Mosaics and a Mansion in Belcaro Bonnie Brae
So let’s first set the record straight. Many people think that Belcaro and Bonnie Brae are two separate neighborhoods. Belcaro does not think Bonnie Brae is part of its neighborhood, and the residents of Bonnie Brae feel the same way.
But the City of Denver disagrees. Denver drew the Belcaro boundary, and it includes Bonnie Brae. So when setting out to walk Belcaro, you’ll also get to include Bonnie Brae. And lucky you, cuz both communities are fantastic in their own ways, making up one big official neighborhood. Enjoy this 3-mile urban hike.
Two Neighborhoods Make Great Neighbors
You’ll start your walk in Bonnie Brae park and immediately discover the smaller, although not necessarily small, homes lining the sidewalks of this walkable neighborhood. Named after a Scottish-influenced neighborhood in Kansas City, developer George Olinger (of Olinger’s mortuary, now Linger’s Restaurant) broke the Denver street grid and put in curving streets with unique street names. Squished in between the streets is an alley system.
A Mosaic of Art
If anything makes Bonnie Brae unique, it’s not only the grid-less streets and the Scottish name, but the quaint, mosaic tile artwork adorning alley walls. Started by a resident who was inspired by a tile workshop in Santa Fe, the alley art project has taken off, with over 30 pieces of art snuggled into secret locations throughout Bonnie Brae.
(Note: if you want to do just a walking tour of the Bonnie Brae alley art, check out this map.)
And of course, Bonnie Brae’s most famous destination is Bonnie Brae Ice Cream. What used to be a Dolly Madison is now Denver’s oldest continuing running ice cream store, where all the frozen deliciousness is hand-made.
A Steele Separates But Doesn’t Divide
Separated by Steele St from Bonnie Brae, the Belcaro community beams from the higher elevation with its namesake castle on the high point. Cross Steele, and the big homes become bigger. Unique custom designs adorn original homes and newly built masterpieces. There are no McMansions here–all are big, but all are unique and creatively blended with the neighborhood.
Of course *the* destination in Belcaro is the Belcaro Mansion at the top of the hill.
50 Rooms of Grandeur
Built in 1931-1933, the Belcaro, nee Phipps Mansion, dominates the neighborhood with its 50+ rooms, 8 fireplaces, tennis pavilion and beautiful landscaping. Built by the Phipps family who moved here from Pittsburgh after retiring from Carnegie Steel, he became a Colorado Senator in the US Senate.
Phipps’ wife, Margaret Rogers, and two sons eventually donated the home to University of Denver who eventually sold it to the Quark software founder, Tim Gill and his husband, Steve Miller. Gill is very active in LGTBQ rights, and after selling half of his stake in Quark, has funded millions of dollars of pro-LGTBQ legislation.
So if you’re doing an urban hike through Belcaro, you’ll also need to include Bonnie Brae. Both neighborhoods have plenty to delight your senses, and both could easily have their own walks. But since the City of Denver dumps the two into one boundary (roughly Cherry Creek to E Mississippi, S University to S Colorado), enjoy this Belcaro Bonnie Brae urban hiking adventure.
The route (click for interactive map):
Start at Bonnie Brae park. The address closest to the park is 828 S Ellipse Way, Denver. Head southeast on Ellipse to S Elizabeth Street. Turn right. Notice the alley art, “Road Trip” in the first alley on your left. Continue to S Clayton St, turn right. Continue to S Josephine St, and turn left.
Pass St Vincent de Paul Catholic School, and turn left on E Arizona St. Continue several blocks to S Fillmore Street, turn left. Notice the Mediterranean home on the corner and the new build right next to it. Continue north to Mississippi, take a left.
You’ll see an alley on your left. Head south in the alley, and you’ll quickly see another mosaic piece, “Alley Cat.” Enjoy and then turn around and head north out of the alley, turning left on Mississippi. Take a right on S Clayton. Take a right on S Cove Way. Cross Bonnie Brae Blvd.
Continue along Cove, taking a right on Kentucky. Notice that the homes jump in size quickly as you cross over Steele. Look to your right at the home with the peacock door, which is original to the home. Continue to the right on Kentucky.
The street will make a loop around the Phipps Mansion, giving you views of the Phipps’ daughter’s home on the left and various guest buildings. The Mansion is under renovation, so you may get lucky to get a sneak peak through the gates at the home. Walk along its perimeter, but don’t overlook the homes on the right, which can be almost as stunning.
Continue around the loop, passing the tennis pavilion and then making your way back to where Kentucky straightens out to the west again. Stay on Kentucky until you return back to Bonnie Brae park.
Mosaics and a Mansion in Belcaro Bonnie Brae and Supporting DenverByFoot
If you’ve enjoyed this walk, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family, or even along during our lock down.
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See you on the trail!