Carter Lake, Loveland
There's basically just a tall ridge separating Carter Lake Park from the great expanse of the plains. And it's actually not a lake so much as a reservoir, supplied by water diverted from the Western Slope to keep the engines of Front Range commerce churning. But when you see this park, you will forget all that immediately, because Carter Lake is stunning. At three miles long and a mile wide, it offers plenty of room for boating plus a couple of manmade beaches, but if you really want to suck the awesome out of Carter Lake, you'll hike up one of the trails to a more secluded part of the shore, where the sandstone boulders tumbling into the water provide the seating and half-submerged aspens provide the shade. And unlike lakes at higher elevations, this one's always warm enough to swim in.
Best Mountains and Plains Park, Best of Denver 2012
Lost Creek Wilderness Area
Just fifty miles west and south of Denver, the Lost Creek Wilderness Area is the perfect place to get away from it all, including running water, but close enough that you don't have to go 48 hours without a shower. You can find any number of suitable campsites on the roadside, and even more just a short hike from your car. After pitching tents, hikers can take to the Colorado Trail, the Ben Tyler Trail and others; anglers can throw a line in the myriad beaver ponds dotting the creek; and loafers can drink cold beer in the sun, if they managed to pack a sixer -- preferably in somebody else's pack.
Best Overnight Backpacking Trip, Best of Denver 2010
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