Editor’s note: This is part of The Know, Staff Favorites series. Each week, we’ll give our take on the best Colorado has to offer when it comes to dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also show you some hidden gems).
I like scary movies and costumes but I don’t kiss them during daylight hours because I’m not a kid and my school didn’t tell me. I also don’t attend an office party where anyone would care that my hot dog costume didn’t fit (never did).
So what’s my favorite way to celebrate fall — me, a grumpy dad with a deep love of nature and, uh, a car?
Being outdoors, of course, which in Denver can include the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, a nearly 16,000-acre strip of land (formerly used to make chemical weapons) now home to bison, deer , prairie dogs galore and things with wings – including the majestic bald eagle. Like the nearby Bluff Lake Nature Center, it’s a magnet for birdwatching.
The land was once home to the Apache, Ute, Cheyenne, Comanche and Arapaho tribes as they followed large herds of bison and lived off the land, according to the refuge’s website. “Later, as the settlers moved west to start a new life, they began to grow crops and graze cattle.”
Knowing that, you can almost smell the history there. It’s a great excuse to talk about this story with your children.
My family and I live in northeast Denver, so it’s also an easy trip that keeps my kids away from their digital screens. They usually love it because they can sit in the back of our Subaru, rear-facing like I did in various wood-panel station wagons. Despite the encroaching development – you can see new housing development along its borders – the 11-mile driving loop from the refuge makes it easy to feel secluded, with gorgeous views over the Front Range and, once you’re really in inside the park, the feeling that you could be hundreds of miles away from it all.
It’s particularly attractive right now, and you don’t even have to get out of your car.
“In the fall, the coyotes are well camouflaged among the rust and golden grasses as they hunt from the edges of prairie dog towns,” according to the refuge’s website. It then lists white-tailed deer, migratory waterfowl (pintails, shovelers, red ducks and ring-necked ducks), horned owls, sandhill cranes. There are currently 330 species in total.
If you opt for the 20 miles of trails, you’ll see hikers and cyclists, archers and photographers. My kids love stopping by the Visitor’s Center, with its historical artifacts (defense computers?!) and animal dioramas. The park offers free nature programs and a Junior Ranger program. It feels more naturally lived in every year, given that it’s relatively new, having been established by an act of Congress in 1992. We’re lucky to have it.
The Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6550 Gateway Road in Commerce City. Learn more by calling 303-289-0930 or visiting fws.gov/refuge/rocky-mountain-arsenal for trail maps, times and more.
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