When most people think of the best parks in the Mile High City, they default to the big three: City Park — flanked by the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature & Science — Washington Park and Cheesman Park.
Those sprawling, historic spaces are undoubtedly great for summer get-togethers, jogging, volleyball and endless people watching. But since Denver is home to 250 urban parks boasting nearly 6,000 acres of land, virtually every corner of the city has something waiting to be discovered.
Denver falls in the middle of a recent list that ranked the percentage of a city’s land dedicated to open space — or about 8 percent of Denver’s nearly 75,000 acres, according toa report from The Trust for Public Land. That’s still an impressive number, especially since the city spends almost twice as much on its parks ($81 million per year) as Aurora, the next-closest contender in the state.
Here’s our list of underrated and lesser-known Denver parks that deserve a visit, including details on improvements that have been made to account for the city’s recent growth.
RUBY HILL 1200 W. Florida Ave.
The full extent of this hilltop gem’s improvements will not be visible for another year or two, but already a new $1 million mountain bike track and playground have joined what Denver parks officials have called one of the city’s most underused public spaces. Sitting next to the South Platte River Greenway, the 360-degree views and amenities (including a “Rail Yard” snowboard terrain park) make Ruby Hill Park one of Denver’s most versatile.Levitt Pavilion, a 7,500-capacity amphitheater, is also slated to open in 2017 and offer 50 free concerts per season.
ALAMO PLACITA 300 Emerson St.
“If you accidentally glance over while you’re driving down Speer (Boulevard) you’ll see one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the city,” said Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director ofDenver Parks & Recreation. Indeed, Alamo Placita’s compact but meticulously maintained gardens recall painterly European landscapes with their gently fanned geometric arrangements, which were designed by Saco Resnik DeBoer and opened to the public in 1927. A basketball court, playground and picnic areas add to the family-friendly/neighborhood appeal.
MELVIN F. SILVERMAN 12875 E. Andrews Dr.
Culturally and geographically, the Montbello neighborhood often feels isolated from the rest of Denver. That’s a shame on several levels, especially since this newly updated park (featuring a color-splashed playground and fitness zone) is designed for everyone. “It’s also got a basketball court and a nice pavilion,” Gilmore added. “The neighborhood knows about it but pretty much no one else does. It’s a great place for the kids to play while parents get a workout.”
BABI YAR 10451 E. Yale Ave.
Named after a Ukrainian massacre site, Babi Yar opened in 1982 to commemorate the Holocaust with some of Denver’s most striking, minimalist public art and design elements. The 27-acre memorial has hosted adance commission and other cultural events, given that all surfaces slope down toward a centralized disc that forms one point a massive Star of David. The landscape is contemplative and each feature is imbued with meaning, such as The Grove of Remembrance, where 100 linden trees are planted in a grid representing the 200,000 people killed at Babi Yar.
MESTIZO-CURTIS PARK 3000 Curtis St.
Curtis Park, Denver’s oldest neighborhood, also contains its oldest park. It was designed as the gateway to the city in 1868 before officials changed its name to Mestizo-Curtis Park in 1987 to reflect the area’s ethnic diversity. While the majority of the park is a rectangular open space popular with dog owners and weekend sunbathers, the eastern quarter contains a newly updated playground, a wildly popular public pool, shelter, basketball court, tennis court and plenty of bike/pedestrian paths. Stay tuned for what the city is calling Phase 2, which includes a fitness zone, art project and community garden.
MONTCLAIR PARK 6829 E. 12th Ave. It’s hard to find a more historic structure in Denver than the one at Montclair Park, a.k.a. The Molkerei, which was built by Baron Walter Von Richthofen in 1898 and has since been used as a tuberculosis sanatorium — complete with on-site dairy) — a restaurant, an insane asylum and, in 1908, one of Denver’s first community centers. The larger park sits on the National Register of Historic Placesand features the usual playground and picnic tables plus horseshoe pits and a tennis court.
GARFIELD LAKE PARK 3600 W. Mississippi Ave. Any park with a lake has built-in appeal in our relatively dry city, but Garfield Lake ups the ante with a forest grove in the center that takes on spectacular hues in the fall. Picnic tables, a pool, bike/pedestrian paths, sports fields and a playground offer a little something for everyone in this tidy park, which has often been called one of Denver’s most pleasant strolls.
INSPIRATION POINT PARK 4901 Sheridan Blvd. This charmingly rough-hewn space earns its name with ample views of the city and Front Range on a bluff that looks over Clear Creek Valley — near where gold was first found in 1850. The entrance of this 106-year-old park includes a stone-walled picnic area while inside walking paths, flower beds and a meadow offer a chance to clear your head — albeit with residential and industrial neighbors now surrounding the space.
MAYFAIR PARK 1000 Ivy St. This relatively quiet, residential park not far from Montclair is unassuming in its offerings, including picnic tables, a modest playground, basketball court and a handful of natural areas with robust trees. But its straightforward layout, versatile open space and comfy surroundings make it feel miles away from urban development, despite the fact that the park is only a few blocks from a bustlingand fast-changing stretch of East Colfax Avenue.
LITTLE CHEESMAN Between High and Williams streets on East 8th Avenue
Officially it’s called Cheesman Esplanade, but as anyone who’s had a barbecue or baby shower at this city block-sized patch knows, it’s just Little Cheesman. In addition to being centrally located (yet out-of-the-way), Cheesman Park’s much smaller sibling nicely balances mature trees and open space for an array of uses. The well-heeled neighbors and spooky history (like Big Cheesman, it was formerly a graveyard) combine to give it a boutique sort of charm in a city with no shortage of folks looking for such things.
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