“One of the most important days of my life was when I learned to ride a bicycle.”
— Michael Palin, English comedian and actor, Monty Python comedy group member
From a very young age until months after college graduation, a bicycle was my only mode of transportation. Throughout high school, college and the early months of my first professional job, my best friend was two-wheeled, reliable, and always ready to go on an adventure. It recently dawned on me how a bicycle provides independence, security, and self-reliance, especially when you are young.
I had a variety of brands — Sears, Schwinn, Fuji, Bianchi, Peugeot, Specialized, and GT to name a few. I wrecked many, sometimes on bike paths and streets, and sometimes forgetting they were atop my car when pulling into the garage (I did this twice!). From the time I was 5 years old, there has never been a time that I didn’t own a bike.
“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”
—Susan B. Anthony, women’s rights activist
While I’m still ready for an adventure, watching cyclists navigate busy streets in Denver, bike lane or not, fills me with trepidation. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer young and fearless. But when I was commuting on my bike, I religiously stuck to bike/walking trails or sidewalks. I’ve never been a fan of “sharing the road” with vehicles than outweigh me by a ton, to say nothing of all the distracted drivers out there.
Instead, I like to focus my rides on the well-paved bike and walking paths that go on uninterrupted for miles and miles. I don’t like my cruising interrupted by stop signs and red lights, and therefore prefer stretches of pavement or trails that parallel streams and rivers. Fortunately, the Denver metro has hundreds of miles of bike paths that fall into this category.
Listed below are some of the best bike trails in Denver:
Yes, it’s next to 4 plus lanes of traffic. Yes, it’s not as quiet as other bike paths. But this treasure seems to go on forever, over 30 miles to be exact. From approximately the intersection of E-470 and Parker Rd. to C-470 and I-70, riders enjoy rolling terrain, smooth pavement and amazing vistas of the Front Range. Whether you’re on a mountain bike or a road bike, be ready for a great workout. Deceiving elevation gains, lots of opportunities to get something to eat, and the ability to wander off the corridor into a variety of parks and open space including Chatfield, Deer Creek Canyon, Red Rocks, Bear Creek Lake, and Green Mountain make this corridor a favorite among serious cyclists.
High Line Canal
From the time I moved to Denver from Boulder in the late 1980s, this has been my go-to escape. You do have to contend with some road crossings but with a continuous tree-lined track, wildlife viewing opportunities, mountain vistas, and always flat terrain, the High Line Canal is a favorite among cyclists. From Hampden Avenue south, the High Line Canal is a hard-packed dirt trail; north of Hampden, it is asphalt and concrete. Although you are not sharing the “road” with cars, there are many trail users including dog walkers, horseback riders, moms and dads pushing baby strollers, and runners. On the weekends, be prepared to slow down and yield to slower moving objects. Remember, it’s not always how fast you get to your destination but the journey itself!
Greenway Trail/South Platte River
Since the mid-1970s, the Greenway Foundation has led the charge to reclaim the South Platte River and establish it as a recreational and environmental sanctuary. From the Chatfield Dam where the South Platte emerges from Chatfield Reservoir, the river and its accompanying trail snakes its way north through downtown Denver and continues northeast to the Colorado plains. The trail terminates at 136th and Brighton Blvd., and provides over 40 miles of cycling delight. Incredible improvements have been made along the South Platte and its tributaries as a result of the Greenway Foundation’s involvement. Major environmental and riparian enhancements have transformed a former grimy urban river into a waterway that is enjoyed by tens of thousands each year. The Foundation redesigned and improved Pasquinel’s Landing just south of the Overland Golf Course and Grant Frontier Park (West Wesley Avenue and South Platte River Drive) which are both adjacent to the bike trail. There are a number of projects in the hopper that will improve areas along the river in Globeville and RiNo as well. This trail provides a great escape for both residents in the south suburbs, south Denver and the inner city.
Cherry Creek Trail
Most people in Denver are only familiar with this trail as it cuts through Denver and joins up with the South Platte River at Confluence Park downtown. However, the trail actually begins northwest of Franktown, ultimately draining into Cherry Creek Reservoir and emerging below the dam. It flows through Kennedy Golf Course before linking with Hentzell Park in southeast Denver. At that point, a bike path accompanies the creek as it flows diagonally northwest. Cherry Creek is used extensively by bike commuters and runners alike. There are many access points for this trail and it has few spots that require street crossings. The one major detour is at University Blvd where the creek heads into the Denver Country Club. At that point, it’s necessary to head up to 1st Avenue and go west where it reconnects with the creek at Marion Street. This trail serves as a great connector for the Cherry Creek neighborhood to downtown Denver.
Beginning in Golden and heading east to its juncture with the South Platte River, the Clear Creek Trail enables residents to traverse the northwest section of the Denver metro area. This fully paved trail features over 20 miles of scenic riding, crossing through Golden, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, the Berkeley neighborhood, Twin Lakes and Welby. You’ll see wonderful vistas of both North and South Table Mountains in Golden and a number of schools, lakes, parks and natural areas. There are underpasses that eliminate having to stop at major roadways and nice elevation gains on the west side, so be prepared for some climbing. Additionally, Clear Creek joins up with a variety of trails including Fairmount, Ralston Creek, Little Dry Creek and finally the South Platte.
(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in June of 2019. It has been updated with current information).