For a city, Denver’s not a bad place in which to be a dog. Lots of hotels and motels welcome four-legged travelers, and there’s plenty to do out of doors. The mile-long 16th Street pedestrian mall in the heart of Denver’s downtown is the perfect place for the urban dog to catch up on his people watching. Chic dogs will want to stroll with their owners through Cherry Creek, the city’s toniest shopping district. Or they might want to visit trendy LoDo, which includes Coors Field; though not allowed inside the baseball stadium, dogs can gaze longingly at the exterior and imagine all the balls that could be chased down inside.
Eight Hikes for You and Your Canine Companion
As might be expected in a city that is home to an active population, it’s not difficult to find a great selection of easily accessible hiking trails near Denver. To reach many of the trails that will allow you to enjoy a”less-developed” hiking experience, you and your dog will have to travel to the outskirts of the city and beyond. Denver and its surrounding communities, however, have an extensive network of paved bike paths and trails, often known as greenways, that your dog will enjoy exploring. Some extend for several miles, others for just a few blocks. For a “Parks and Recreation Facilities Map” that details all 210 city-maintained parks, contact the Denver Parks office at (303) 964-2500.
Denver and surrounding region
Denver dogs in the know come to”Wash Park” to participate in one of the city’s best canine social scenes. The 154-acre park is also one of Denver’s largest, with two small lakes, colorful flower gardens (one a duplicate of George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon), an indoor recreation center, playground, lawn bowling court, soccer field, and lighted tennis courts. You and your dog have several strolling options: a 2.6-mile crushed-gravel trail goes around the park’s outer edges, while a paved inner trail makes two loops within the park, each about a mile in length.
- Location: bordered by Virginia Avenue, Franklin Street, Louisiana Avenue, and Downing Street.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed.
West of Denver
Cherry Creek State Park
Though known primarily for its reservoir, Cherry Creek State Park rates high among the canine set because of the 60-acre off-leash dog area at the southern end of the park. To reach this area, drive south on the main park road from the east entrance station and park in the lower parking lot for the 12 Mile House group picnic site. You’ll need to keep your dog leashed for about the first 500 yards, until you pass the dog-area boundary sign.
You can also access the off-leash area by heading west on Orchard Avenue, off Parker Road, for about a half block to a small parking area (there’s a self-service fee station). The dog area consists mainly of open grassland traversed by a wide gravel trail; water-loving hounds will seek out the small creek. There’s plenty of room for your dog to get a good workout, play with a friend, or chase down a ball.
If he tires of the scenery, put your dog back on his leash and bring him to explore the rest of the park, which has about 12 miles of trails. The paved Cherry Creek Trail runs through the park from north to south; north of the dam and outside the park boundary, a portion connects to the Highline Canal Trail. A network of trails lies west of the Shop Creek trailhead, which is off the main park road south of the east entrance station — note that these trails can get very muddy in late winter and spring.
Another trail goes along the southern end of the reservoir, from the marina area east to the Shop Creek area. The park is still in the process of mapping out and improving the signage on its trails, so you and your dog should expect to do some exploring rather than following a set route. Dogs are not allowed at the reservoir’s swim beach.
- Location: Aurora
- Getting there: The east entrance station is off of Parker Rd., 1.5 miles south of I-225; the west entrance station is reached via Yosemite St., south of I-225 and Union Ave.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed, except in the dog training area
- Fees: No entrance fee if you walk (or bike) into the park from one of the trail accesses
Chatfield State Park
Like Cherry Creek State Park, Chatfield is best known for its reservoir and the water recreation it provides, but dogs will be much more interested in the off-leash area set aside for them. Located in the northeast corner of the park, the dog training and exercise area (as it’s officially known) encompasses 160 acres. There’s even a pond — where several dogs were practicing their stick-in-the-water retrieval skills when we visited. To reach the site, turn left (north) at the intersection after going through the park entrance station. Follow the road up and around the top of the dam to the Stevens Grove picnic area, where parking is available. From there, a trail leads around the pond.
