Crown Hill Park and Wildlife Sanctuary
Just a few minutes from my home, Crown Hill Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is an oasis in the midst of the high and dry grassland of the Denver Basin. The 242-acre park has two distinct bodies of water surrounded by 10 miles of gravel and concrete pathways. Urban anglers fish for trout while walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and in-line skaters pass on the 1.2 mile loop that encircles Crown Hill Lake. Leashed dogs strain against their tethers with the hope of breaking free to explore the meadows on their own terms. Horseback riders depart from the park's corral to trot the gravel paths that trace the perimeter of the park. Bird lovers set out at the blinds around the pond in the enclosed wildlife sanctuary on a parcel of wetlands in the northwest corner of the park.
Tucked between the towns of Wheat Ridge and Lakewood, suburbs of Denver once composed solely of golden wheat fields and irrigated orchards, Crown Hill is one of the great parks under the care of Jefferson County Open Space. On a late-November weekday I find Crown Hill Park relatively quiet. But the park is always a quiet place, a sanctuary not just for its wildlife but for city dwellers too. The open space here affords unobstructed views to the foothills west of Denver and even a few of the snowcapped peaks hiding along the Continental Divide. I enter the gated trail into the wildlife preserve and though the sound of traffic on Kipling and 32nd still fills the air, the path below a canopy of trees feels secluded. Upon my approach, a red-tailed hawk glides on powerful wings from a trailside tree to one more distant. My pace and pulse slow. Here in the preserve, modest Kestrel Pond has frozen over, a thin veneer of ice muting the sounds of the crickets, frogs, and other shore-life that are more active in the warmer months. Peace prevails. Brown and dormant, slender cattail reeds ring the lake and reach heights that would block the view were it not for the elevated boardwalk at the east end of the pond. I exit the sanctuary and take the graveled trail around the main lake. Bright sunshine filtered only by empty space and our cosmically thin atmosphere warms the catfish swirling below the as-yet-unfrozen waters of Crown Hill Lake. On the far side a cacophony of honking crescendoes in the sky as hundreds of migrating Canada geese pass overhead to settle on the open water of the lake, a restful stop during their autumn flight. Their stay is brief and the spectacle fades as thousands of wings lift again to resume the long journey. I am astonished by the good fortune to be at the lake when this avian congregation makes its appearance. My own visit to Crown Hill Park and Wildlife Sanctuary concludes shortly after the geese depart and I leave assured that the park is living up to its role as a haven for the wild surrounded by an environment of the built and manufactured.
On your way over to Crown Hill Park, plan a stop at Dolce Sicilia, an Italian Bakery on the corner of 32nd Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard. Pick up a box of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth cookies or a couple fresh ricotta cannoli to snack on while exploring the park. Alternatively, a pizza or calzone for a post-walk lunch might be just what you need to replenish the energy spent out on the trails.
Go Do It
Crown Hill Park is located northwest of Denver. If you're coming from the city center, take 6th Avenue West to Kipling Blvd. Proceed north for 2.3 miles to 26th Avenue. Turn right, drive past the first lot on your left (unless you have a loaded horse trailer) to the next parking lot on the left. This will place you close to the main lake and easy access to all trails within the park. Details about rules, regulations, and other park information can be found here.