Not far from the hustle and bustle of Denver are quiet and relaxing opportunities to enjoy nature. There are parks where you can experience the water or the rugged terrain underfoot. There are areas where families can connect, childhood can be enjoyed and the outdoors, cherished.
5 great parks in northern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming
Lory State Park, 708 Lodgepole Drive, Bellvue, Colorado
If you want views and an array of outdoor opportunities year-round, then go no further than Lory State Park, just west of Fort Collins.
The park has 21-plus miles of mountain biking trails. You can coast through the valley or challenge yourself on several advanced trails. The same goes for walking, running and hiking.
From the main arterial road, you can enjoy alpine climbs to the west, or head over the ridge to Horsetooth Reservoir, which defines the park’s entire eastern border. There are short walks to the reservoir, perfect for young children, or take a more challenging hike to the top of Arthur’s Rock for views of Fort Collins and eastern Colorado.
There is something for the whole family – and your dog or your horse. Keep dogs on leashes and be sure to pick up after them.
The park offers day-use areas for picnicking, which you can reserve for a larger event. A sand volleyball court and a dirt/jump pump track area are nearby.
The park also has six backcountry camping sites for reservations through www.cpwshop.com. Hunting from the Tuesday after Labor Day until the Tuesday before Memorial Day is allowed. During that time, backcountry camping reservations are limited to Friday and Saturday only.
Curt Gowdy State Park, 1264 Granite Springs Road, Cheyenne, Wyoming
On Happy Jack Road between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming, Curt Gowdy State Park is another great year-round park perfect for a day trip or longer. With a varied landscape, the park offers a relaxing outdoor escape for enthusiasts of all ages.
The park covers 3,395 acres that surround Granite Springs and Crystal reservoirs, both offering fishing, camping, boating, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Also part of the park system, but a short drive from the Granite Spring Road entrance to the park, is Upper North Crow Reservoir, a day-use and non-motorized boating and recreation area.
Granite Springs and Crystal reservoirs are connected by a 35-mile trail system that includes four mountain bike play areas and mountain biking skill areas. Fat bikes are popular in the mud and snow season, and year-round, there is a skill level trail just for you.
The trails range in elevation from 6,800 to 7,600 feet and offer an abundance of wildlife and bird watching opportunities.
There’s a public horse corral and fenced pasture for horses, and an equestrian-only loop trail is near the campgrounds.
Unique to Curt Gowdy is an archery trail. Set in a natural wooded environment, the 2-mile trail is great for moderate-skilled archers.
St. Vrain State Park, 3785 Weld County Road 245, Longmont, Colorado
If you’d like to stay a bit closer to Denver, try St. Vrain State Park near Longmont, Colorado.
Open year-round, St. Vrain State Park offers bird watching, fishing and boating. Or you can spend your entire day walking the nature trails that wind between the Blue Heron Reservoir and 10 ponds. The ponds allow hand launching kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and other non-motorized boats. Gas-powered motorboats can launch from the reservoir.
Spend a day with your dog exploring the seven miles of trails, or a weekend at a campsite with your family. This park is easy to get to, it’s just east of UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital. You have probably passed by while driving on I-25: It’s one of the great parks in your backyard.
Benson Sculpture Garden, 2908 Aspen Drive, Loveland, Colorado
For art lovers, the Benson Sculpture Garden is a perfect place to spend the day.
There are 170 permanent sculptures, which capture the imagination of visitors of any age, in the park.
“The pieces are stable, they can be touched and felt. You can walk around them, and they’re very interactive,” said Kristi Elyce, executive director of the Loveland High Plains Arts Council.
Bring your lunch and spend time on benches or in the pavilion. Groups of 10 or more may also set up a tour (call several weeks in advance; COVID-19 protocols in place) with a volunteer artist who will walk you through the park, providing interesting information about the sculptures. Children can visit the “children’s park” within the garden as well.
“And don’t overlook the new pieces of the park on the other side of 29th Street,” Elyce said.
Altogether, the art is valued at more than $5 million. Each piece was purchased through the fundraising efforts of the Loveland High Plains Arts Council.
The park is free and open year-round. It was founded in 1985. The property was part of the Benson family homestead, in the late 1800s. In 1971, Robert and Ralph Benson donated a portion of the farm to the City of Loveland.
Spring Canyon Park, 2626 W. Horsetooth Road, Fort Collins, Colorado
At the base of the foothills in Fort Collins, this 100-acre park offers the benefits of nature trails but also all the great amenities of a city park.
You can walk or run the nature trails with your dog, or take your dog for a swim at the 2-acre dog park, complete with a small lake.
Families with children can explore the large playground — Colorado’s first universally accessible playground — that includes a fun splash pad (during summer months) and a sandbox. There is also a skate park/hockey rink, and basketball and tennis courts. A large grass field — where you can fly a kite or kick around a soccer ball — separates the courts from a dirt bicycle pump park.
Covered picnic areas for family events can be rented. Horseshoe pits are nearby.
The park is accessible by car, and by foot or bike via Spring Creek Trail.