Length: 1.4 miles each way (plus a half-mile jaunt from the parking lot)
Why we love it: It’s a perfect way to stretch your legs between airport runs, on long layovers, or when weather in the foothills isn’t cooperating
When to go: Year-round
Post-hike buzz: There’s not a whole lot going on out here—yet. If you have time, stop by Commonwealth Coffee Roasters, just off Holly Street and I-70, for an ethically conscious cup of coffee before or after your hike
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Distance from Denver: About 15 miles from Union Station
You may have missed it, but in August 2016, Denver unveiled its largest parcel of open space in its urban park system: First Creek at DEN Open Space. The project was the brainchild of a partnership between Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, the city, and Denver International Airport. Not only does First Creek bridge the three previously disconnected areas, it also satiates a longtime need for recreation space in northeast Denver, attaches surrounding neighborhood trails to a larger network, and helps protect the area’s natural wildlife and flora.
The 198 acres set aside for First Creek were previously unused airport land. A sort of corridor to the Eastern Plains, the open space is a natural prairie, home to the likes of eagles, hawks, owls, black-tailed prairie dogs, deer, and even coyotes. To protect and maintain the open space and its native wildlife, First Creek is overseen by Denver Parks and Recreation. Despite its proximity to the noisy interstate and the ever-busy DIA (it’s barely 10 miles from the terminals), First Creek is a sort of reprieve from the hustle-and-bustle. You might say it’s a refuge, like its neighbor—but for weary travelers and suburbanites.
On a warm day, you can expect to be greeted by dozens of prairie dogs that have settled in a patch of land just north of the parking lot. Depending on when you go, you may have the trail all to yourself. The flat and paved path is ideal for either a leisurely stroll or short jog (for those wishing to break a sweat). You’ll mostly follow a small stream and you can turn around at any point, but try to make it all the way to the end of the trail—about a mile-and-a-half in—to find a small pond. In the distance, you’ll see ongoing construction for developments that are filling in the land around the airport and will one day make this trail quite popular. For now, you can still stop to listen to the quiet gurgles of water and gentle chirps of the prairie before heading back to your busy day.
It’s an atypical layover, for sure, but that’s exactly why we like it.
Getting there: Take I-70 East to Peña Boulevard (as if you’re going to the airport). Get off at Peña, go left on 56th Avenue, and pull into the parking lot just off Buckley Road. If you’re at DIA on a long layover, the trailhead is just a cheap Uber trip away.