Article and photos by Daniel Williams
For many in the 80108 ZIP code, hiking means getting in a car and hopping on I-70 or I-25 and driving an hour or more to a rugged trailhead for a day of gut-busting, adrenaline-pumping exercise. But most people do not have the time nor the inclination to make such a strenuous trek on a daily basis, according to Denver resident Chris Englert.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of miles of incredibly beautiful trails practically in our backyards,” Englert said. “But most people don’t think about them when they consider going for a hike.”
There’s a reason for that. According to Englert, no one had cataloged the area’s urban trails. When she moved to Colorado from Tampa, Florida four years ago, Englert found the shelves at Tattered Cover filled with books about hiking the major trail systems in the region, but she could not find much, if any information on day hikes in Thornton or Littleton or even Downtown Denver.
The First Creek at DEN Open Space spans 198 acres and its native prairie and large cottonwood trees provide habitat for wildlife such as bald eagles, golden eagles, coyotes and deer.
As Englert began walking the region, she blogged about those daily excursions. That blog evolved into a book “The Best Urban Hikes: Denver” published in 2017 by the Colorado Mountain Club. The book includes Englert’s 30 favorite hikes from within the C-470 loop and range in geography from Aurora and Arvada to Denver and Highlands Ranch.
Her top pick for urban hikers is the First Creek at DEN Open Space, which spans 198 acres, and is home to bald eagles, burrowing owls, coyotes, deer and a forest of cottonwood trees. First Creek at DEN opened in 2016 and is located between the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and Peña Boulevard and north of 56th Avenue on Buckley Road.
An Urban Hike
Perhaps, by now, you are wondering what exactly is an urban hike? At least that was my first question for Englert as I was confused about how it differed from the daily walks I take with my dogs. “With an urban hike,” she said. “You need three things: a city, a trail and a sense of adventure.”
I realize she had never walked with Smokey and Bandit, my fearless and always adventurous Chihuahuas, so I asked her again to help me unravel the mystery of the urban hike. “When you live in a city,” she said, “A walk is about trying to get from point A to point B. Maybe you’re making a loop in a park or taking your dogs for a walk, but you’re most likely trying to get somewhere.”
The fearless and always adventurous Smokey and Bandit wear their winter coats during their daily urban hike at Retreat Park in Castle Pines.
With an urban hike, she added, one of the great joys is getting lost.
“You want to get lost?” I asked.
“Sure,” Englert said. “Getting lost is part of the fun with an urban hike because you’re generally going to be within half a mile of a major intersection and once you find that you can always get unlost.”
For more information about the area’s best urban hikes, visit www.urbanhikingden.com.