Discovering a 42-mile Urban Hike Through Denver on Trails
When Chris first arrived in Denver, she took out a Denver Trail Map and googled info about Denver’s trails. There wasn’t much. She found lots of information about trails on the Front Range, but those within Denver hid within plain sight.
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Chris set out the goal to research, create a name, and then walk a 42-mile loop around Denver on the Sand Creek Greenway, High Line Canal Trail, Cherry Creek Trail, and Platte River Trail. Never did she think she would learn so much, have so much fun, and clarify her purpose in Denver. Not only did all three things happen, but she also developed a fabulous perspective on Denver. Chris realized Denver was more awesome than ever imagined.
7 Creeks? 8 Creeks? 9 Creeks?
Before starting out on this 42-mile urban adventure, Chris talked extensively with several agencies, including Denver Water, Denver Parks and Rec, and even the US Geological Society. She asked questions about the terrain, the geography, and the history of the creeks. She looked at lots of new and old maps. She asked the GIS folks to measure the distance of a proposed route. She really wanted to understand exactly how many creeks, rivers or watersheds were in the 42-mile loop and what they were called.
After looking at many maps and doing overlays of several resources, Chris concluded that within the designated loop flows 9 creeks. The problem with the maps is that she couldn’t get all of them into one view. She had to make some assumptions about boundaries and where our Denver Regional Trails actually lay within the old street and topo maps of the area. After walking the Loop, she made some corrections.
Lots of Creeks, But Let’s Count the Ones We See
After looking at the topo map above, Chris thought she would be crossing over First Creek, Second Creek, Sand Creek, Coal Creek, Cherry Creek, Dry Creek, Toll Gate Creek, High Line Canal, and Platte River. She didn’t. But miraculously, did cross 9 Creeks, and thus kept the Loop’s name. Ultimately, the 9 Creeks Loop crosses (going clockwise from Sand Creek at Quebec) Sand Creek Greenway, Westerly Creek, High Line Canal, East Toll Gate, West Toll Gate, Toll Gate, Cherry Creek, Goldsmith Gulch, and Platte River.
Five Very Different Areas
Each one of the regional trails had a very different personality. These trails followed through five distinct areas.
The orange area along Sand Creek hosts Central Park, an urbanized area created from the old Stapleton airport. Here, life exists around major transit areas while relaxing along the Sand Creek. Housing, industry, commercial, and transit co-exist in a shared life of action and balance.
Note: In the summer of 2020, the Stapleton residents renamed their neighborhood Central Park.
Historically, Stapleton Airport was put “way out” in Rattlesnake Holler. Major thoroughfares grew around it, including Colfax Blvd and Quebec, while the railroad continued its western expansion wax and wane. Eventually, I70 replaced the east-west bound traffic, and the Stapleton neighborhood overtook the airport. Thus, once where there were warehouses and western distribution centers, now there are homes in what used to be a food desert surrounded by industrialization.
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The yellow area along the High Line Canal brings you from rural Aurora into its fast-growing suburbs, which abut up against a Denver retirement area, Windsor Gardens. The Canal, although no longer an active distributor of water in this area, stretches 71 miles from Green Valley Ranch to Waterton Canyon. The 9 Creeks Loop traverses it for about 12 miles, mostly along its Denver portion.
The blue area pulls you onto the Cherry Creek Trail, where folks hustle and bustle their way through life via fast bikes, quick walks, and rushing cars. Before arriving at the Cherry Creek Trail, Fairmount Cemetery pops up and tells the history of Denver’s dead through tombstones and plots.
The purple area helps relieves the busyness of the Cherry Creek Trail by giving visual relief via the Denver Urban Arts murals and artwork along the creek. You’ll continue through this outdoor art gallery until you reach the Platte River, where you’ll turn down the river and enjoy all the activity at Confluence Park along what was historically known as “The Bottoms.”
The green area reminds us of the cost of beauty and capitalism after walking through some of the best of Denver. Here on the northern sections of the Platte River, as it confluences with the Sand Creek, you’ll see how folks experiencing homelessness survive near our water and sewage treatment centers and petroleum plants.
A walk around the Loop provides such a well-rounded view of life in Denver; there’s no better way to really understand how Denver’s heart beats.
What the Loop Needs
The four Trails along the Loop have advocacy groups with similar agendas–make their trails great–and they all have the same needs. From my point of view, they need signs, wayfaring, street hardware, facilities, and marketing. These groups would love your support of their trails: Sand Creek Greenway, The High Line Canal Conservancy, and The Greenway Foundation (Cherry Creek Trail and Platte River Trail).
Truly, not one trail is better than the other. They are all unique and brilliant. Some of the best spots along the 42-mile loop are Star K Ranch, Windsor Gardens, the northern end of Cherry Creek, and the bridge over the Platte and Sand Creek Confluence. Some of the worst areas along the 42-mile loop: are the west end of Sand Creek, the Alameda crossing on High Line, the bike speeds on Cherry Creek, and the stink along the Platte River.
So Much Beauty to See
Chris took hundreds of photos and about 25 hours of video. But most of all, her favorite picture is below.
Or maybe this one.
Or this one.
Chris Narrated Each Mile
Chris blogged each night about the miles covered that day, and each blog breaks down each mile. There are some miles missing due to human error! and the mileage is a little off in the videos.
What You Need to Know About the 9 Creeks Loop
The surfaces of the loop vary from sand to hard-packed soft surfaces to concrete to asphalt. You can bike the entire route, although some parts in Aurora and Denver sections will probably do best on a mountain bike.
Chris broke the 42-mile loop into 8 segments with trailheads and trail ends. You can find all that info here, including where to park, start, and finish.
A Giant Thank You to Sponsors and Readers
This journey had company. Thank you to the sponsors, Wallaroo Hats who provided gorgeous hats for me to give away, Forest City who provided the GoPro to record the journey, High Line Canal Conservancy who underwrote some expenses, and Walk2Connect Chris’s business partner co-op and team of mentors who supported me the entire way.
Please post below any questions, comments, or suggestions. Our one question for you, when will you walk it?
A Double Thank You
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.
Thank you so much!