Deciding on where to eat in Denver can often be a challenge. Swamped with restaurants, the Mile High City has become a maze of neighborhoods hiding great food in every hole, nook, and cranny. An algorithm for the best eatery doesn’t suffice anymore—everyone can recommend their favorite and they’re great choices.
So where to turn at this moment of bewilderment within Denver’s grub labyrinth—how about a picnic spot? A drive out to a grassy clearing or a dramatic bluff with fruit and cheese, perhaps a bottle of something stronger, and these worries melt away as fast as your SPF 15. While the Rocky Mountains inevitably hold access to the best black diamond picnic terrain, metro Denver and the foothills sprawl with gentle hills and lush meadows beckoning a beaucoup of quilts and baskets. We’ve pinpointed the prime picnic environments in and around the city, so sigh no more in your endless pursuit of the next knockout food establishment by trying these alternatives—the best parks for a picnic in Denver and beyond.
Where: 7100 Cherry Creek South Dr, Denver
The Recreation Center at Cook Park lists reams of events and classes for activities like billiards, cribbage, and even pottery. The land lays in a flat part of Denver—quite an anomaly, am I right? Of course, there are some knolls and trees to lean against after consuming a personal log of goat cheese and an entire baguette.
This park has a winding stream where crawfish hide—well-suited for the foraging picnicker. Drooping pine tree boughs create natural forts ideal for a secret picnic while other trees branch out for the dare devil’s high altitude picnic. Climb into Cook Park for a heap of diverse picnic options.
Where: Between Humboldt and Race, Denver
Sitting in the locus of Denver, Cheesman Park spreads across 81-square-acres of metro space. The centerpiece pavilion looks like the Athens Parthenon or the Jefferson Memorial, so you can feel like the ancient Greeks and Founding Fathers when you dip into that Lunchable. Combine your picnic with a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which back up to Cheesman’s east side and there’s your perfect day.
If you want to really test the limits of Cheesman Park, perhaps the witching hour is in your future. The plot of land was a 19th century cemetery for years until it was offered up to the City of Denver to be converted into a public place for living citizens. Story has it that corpses were transferred from the park to other sites in a rather macabre fashion. To save money, child-sized coffins were employed by the project manager, E.P. McGovern, who diced up the bodies to fit in the smaller containers. Needless to say, infinite reports of apparitions have rippled through the newspapers since the sepulchral fiasco and it’s been said that ouija boards buck out of control during after hour seances. If picnics are too docile for your taste, venture for a midnight snack when the grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize.
Where: 2100 S Fillmore St, Denver
The Denver Astronomical Society shacks up at Observatory Park for celestial theater and midnight research. They aren’t an exclusive crew of academians, however, admitting general public twice a week for open houses and community star gazing. Stroll over to the University of Denver neighborhood for dusk picnicking and stellar views. Their state of the art 20-inch refracting telescope is the pride and joy of Chamberlin Observatory.
Reserve a spot in the dome for $4 and astronomers will guide your eye from there. The board members brag that you’re “one mile nearer to the stars”, so you can take full advantage of the equipment and elevation. The fields surrounding the facility always smell freshly cut and they’re big enough for 10 on 10 ultimate frisbee. Several clumps of trees provide ample space for hammocking, so you can munch on snacks mid-air—that’s advanced suspension picnicking. Stay safe everyone.
Where: 116 Lookout Mountain Rd, Golden
Apex is the quintessential day hike for city folk. The W line runs all the way to Jefferson County, which means you can walk up Heritage Road until you hit the mini amusement park, then head into the park from there for free via RTD. The trails snake through the tall grasses beneath the foothills as well as ascend up into the ravine. The Enchanted Forest Trail summons the senses across the pine needle floor with great plots for picnics.
Climbing to the zenith takes less than an hour, making this picnic spot a midweek warrior mainstay. Views of Denver and Golden unfurl from the top while the jagged flatirons flair along the Northern rim. Lookout Mountain is just down the road from Apex if you’re interested in a bit more incline and distance. Their nature center is superb for getting acquainted with the animal community. There’s also a decent chance that woodland creatures will accompany you for the picnic, so you never have to dine alone.
Where: Betasso Rd, Boulder
Tucked high into the Flatirons, Betasso Preserve absolutely rocks for highland picnicking. The road twists and yanks in some sections, but it’s incredibly scenic winding along an Alpine river. Haul some brewskis with you and let elevation do the rest, because this place kisses the sky. Several paths dip down into the canyons and rippling meadows with a stunning vista of the Rockies and the cities. This year’s spring brought plenty of rain to keep the grasses vibrant and the wildflowers popping not to mention raspberries in peak season right now.
Picnic tables and benches cluster in multiple parts of the domain appealing to larger group picnics. We’d recommend loads of fruit at these heights—Palisade peaches, strawberries, and nectarines are delicious and hydrating for a hike.
Washington Park (Wash Park)
Where: South of East Alameda Avenue, Denver
Boasting over 160-acres of domesticated wilderness, Wash Park is the Yosemite of picnic areas. Dedicated to the active lifestyle, you can work off the Wonder bread and processed turkey in any number of ways. For the cultured fellows, an exquisitely manicured croquet green; for the paupers, lawn volleyball; for the vikings, paddleboating; and for the adrenaline junkies, Vinyasa yoga at dawn. Wash Park is also home to some of the best climbing trees in the city. Trunks winding out over the lakes were practically designed for the arborist’s picnic.
We recommend toting a large spread to this park, but beware of the goose armada which has remained peaceful thus far (yet analysts suspect it’s only a matter of time before they mobilize a large scale attack). A gang of six pelicans sought refuge in the park a few years ago and they are wonderful to watch. It goes without saying that Wash Park is colorful community, so come as you are Denverites!
Where: Sheridan Blvd & W 17th Ave, Denver
This lake was supposedly spawned when Mr. Sloan, an early Denver denizen, accidentally struck an aquifer while drawing a well. He didn’t cry over spilled water, so we don’t either. The park is a pleasant place to bed down on a blanket with a nice spread. Sloan Lake is home to several species of birds, namely herons, night hawks and mallard ducks, which nest along the 177-acre-area. The community and neighborhoods have an active presence in the park as people exercise around the loop. There are even water-skiers who occasionally grace the large city lake with wakes and athleticism.
Gardens surround the park, creating beautiful ambiance for a picnic. Pack a big salad for a healthy calming meal on the banks of the water. Consider practicing meditation or yoga in this expanse of Zen nature. This Friday the 29 marks an organized sunset stand-up paddle boarding evening. More information here.