Five great parks in Denver’s backyard

March 3, 2021

Spring officially starts this month, but March also can be the snowiest month of the year in Colorado. Whether you’re enjoying a sunny, spring day or you want to play in some snow, Denver-area parks provide great options to get outside, work out and have fun.

Here are five ‘best’ parks in Denver’s backyard:

Denver parks. Aurora reservoir has a great bike trail around it. Spring is a great time for cycling. Here a father and his young son ride bikes. Photo: Getty Images.
A great bike trail surrounds Aurora Reservoir, one of the great parks in Denver’s backyard. Photo: Getty Images.

1. Aurora Reservoir, 5800 Powhaton Road, Aurora.

As its name implies, this reservoir located in southeastern Aurora supplies Aurora with its drinking water. The park is also a great place to enjoy natural beauty on the plains southeast of Denver because it offers a level 8-mile trail around the reservoir. Click here to see a map.

If you enjoy quieter bodies of water in Colorado, Aurora is a good choice because no motorized boats are allowed in the water. That means Aurora Reservoir is more serene and clean than other Denver area reservoirs like Cherry Creek and Chatfield.

Spring is the perfect season to enjoy a bike ride, walk or run around the Aurora Reservoir. Boating resumes around March 15 or as soon as the ice clears. And, during years when COVID-19 restrictions are not in place, the reservoir offers fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards for rent. The park also boasts picnic facilities and a popular sandy beach and swim lagoon that’s perfect for summer outings.

2. Roxborough State Park, 4751 E. Roxborough Drive, Roxborough.

Among the great parks in Denver's backyard is Roxborough, southwest of Denver. It's a great place to hike. Here we see and orange sunset over red rocks that jut up from the ground. Photo: Getty Images.
Roxborough State Park is a beautiful place to go hiking. It has attracted crowds during the pandemic, so please respect the rules and leave no trace so it can continue to be one of the great parks near Denver. Photo: Getty Images.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater west of Denver and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs are the more famous outdoor venues where you can see dramatic red-rock formations in Colorado, but Roxborough is a stunning 4,000-acre state park southwest of Denver. It’s home to eight beautiful trails that cover about 14 miles and serves as a nature preserve. Hikers can enjoy various loop trials and photographers will find inspiration at Roxborough in all seasons. Click here to download a trail map. During the pandemic, traffic has been heavy on trails at Roxborough. Please respect the natural landscape. Tread lightly. Never shortcut trails. Always carry out anything you bring with you. And respect the rules that make Roxborough a special refuge for wildlife and human visitors alike. Roxborough does not allow any pets, drones, camping, mountain bikes, horses, rock climbing or fires.

3. Barr Lake State Park, 13401 Picadilly Road, Brighton.

Among great parks in Denver's backyard is Barr Lake State Park, which is known for its birds. Photo courtesy of the Colorado State Parks.
Barr Lake State Park is known for its beautiful birds. Photo courtesy of Colorado State Parks and Wildlife.

If you love birds and natural beauty close to the city, you’ll definitely want to check out Barr Lake State Park. On weekends from May through September, you can enjoy naturalist-guided tours on what’s known as the Eagle Express, a motorized 13-passenger cart. Numerous bald eagles winter at Barr Lake and one pair stays to nest and raise its young every year. The southwest side of the lake is home to a bustling rookery with over 200 nests. Barr Lake is also home to white pelicans, great blue herons, egrets, ospreys and hawks. Check out the Barr Lake website for regular bird walks. Sign up for events here.

If you’re not big on birding, Barr Lake offers fishing, boating and even archery classes. The lake is known for its calm waters, which makes it a great spot for kayaking and canoeing.

On land, bicyclists, hikers and horseback riders can all enjoy the level 8.8-mile multi-use trail that circles the lake. The trail is temporarily closed part-way around the lake for raptor nesting, but you can still walk or run out and back. Keep an eye on the website or stop in at the nature center when you arrive to get trail updates.

4. City Park, between East 17th and East 23rd Avenues and between North York Street and North Colorado Boulevard, Denver.

Among the great parks in Denver's backyard is City Park. Here we see the iconic view of Ferill Lake with the City Park Boathouse and downtown and the mountains to the west. Photo: Getty Images.
Denver’s City Park is known for its iconic views including this one of Ferril Lake with downtown Denver and the mountains at sunset to the west. Photo: Getty Images.

Denver’s City Park has something for everyone including wonderful indoor and outdoor attractions: the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Zoo, Ferril Lake, tennis courts, miles of walking paths and the City Park Golf Course.

City Park has provided stimulation to the minds and hearts of Denverites for generations. Here are some insider tips when visiting this park in Denver.

  • Enjoy spectacular views of the lake, downtown and the mountains from the west-facing plaza outside the Museum of Nature and Science.
  • If you’re enjoying a day inside the museum, be sure to take the elevator on the west side up to an outdoor deck on the top floor for an even more amazing view.
  • In the summer, spurting fountains just west of the museum provide a great activity for kids.
  • When you visit the Zoo, always check out the feeding schedule when zookeepers do presentations and feed the animals.
  • Are you in the mood for a spring picnic? Shop for food along Colfax Avenue or pick up a book at Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store, then stroll two blocks along the Esplanade past Denver’s beautiful East High School to the south side of City Park.
  • In typical years, the park also hosts the legendary City Park Jazz concerts. And, you can enjoy some poetry in the park too. Ferril Lake is named after famous Denver poet, Thomas Hornsby Ferril.

5. Robinson Park, 200 Fairfax St., Denver.

Great parks in Denver's backyard include Robinson Park, which is known for its sledding hill. Photo of family with sled. Photo: Getty Images.
March and April can be Denver’s snowiest months. Sledding at Denver’s Robinson Park on a sunny spring day can be a blast. Photo: Getty Images.

Robinson is a relatively small park at only two square blocks, but the park packs a punch when it comes to fun. When the flakes fly, this park’s north-facing hill is one of Denver’s best sledding spots. It’s steep enough to give kids (and adults) a good ride down the hill. Then the hill levels out with plenty of snow-covered grass to guarantee your toboggan or tube will gradually slow to a safe stop.

The sledding hill is located on East 2nd Avenue between North Forest and North Glencoe Streets. Bring hot cocoa to keep the little ones warm or water if they get thirsty after doing gazillions of runs. Robinson Park’s grassy fields also provide perfect spots for spring and fall soccer and lacrosse practice. And the park sports a basketball court and fun play structures with separate areas for kids ages 2-to-5 and older children, ages 5-to-12.

The play area is getting refreshed now. Click here to see all the details from The Park People, a nonprofit that helps beautify Denver’s parks. The highlights: a new embankment slide, shade sails, a musical instrument play feature, a SmartPlay cube and a friendship swing.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.

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