If you’ve recently seen two or four people batting around what looks like a whiffle ball on what looks like a miniature tennis court using what look like beach paddles, what you’ve actually witnessed is the fastest-growing sport in America: pickleball. Participation nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022 (bringing the three-year growth total to 158.6 percent), and Denver is no exception to that trend.

Pickleball was on the rise before COVID-19, says Rachel Heise, the general manager of Game-Set-Match—a local racquet and paddle sports outfitter founded in 1989 with four stores in the metro area—but as an outdoor, inherently distanced, low-barrier-to-entry sport, its popularity exploded during the pandemic. When tennis-centric Game-Set-Match surveyed its customers in early 2023, half of the nearly 300 respondents said they played the badminton/tennis/ping-pong hybrid (invented near Seattle in 1965 by a few dads trying to entertain their kids) in 2022. And even more, 58.5 percent said they intend to play this year. “For a while, it seemed very recreational; I categorized it as a beer sport,” Heise says. “That’s not true anymore. There’s a U.S. Open for pickleball, and it’s actually getting quite serious.”

Another stereotype that’s gone by the wayside: that it’s a toned-down version of tennis for seniors who can no longer hack it with a racquet. Mainstream professional athletes—from tennis stars such as Kim Clijsters and Nick Kyrgios to household names from other sports, including LeBron James, Kevin Love, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady—have invested in Major League Pickleball, which is expanding from 12 to 16 teams this year.

If you want to join the dinking, smashing, drop-shotting hordes, here’s the good news: “It’s pretty affordable—you really only need a paddle, some balls, and somewhere to play—and it’s easy to learn,” Heise says. (USA Pickleball’s website is a good place to review the rules.) “Pretty much anyone of any age can pick it up, and maybe they’re not going to go on the pro pickleball tour, but they can have fun and have a reasonably competitive game.”

Here, we answer what you need to know to enjoy pickleball, Denver’s new favorite sport.

What Do I Need to Play Pickleball?

Two pickleball paddles with paint-splatter designs
Colorado pickleball company Kamikaze uses ’90s-inspired designs on its Night Owl and Day Dinker paddles. Photo courtesy of Kamikaze

Pickleball Paddles

These range from inexpensive, loud, hard wooden paddles to light, powerful, pricey graphite models, with composites in between. For $64, you can snag Pckl’s entry-level Launch paddle at any of Game-Set-Match’s locations; a little more ($85) gets you Colorado company Kamikaze’s rad, ’90s-inspired Day Dinker or Night Owl.

If you think you might get hooked, however, consider taking advantage of Game-Set-Match’s demo program: For $5, you can try a paddle out for three days (or $10 for a week), and that money goes toward your purchase if you decide to buy. Heise recommends testing out a few back to back so you can really feel the differences. For intermediate players with $189 to spend, she likes the Head Gravity Tour and Tour Lite, which boast massive sweet spots (the part of the face that gives the best power and accuracy upon contact with the ball). Advanced players should check out Joola’s Ben Johns Hyperion ($219). Influenced and endorsed by the sport’s top male player, it’s currently Game-Set-Match’s best-selling paddle, although Heise expects Johns’ new Perseus model ($250), released on June 12, to overtake it, thanks to its increased power and pop.


The main thing to know here is the difference between indoor and outdoor pickleballs. Indoor pickleballs are larger to help slow them down, while outdoor pickleballs—often in brighter, easier-to-see colors—are smaller in order to move faster against the wind. Game-Set-Match sells a variety (and they’ll match any competitor’s price on a like-for-like item, so you might as well support a local business instead of ordering them from you-know-where).

Court Shoes

Special, pickleball-specific shoes aren’t required, but, as Heise says, playing in runners can be “a good way to roll an ankle.” For lateral stability and a tough rubber sole that won’t mark up the playing surface, any court shoe will do. For speed, she recommends trying the Mizuno Wave Exceed Light; for durability, the ASICS Resolution 9; and for comfort, Babolat’s SFX.

Where Can I Play Pickleball?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Outdoor Pickleball Courts

Within the Mile High City’s boundaries, Denver Parks and Recreation has four outdoor courts each at the following locations:

  • Northfield Athletic Complex
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Park
  • Skyland Park
  • Huston Lake Park
  • Bear Valley Park
  • Eisenhower Park

These are free and first come, first served. The department also has indoor courts in rec centers across town, which may figure more largely into the scene after the April 2023 moratorium on play at pickleball hot spot Congress Park, due to noise and parking complaints. Plans for more courts at Sloan’s Lake Park and Rosamond Park are also now on hold, as officials try to balance feedback from area residents and noise ordinance restrictions with surging demand and advocacy from avid players. For updates and more options, check Denver Pickleball United’s Facebook group and USA Pickleball’s robust directory of metro-area courts. Wherever you go, grab a friend (although pickleball can be played as a singles game, doubles are much more common), a cooler, and a couple of chairs and challenge whomever is currently on a court by hanging your paddles on the fence, which is the pickleball equivalent of calling “next.”

Cherry Creek’s Gates Tennis Center has 10 pickleball courts, rentable for $6 per hour daily. For $9 per time (or $45 for a eight-pack), you can reserve a drop-in spot and test your skills against other locals during various open play sessions every day of the week.

Northwest of the city, Arvada’s Simms Street Recreation Center is a pickleball mecca with 24 outdoor courts. In June, July, and August, the facility is open for free play from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (leagues utilize most of the courts in the evenings) and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. Residents can pay $10 per hour to reserve a court and guarantee their spot; for nonresidents, it’s $12 per hour.

In Littleton, Cornerstone Park’s six courts are ideal for evening play, since they have year-round push-button-operated lighting. You can reserve courts online; pricing varies from $10 per hour to $30 per hour based on residency and off-hours versus prime time.

Pickleball Classes and Leagues

Denver Parks and Recreation offers a variety of learning opportunities, from a four-week Pickleball 101 course to single-day workshops for more advanced players. The Gates Tennis Center, Apex’s Simms Street Recreation Center, and South Suburban Parks and Recreation’s Cornerstone Park all host clinics throughout the summer. And as of May, players on the north side of the metro area can learn on Boulder Pickleball’s five indoor, garage-door-adjacent courts.

Looking for more competitive play? This past spring, Gates launched a new nine-week, co-ed Pickleball Top Dog doubles league; watch for the next session to start in July. Simms Street’s popular, annual Apex Foundation Memorial Day Pickleball Tournament, which registered 320 teams in 2023, has a wide range of categories for players 18 and up.

Pickleball Bars

Yes, you read that right. Eatery in Superior started testing the concept locally in 2021, with four outdoor courts. Then, in early 2022, Pickleball Food Pub opened its eight indoor courts and full bar in Westminster. The airy facility runs leagues, can be reserved for birthday parties or team-building events, and holds lessons for beginners and skills and drills clinics for experienced players. On weekdays, court fees are $36 per hour before 4 p.m.; it’s $40 per hour during busier times and on weekends. Members ($175 a year) get some perks and discounts.

Coming soon: National chain Chicken N Pickle has a grand opening planned for its new Glendale location in July (and is targeting a Thornton outpost in 2024); 3rd Shot Pickleball intends to debut 13 indoor courts and a bar in Wheat Ridge this fall; and the eatertainment entrepreneur who dreamed up Punch Bowl Social has announced plans to open Camp Pickle locations in Centennial in 2024 and Globeville in 2025.