The best spots in City Park for partying, running and family fun
Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems).
Ask people about Denver’s City Park and they’ll give you a location. “I like to walk around the lake,” my buddy Paul says. “I want to go to the playground!” my kids plead. “I like setting up on the lawn for City Park Jazz,” my older, original-resident neighbors in North Park Hill say. “You can bring your own wine.”
City Park Jazz, the free, high-quality music series that takes over the City Park Pavilion on Sundays during the summer, is one of the 320-acre park’s best angles. But there are so many others. Opened in 1882, City Park remains Denver’s biggest urban park, according to Denver Parks & Recreation, and it continues to take advantage of that with a diversity of settings.
Having lived in Denver for the past two decades, I’ve been through my phases there. In my 20s, I liked partying — drinking cans of cheap beer, chucking frisbees and otherwise hanging out with my childless, unattached friends — in City Park West and its grassy expanses. They’re great spots for events such as this weekend’s Colorado Black Arts Festival, as well as lightning-fast dogs chasing their own frisbees, and Live Action Role-Players (LARPers), who swing their harmless swords like all the world is watching.
In my 30s, I shifted to the south-central side along East 17th Avenue, where the trees and shade are heavy, and the breeze is near-constant. It’s an easy picnic base camp, with plenty of room to laze. When I jogged (briefly, but still) I took the path around the park’s centerpiece Ferril Lake and its adjacent, smaller Duck Lake. It’s arguably the most popular workout, dog-walking and bike-riding corridor, so to speak, and contains a paddle-boat rental kiosk and excellent people-watching along its benches. Joggers also take to the park’s roughly 3-mile perimeter, which is across the street from a beautifully refurbished City Park Golf Course.
As most families know, City Park wraps its arms around two of the state’s biggest, oldest cultural institutions — the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Like the gorgeous mountain views from the park’s eastern end, they’re iconic features that complement the other activities, such as tennis courts, baseball fields and, oh yeah, playgrounds.
My kids only want to visit those, whether it’s the modest, eastern one (just off the lake) or the more elaborate, also-reimagined playground on the western side, which features colorful sculptures and disability access. I’ve been to more than one birthday party there, and now that I’m firmly in my 40s, I anticipate several more.
It’s not my No. 1 favorite part of the park, but the fact that I even have one — looking west from the elevated Nature & Science museum — is a sign of how versatile and wonderful this civic asset is.