Denver Hikes for New Visitors

Denver Hikes for Visitors

*note: A version of this article first appeared as a Guest Post at www.ottsworld.com.

New to Denver or just visiting?

Does hiking in 10,000 feet of elevation worry you? What about just 5280 feet, like Denver's Mile High?

A little freaked out about the altitude and all of the suggestions to go up in the mountains to hike? Want to get outside on a local hike first that’s a bit more practical for first-time visitors to Denver?

We get it. Adjusting to the Denver altitude is no joke, especially if you're visiting from Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago or New York. Sea level may be fun for water sports and beach breaks, but when coming to the mile-high city from sea level, it can be a bit of a challenge.

Be like locals. Carry water. Everywhere.

You’ll want to take it easy for the first few days. Drink lots of water and gets lots of sleep. Be sure to carry a water bottle with you and guzzle it as often as you can stand. As for hiking, you’ll need to follow similar advice.

Acclimating to Denver Hiking

The best way to enjoy higher altitude hiking up in Conifer, Vail or Rocky Mountain National Park is to start acclimating in Denver first. Locals will tell you there are some great hikes right here in Denver to get you started.

We give you three.

One in a park, one on a trail, and one in a neighborhood.

You pick the adventure you want, or all three! Walking these three urban hikes will help you adjust to altitude at 5280 feet and get you ready for the higher stuff up in the front range (which includes Golden, Boulder, Breckenridge and beyond.

Hiking in Denver’s City Park

If you've warmed up your legs in Union Station Neighborhood in LoDo (in the hike below), head on over to Denver's largest park, City Park. This giant park, filled with a zoo and a nature & science museum, enjoys a lake for paddle boating, fishing, and SUP'ing, tennis courts, rose gardens, historic monuments, and outdoor sculpture.

But its best feature is the flat 5280 trail that meanders on soft and hard surfaces through the park for a good 5K, or 3.1 miles. You can hop on the path and make a giant loop through the park, enjoying the oaks, pines, elms, and maples while watching kids play, locals fish, and teens talk.  Some of Denver’s best monuments are in the park; be sure to take a pensive moment at the Martin Luther King, Jr monument and then giggle some at the Six Legs statue. After you’ve enjoyed the loop, rent a paddle boat to peddle out to the pelican rookery or drop into the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The 5280 trail is easy to find. Park at the Martin Luther King Jr statue in City Park. The trail circles the west side of the monument. Catch it going south around Ferril Lake and stay on the marked trail throughout the park.

Hiking Denver’s Historic Trails

Had your fill of people and buildings and just want to get on a trail? The city of Denver is loaded with them. Four main trails circle the city, including the Platte River Trail, the Sand Creek Greenway, the Cherry Creek Trail and the granddaddy of them all, High Line Canal Trail (a whopping 71-miler!) We love all of our trails for so many reasons from having wilderness in the city to an urban meander through the treasures of metro Denver. And what’s great? You can hike them year round.

If you walked the Union Station Neighborhood adventure below, you've stepped on to the Platte River Trail and the Cherry Creek Trail already. If you're really ambitious, you can loop all the trails together and do the 42-mile, 9 Creeks Loop.

But if you've only got an afternoon, we recommend several segments of the High Line Canal in the Fall. You'll like segments 6, 7, 8. These flat segments on soft surface range from 6-8 miles and will bring you through towering cottonwoods, along historic preserves, and next to amazing front range views. Yes, these hikes are one-way, but feel free to do them as round-trips, doubling your mileage, or call a Lyft and meet a local to get back to your trailhead.

Hiking Denver’s Union Station Neighborhood

One of Denver's most fun neighborhoods to walk through which will keep you distracted from your higher-altitude symptoms like thirst, shortness of breath and fatigue is right in the center of town. If you took the A Train from Denver International Airport to downtown, you've already been there.

We're talking Union Station Neighborhood! This fun area that the locals sometimes refer to as "LoDo" (lower Denver) will have you walking on sidewalks and paved trails through history, by art, and along the river. What could be more fun? Plus, if you get tired, there are plenty of places to grab a drink or a bite as you settle into your higher-altitude rhythms (see Sherry Ott’s review of Tupelo Honey for one of these great places to eat in Denver.) See below for the exact turn-by-turn directions you'll follow to walk Union Station Neighborhood.