You and your dog can also head east on the trail (away from the pond), but Fido will have to leash up when crossing the marked dog-area boundary; you’ll connect with the paved Centennial Trail, which runs along C-470. The dog training area also extends on the other side of the road from Stevens Grove, as well as from the picnic area, Cottonwood Grove; your dog can either follow some small social trails here or explore among the trees — just keep an eye out for the boundary markers. For the best meet-and-greet opportunities, however, the pond’s the place.
- Location: southwest of Littleton.
- Getting there: Take C-470 east or Wadsworth Blvd. south. If you’re coming from C-470, take the Wadsworth Blvd. exit and drive south for one mile to the park entrance on the left.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed, except in the dog training area.
Just South of Denver
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This 14,000-acre mountainous park offers almost 35 miles of trails — all with animal names — that you and your dog can enjoy together. One particularly nice hike follows the Horseshoe Trail, a 3.6-mile round-trip route to Frazer Meadow and back. To reach the trailhead, turn right at the T-intersection just after the visitor center, pass the Ralston Roost trailhead on the left, then pull into the next trailhead parking area on the left. You’ll ascend a moderate uphill alongside a creek for most of the hike, then will reach a large meadow flanked by stands of aspen. Head right for a few minutes on the intersecting Mule Deer Trail to view the old homestead in the meadow.
For other park trails that run along streams for a good portion of their length, try the following: The 2.5-mile Raccoon Trail makes a loop from the Reverend’s Ridge Campground in the park’s northwestern corner. The Mountain Lion Trail forms a 6.7-mile loop that begins and ends at the Nott Creek trailhead in the northeastern corner of the park. The 2.4-mile round-trip Buffalo Trail goes from the Rifleman Phillips Group Campground in the northern part of the park to Forgotten Valley. And finally, the 2.5-mile Beaver Trail follows a loop beginning and ending at the visitor center and includes a short detour to Slough Pond.
- Location: 16 miles northwest of Golden.
- Getting there: The main access from the eastern side, which will bring you by the park’s visitor center, is via Golden Gate Canyon Rd., a signed turnoff from Hwy. 93 just north of Golden. The drive to the park is 13 miles from the turnoff.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed.
Maxwell Falls Trail
One of the closest national-forest trails to Denver, the Maxwell Falls Trail has recently been rerouted (including a new trailhead) because of some private-property issues along the old trail. This 3.5-mile round-trip hike features plenty of access to water, lots of trees to sniff, and a brief scenic vista. Begin by heading up the path marked by the brown carsonite post in the southwest corner of the parking area. You’ll make a moderate ascent through a forest of fir, pine, and aspen, contouring southwest across a hillside and following the route of an unnamed creek.
The trail eventually fords the creek and switchbacks up to a clearing on a small saddle (this is where you’ll get the view). Cross an old dirt road and follow the trail down the other side of the saddle. From here the trail stays fairly level as it goes into the Maxwell Creek drainage. After crossing the creek, head left (upstream); you’ve now joined up with the original portion of the Maxwell Falls Trail. The falls themselves are about a quarter mile ahead.
After viewing the falls, you can either return the way you came or, if your dog is up for a longer hike, follow a loop that adds about 1.25 miles to the total distance. To access the loop, backtrack from the falls a few hundred yards to an intersection. Follow the intersecting trail as it switchbacks uphill and then runs above the creek. In about a third of a mile, this trail ends at the upper trailhead for Maxwell Falls, at an unmarked parking pullout off of Brook Forest Road. Before reaching trail’s end, however, ford the creek and head left on a wide dirt path that doubles back along the creek. This path, which is actually the old dirt road that you crossed earlier in the hike, starts to head away from the creek. After about a mile, you’ll come out on the same saddle that you traversed earlier. Look for the intersection with the Maxwell Falls Trail (unmarked) and go right to return to the lower trailhead parking area.
- Location: southwest of Evergreen.
- Getting there: From the stoplight on Hwy. 74 in downtown Evergreen, head south on Hwy. 73 for about a mile. Make a right on Brook Forest Rd. Drive for 3.6 miles to the lower trailhead parking in a small fenced area on the left side of the road.
- Leash laws: Dogs can be off-leash.
