There’s a rumor that people move to Colorado to enjoy the great outdoors, whether rafting in the spring, camping in the summer, hiking in the fall or skiing in the winter. And with so much to offer, that rumor may very well be true. The state teems with national forests, from Grand Mesa to the Rio Grande to Roosevelt, as well as national parks, including Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain. But Denverites don’t have to trek to the far corners of the state to enjoy the verdant outdoors, as the city has plenty of parks of its own. Wondering where to find the best nature preserves near your own front door? Here are the six best parks in Denver.
Denver’s 330-acre City Park offers plenty of green space with a view of the city’s skyline. The park contains both the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, as well as an assortment of statues and fountains. Denverites come here to play on the baseball/softball field, football field, soccer fields, horseshoe pit, tennis and handball courts, and playgrounds, as well as its public golf course. Every January, participants gather at the park’s Martin Luther King Memorial to start the annual MLK Day “Marade” down E. Colfax Ave. to Civic Center Park, in celebration of MLK’s legacy. In June, the Rocky Mountain Road Club hosts an annual City Park “Criterium,” which consists of a day of cycling races around the park, as well as a beer garden (for after the ride).
On Sunday evenings in the summer, City Park Jazz present free jazz concerts down at the pavilion and band shell overlooking Ferril Lake. The decades-old Colorado Black Arts Festival, a celebration of African arts and culture, takes place in mid-July, with performers, youth arts, vendors, films, and more. It’s free to the public. Other City Park events include an annual 5K known as the “Pajama Jog,” because participants wear pajamas (or costumes) instead of the typical runner’s gear. The race is a fundraiser for Sleep Tight Colorado, which buys sleeping bags for the homeless in Colorado. If you’re interested in learning more about City Park, there are a few toursof its statues and artwork taking place this summer. Additionally, the Colorado Fresh Market happens every Sunday from the beginning of June through the end of October, at the park esplanade near the Sullivan Fountain.
Sloan’s Lake Park
Located in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood, Sloan’s Lake Park spans 290 acres, 177 of which are taken up by the lake. The origins of the lake date back to a homesteader inadvertently tapping into an aquifer, which flooded his land and became known as “Sloan’s Leak.” In its early days, the park featured an amusement park on the edge of the lake. Today, the lake is still a huge attraction, drawing in boaters, as well as fishermen and water skiers. Both motorized and non-motorized boat area allowed—if you’re interested in getting a boat permit, contact the Boat Ranger Office.
Colorado’s annual Dragon Boat Festival—the biggest dragon boat festival in the U.S.—takes place here at the end of July. Held since 2001, two-day festival has dragon boat races but also celebrates Asian and Asian American culture through art, dance, music, food, and more. This second-largest of Denver’s parks also hosts annual art and music festival in mid-August. The park has walking, jogging, and cycling trails, and a paved 2.5-mile loop around the lake that gets shoveled when there’s snow.