Acclimate in Denver First

No matter where you hike around Denver, starting inside the Denver city limits is a great way to start acclimating to Denver’s 5280 feet of altitude. Once you feel like you’re not losing your breath every time you move, you might be ready to tackle higher hikes like Three Sisters, Carpenter’s Peak, or even North Table Mountain. For more hikes in and around Denver that will help you adjust, check out these great books about hiking in Denver,  Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Walking Denver’s Neighborhoods . Have fun, enjoy, and breathe!

Turn-by-turn Directions for Union Station Neighborhood (and map!)

Turn-by-turn Directions: Start inside Union Station at 1701 Wynkoop St. Tour the station, making sure you go upstairs to the lounge and look east up 17th St. Admire the chandeliers from the second floor, go to the basement and see the old bathrooms, and generally just explore the station.

When you’re ready, exit the rear of the station, go to the right, and take the left up the stairs over the train tracks. Exit the stairs onto 18th St, heading westerly and crossing Wewatta and Chestnut.

Take the second set of stairs over the freight rail tracks, exiting onto 18th and crossing Bassett. At Little Raven, take a left.

Walk through the park toward the south, following the trails and enjoying the Platte River. Work your way back toward Little Raven to use the pedestrian bridge, also known as Millennial Bridge. Play in the large red reed sculpture at the foot of the steps, then go up the steps, crossing back over the tracks and down to 16th Street.

Take a right on  Chestnut Pl and then a right on Delgany. Cross 15th St and pass the Museum of Contemporary Art and its Toxic Schizophrenia piece. Right before Cherry Creek take a left, walking easterly above the Creek.

Continue along the Creek, taking the ramp down to the Creek. At Larimer, take the ramp back up to 15th Street, and continue on Larimer toward 16th St.

Walk through historic Larimer Square. There are various plaques on the buildings telling historical moments that you may enjoy. Continue on Larimer to 16th St, take a left.

Walk along 16th St to Blake St and take a right. Take a left on 17th, enjoying the views of Union Station. You’ll pass the Oxford Hotel. If you’re in the mood, visit the lobby of the Oxford to enjoy their fabulous western art collection, and peek into the Cruise room to see their Art Deco wall sconces.

Leave the Oxford, walking down the alley between Wynkoop and Wazee toward 20th. At 20th, approach the entry to the Ballfield to find the Evolution of the Ball sculpture (this area is temporarily under construction and the sculpture may not be accessible.). Once you’ve enjoyed the artwork, turn toward Wynkoop.

Walk along Wynkoop, passing the original Union Station on the right and Wynkoop Brewery, founded by Governor Hickenlooper before he was Governor, on your left. Return back to Union Station where you started. Get a delicious Beet Burger at Next Door!

~See you on the trail,

Chris

 

Chris Englert, the Walking Traveler and Denver's Urban Hiker, believes walking is the platform for life. Volunteered into wanderlusting at age 5, she's since traveled all 50 US states and 52 countries. Chris shares her love of walking while traveling via blogs, books, and presentations. A natural storyteller, she invites you along as she explores the world, one walk at a time. Follow Chris' urban hikes in Denver at @DenverByFoot at her blog at www.DenverByFoot.com. Follow Chris' world travel and her 50 Hikes 50 States Project at @EatWalkLearn, at her blog at www.EatWalkLearn.com. Watch Chris on YouTube.

Find more hiking recommendations in Chris' books, Best Urban Hikes: Denver and Walking Denver's Neighborhoods on Amazon. And take her Denver By Foot Challenge! 30 Challenges to discover or rediscover Denver. Click here for more details.


The Walk Your Kid to School 1-mile Radius Challenge

The Walk Your Kid to School 1-mile Radius Challenge

With school starting and the temperatures in Denver pleasant, why not do two things to start the school year as we all head back to school? And with National Walk to School Day just around the corner, it's the perfect time to give a walk to school a try! Your kids are ready! Are you?

