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Getting out on trails and enjoying the stress-relieving benefits of nature should be something everyone, of all abilities, can experience. Thanks to a growing number of wheelchair-accessible trails around the Denver area, it is. “There’s always a way to get out if you want to and there’s starting to be more and more opportunities,” says Topher Downham, outreach coordinator for the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks office. “We’re always trying to make trails more accessible. I think it’s one of those things that we’ll work on for the rest of our lives.”
In 1995, at the age of 26, Downham broke his neck diving into a swimming pool and was diagnosed with quadriplegia. In 2016, he wrote and updated a trail guide to the Boulder area’s most accessible trails, which is available online and at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage. These are some of his top picks for trails around Denver and beyond that are inclusive to people of all levels of abilities.
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Sprague Lake Loop
Rocky Mountain National Park
Length: .5-mile loop
This flat, looped trail goes around Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail’s hard-packed gravel surface is suitable for wheelchairs, little kids, and those looking for a mellow stroll with stunning views. “I’ve seen moose there, and you’ve got great views of the mountains,” says Downham. You’ll circumnavigate the 13-acre lake and enjoy vistas of the Continental Divide and high peaks, including Notchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, and Half Mountain. The fishing pier along the trail is a popular spot for trout fishing. There’s also a wheelchair-accessible backcountry campsite located a half mile from the parking lot. Find maps and trail information here.
Best for Birdwatching
South Boulder Creek Trail
Length: .9 miles one way
Start at the East Boulder Community Center and head toward the Bobolink trailhead on the wide, hard-packed South Boulder Creek Trail. The trailhead is named after the elusive bobolink blackbird that can occasionally be spotted along this route. This trail is rolling—with grades up to 12 percent—and the trail surface is made of crusher fines, a crushed rock that’s smooth enough for wheelchair travel. “There’s a creek running by and plenty of trees that provide shade,” says Downham. “The hard surface is easy to roll on and has a natural feel.” Find maps and trail information here.
Staunton State Park
Length: 13 miles
This panoramic Colorado state park opened in 2013 about 40 miles south of Denver, near the town of Conifer. Fridays through Sundays, from June through October, visitors with disabilities can reserve a free-of-charge motorized Trackchair, which enables access to three of Staunton State Park’s accessible trails, totaling about 13 miles. (Reserve online ahead of time.) Visit the Davis fishing ponds on the 2.7-mile Davis Ponds Trail loop, ride through the forest on the 2.4-mile Mason Creek Trail, or score views of Lions Head and Pike’s Peak from the 3.8-mile Staunton Ranch Trail. Find maps and trail information here.
Best Conversion of Open Space
Length: 2.9 miles total
Part of Boulder County’s trail network, the Pella Crossing Open Space, west of Longmont, has a couple of all-accessible trails, including the 1.8-mile Braly Trail and the 1.1-mile Marlatt Trail. This former gravel mine was turned into open space in 1996 and, now, you can spot migrating birds in the wetland habitat. “You’ll find three lakes here, two of which you can go around,” says Downham. “The trails have a nice even grade without a lot of hills. Plus, the sunsets are phenomenal.” Find maps and trail information here.
Best for Thrill Seekers
Eldorado Canyon State Park
Length: .9 miles one way
The Fowler Trail, within Eldorado Canyon State Park, traverses the edge of a cliff (safely), with stellar views of the rock climbers who flock to Eldo’s legendary walls. “You’re way up there,” says Downham. “It’s almost a little scary when you get close to the edge.” You’ve got South Boulder Creek tumbling below and hawks soaring overhead. The first section of the wide, hard-packed trail has educational signage on flora and fauna, as well as attached binoculars to view distant birds and rock climbers. Find maps and trail information here.
Best Kept Secret
Wilderness on Wheels
Length: 1-mile boardwalk
At the base of Kenosha Pass, off Highway 285 outside the town of Grant, you’ll find Wilderness on Wheels, a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that rolls through an aspen and pine forest on the edge of the Continental Divide. The wooden boardwalk is about 8-feet wide and follows a meandering stream. You can offer a donation for the foundation that runs this trail at the trailhead. Visitors can also camp at 13 wheelchair-accessible campsites or fish in the on-site trout pond. Find maps and trail information here.
Best Urban Trail
Crown Hill Lake
Length: .7 miles
Crown Hill Lake, a Jefferson County open space that bridges the Denver suburbs of Wheat Ridge and Lakewood, has around 3 miles of trails, but .7 miles of those are considered wheelchair accessible. Head to the park’s Wildlife Sanctuary Trail for a wide, flat trail near the lake, with views of the Front Range and the Flatirons. Be on the lookout for migratory birds, too. “It’s a wonderful retreat in the middle of the city,” says Downham. Find maps and trail information here.
Best Mountain Trail
Length: 1.3-mile loop
The looped trail around Sawmill Reservoir, a 10-acre lake in Breckenridge, makes for a great high-elevation outing for nearly all ability levels. Start at Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Snowflake lift and follow a creek to the reservoir. The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, which offers adaptive outdoor recreation camps and clinics for adults and kids, is located nearby. Find maps and trail information here.