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Sensi Magazine

Denver Gone Wild

Sep 15, 2016 11:28AM ● By Rob Feeman

It’s the silence that strikes you at first. Instead of hearing slamming car doors, thumping music coming from open windows, and the jarring sounds of construction in your booming neighborhood, you hear the wind in the trees, the rush of the river, the call of the birds. It feels as if you’re all alone in this place—it’s just you and nature. You are one with nature. And you needed this. But the truth is, civilization is just over the top of that ridge, or past that copse of trees, or around that bend in the river. Best of all, this seemingly isolated place is just a few minutes from where you live in the city. It’s close enough to visit after work or even during your lunch break.

Denver’s nature centers and natural parks are enviable open spaces in the midst of an urban landscape—perfect escapes where you can relish the cooler air of the changing season. These educational oases are also ideal escapes for parents who want to instill a love of the great outdoors in their impressionable offspring. Here are some of our fall favorites. 


The northward-flowing South Platte River serves as the spine of this expansive 880-acre park and its associated nature center, one of the largest and best equipped in the region. The park, as well as five fishing lakes stocked with catfish, trout, and bass, was created in the wake of a 1965 flood, when the overflowing South Platte sent a wall of water a mile long cascading through the Littleton landscape. To prevent further floods, the Chatfield Dam was built, and the town established the surrounding area as a floodplain and public use area. The park now stretches 2.5 miles along the river, and serves as a natural habitat for more than 250 kinds of birds and 60 types of mammals. A system of trails (some paved, some not) winds through the space and connects to Denver’s larger trail system. The nature center offers exhibits, live animal displays, and a River Room, which features a 12-foot-long interactive river model guaranteed to entertain the kids.


Birders take note: named an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, the Audubon Center at Chatfield State Park shelters as many as 345 bird species throughout the year, and also provides a home to other types of wildlife (think: mule deer, raccoons, and more, oh my!). To encourage hands-on interaction with nature, this “outdoor classroom” is stocked with equipment like binoculars, aquatic sweep nets, and microscopes available for visitor use. It also offers a wide variety of programs and activities, including wetland walks and bird banding—plus the only owl and bluegrass festival in Colorado. The HOOTenanny 2016 takes place Saturday, September 24, and it’s sure to be a … hoot.


Tucked into a quiet residential area, Majestic View more than lives up to its name. From numerous spots throughout the 80-acre park, you can look across the rolling landscape to the Front Range—and strategically placed benches allow you to settle in and relish the views. Of course, in fitness-crazed Denver, no one stays still for long (except in savasana, of course), and there are interpretive trails ripe for exploration, winding through wetland areas, past lakes, and through prairie grasses. The best part: the mountains are never far from sight. If you can take your eyes off the views, you just may spot some of the resident wildlife: coyotes, muskrats, rabbits, ducks, hawks, and vultures. There’s also a free nature center on site, offering a variety of science classes and programs.


This gem of a park encompasses 123 acres along the banks of Sand Creek and Bluff Lake, on the eastern edge of the former Stapleton airport. It’s actually because of that old airport that this place exists today: The land served as a “crash zone” at the end of the runways for 60 years. The undeveloped spot became an urban refuge for waterfowl, deer, fox, beavers, raptors, songbirds, and other types of wildlife. Today, Denver’s only nonprofit nature center features two miles of trails (the main one loops around a lake) that meander through a variety of habitats home to native plants. Its mission is big on education, as some 5,000 elementary-school students visit the space each year. You should visit, too, to check out the bird walks, fireside chats, and science speakers.


Driving up to the Morrison Nature Center, you’re greeted by a herd of galloping horses, part of a public art display called the “Steel Stampede.” The 13 life-sized horse silhouettes, sculpted from stainless steel by Kentucky artist Douwe Blumberg, serve as a visual cue to the site’s wild nature. Previously a ranch belonging to the Stark family, this 200-acre preserve serves as a trailhead for the 13-milelong Sand Creek Regional Greenway Trail system, which connects the Platte River Greenway to the High Line Canal Trail. Using those trails and others, it’s possible to hike, bike, or horseback ride through the eastern suburbs to Cherry Creek State Park, Quincy Reservoir in Aurora, and further points east, south, and west. The nature center houses a number of exhibits and educational displays, with a fireplace and cozy spots for the kids to settle and learn about nature.