One doesn’t need to go very far from the city to get the experience of being in the Colorado mountains. In fact, did you know that the city of Denver has more than 14,000 acres of parklands in the mountains and foothills of Jefferson, Clear Creek and Douglas counties?
With Denver being an early leader in land conservation, these vast mountain parklands are part of Denver Parks and Recreation’s 100-year-old park system.
These acres are home to 46 mountain properties and attractions, including everything from yurts and challenge courses to roaming bison herds and hiking trails. While some of the mountain lands are deemed conservation areas and have limited public access, there are many that are easily accessible for Denver-area residents to explore and enjoy. (And) the time is right to explore some of what Denver’s Mountain Parks System has to offer. But remember, given the COVID-19 pandemic, if you venture out, be sure to adhere to social distancing guidelines, be respectful of all park rules and consider visiting the more popular areas during non-peak visiting times.
Most of the mountain parklands are easily accessible and within a half hour drive from Denver. Some are accessible by multimodal transportation options from Denver. Genesee Mountain Park, for example, has a bus route that drops off at the Genesee Park-n-Ride off I-70 at Exit 254.
Genesee Park is the largest park in the Denver Mountain Parks System, with a total of 2,413 acres. It offers diverse experiences — picnicking options, bison-watching from the Patrick House Trailhead, backcountry hiking on the historic Beaver Brook Trail and camping at Chief Hosa Campground. In addition, park visitors can enjoy a panoramic view that spans from the Continental Divide to the city and plains at the 8,284-foot Genesee Mountain Summit.
For the more adventuresome, Genesee Park also offers a challenge course set in a beautiful area of Ponderosa Pines overlooking the continental divide. With roughly 60 low-and-high ropes elements, it offers varying degrees of challenges to meet a broad range of visitor preferences. The course is programmed by the Denver Parks and Recreation outdoor recreation team and available to groups of 8-100 people.
Other mountain park areas offer the opportunity for wildlife sightings, beautiful views of the mountains and access to some of the best hiking trails that Colorado offers. These include, but are not limited to:
Echo Lake Park — Denver’s only mountain park within the sub-alpine zone. It includes a 24-acre natural lake at the base of Goliath Peak, which is popular for fishing and offers wonderful views of Mount Evans. Visitors to this park are requested to stay on trails, as a 10,000-year-old wetland at the east end of the lake provides important wildlife habitat.
Summit Lake Park — Also on Mount Evans, at an elevation of 12,840 feet, Summit Lake Park is at the highest altitude of all of Denver’s Mountain Parks and considered the highest city-owned park in the nation. A road to the top of Mount Evans is typically accessible from Memorial Day to Labor Day and provides stunning views of Colorado’s highest peaks. There is an accessible trail that offers a short hike to the Chicago Lakes Overlook where park visitors can enjoy spectacular mountain views. The Summit Lake parking area provides access to climb Mount Evans or fish in the high alpine lake. Mountain goats and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep may also be spotted throughout the park.
Lookout Mountain Park — This park boasts a panoramic view stretching from the Continental Divide to downtown Denver and beyond. It is also home of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, which has exhibits that chronicle the life of one of the great figures of the American West. This area also has great access to hiking trails, including the Beaver Brook Trail in Genesee Park.
O’Fallon Mountain Park — A favored spot for fishing and picnicking along Bear Creek, O’Fallon Mountain Park also has an extensive system of hiking trails, including access to the Bear Creek Trail, which connects to Pence Mountain Park, Corwina Mountain Park and Little Mountain Park.
There are many options to explore as you get outside to enjoy these incredible spaces. To view the many other options that the Denver Mountain Park System has to offer, visit the Denver Parks and Recreation Mountain Parks website.
The Denver Mountain Parks Foundation works in partnership with Denver Parks and Recreation to ensure continued stewardship and enjoyment of this unique mountain park system for generations to come. For more information about the educational programming and fundraising efforts offered, visit the foundation’s website.
Allegra “Happy” Haynes is the executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation
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