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Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

June 30, 2011 8:18 AM

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Paul and Lindy Helzer took this photo in Roxborough State Park on the Fountain Valley Trail in October 2009.

Paul and Lindy Helzer took this photo in Roxborough State Park on the Fountain Valley Trail in October 2009.

There are more than 40 state parks in Colorado with more than 500 miles of trails and 4,000 campsites, and each is a little bit different. Here are some recommendations, in alphabetical order, for great parks along the Front Range. All of them can be enjoyed with an annual state park pass for $70, or for the daily visitation fee listed with the specific park.
castlewood canyon state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

(credit: CBS)

Castlewood Canyon State Park

2989 South State Highway 83
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 688-5242
parks.state.co.us/parks/CastlewoodCanyon
Castlewood Canyon State Park, just a short drive southeast of downtown Denver, is a gem of Front Range state parks. The environmental diversity is fantastic; there are more than 2,000 acres of flowers, cacti, boulders, canyon and beautiful vistas to explore. And that’s on top of all of the great wildlife opportunities; black bears, deer, bobcats and many others can all be found. Castlewood Canyon is particularly good for birding. Bluebirds, canyon wrens and the largest turkey vulture population in the state in the summer months call the canyon home. Castlewood Canyon offers beautiful panoramas of the mountains and surrounding prairies, all from easy to moderate level hiking trails. None of the canyon’s trails are open to bicycling, nor is climbing or rappelling allowed from the rock formations; 1 mile of trail is accessible to horseback riders. Castlewood Canyon State Park is open for day use only, so no camping is allowed.

chatfield state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

(credit: parks.state.co.us)

Chatfield State Park

11500 N Roxborough Park Road
Littleton, CO 80125
(303) 791-7275
parks.state.co.us/parks/Chatfield
There are so many great possibilities and ways to enjoy Chatfield State Park that it is difficult not to love this place, particularly with how close it is to the Denver metro area. Boating, waterskiing, jet skiing, camping, hiking (26 miles of trails, 12 paved), horseback riding (24 miles of trails), and many other recreational opportunities along Chatfield Reservoir’s shores make the park perfect for a not-so-far getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is evident by the crowds that can be found taking advantage of the warm summer months. Chatfield State Park isn’t just a summer paradise, though, since there are many great winter activities that are also possible. Fishing continues, with permits, in the colder months when the lake freezes. Snowshoeing is also a popular winter activity that opens up all of those fantastic park trails that are utilized by the hikers in the summer.

cherry creek state park1 Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

(credit: Jason Hussong)

Cherry Creek State Park

4201 South Parker Road
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 690-1166
parks.state.co.us/parks/CherryCreek
Just like Chatfield State Park, Cherry Creek State Park offers a wealth of outdoor possibilities; camping, boating, hiking and horseback riding (35 total miles of multi-use trails) are all popular activities, among many other opportunities like shooting at the park’s gun range. There’s so much to do in the park and on the 880-surface acre reservoir, all right in the heart of the city, that Cherry Creek State Park is like one big backyard for Denver residents. And it’s obvious that many Denverites use it as such, since the park’s many camping sites fill up over holiday weekends. Winter activities like ice skating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and even snow-tubing and sledding on the small hills are also popular in Cherry Creek State Park. Many people also flock here in the winter months to appreciate the bald eagles, hawks and other birds that temporarily call the park home. And it’s possible to enjoy it all while partaking in some winter camping.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park

410 JL Ranch Heights
Colorado Springs, CO 80926
(719) 576-2016
parks.state.co.us/parks/CheyenneMountain
One of Colorado’s newest state parks, Cheyenne Mountain State Park is located on the southern outskirts of Colorado Springs right between Fort Carson and NORAD. The 1,680 acre park has a unique blend of prairie and mountain landscapes, which include four, perhaps five different eco-systems. The rolling hills are studded with pine and gamble oak, and were first operated as a cattle ranch. There are no lakes or streams, which may not be ideal for visitors interested in fishing or boating, but there are definitely plenty of other possibilities. Cheyenne Mountain State Park is nestled in the landscape that inspired the song, “America the Beautiful.” It’s possible to appreciate this beautiful scenery while hiking, biking or even geocaching through the prairies and ponderosa pine and Douglas fir woodlands. Wildlife viewing opportunities are also outstanding along the 20 mile trail system.

eldorado canyon state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

Debbie Gaskill took this photo in Eldorado Canyon State Park on October 2009.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

