Denver is a city made for avid outdoors-people. With beautiful mountain views, red rock formations, and a roaring river never more than a short drive away — some within city limits — the Mile High City has a lot to see and do. Before embarking on your Denver adventure, be sure to add these five outdoor experiences to your itinerary.
Red Rocks Park
The gorgeous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre is a well-known concert facility, but the site has much more to offer than music. Named after several large red sandstone monoliths, the park, just 25 minutes outside of Denver, features scenic views of beautiful prairies from the towering peaks. Take a walking stick and hike through meadows and then up the red rocks on Trading Post Trail, a manageable (but not always easy) 1.4-mile trek. The trail is even higher than Denver’s elevation (Denver is at 5,280 feet, and Red Rocks Park is 6,450), so plan accordingly.
For a less strenuous jaunt, hit the Geologic Overlook and Trading Post loops, a four-mile, figure-eight loop taking you by all the park’s highlights: up close and personal to the red rocks, through the rolling hills, and with direct views of the amphitheater. You’ll only gain 700 feet in elevation throughout the hike, and each of these loops can be done alone if you want something shorter. The Geological Overlook trail is only a mile long with a 400-foot elevation. If you are looking for a multi-use trail or both biking and hiking, the Red Rocks Trail is a must. The six-mile loop takes about three hours if hiking, and you’ll gain about 1,300 feet in elevation during the moderate hike. You’ll meander through meadows, see a sandstone cave and get a great overlook view of Red Rocks Park. This trail also connects to others for a longer journey if desired. You can easily do a hike and see the park in half a day, or leave yourself more time and spend the whole day exploring.
South Platte River’s Eleven Mile Canyon
Kayaking is the best way to cruise through South Platte River’s Eleven Mile Canyon. Expert paddlers often bring their own kayaks and ride the rapids, which range from Class III to V, with boulders, eddies, and holes. Several outfitters run tours on easier parts of the river for those who are less experienced. They also provide guidance on handling the tougher sections.
This canyon part of the South Platte River is sometimes crowded, but the beautiful views and exciting runs are worth it. Eleven Mile Canyon is in Park County, Colorado – about 37 miles west of Colorado Springs (plan for a 2 to 2.5-hour ride from Denver). This is easily a day trip or one where you’ll want to stay overnight nearby. If you prefer a local white-water experience in the Mile High City, head to the South Platte River at Confluence Park in lower downtown Denver, for a man-made paddling course.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal
This National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest urban refuges in the United States, with 15,000 acres located just 10 minutes from downtown Denver. Depending on the season, you can explore the Rocky Mountain Arsenal on foot, on cross-country skis, or on snowshoes on groomed trails. Traverse prairie habitats across the grasslands, or take the wetland trails along ponds and marshes. The site also offers woodland trails with wildlife like deer, coyotes, and waterfowl. Spend as long as you want here – you’re in Denver, so take an hour, or devote an afternoon.
Ziplining and Aerial Trekking
About 30 minutes south of Denver, you can whiz across 1.5 miles of zip lines at Castle Rock Zip Line Tours. With the wind in your face, take in exhilarating views of the mountains and Colorado plains sweeping by underneath you. The park also has rappelling, an adventure tower with a 42-foot climbing wall, and a kamikaze zip that takes you to the ground in record time.
Alternatively, take a turn on the aerial trekking course, where you maneuver between sky-high posts and platforms, testing your balance and fear of heights on 100 challenges. The facility is open year-round, and you can make a day trip out of it.
A 40-minute drive from downtown Denver gets you to Boulder, where you can hike and rock climb the famed Flatirons. They aren’t easy to climb, but local outfitters run guided courses for beginners and more advanced climbers, with equipment included. Plan on spending a full day on this excursion, which includes rock climbing, rappelling, and hiking.
If you’d rather see the climbers but not head straight up the rocks yourself, you can hike the Flatirons on an actual foot trail. Try starting from the Chautauqua Trailhead, for a 2.4-mile round trip hike where you’ll gain 1,422 feet in elevation, and get some great views, but you won’t need a guide or specialized equipment (though if you’re going when there’s snow or ice on the trails, you may want to splurge on some strap-on crampons).
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