A Quirky and Finessed Urban Hike thru East Colfax
A fun and interesting neighborhood full of finesse and quirkiness sits east of downtown that many people know as East Montclair, but it is officially called East Colfax. It is a neighborhood whose namesake, the wickedest street in America, runs through it. Enjoy this urban hiking adventure through East Colfax neighborhood.
It’s Not East Montclair, Sorry
First, let’s start by saying there’s no such neighborhood as East Montclair. But don’t tell the residents that! The city of Denver doesn’t recognize the neighborhood as such, calling it East Colfax with the boundaries of Quebec to Yosemite, 11th Ave to Montview with a little jut up to E 23rd Ave at Quebec. The official Montclair neighborhood abuts it to the west and has its own separate boundaries.
Wickedest of Them All
Running through the middle of the neighborhood lies what Playboy called the wickedest street in North America, Colfax. Welcoming travelers for years before I70 existed, this piece of Colfax Avenue homes refugees in apartments, visitors in western and aviation-themed motels, and thirsty locals in decorated bars. Walking these blocks makes the decades mix right in front of your eyes. You’ll have no idea what year you’re in.
Who was Colfax? Schulyer Colfax was Speaker of the House, Vice President to Ulysses S Grant, and advocate and co-author of the 14th amendment. He is often credited with leading the movement to abolish slavery.
In the middle of the neighborhood on its northern side, you’ll pass the William McNichols Park. A gorilla welcomes you into the park which is named after a three-time mayor of Denver. His visionary ideals helped build the 16th Street Mall, the Auraria Higher Ed campus, and the Denver Center for Performing Arts, among other Denver landmarks.
A Sidewalk Here, a Sidewalk There
The neighborhood theme of haves and have-nots plays itself out in the sidewalks first. Some streets have them, some don’t. Some sidewalks stop mid-block, while others take you safely for several streets. South of Colfax, you won’t find many sidewalks running east-west, and north of Colfax the sidewalks mostly transit you narrowly north and south.
Dreams to Be Found
Closer to the refugee homes near New Freedom Park, you’ll find urban gardens filled with clover and foreign-looking vegetation. New Freedom Park won awards for the collaboration it went through to pull together the visions and dreams of the neighborhood, creating a park that welcomes everyone. In the middle off the park, you’ll find luscious urban gardens filled with international flavors of plants beaming unique colors and smells.
The closer you get to the old Stapleton airport, the more you’ll find remnants of old tuberculosis recovery homes. These homes, with their large banks of sunny windows where TB patients would sit in the warm sun to get well, link to the story of the Molkery in Montclair. You’ll also find hold-over, aviation themed bars and hotels where pilots and stewardesses (nee Flight Attendants) rested and layed-over.
Old Dreams, New Dreams, Broken Dreams
Yet no matter the block you walk in the East Colfax neighborhood, it’s a travel through old dreams, new dreams, and broken dreams. From refugees just resettling here in Denver to folks buying their first homes or their third, the East Colfax neighborhood is one that catches the attention of change makers.
As you contemplate what you see on this interesting urban hike, you might want to grab a cuppa at what might be Denver’s best neighborhood coffee shop. On the corner of Quince and Colfax you’ll find the Quince Coffee shop. Grab a spicy chai and a vegan, chocolate-chip pumpkin bread slice, sit on the porch, and contemplate the great things in life.
The Route (click for interactive map):
At Quince St, turn right. Stop in Quince Essential Coffee for a cuppa, then turn left on Colfax. Cross Colfax at Quebec St, going north (right) up to E 16th Ave, where you’ll turn right.
At Quince, take a left and continue north to E Montview Blvd. Walk to the right along Montview, noticing the difference between the Stapleton neighborhood (now Central Park) on the north side of the street and East Colfax neighborhood on the south.
Turn right (south) on Ulster St. At 1760 Ulster Street, notice the Greeters of America home. Now two residences, it was once the headquarters of the fraternal organization for hotel greeters. Continue south to E 16th Ave and take a left (west.) At Tamarac, take a left (south).
Please note: I originally took this walk in 2017, and the Hangar Bar was still open. It lost itself in the test of time, closing shortly after my visit. But a new cool bar has taken its place, EastFax Tap. Be sure to drop in and discover a new iteration of the East Colfax bar scene.
Stop in the Hangar Bar, now EastFax Tap. Over 75 years old and possibly Colfax’s oldest bar, this tried-and-true aviation bar played host to the pilots and flight attendants flying into the old Stapleton airport. Continue east along Colfax and take a right on Xenia St.
You’ll walk through a block full of apartments housing many refugees. Enjoy the urban gardens and notice the work being done at New Freedom Park to daylight Westerly Creek.
Turn right on E 12th Ave, continuing to Verbena. Turn right and turn back to where you started.
Feeling Quirky in East Colfax 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!