DU Field Notes: Best Parks in Denver
Even during a pandemic, Denver's parks offer a serene escape
In this summer series we're setting out to discover the surrounding world outside our campus walls, exploring Denver and the near-beyond.
Colorado is famed for having more than 300 days of sunshine in any given year. And Denver, with more than 200 parks within city limits, offers an outdoor destination for nearly every one of them.
The city is blanketed with more than 5,000 acres of park space too varied to capture in a few words. Some are near, some are far. Some are big, some are modest. Some are tranquil, some are vibrant with city life.
All provide free fresh air, green grass and sunshine.
In this socially distanced world, an afternoon at a nearby park can offer a safe dose of the great outdoors without a trek beyond city limits. Of course, these days the park-going experience is slightly changed; Denver Parks and Recreation asks that visitors wear masks when feasible, recreate in groups of 10 or fewer, and remain six feet away from others.
Washington (Wash) Park
Wash Park has been named one of Denver’s favorite parks, and with good reason. Walk, run, bike, paddleboat, do yoga, lounge by lakes, play volleyball — play anything (in small, trusted groups, of course). It’s all possible at this 155-acre park that boasts beautiful gardens, a recreation center and even a bocce court.
The park is also known for its large, flat expanses of grass. It’s incredibly easy to get to from DU, whether you opt for the 30-minute walk or decide to take the light rail to the Louisiana and Pearl Station (just one stop away). Be alert though—Wash Park remains popular as ever, so it may take a little extra effort to maintain a safe distance from fellow parkgoers.
Fun fact: One of Wash Park’s two gardens is a replica of George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon.
With 330 acres, City Park is Denver’s largest. But that’s not what makes it special.
From June to August, City Park is home to a free concert series put on by City Park Jazz. Though the pandemic forced City Park Jazz to cancel its 2020 season, it’s sure to reclaim its status as a can’t-miss Denver staple once COVID-19 subsides. In the meantime, there’s still plenty to enjoy, including two lakes, paddle boats for rent and plenty of lush grass for picnicking.
Fun fact: The tradition of jazz in the park started 130 years ago.
Cheesman Park is often considered one of Denver’s most beautiful outdoor retreats, with city views and a dramatic pavilion. But it’s the park’s history that captures visitors’ attention. Before it became a park, Cheesman was the site of a cemetery, and the transition wasn’t exactly smooth. Google it.
Cheesman Park also played an important role in Denver’s LGBTQ+ history. The park was home to Denver’s first Pride Parade in 1974, and it remains the starting point for the Denver Pride Parade.
What’s more, visitors to Cheesman Park can make an easy stop at the Denver Botanic Gardens for a peek at some spectacular plant life.
Fun fact: Rumors persist that Cheesman Park is haunted by its former buried residents.
Civic Center Park
When Denverites want to rally, protest or celebrate, they head to Civic Center Park, located at the base of the Colorado State Capitol. Even when it’s not bustling with events, like the recent George Floyd protests, Denver Women’s March, Denver PrideFest or the annual Taste of Colorado extravaganza, there’s still plenty to do and see.
From Civic Center Park, you can pick up a book at the public library, stop by the Denver Art Museum (be sure to snag a ticket in advance, as the museum is operating on timed entrance to maintain COVID-19 protocol) or grab a socially distanced lunch at one of the food trucks that congregate there through the summer and fall.
Fun fact: Civic Center Park (actually the entirety of Civic Center including the Capitol) is the only National Historic Landmark in Denver.
Just a short walk from DU’s campus, Observatory Park provides big, bushy trees that cast excellent shade for outdoor studying. It’s also home to a piece of DU history.
That’s the University’s Chamberlin Observatory, opened more than 120 years ago. And while the park is perfectly pleasant in the daytime, it comes alive at night thanks to the Denver Astronomical Society’s public nights (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and monthly open houses. Though the observatory’s public nights are currently on hold, keep them in mind for future stargazing.
Fun fact: The observatory’s 20-inch refractor telescope is the largest of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region.