the trails or the public viewing areas. None the less, here’s how you can walk right next to them if they're out.

The Trail Route

Park at the Refuge’s Visitor Center. Inside, you can see a life-sized bison and learn the history of the Refuge. When you’re ready, head out on the Legacy Trail, which leaves from the back side  of the Visitor Center. At the head of the trail is a ferret exhibit that you won’t want to pass up. Then head northeasterly along the trail to Lake Mary.

The trail is mostly pebble rock. Rollers and strollers can enjoy it on dry days. You’ll walk through medium-high prairie grass along rolling knolls. About halfway to Mary Lake, which is about a ½ mile, you’ll encounter some swales on both sides of the trail where lovely Cottonwood and Oak trees grow. Keep your eyes peeled, as you’ll have a high chance to see mule deer and maybe even some white-tailed deer.

Shortly after you pass the swales and before you cross Havana, look to the north. If you’re going to see any bison by foot, here’s your best chance. Often, small parts of the herd will hang out just north of the swales and west of the road. You’ll be close enough to take pictures where they look like bison and less where they look like little brown dots out in a field of grass.

While you’re near Mary Lake, cross over Havana and enjoy a walk around Mary or go a bit further to Lake Ladora. There’s a great loop trail of about 2 miles to take you around the lakes. When you’re ready, head back west along the Legacy trail to the Visitor Center,completing a four-mile out-and-back walk.

By the way, Colorado natives and long-time locals call the area the "Arsenal" while new-comers tend to call it the "Refuge."

Traveling to Denver International Airport?

If you have 2-3 extra hours before checking in for you flight, stopping by the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is a great last stop on the way to the airport. If you're driving from downtown Denver to the airport, take I70 to the Central Park Blvd. Go north about a mile when the street turns into Prairie Parkway. Take a right on Gateway Road into the park. When you finish your visit, leave the park, turn left on Prairie Parkway to Central Park Blvd. Turn left on 56th Ave to Pena Blvd. Turn left on Peña to the airport.

Or, if you are taking public transit, purchase a ticket on the A train for the airport. Take A train to Central Park Station. From there, you can take Bus 62. The bus will let you off on Prairie Parkway, and then you'll have about a 1/2 mile walk. It might be better to Lyft to the Visitor's Center from Central Park Station. When you're finished, either Bus 62 back to Central Park Station or Lyft to the 61st and Peña A Train station. Take the train to the airport. You will not need to purchase another ticket. Your airport ticket is good all day and for multiple rides. It's good on the bus, too, if you decide to take that route.

If you go to the Refuge, post your pictures and tag them with #DenverByFoot. I'd love to see them!

~See you on the trail

Chris
PS If you'd like more great hiking suggestions nearby in Denver, get my book Best Urban Hikes: Denver.


Three Great Denver Hikes with Kids

Three Great Hikes to Do in Denver with Kids

Sometimes all you want to do is get outside and go for a hike. But loading up the kids, the snacks, the gear, and then the drive.

Ugh the drive.

To get to the trailhead...all of this can suck the wind out of your sails. So why drive an hour to a trailhead when there are many great hikes right here in Denver for you and the kids. Granted, these hikes might not have steep climbs and rocky trails, but they do have great outdoor spaces, trees, and nature. And you don't have to drive forever!

Here are three great hikes in Denver to do with kids.

1. Star K Ranch Loops

Fresh air and fun loops await you at Star K Ranch.

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Aurora, abutting Denver, is the delectable and fun Star K Ranch. Within it is the Morrison Nature Center. Together, this location is the perfect place for a local getaway for family outings. Start in the Nature Center and touch and feel your way through the flora and fauna of the park. Learn about the elk, deer, and foxes that live in the park and their flying friends that soar overhead. Then head out on the trails. The best way to enjoy the park is to do the loop that leaves the Nature Center, heads to Sand Creek, follows Sand Creek, and then returns to the Nature Center. You can do short little one-mile loops or make them as big as three miles. For an even bigger adventure, do the 5-mile Norfolk Glen Loop.

Trailhead: 16002 E Smith Rd, Aurora, CO
Restrooms: Yes
Bring: Water, snacks, sunscreen.
Dogs: Allowed on leashes. Please scoop poop.
Grab a bite: CoraFaye's Cafe, 16251 E Colfax Ave Ste 210, Aurora, CO (get the coconut creek cheesecake!)

2. Ruby Hill to Grant Frontier Park

Conduct an outdoor concert at Grant Frontier Park.

Ready for a bit of fun, urban hiking, and nature play? Start at Ruby Hill Park. Depending on the age of your kids, pick the right playground for them to warm up and get started practicing their outdoor voices. Then tie their shoes and urban hike by going west on Florida Ave. Cross over the train tracks and S Platte River Drive, then loop down to the Platte River Trail to go south along the river. Follow on the trail to the south for just about a mile and you'll reach the super fun Grant Frontier Village Park. Here kids can practice their gold mining, play outdoor musical theater, and hunt for crawdads in the oxbow through the park. They can even drive a wagon! When you're ready, follow your footsteps back to Ruby Hill Park for just over 2 miles of walking and thousands of steps of playing.

Trailhead: 1200 W Florida Ave, Denver, CO
Restrooms: Yes at Ruby Hill
Bring: Water, snacks, sunscreen.
Dogs: Allowed on leashes. Please scoop poop.
Grab a bite: GB Fish and Chips, 1311 S Broadway, Denver, CO (get the clam chowder!)

3. Bible Park Loop

Hike a nice 2.5 mile loop at Bible Park then catch a frog!

A large shady park in southeast Denver is a fun place to go owl spotting and geocaching. You can park in the center of the park and then work your way out to its perimeter where you can hike a horseshoe shape around the edge of the park along the High Line Canal Trail. In the middle of the park are ball fields, tennis courts, exercise gyms and playgrounds with a sandbox. Along the trail is a luscious canopy of cottonwoods where you can spot squirrels, owls, and hawks along with possum, raccoon and fox tracks, if not the animals themselves! Starting in the center of the park and hiking the horseshoe will clock about 2.5 miles.

Trailhead: 6802 E Yale Ave, Denver, CO
Restrooms: Yes
Bring: Water, snacks, sunscreen.
Dogs: Allowed on leashes. Please scoop poop.
Grab a bite: La Fagota, 5670 E Evans Ave, Denver, CO (get the taquitos de camaron and an horchata!)

Where are you hiking with your kids in Denver? Send me a note, post below, and tag your photos with #denverbyfoot so I can see your fun time!

See you on the trail,

~Chris

PS For more ideas of where to hike in Denver, get my book Best Urban Hikes: Denver.