by E. Brandt
Everybody knows the Rocky Mountains’ proximity to Denver is one of the big draws for visitors and those who move here from out-of-state. Many convention-goers may be surprised by how accessible several well-known outdoor destinations are from Denver, and how quickly one can arrive at panoramic, breathtaking views of the city and the entire front range. A straight shot out of the city west on 6th avenue takes you to the edge of the mountains and some cool outdoor locations in under 20 minutes.
Most who have lived here for any length of time and explore their environment know these spots. They are all in the foothills or hogback (with the exception of Lookout Mountain), the beginning of the great Rocky Mountain range. These places are fun, interesting, and won’t tax your rental car or your tight schedule. Links to Google Map directions to each location are included.
12 minutes from 6th and I-25 to the east parking lot
Presently, it ain’t so green, and it ain’t a mountain either, though it may rank as one for those from particularly flat states. A sizable, well-placed, nearly treeless foothill, Green Mountain was struck by lightning August 4th, and is burnt black on its north side. Luckily, the burnt side is not where the popular hiking trails are, but it will make it easier to spot â€“ you will see the blackened slope on your left as you drive from downtown west down 6th. Gravel parking lots on the east and south side provide a starting point for several instantly-steep trails offering challenging but safe hikes with views of Denver and beyond. Bring water. Also, you’re sharing the trails with mountain bikes, so learn the rules or stay out of their way. Or rent a bike.
18 minutes from 6th and I-25
It sounds cool, and there is purportedly dinosaur stuff in the area (look it up if that is your thing), however, for locals and visitors alike, the real draw is simply the view. From here you can see every fireworks show in the city on July 4th. As you drive toward the top of the mountain, pull over on the wide shoulder to park near the staircase going up the slope. A switchbacking trail leads up several hundred feet to stunning views â€“ and a long trail across the ridge, if you like. From here you are looking down even on Green Mountain; the city, urban sprawl in all its glory, and the plains to the very horizon are a sight to behold. Look down on huge water tanks the size of thimbles, or watch highway traffic a few hundred yards below. You can also face west and look down on Red Rocks. Awesome!
Red Rocks Park
15 minutes from 6th Ave. and I-25
The famous Red Rocks Amphitheater is as cool completely empty during the day as it is filled with ten thousand screaming fans and your favorite band on stage. Some might even say cooler. It’s never completely empty, of course â€“ visit when nothing is scheduled, though, and you will have the amazing natural amphitheater and rock formations and even the stage to yourself and perhaps a couple dozen other visitors, clambering down and up the stairs and stone seating to and from the stage. Bring a video camera, don some shades, and have your traveling companion film you doing your own Sunday Bloody Sunday rendition.
Bear Creek Lake Park
16 minutes from 6th Ave. and I-25
This large expanse of open space a mere 20 minutes from Denver, at the foot of the hogback, includes a few small lakes. Hiking trails, horseback riding, swimming, paddle boats, fishing, biking, roller-blading, picnics â€“ even camping.
23 minutes from 6th and I-25
Now this is a real-live actual mountain, the first one beyond the foothills. You will recognize it going west down the highway by the motley assortment of massive antennas spiking the ridge. Not only is it a mountain with great open space trails, it has a museum at the top (kind of lame, but free, with some stuffed mountain animals and helpful guides), Buffalo herds enclosed near hiking trails and one of Buffalo Bill’s alleged grave-sites. Under 30 minutes from downtown â€“ not bad for a real mountain experience.
I grew up with these places, and am happy to have the opportunity to suggest them with visitors as quick and easy escapes from the bustle of urban life and the convention. Locals, post your own.