Why we love it: This close-to-Denver state park routinely has nesting bald eagles, and you can view their twiggy home from afar via a boardwalk (about 1.3 miles from the Nature Center). Make sure to bring binoculars, though, if you hope to catch a glimpse of a white-feathered head.

When to go: You’ve heard the old adage: The early bird gets the worm. The park opens at 5 a.m., and you’ll have the place to yourself (except for the hordes of avian friends).

By spring, I’m torn. There is still winter-y fun to be had in the mountains, but the rising mercury makes me want to stay close to home and start enjoying all the things—biking, hiking, wearing shorts—that I’ve missed during colder months.

Instead of fretting about the outdoor conundrum, I pack up the car and head to nearby locations that feel like I’m getting away, but don’t burn up a lot of gas.

Barr Lake State Park is an ideal fit for spring weekends when you don’t want to submerge your hiking boots in High Country mud, but are in the mood to apply some sunscreen and get your feet moving. The 2,000-acre lake is back-dropped by snowcapped peaks (see above), which means that you can still enjoy the mountains while you trek around the water and gawk at the more than 350 bird species that frequent the park.

There are a few trail options, and I like to park near the Nature Center and tackle a portion of the 8.8-mile path that circles the lake. You’ll be immediately greeted by a cacophony of sounds (take a listen here). Before you go any further: stop, look around, and listen. Clear your senses so that you can start to pinpoint the birds perched high above your heard or the ones swooping across the lake. You need to adjust your senses for wildlife viewing, much like your eyes change in a darkened room. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot more than avian varieties (I caught sight of a regal buck at the water’s edge on my last visit).

Head clockwise around the lake. You’ll pass birders camped out at various locations with high-powered binoculars pointed at the sky. After about 1.3 miles of walking, you’ll find a boardwalk that leads to a gazebo placed over the water. From there, you’ll find the best spot to scout out the bald eagle nest, but make sure to turn around and take in the view of the still snowcapped peaks, too. You’ll quickly forget that you’re just half an hour from LoDo.

Getting there: Take I-25 North to I-76 East. Drive for 20.9 miles and exit onto East Bromley Lane before continuing on East 152nd Ave for .8 miles. Turn right onto Picadilly Road, which you will follow for 1.9 miles until you reach the park’s entrance (on your right) in Brighton.

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Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.