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


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.


5 Great Denver Hikes without a Car

Five Great Denver Hikes without a Car

You might see bison on the First Creek at DEN trail!

The mountains are calling; but you can't get there. No worries. Great hikes within Denver just wait for you to jump on them and enjoy the mountains from afar. Here are 5 super hikes in Denver you can access via transit with directions to getting to the trail heads. (You can also get there by car!)

1. First Creek at DEN Open Space

first creek eatwalklearn
The First Creek is a refreshing sight!

This amazing trail at the corner of 56th Ave and Peña goes two directions. When you approach the trailhead, you can go east on a concrete path for two miles and then return for a total of 4 miles. You'll meander along First Creek, under the A Train, and out to the edge of Aurora. Watch for owls, coyotes, and prairie dogs. Or, if you go west, you'll go into the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. The dirt trail starts along the First Creek and then veers north to the bison overlook. Watch for bison, deer, hawks and eagles for 4 miles roundtrip. If you do both sides, both ways, you'll hike 8 miles. For a trail report, see this article.

Get there: Bus 45 is your ticket to ride. You can pick it up for the Central Park Station. Take it to 53rd and Kittredge stop. From there, you'll have about a 20 minute walk to the trailhead. Head east on E 53rd toward Kittredge. Turn left on Memphis St. Turn right on E 56th Ave. Turn left on Buckley Rd. into the parking lot where you'll see signs telling you the story off the prairie dogs. Continue north on Buckley Rd for 1/3 mile to get to the trailhead to go east or just a bit further to get to the trailhead that goes west. Be sure to bring water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. There are no facilities here.

2. The Norfolk Glen Loop

The Norfolk Glen Loop in Aurora combines the best of the outdoors with the ease of two great trails, the Sand Creek Greenway and the High Line Canal Trail. At five miles, which you can shorten to just over three, this hike starts at the Star K Ranch Morrison Nature Center off Smith Road (16002 E. Smith Road, Aurora 80011). You walk through wonderful open space filled with deer, elk, coyotes and prairie dogs. You'll cross the Sand Creek onto the High Line Canal Trail, and walk for a couple of miles with the Canal on your right and open space full of hawks and eagles on your left. After navigating the Triple Creek Trailhead, you'll head back along the Sand Creek and its Greenway on soft surface trail. When you arrive back to the Nature Center, be sure to go inside to use the restrooms and enjoy the interpretive history about Mr Stark. For the kids, they can touch some animal furs, too! See a map of the walk here: Norfolk Glen Loop. This walk is also in The Best Urban Hikes: Denver.

Get there: Bus 37 is your ticket to ride. You can pick it up from the Peoria A Train Station. Take it to the 32nd Ave and Chambers stop. From there, you have about a 20 minute walk to the trailhead within Star K Ranch. Head west on 32nd Ave to Chambers. Turn left on Chambers Rd. Turn left on E Smith Rd. Turn right on Laredo St. Follow the signs to the Morrison Nature Center. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. There are restroom facilities here. If you have time, be sure to enter the Morrison Nature Center and check out the animal and natural history displays.

3. The Confluence Loop

5280 loop 5280loop urbanhikingden
Connecting with the Platte is a rich opportunity.

A great hike for locals wanting to show off Denver, this hike starts at REI at Confluence Park. You'll walk along the Platte River toward Mile High Stadium, cross the million-dollar bridge, then enjoy the swoosh of Elitch's roller coasters. Pass the City of Denver's Centennial Garden, then you'll take a right and amble along Cherry Creek. Here, you can see where Denver and Auraria were founded while enjoying some great urban art. The walk continues along the Platte River to Denver's Skatepark, which is continually ranked in the top 10 free skate parks in the world. When you're finished, walk the Millennial Bridge back to Union Station for lunch. For a map of the walk, click The Confluence Loop.

Get there: A great place to start this hike is from the REI Flagship store where you can gear up and snack up. To get to REI, Union Station is your ticket to ride. From there, you have about a 15-minute walk. Out of Union Station, go southwest on Wynkoop St toward 16th St Mall. Turn right on 15th St. After crossing the Platte River, spy a sidewalk to take a left to the Platte River Trail. You'll walk along the river next to the rear of REI. The trailhead starts at the Starbucks at REI.

4. The Sand Creek Greenway

9Creeks Loop Sand Creek

For a little bit different adventure, walk the Sand Creek Greenway between the Central Park Station and the Dahlia Street Trailhead. You'll wander along the Sand Creek, under two major interstates, past a waterfall, and along a quiet greenway where you won't ever hear or see I270 right next to you. It's a good contemplative walk or even a place to catch some invertebrates in the water. Be sure to bring binoculars to spy the bird life in the reeds and along the creek bank for this 4-mile wilderness hike in the city.

Get there: The A Train is your ticket to ride. Take it to the Central Park Station. From there you have about a 5-minute walk to the trailhead. Walk east along the sidewalk that parallels the train tracks. You'll cross the old Smith Road bridge that is closed to car traffic. At the east end of the bridge, follow the footpath down the bank. When you reach the concrete tail at the bottom of the footpath, you'll be on the Sand Creek Greenway. The trailhead starts here and immediately goes north, then west, under the train tracks. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. There are no facilities here. There is a restroom about halfway at the Commerce City Wetland Park. At the Dahlia St. trailhead, you can catch bus 40 which is a 4-minute walk to the Eurdora St and 56t St Station.

5. Sloan's Lake Loop

If you're needing a bit of a water view with a mountain backdrop, do a 3-mile lap around Sloan's Lake. This active trail filled with skaters, striders, walkers, and families provides plenty off places to rest in the shade on benches. Gardens and art dot the loop. You might even catch an outdoor exercise class or a dragon boat race!

Get there: Bus 28 is your ticket to ride. From the station, you'll have about a 6-minute walk. Take the bus to the W 26th Ave and Vrain St station. Head west on W 26th toward Winona Ct. Turn left onto W Byron Pl. and follow to the lake. Walk in either direction around the lake to make a loop. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen, etc. There are plenty of restrooms around the lake. You may also want to venture into the neighborhood and enjoy this walk.

For more hikes in Denver you can do without a car, check out over 20 of them in my book The Best Urban Hikes: Denver. You'll find complete maps and directions for enjoying these urban treasures. Or, if you'd like to get an intensive city experience and enjoy wildlife of the human kind, get my book Walking Denver's Neighborhoods, where you'll find 78 3-mile loops within Denver's neighborhoods.