First, walk your kids or grandkids to school. Imagine the conversations you could have if you had a few minutes with your kids that were uninterrupted by cell phones, video games, toys, or other distractions. What might your kid say to you that can't be said at the dinner table or from the back seat of your car?

Second, take the 1-mile radius challenge. You'll get the chance to see your neighborhood from your kids' point of view. Maybe you'll discover a new favorite place, or perhaps your kid will share her secret go-to place that she thinks she only knows about?

Wake Up and Walk

Wouldn't it feel great to get a few steps in with your kid before school started? It doesn't take that long to walk. There are many research studies that show that walking your kid to school is not only quicker than driving, but it improves your relationship, reduces pollution around the school, and creates a better sense of community.

Set that alarm just a few minutes earlier, and you can probably find the time you need to walk your kid to school. Shoot, it might even be faster than driving to the kiss n go lane, waiting in line to drop, dropping, and driving away. Plus, your kids will start to learn the ritual of a morning walk. It's the morning quiet among the chaos that just might settle them into a better day with better attention.

Or, if you can't afford the extra few minutes to walk your kid, how about at least parking a few blocks away and walking with your child the last few blocks rather than idling in the kiss n go lane? Even a few blocks are worthwhile. Plus, you'll be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Need some evidence that walking your kid to school is good for you and your kid?

Read 5 Reasons to Walk Your Kid to School. The first reason is reason enough!

Wondering if your kid is old enough to walk alone?

Read Walking and Biking to School. You'll be surprised at how ready they are and at how young!

How should your kid walk to school?

Get a buddy and read Should Your Child Walk to School? Maybe you will find your own buddy as your kid finds hers!

Is the route safe to school?

Read Safe Routes to School. Sadly, not all routes are safe, but there are great resources available to make your school route safer.

Got anxious kids?

Read Anxious Kids? Let Them Walk to School. Oh, the science!

Take the 1-mile Radius Challenge

Walking to school benefits you, your family, and your community. It reduces pollution around schools, opens up the neighborhood, and increases overall happiness for everyone. Granted, you may have to put on an extra layer of clothes, find a lost glove, or tie a different shoelace, but wouldn't you have to do that anyway sometime in the day?

So once you've tackled the challenge of walking to school, try doing it on Mondays and Fridays. Then add in Wednesday. And soon enough, you'll be walking to school five days a week. Perhaps you'll even find the time to start walking your kids home from school, too. Could you actually achieve the impossible? Walk to and fro every day of the week?

Finally, if you've gotten the itch to walk to school, there are other locations within a mile or two of your house where you can also walk. Expand your walking world beyond the few blocks to school and take the 1-mile radius walking challenge (click for instructions.)

In the 1-mile walking challenge, you turn your neighborhood into your own urban hiking jungle. Within that jungle, you might find steps, bridges, streams, highways, streets, and sidewalks. Along the way is your mailbox. Next to that might be a post office.

Or a grocery store. Dentist. Doctor. Friend. Family. Vet.

Perhaps you might even find a new favorite spot on top of a hill or next to a creek where you can take a deep breath and relax from your day? Would having just five minutes of me time change your attitude for your next meeting or business call?

Crazier yet, perhaps you take on the 1-mile challenge on the walk to get your kids from school? Or maybe you get them and together, you take the challenge with them. Is the ice cream store within a mile? the tutor? the after-school activity?

So, for this fall, as the weather turns and we all get back into our regular schedules, how about we all take the time to change one habit or one behavior? Let's pick walking more as the one change that benefits everyone. You'll get some exercise, your kids will get some quality time with you, the community will open up and you'll see and hear things you miss in the car, and traffic and pollution will reduce near your kids' school. After all, isn't that how we're all trying to improve the world in our own little ways? One person, one hug, one wave at a time?

I hope you'll discover your neighborhood by foot, and perhaps you'll post some great shots of you walking with your kids to or/and from school. Or perhaps you'll post a few shots of you enjoying the 1-mile challenge, in a zen pose, in your favorite secret hide-a-way in your neighborhood. If you do, please be sure to tag #denverbyfoot so I can see them!