9 Kneale Road
Eldorado Springs, CO 80025
(303) 494-3943
parks.state.co.us/parks/EldoradoCanyon
The beautiful golden walls of Eldorado Canyon State Park are considered one of the top rock climbing destinations in the United States with more than 500 technical climbing routes. Climbing enthusiasts come from all around to challenge themselves in the Rocky Mountains, and in a park that is right in the foothills of the Denver metro area. But, climbing isn’t all that there is to do in the park; activities from hiking to fishing or hunting and horseback riding to mountain biking are all great ways to spend a day in this jewel of the state park system. There’s also a great history to the park, since the ruins of the Crags Hotel still can be found up Rattlesnake Gulch Trail. Starting in 1908, an inclined railway brought vacationers to the hotel and a spectacular view of the mountains to the west along with the Continental Divide. It all burned down in 1913, though, and now the park is just open for daytime recreationalists the year round, since there are a great many ways to enjoy the park in the winter months, too.

golden gate canyon state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

Debbie Gaskill from Arvada took this photo in Golden Gate Canyon State Park in September 2010.

Golden Gate Canyon

92 Crawford Gulch Road
Golden, CO 80403
(303) 582-3707
parks.state.co.us/parks/GoldenGateCanyon
Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s 12,000 acres are a perfect refuge from city life, and it’s just a short drive up the canyon outside of Golden. Whether you’re interested in hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking (19 miles of multi-use trails), or any of a number of other activities, Golden Gate Canyon State Park certainly has something for everyone looking to get out and enjoy the outdoors. And don’t feel left out if winter sports are more your speed, since the state park has plenty to offer, too — ice skating, snowshoeing over the rocky peaks, sledding, and ice fishing are all great possibilities. Camping is also a very popular activity in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. There are more than 100 campsites available, as well as five cabins and two yurts. So, for a different camping experience, plan ahead and rent a yurt in the park and spend a few days enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and great pioneering history the park has to offer.

lory state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

(credit: Jason Hussong)

Lory State Park

708 Lodgepole Drive
Bellvue, CO 80512
(970) 493 -1623
parks.state.co.us/parks/Lory
Lory State Park is just a short drive out of Fort Collins, and one of the best parks along the northern Front Range. From the mountainside, it offers beautiful panoramas of the High Plains to the east. And there is definitely no shortage of great outdoors activities to enjoy in the park; the 20 miles of trails are open for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding up and over the hillsides of the Front Range, as well as backcountry camping. Lory State Park sits on the western shore of Horsetooth Reservoir, so a great many water activities are also possible in the area. This makes it just as attractive of a getaway as its Denver cousins, Chatfield and Cherry Creek State Parks. But, since it’s all backcountry camping in the park, it is best to plan ahead to stay around the reservoir and make walk-in trips into Lory.

mueller state park Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

(credit: Jason Hussong)

Mueller State Park

21045 Highway 67 South
Divide, CO 80814
(719) 687-2366
parks.state.co.us/parks/Mueller
The 5,000 acre Mueller State Park is little-known by most Denver area residents, but it is a spectacular mountain getaway that should not be overlooked. It is located a short drive west of Colorado Springs, near the town of Divide, so it is perfect for a weekend away from the city. Mueller is a great destination for all kinds of outdoor activities, both summer and winter, as well as camping and wildlife watching – the park sits next to the 800 acre Dome Rock State Wildlife Area. The most difficult decision you’ll have in visiting this park is to decide which of the trails to take, since there are 50 miles of well-kept pathways available, 19 of which are designated for mountain biking. While there is more than enough to keep an outdoor enthusiast occupied for days on end, Mueller State Park is also a short drive from the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. The monument, as well as many other are attractions, is a perfect day trip opportunity to enjoy other sights in the area. For more on that, see our Guide to Colorado’s National Monuments and Historic Sites.

roxborough state park1 Top Colorado State Parks Near Denver

Paul and Lindy Helzer took this photo in Roxborough State Park on the Fountain Valley Trail in October 2009.

Roxborough State Park

4751 North Roxborough Drive
Littleton, CO 80125
(303) 973-3959
parks.state.co.us/parks/roxborough
Although this list was made alphabetically, we literally saved the best for last. Roxborough State Park is one spot that should not be missed by any Denver area resident or visitor. It is the crown jewel of Front Range State Parks, which, for good reason, has been designated a National Natural Landmark. There are more than 3,000 acres here filled with stunning red-rocks, enjoyable hiking trails, and all kinds of wildlife — mountain lions, black bears and mule deer can all be seen. Roxborough State Park does not allow camping and is only open for day use. This wasn’t always the plan, though. In the early 1900s, a man named Henry S. Persse built a stone house near the red rocks that make the park such a special place. He meant to turn the area into a resort. Even though his idea didn’t quite come to fruition, you can still enjoy a bit of history while strolling along a trail that passes by his former home.

- Jason Hussong is an Assignment Editor at CBS4. He has traveled to all seven continents, most of the states, and almost all of the counties in Colorado; he writes about his travels at www.jasons-travels.com.

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