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Dog Friendly Hikes | Denver Offers Many Options

Posted at 07/22/2019 11:00 AM by Pat O'Connor

When it comes to hiking, my happiest participants have four legs.

The two-legged teenagers, not so much.

I tend to be pretty enthusiastic when it comes to hiking in and around Denver but pale in comparison to my two dogs. Once they see the leashes, the water bottle and their mom lacing up the hiking shoes, all hell breaks loose. They can’t get through the garage and into the SUV fast enough.

Talk about feeling like a good provider. Let’s face it, they don’t really care where they go. Dogs just want to go.

But for us mere mortals, it’s handy to be in friendly environs, have nice views and varied terrain. And thankfully, Denver and its neighboring foothills have every imaginable trail available. Moreover, the Mile High City and its surrounding communities are very accommodating to our canine family members.

Last year, SmartAsset ranked Denver 7th in the nation for dog friendliness. In its 2018 report, SmartAsset looked at several metrics:  

  • Dog parks per 100,000 residents. This metric looks at the number of dog parks per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2018 ParkScore.
  • Dog-friendly restaurants. This factor looks at the number of restaurants that allow dogs in outdoor seating areas. This data comes from BringFido.com and was pulled in June 2018.
  • Dog-friendly shops. This metric represents the number of shops that will allow dogs inside. This data comes from BringFido.com and was pulled in June 2018.
  • Median home value. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Walk score. This factor measures the walkability of each city. Data comes from Walk Score.
  • Average annual days of precipitation. This metric looks at the average number of days a year that a state gets precipitation. Data comes from CurrentResults.com.

According to SmartAsset, "The Mile High City is full of great dog-friendly hiking trails to enjoy with your pup. But there is more than just the local hills to enjoy with your dog in Denver. This city ranks in the top third for all but one metric. Denver’s highlights include the seventh-most dog-friendly shopping centers in the study and the 25th-highest walkability score. The only metric to growl at in Denver is affordability. Home prices have been shooting up recently and, according to our data, Denver ranks 80th in this metric." (The good news is that during the summer of 2019, home prices are starting to inch downward and there is more inventory. Home buyers are finding they have more choices and have some leverage on price negotiations).

When it comes to making your pooch happy, there are around 237 dog-friendly restaurants throughout the city and a little over one dog park per 100,000 residents, according to SmartAsset. They also report that six shopping centers are dog friendly.

Below is the Usaj Realty list of best dog-friendly hiking trails in and around Denver. While summer hiking is the most popular, most of  these trails are accessible year-round (just bring your snowshoes, crampons or galoshes during or after inclement weather). Regardless of the season, consider  bringing along a collapsible bowl and plenty of water. Your dog will love you for it!

Red Rocks

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One hopes that our canine buddies appreciate the views at Denver’s crown jewel but regardless, we can personally revel in the atmosphere. Towering red cathedrals, spectacular views of Denver and the plains, close proximity to the city and a variety of trails squash any excuse not to make the trek to the foothills.  Explore 738 acres of geological wonders and spectacular vistas at 6,450 feet above sea level. Red Rocks trail leads you into Matthews/Winters Open Space (Jefferson County Open Space) and loops you back for a memorable hike.

High Line Canal

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Photo provided by the High Line Canal Conservancy

From the time I moved to Denver from Boulder in the late 1980s, this has been my go-to escape. I’m partial to the section south of Hampden where the trail is hard-packed dirt, featuring a continuous tree lined tract, wildlife viewing opportunities, mountain vistas and always flat terrain. The High Line Canal is a favorite among dog walkers/runners/equestrians. My absolute favorite area is between Quincy and Belleview where the canal meets up with the Kent Denver property. You can venture into this spectacular open space, let your dog play in the water and enjoy the adjoining bridle paths. It’s sheer heaven.

Lair o’ the Bear Park

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Located just a few miles west of Red Rocks on Hwy. 74 near Idledale, this Jefferson County park is a favorite among families and their dogs. The picturesque setting is accented by lush vegetation, towering trees and the trails that more or less parallel the rushing waters of Bear Creek. For a challenging experience, enjoy a 12.6-mile, round-trip journey on Bear Creek Trail which passes through three adjoining Denver Mountain Parks to the west. The trail is adjacent to the Dunafon Castle, a private facility that was completed in 1941. It is built on a peninsula which presents a breathtaking view of the crystal-clear waters of Bear Creek and is surrounded by Jefferson Open Space.

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. With the increased density of people (and dogs) now living in the LoDo, Riverfront, LoHi, RiNo and Ballpark neighborhoods, this corridor has become a favorite for dogs and their walkers. Easily accessible and sporting huge upgrades, it’s no wonder this is a crowd-pleasing destination for urban dwellers.

Golden Gate Canyon

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Located northwest of the city of Golden, Golden Gate Canyon State Park has 12,000 acres of dense forest and is a dog lover’s paradise. Hikers enjoy 32 miles of trails, 19 of which are designated multiple use. Ralston, Nott and Deer Creeks all flow through this scenic park and there are tranquil ponds and riparian areas for your viewing pleasure. All the trails are named after animals (unfortunately dogs didn’t make the cut) but they are still welcome on the property. A number of the sections are designated as hiker only but be aware on weekends, there may be high usage.

Mt. Falcon Park

This is another gem in the Jefferson County Open Space system. Hikers at Mount Falcon Park have the 1.7-mile Turkey Trot Trail all to themselves. The remaining 11 park miles are multi-use. The 2,000-foot elevation gain of the Castle Trail, a steep climb from the east, provides a vigorous workout. Drop down into Castle and Parmalee Trails for incredible views of the Rockies. There’s even Two-Dog Trail that leads you to a scenic overlook. If you do this hike on a warm day, be sure to be extra water, for both you and your dog. There are no creeks, ponds or other water sources for your pups to quench their thirst.

Westminster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park

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This 420-acre off leash dog park has a creek for your pup to jump in on a hot day. A dog "food" truck sometimes will be outside so you can buy your dog a treat before or after their off-leash adventure. The area is graciously maintained by the City of Westminster and volunteers. This is a very popular destination, so be prepared for your dog to have a lot of interaction with other pups. If your dog likes the water, bring a towel or two to help mitigate the mud and creek water!

Marshall Mesa Trailhead

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Originally a coal mining area in the 1860s, this Boulder hike is relaxing and a fun place to bring your dog. The views are beautiful anytime of year and it usually isn't super crowded. Dogs must stay on leash here but it's a nice jaunt for them. According to the City of Boulder website, you can take the "Cowdrey Draw Trail (0.8 mi) providing access to the east to the Mayhoffer-Singletree Trail that accesses Boulder County Parks and Open Space." 

(Editors note: This blog was originally published in November of 2017. It has been updated and includes new information).

Posted by Pat O'Connor

Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.

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Topics: Things to Do in Denver