Discover your neighborhood by foot.

Let me know how it goes!

~Chris


 


5 Shady Walks IN Denver

5 Shady Walks in Denver

*note: You can now download an interactive version of this walk at https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/denver-568.html

Hi everyone. I want to first start out by saying that this article is about Denver. Not Boulder. Not Colorado Springs. Not the Front Range.

I'm a bit of a stickler for Denver. When I mean IN Denver, I mean IN Denver.

The City and County of Denver (including the Denver Mountain Parks.) So when I search and find other people's recommendations for hikes in Denver and they take me to Three Sisters, I get a bit annoyed.

Sorry for the rant.

Hiking in Denver

I will also admit that "hiking in Denver" is more like walking or urban hiking. Since Denver is flat and most of the trails are concrete, people might argue that there is no hiking in Denver.

Tomato. ToMAto.
Point taken.

And, I will also admit that finding SHADE in Denver (without being in a park) is also a big challenge. We are, by the way, in the high prairie, and forests don't come naturally here in the high plains. Thus, the best place to find shady places to walk in Denver would be the parks (Cheesman ((see video)), City Park, Wash Park and Civic Park are great ones), but if you actually want to get some distance and feel like you're hiking in Denver in the shade, you'll need to be a bit creative.

So with apologies to people who might to be as much as a stickler for IN Denver as I am, here are my 5 recommendations for where to hike in Denver in the shade.

5 Shady Denver Hikes

1. Hike from Cheesman Park to Washington Park (3 miles).

This is a fantastic walk through two landmark parks in Denver, Cheesman and Wash Parks. Start in Cheesman and explore the Cheesman Memorial and the bronze outline of our Front Range. Then walk south out of the park through the lush and rich Country Club Park. You'll pass by giant homes of the Who's Who in Denver. Due to the Country Club Golf Course's limited access, you'll have to route around it via University. Grin and bear it for a 1/4 mile, then you'll be back into the Country Club/North Wash Park neighborhoods as you approach Wash Park. Once you get to Wash Park, you can enjoy a 6-mile loop, stopping by its gardens, lakes, art, and sculpture. I share this walk with visiting family during Thanksgiving.

Turn-by-turn directions. To get in six miles, walk back to Cheesman or if you want to keep the walk shorter at 3 miles, take a Lyft (get $10 towards your first ride). I recommend starting in Cheeseman, exit the park via its southern end onto Williams St. Continue through Country Club to E 3rd Ave. Take a right to S Downing St. to a left on W Bayoud St. Take a right S Lafayette St to Wash Park. (click for interactive map)

What to Wear: A Skirt Sport Skort, my favorite skort to walk in.

2. Lakewood/Dry Gulch Lollipop Loop. (2-3.5 miles)

This hike is a fabulous hike through linear parks and along gulches. You'll be on paved trail most of the way except for a few streets at the end to complete the loop. Shady, with big cottonwood trees, there are plenty of places to just chill along the creek as well. For a 2-mile loop, take the W light rail to the Knox St Station and follow the loop instructions below. For a 3.5-mile loop, take the W light rail (or park) at the Federal/Decatur Station. Walk west to the Platte River, then turn around back to the station and follow the loop instructions below.

Turn-by-turn directions. If you've started at Federal and walked to the Platte, turn around and walk west. Or, if you have started at Knox station, walk west. (If you have some extra energy, be sure to stop at the mic structure in Paco Park (see video) for some good play time.) Walk west along the Lakewood Dry Gulch Trail. You'll come to a fork in the trail, head left (southerly) on the Lakewood Gulch Trail through Joseph P Martinez Park (see video). The trail will end at Tennyson Street.

Walk north up Tennyson Street for two blocks, crossing W 10th Ave. Keep going, and you'll reenter the green space. Continue north to the Lakewood Dry Gulch Trail, turn right (east). Stay on the concrete path until you arrive back to the Knox Station or the Federal Station.

What Shoes to Wear: A Pair of Closed-toe Chacos, my favorite summer shoe.

