Tails are wagging. Humans are smiling. Strangers are bonding. And heart rates are climbing. Welcome to the wonderful world of off-leash dog parks.
A stunning 420 acres of open space awaits both dogs and humans eager to get out for a walk, hike or run at Westminster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park northwest of Denver. Climb the hills and you’ll find a small swimming hole for your pooch as you gaze at the snow-studded Rockies to the west.
Jaylyn Begay and Aaron Armstrong bring 7-month-old Copper, a terrier mix, as often as possible.
“This gives him so much freedom,” said Begay, 22, as Copper’s fur dripped from one of the puppy’s first swims. “It’s absolutely the best.”
The young couple loves getting a workout too. Recently, they filled their large backpacks with gear and headed to the park to boost their workout.
“We can get exercise too and do some weight training,” said Armstrong, 24. “It has such an immense amount of open space and a variety of trails.”
At Westminster Hills, you can pick your own path and find some solitude if you wish.
Simple dog park rules to remember:
- Protect your property. Leave valuables at home. Don’t leave them in the car.
- Always pick up after your pooch.
- Leave aggressive dogs at home. People go to dog parks for peace and enjoyment, not to referee dog fights.
If you’re more in the mood for dog and human interaction, head to a place like Chatfield State Park’s Dog Off-Leash Area in Littleton, southwest of Denver.
Here you’ll find 69 acres of space with two large ponds and both paved and gravel paths. Dogs that love water can swim and fetch tennis balls, while humans can walk the paths and log some steps.
Jordan Parker, 28, credits his dog, Bucky, with helping him lose 110 pounds. Yes, 110! Parker used to live in Florida and said he reached a peak of 296 pounds about 5 years ago. Then, he got Bucky, a black mouth cur pit. He started walking Bucky and moving much more himself. He got hooked on exercise, began dropping pounds and came to Colorado to get certified as a personal trainer. Parker fell in love with the state’s healthy, outdoor lifestyle and started a personal training company called Back to Basics.
He’s also been climbing Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks, known as 14-ers. So far, Parker has summited 15 of them and can’t wait for the snow to melt this summer so he and the dogs can climb more peaks.
Parker sees clients at Blunt Force, a gym near downtown Denver. He typically helps clients get fit early in the morning or in the evenings. In the middle of day, three to five times a week, Parker brings Bucky, now 7, and little bro, Leo, a nearly 2-year-old Catahoula leopard, to Chatfield where both the dogs and Parker get their hearts pounding.
“I love being able to let them swim,” Parker said.
And if he needs a boost in energy, a walk does the trick.
“If I’m tired, I come here. These guys swim. I walk a mile and a half and get some extra activity.”
At Chatfield, regulars — both human and canine — recognize each other. Just like the fictional TV bar from Cheers, it’s the kind of place where “everybody knows your name.”
“I love this park. We come three or four times a week. The water is nice and clean and people pick up after themselves,” said Jeff Walker, who brings his big, beautiful, white Great Pyrenees. Maxwell is a 120-pound, 10 month-old, gentle giant. Hiver, named for winter in French, weighs about 100 pounds, is nearly 2 and is a social butterfly. Both dogs love to swim and greet humans and dogs alike.
“They love it here. It’s their place,” said Walker.
There’s some romance among the pooches too.
Richard Steinhour has a black lab named Boris who is nearly 8 months old. He started coming to Chatfield and running into Paul Boyd, whose dog, Kate, is a chocolate lab and nearly the same age.
The men never make plans, yet always seem to arrive at the dog park at the same time. Boris refused to swim until Kate lured him into the water. Now he happily frolics with her in and out of the water. Both the puppies and the people have a grand time.
Boyd thinks plenty of people visiting dog parks are looking for a human connection along with exercise for the dogs. Both men feel lucky that Kate and Boris found one another and helped forge a bond for their humans.
“We share the same breed and the same history,” Steinhour said. “Dog people are friendlier.”
Try these off-leash dog parks:
The aptly named Bear Creek Dog Park is located along a one-third mile stretch of Bear Creek. If your dog loves prancing in water, check out this 25-acre off-leash park. It’s located within Bear Creek Regional Park. Along with the creek, the park features open prairie, hills and woods. There are several walking and running trails, including a primary 3/4-mile loop. The park also features a separate area for small dogs and senior dogs that want a little less action. Bonus: the park has a dog washing area in case your pooch gets muddy in the stream. You’ll find the main parking lot at South 21st Street and West Rio Grande Street. No fee.
Chatfield’s 69-acre dog area features two ponds and plenty of trails. The regulars rave about the clean water and nice visitors who clean up after their dogs. The state parks offer day passes or an annual pass. Dog owners must pay an additional fee. Click here for detailed information on fees.
Cherry Creek boasts a 107-acre fenced area. Dogs that love water will enjoy a swimming hole and access to Cherry Creek. The park is located at 4201 S. Parker Road in Aurora. Enter the dog park at the south entrance at South Parker and East Orchard Roads. Fees. The state parks offer day passes or an annual pass. Dog owners must pay an additional fee. Click here for detailed information on fees.
If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, you should know that you can’t bring your dog on the hiking trails. But, you can still enjoy views of the peaks in Rocky while letting your dog run and swim. The Estes Valley dog park, located well outside of the national park, features an area where dogs can swim in Lake Estes, along with an obstacle course for the pooches. The park is located at the corner of Community Drive and U.S. Highway 36 in Stanley Park. No fee.
Want a view of the ski slopes while your dog runs free? Then check out Rita Valentine in Steamboat. It’s a 20-acre area near the slopes and the city is working with a foundation to add increased fencing and bathrooms. Parking is limited. No fee.
At the base of the foothills and Horsetooth Reservoir, this is a smaller park, but it’s full of big fun with special play features like tunnels. Along with enjoying the obstacle course, dogs can run and swim. There is a separate area for small or shy dogs and a gate between the water feature and the larger play area in case you don’t want a wet dog in your backseat. And if you need more exercise after a visit to the dog park, you can easily access miles of open space with on-leash walking trails. No fee.
This 420-acre site is bliss for dogs and humans alike. It’s located at West Simms Street and North 105 Drive in Westminster. The park is partially fenced, so don’t let your dog off leash unless you’re certain he or she will come back to you. The park offers a small swimming hole, multiple trails, mountain views, some shade and a doggie drinking fountain. No fee.
Kati Blocker and Lindsey Reznicek contributed to this report.