A ride to Paco Sanchez Park can be a sampler of Denver-area bikeways

This park has a very cool climbing area, and once you’re on the South Platte River Trail, the Lakewood Gulch Trail or the Cherry Creek Bike Path, you won’t have to cross a single street to get to it.
7 min. read
Paco Sanchez Park in Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood, July 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Earlier this summer, my daughter and I rode our bike several miles to the new playground at Paco Sanchez Park. It was — for us — a long ride, but we only crossed a couple of streets at the beginning of it, letting Denver's bike paths guide us the rest of the way.

We counted ducks, egrets and a couple of herons as we passed a family event with inner tubes and plans at Confluence Park, had a short delay at trolley tracks, zipped by an oddly still Mile High Stadium, under Colfax Avenue and the dozens of muddy birds' nests (barn swallows?) stuck to its underside. We turned right at an intersection with colorful but mostly unhelpful glyphs and pedaled on up a hill between Federal Station and the delightfully named Rude Recreation Center before finding the iconic orange letters — PACO — that welcomed us to the park.

Paco Sanchez Park's new playground/sign mashup, Oct. 31, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

She ate half of a sandwich from her backpack and went to the thrilling work of conquering the (truly impressive and cool) climbing apparatus while I watched and happily realized we'd be coming back here. There was something magical about discovering we could bike to this big new jungle gym that Denverite had published news about, without having to hit many surface streets. It made me want to write a short series of Denver bike path destinations, so I am.

Sometime in the mid-'90s, I rode my bike on a south suburban overpass over I-25, and whatever unspeakable chemical processes occur in the brain of a teenage boy turned a mere good idea into a feeling of near-infinite power and freedom.

I was biking to my second movie in a week — a best-case scenario is that it was "Independence Day" both times, a worst-case scenario is maybe "The Cable Guy" and "Happy Gilmore." I'm sure the movies were fine and the air conditioning was a relief, but it was the ability to get from my home to another place with stuff I wanted to do that was a total revelation. And I did it on a bike!

I didn't become a bike kid, and I would only occasionally ride to school, usually opting for the bus or a walk. I didn't become a bike commuter until nearly a decade and a half later, living in Boulder. Even then, I started out going from Point A (home) to Point B (work) and back. Now, my rotation probably has expanded out to Point H or so, and I intend to broaden it further.

So let's get to it — here's the first of a few mini-profiles of places you can access easily once you've gotten yourself onto the metro area's bike path systems.

If you bike to Paco Sanchez Park, here's what you'll find.

Paco Sanchez Park in Denver's West Colfax neighborhood, July 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The new playground is really something. For kids aged about 5 and up, it's a climbing wonderland. They can climb up the inside of a futuristic-looking structure, where there's a sort of junior ropes course. The reward is a very tall tunnel slide that returns you to the ground level to start over.

There are a few picnic benches and tables, but just to the south of the playground, near the PACO sign, is a wide-open, slightly sloped field that looks almost too peaceful. And sure enough, more play equipment may eventually end up there. Here's what the vision looked like in 2017.

Accessed via: It's in Lakewood Gulch, just under a mile west of where the Lakewood Gulch Trail starts at the South Platte River Trail, and about a quarter mile east of Knox Station on the W Line. For a couple of reference points, it's about 2.3 miles southwest from Confluence Park, about 4.2 miles northwest from Vanderbilt Park and about 5.5 miles northwest from Ruby Hill Park.

Bike path glyphs at Paco Sanchez Park in Denver's West Colfax neighborhood, July 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hilly?: The Lakewood Gulch Trail has a little more up-and-down to it than the Cherry Creek Path, I think. It has a different flavor to it, too — it feels a little more ensconced in nature at times, and at other times, it feels more urban — there's something really cool about the little valley between Rude Rec Center and a light rail station. That juxtaposition is something unique to the experience of Denver by bike.

Cost: Free.

Kid-friendly: Definitely.

Also nearby: Rude Recreation Center is just a bit to the east. The Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library is just up the street, where you can learn about Denver's Chicano history and/or Denver's Jewish history. Seedstock Brewery is another block or two beyond that.

Something I didn't expect: I'd never had to stop to wait for one of the Denver Trolleys before, but this time I did — right near the Children's Museum. I also saw someone fishing in the Platte right under Colfax.

Who else was there: Two other families with kids under about 8 years old. We went reasonably early on a weekend day to beat the heat. I was surprised there weren't more people, but to be honest I don't think the word had gotten out about the playground yet.

Patrick Kelsall pushes his kids, Oriole (left) and Aster on swings at Paco Sanchez Park, July 26, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

I asked a few Denverite members for their favorite spots along Denver's paths.

"Nixon's cafe on South Platte River trail by Hudson Gardens. Other good spots- the Breckenridge brewery near the bike trail in that area as well. Various cafés in Golden near the Clear Creek trail.  Particularly Cafe 13. The portion of the South Platte River trail between Hudson Gardens and C-470 is particularly beautiful. But there are too many great places to count!"

— Sue. T.

Kevin was just talking to me about Nixon's Coffee House! In fact, that conversation was why I had to change some wording above — he said Nixon's is really oriented toward people on the bike path. I'm going to have to stop by really soon. Thanks for that, Sue!

"I really enjoy occasionally taking a B-Cycle from downtown to Gates Tennis Center, which is super conveniently located just off the Cherry Creek Bike Trail and with a close B-Cycle stop just one block away. Particularly at hours when trying to drive will take as long (if not longer) to get there (Denver's horrendous afternoon rush-hour is a great example). Taking a bike there gets my juices flowing in advance of a match, so it's the perfect advance prep."

— Ivar Zeile

Yeah, that sounds pretty great! Also, very Denver, right? Exercise on the way to exercise. Love it. Thanks, Ivar, and keep an eye out for the Denverite B-Cycle while you're out there!

There's now a Denverite B-Cycle on Denver's streets. Everyone rejoice! June 29, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A question for next time:

What's your favorite public art along Denver-area bike paths? Share a photo with me on Twitter, or by replying to any Denverite newsletter, and I'll put it in the next Denver bike destination post.

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