3. The Bible Park Loop (3.5 miles)

This 3.5-mile loop takes advantage of a great loop around James A Bible Park. The High Line Canal Trail makes a wonderful horseshoe turn around Denver's gem, providing a ring of cottonwood trees. Look for owl and hawk nests in the canopy. A special treat here is that even though there may not be water from Denver Water running through the canal, you'll often find water in it due to other sources. The Goldsmith Gulch runs through the park as well, providing nooks and crannies to relax in the shade or to hunt for tadpoles!

Turn-by-turn directions. Park in Bible Park (see video.) From the parking lot, head east to the perimeter in the park and jump on the High Line Canal Trail. Walk in a southerly direction. The trail will make a sharp horseshoe turn, leading you to the north. Cross E Yale and then Monaco Pkwy. Continue Northwesterly to Iliff Ave. At Iliff, leave the High Line and take the sidewalk to the east (right) until you cross Monaco Pkwy again. Iliff will T with S Oneida St. Continue straight onto the small neighborhood bike path back to the High Line Canal trail. Take a right on the High Line Trail, taking it south over E Yale Ave again, back to where you parked in Bible Park.

What Hat to Wear: A Wallaroo, my favorite pony-tail hat!

4. First Creek at DEN Trail (4 miles)

I can't write about this unknown trail enough (see video of First Creek at DEN.) It is new; it opened just a couple of years ago, and it's such a treasure. If you're on the way to/from the airport, it's a perfect way to unwind any anxious thoughts about traveling. Although the first 1/3 mile is on the abandoned Old Buckley Road next to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, the down-n-back along a concrete path next to the First Creek is a refreshing, shady oasis under a cottonwood canopy. The best time to do this hike is sunrise or sunset. You'll catch many birds of prey, the alpen glow in the morning, or a Rockies sunset in the evening. I absolutely love this trail.

Turn-by-turn directions. Park at the intersection of 56th Ave and Pena Blvd. Walk north on the abandoned Old Buckley Road about 1/3 mile to the trailhead on the right (if you go a bit more, you'll find another trailhead on the left into the Wildlife Refuge. But this isn't shady.) Go to the right on the concrete path. Walk 2 miles. The trail ends just past the underpass for the A Train. Turn around and retrace your steps. Be sure to bring water and snacks!

How to Carry Water: In my favorite water bottle holder for short hikes.

 

 

5. The Platte River Downtown Loop. (3-4 Miles)

Another hike I can never get enough of is what I call the Platte River Loop. With plenty of activity to keep you entertained along the way, if you stay on the east side of the River, there is generally a good amount of shade to protect you on hot days. Combined with enjoying the fun Union Station and Confluence (see video) areas of downtown, I take visitors on this hike often. Afterward, we will grab a bit or at least an ice cream in Union Station.

Turn-by-turn directions. Start at Union Station by taking transit into town. Exit Union Station on Wynkoop heading toward 16th St. Stay on Wynkoop until you get to the Cherry Creek Trail, which you'll access with the ramp. On Cherry Creek, turn right (west) toward the confluence with the Platte River. Walk the bend around the confluence, connecting with the Platte River Trail.  Pay attention to bikes and stay to the right of the trail. You'll pass through Commons Park (see video.) Stay on the Platte River as long as you'd like. I like to go at least to Denver Skate Park (see video.)

At the Skate Park, exit the trail, then make your way back toward downtown within Commons Park on the concrete path. Enjoy the many pieces of public sculpture and historic interpretation. You'll eventually reach the 16th Street pedestrian bridge, a large, white, suspension bridge. Take the stairs up and over the railroad tracks, dropping you down onto Wewatta Street. Take a left and return back to the Union Station transit area.

Finding Shaded Hikes in Denver

I admit. Finding shaded hikes IN Denver isn't easy. But here are five. What would you recommend? Got any secret, shady spots for a good hike IN the City and County of Denver? Fess up. Tag them #denverbyfoot so I can see. I'll share and repost! Thanks!