Elk Meadow County Park
This 1,280-acre Jefferson County Open Space park has 11.5 miles of trails, including a 4.7-mile (one-way) ascent of 9,600-foot Bergen Peak for a panoramic view of the Continental Divide. Your dog might be most interested, however, in sniffing out the off-leash area. To access it, cross Stagecoach Boulevard from the parking area and go through the gate. A quarter-mile trail leads off to the right, with signs for the dog training area. The training area itself is a large field, bordered by aspen along one side. Though a couple of footpaths lead into the field it’s not really a hiking area — but it’s a fine place to let your dog go through his paces, retrieve a stick or ball, or play with another four-legged friend. And if he needs to pause for a drink, there’s a running spigot alongside the access trail for easy refreshment.
- Location: northwest of Evergreen.
- Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Exit 252, then head toward Evergreen on Hwy. 74 east. At 5.3 miles from the first traffic light after crossing over I-70, turn right (west) on Stagecoach Blvd. Drive 1.25 miles to the parking area on the right.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed, except in the dog-training area.
Pine Valley Ranch Park
Pine Valley Ranch Park, on 820 acres, has a beautiful, wide-open feel. And though somewhat removed from the madding crowd, it’s still a Jefferson County Open Space property. In the middle lies small, scenic Pine Lake, and the North Fork of the South Platte River runs across the park. As a bonus, the park’s southern boundary abuts Pike National Forest, where your dog can run leash-free.
To hike along the rushing waters of the South Platte, take the two-mile Narrow Gauge Trail in either direction from the parking area; the trail follows the route used by the Colorado and Southern Railroad in the early part of the century. A very short trail loops around Pine Lake. To head into the national forest, follow the Buck Gulch Trail for one mile to the park boundary; the trail then continues for another 2.2 miles as a Forest Service trail. It’s possible to do a long loop (5.3 miles) by combining the Buck Gulch, Skipper, and Strawberry Jack Trails; note that these are also popular mountain-biking trails.
- Location: Pine Valley Ranch.
- Getting there: Head south on U.S. Hwy. 285, going through Morrison, Aspen Park, and Conifer. In Pine Junction, make a left at the traffic light onto Pine Valley Rd. Head southeast on Pine Valley Rd. for about six miles, until you come to a hairpin turn. Go right on Crystal Lake Rd. and follow the signs to Pine Valley Ranch.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed, except in Pike National Forest.
Castlewood Canyon State Park
Castlewood Canyon seems something of an anomaly — a small canyon set near the edge of the eastern plains. The park provides a nice alternative to a mountain hike; you and your dog will be surrounded by farmland yet can still view the peaks of the Front Range in the distance, including Pikes Peak. A pleasant, short hike (about two miles) combines the Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon Trails.
From the parking area, the Lake Gulch Trail (there is no lake) begins as a paved path before changing to gravel surface. You’ll hike among ponderosa pine and jumper before descending to Cherry Creek and its riparian habitat. After crossing the creek, go right to pick up the Inner Canyon Trail. You may want to make a short detour to the left, however, to view the ruins of the dam, which collapsed in 1933. The Inner Canyon Trail follows the course of the creek before crossing it and switchbacking up to the parking area. If your dog is interested in a much longer hike, you can add on a loop of the Creek Bottom and Rim Rock Trails (about 3.6 miles), which cover the park’s western section. Castlewood Canyon is also popular with rock climbers, so your dog shouldn’t be alarmed if he spots a gear-laden human spider.
- Location: Franktown, south of Denver and east of Castle Rock.
- Getting there: Take either Hwy. 83 (S. Parker Rd.) south or I-25 south to Castle Rock, then Hwy. 86 east six miles to the intersection with Hwy. 83. The main park entrance (and visitor center) is five miles south of this intersection, on the right. There’s also a west entrance, reached via Castlewood Canyon Rd. off Hwy. 86 from Castle Rock.
- Leash laws: Dogs must be leashed.
Rules and Regulations
Within the city and county of Denver, as well as in surrounding towns in the Denver metro area, dogs must be leashed when not on private property. Resident dogs must be vaccinated annually against rabies once they reach six months, and dogs are required to wear a city license tag within 30 days of moving to the city.