See you on the trail,

~Chris



3 Easy Urban Hikes in Denver

3 Easy Urban Hikes in Denver

Sometimes, driving on I-70 or 285 for an hour or more through traffic and snow can keep quell the gumption to go for a hike near Denver. Why put yourself through that hassle when you can go for a hike right here in metro Denver much more quickly, giving you extra time to watch the Broncos, do some meal prep or volunteer.

With Take a Hike Day upon us, rather than driving up into the mountains for a hike, here are three easy urban hikes in Denver. Great for kids, visiting family, and everyone else who loves to hike, these three easy hikes near Denver invite everyone out for a great time. These hikes help tourists and visiting friends adjust into and acclimate to our Denver altitude, too! Be sure to click the hike title for an interactive map.

The Norfolk Glen Loop (click for interactive map)

9creeks eatwalklearn

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. Hawks and eagles soar over head.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 (see video), 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. The original landowner, Stark had some interesting ideas about how to get together with his friends and what to do on the weekends. For the kids, they can touch some animal furs, too!

Stapleton Central Park Loop (click for interactive map)

The Stapleton Central Park Loop. At three miles, all housed within Stapleton’s Central Park, you can follow the map, or just get lost meandering the trails between Central Park and Westerly Creek Park. Within the loop, you’ll find a fantastic playground for all ages that includes rock climbing and bouldering. Don’t miss the beautiful Alzheimer’s Remembrance Garden, and be sure to walk out onto the overlook. This “bridge to nowhere” is actually a piece of artwork designed to connect the old Stapleton airport with the new. It diagonally points from the old air tower just to the west to the new air tower to the northeast. Regardless of which way you walk this loop, the views are plenty.

Along the Sand Creek, you can seem remnants of the old Stapleton runway. If you are standing on the bridge over Sand Creek and look northwesterly, you can see where the old runways crossed the creek. The existing path down by the creek is where the maintenance trucks would travel to get between planes.

Confluence Park Clover Loop (click for interactive map)

9creeks eatwalklearn

The Confluence Loop. 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.

Along Cherry Creek, 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. If you’re ambitious, you can extend this three miles walk over the Millennial Bridge and drop into Union Station for lunch.

Urban Hiking in Denver

Some folks will say that urban hiking in Denver isn’t nearly as thrilling as a hike up in Conifer or Idaho Springs through the Ponderosa pines up to a high point. That may be true, but those are different hikes and different ways to get outside. They’re enjoyable. But so are the urban hikes within Denver. When urban hiking, it’s good to adopt an attitude of discovery. What will you see while walking that you haven’t seen the hundreds of times you’ve driven by the same places? Who will you see out walking the city with you?

Yes, urban hiking is different. It’s a whole new experience that takes attitude, joy, and patience.

Have you walked any of these loops? Which was your favorite? These three hikes are also in my best-selling book, Best Urban Hikes: Denver, which as 27 other urban hiking treats here in Denver for you to get out and discover. Grab a visiting friend and show them the best of what Denver has to offer.

See you on the trail

~Chris


Three Fall Color Hikes in Denver

Finding Fall Color in Denver

Fall is quickly approaching in the mountains, and it will soon be here in Denver. You can see it by the subtle yellowing of the cottonwoods and ash trees in Denver and the vibrant golden changes in the Aspen in the mountains.

Everyone flocks to the high tops of the front range to catch their beloved views of Aspen color riots. But you can find some great fall color right here within the C470 loop, often within 10 minutes of your Denver home.

How does fall color IN Denver differ than the “color” you find up in the mountains? Up in the higher altitudes, you’ll find the bright yellows shining from Aspen trees. Contrasted against their white trunks, the display of color varies from brilliant goldenrod to rusty orange. But in Denver, the altitude is too low for a healthy Aspen grove. So what’s a Denverite to do?

Enter the majestic cottonwood. A tree that has both female and male species, its heart-shaped leaves resemble those of its cousin, the Aspen. But the cottonwood doesn’t shimmer and shake; its leaves are attached on a straight stem rather than at a ninety degree angle. What it does have going for it is its mighty size. Cottonwoods can grow to 100 feet and age to over 100 years. You’ll find cottonwoods on river banks, streams and our fabulous old ditch system (including the High Line!) here in Denver.

Three Denver Hikes for Fall Color

Throughout Denver you’ll find cottonwoods along the High Line Canal Trail, up and down the Platte River, and embedded along the Sand Creek Greenway and the Cherry Creek. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is loaded with them as well. And bonus, bison!

Don’t forget that fall color shows up in our wild prairie grasses, too. Where there aren’t trees, there’s prairie. The grasses of the prairies have flushes of burgundy, rust and straw from the curly dock, blue stem, and bison grasses.

A Lush Prairie Grass Hike

To get a flush of grassy fall color, you don’t have to travel far. Check out this urban hike in Lowry for some great fall color via the grassy plains. It’s a great place to hear smaller song birds, too. A great time to do this hike is at dusk. The sun will be setting, birds will be fluttering, and you can get a high vantage point at low altitude via the Kelly Dam.

If “fall color” to you means trees, well, you’d be in good company. Instead of making some crazy drive to Kenosha Pass or Mt Audubon where you’ll have to brave lots of traffic, higher altitude breathing, and people galore, stay right here in town. Denver is lucky to have one of the longest urban trails in the country. It’s a gem that other cities wish they could trade us for. But they can’t. We’ve got the High Line Canal Trail.

Cottonwoods on the High Line Canal Trail

The High Line Canal Trail runs from just south of the airport in Green Valley Ranch to Waterton Canyon. Passing through rural and suburban Aurora, dipping into urban Denver, sliding across Cherry Creek, meandering through Littleton, and finishing in Highlands Ranch, a section of it is nearby. If you live in Metro Denver, you can be on the High Line Canal Trail in ten minutes. And guess what? It’s loaded with cottonwoods.

Whether you want one specimen by itself or an entire grove, you can find what you’re looking for. In Aurora on the DeLaney Urban Farm portion, you will see prairie dogs, hawks, and maybe a deer or two. Head further south to Windsor Gardens, and you can reflect on the famous Denverites buried in Fairmount Cemetery. If you want a complete cottonwood tunnel, you’ll find it between Centennial and Cherry Hills.

My favorite segment on the High Line, which is loaded with falling leaves, mountain views, and wind open prairies is around mile marker 35. But if you want to enjoy a smorgasbord of delicious wild fruits on the High Line Canal Trail, get yourself hiking especially between mile markers 16-25 (from Fly n B Ranch to Julia deKoevend Park, segments 5, 6, 7.) You’ll also find a plethora of wild apples and plums. Bon appetite!

Color on the Platte River

If you’re closer to downtown and don’t want to travel east or south, you don’t have to go far at all for fall color. The Platte River’s banks are loaded with cottonwood after cottonwood. They’re big, shady, and colorful. You can take the Platte River Trail for over 40 miles, but the good news is that its colorful secrets are close in town too. Between the Denver Skate Park and Commons Park, you’ll get your fill of color. You can park near REI and meander onto the banks of the river at the kayak trail and head down river.

Want to get away from the crowds at Confluence Park? Head towards Globeville. Here, the banks behind Brighton Blvd to I25 flush with cottonwood brilliance. If you make it all the way to Carpio Sanguinette Park (previously Northside Park) you’ll be treated to wonderful sayings of optimism embedded in  the concrete paths within the park. The 9 Creeks Loop, especially along the South Platte River near Globeville on segments 1 and 8 will fill your every fall color need.

Where will you see color in Metro Denver this fall? The fall color comes to Denver a bit later than up the front range. Denver’s lower altitude takes a bit longer to bring on fall. Expect fall color to show up in Denver in late September, but it can sometimes go on to late October. Me, I’ll be hiking the High Line Canal for most of October. I’ll squeeze in some time on the 9 Creeks Loop, and then I’ll probably end the season romping with the bison out at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. Out there, even if I miss the color, there’s always bison to view!

Post pics of what you see this year and share your bounty of fall color in Denver. Tag them #denverbyfoot so I’m sure to see them.

~See you on the trail,

Chris