Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Highlands Ranch, CO

  • Published 2023/01/12

Initially established in 1860 by the so-called “Potato King” Rufus Clark, Highlands Ranch in Douglas County is now a Denver community that used to be a hunting ground for Cheyenne, Arapahoe Native Americans, and Ute.

This beautiful community features 26 parks, including off-leash dog areas and over 70 miles of trails that are perfect for biking, running, horseback riding, or even a short stroll.

Moreover, it has 2,500 acres of untapped land waiting to be explored, in addition to the 8,200 conservation range in the Backcountry Wilderness Area.

Many fun-filled activities await locals and visitors alike, such as disc golf, slacklining, pickleball, and fishing in the ponds.

Here are free things to do in Highlands Ranch, Colorado:

Visit the Historic Highlands Ranch Mansion

Sculpture in front of the Historic Highlands Ranch Mansion

Steve Lagreca /

Originally called Rotherwood, the historic Highlands Ranch Mansion was a stone farmhouse constructed in 1891 by Samuel Allen Long located on Gateway Drive.

You can see the word “Rotherwood” carved into a stone above the front entrance, as well as the year “1891“ beneath an upstairs window.

The antique building itself is 22,000 square feet with 14 bedrooms, five fireplaces, a ballroom, a library, and 11 bathrooms.

It also has a billiard room, a butler’s pantry, and kitchen, a private courtyard, a great room, a dining room, and a sophisticated staircase.

Exterior of the Historic Highlands Ranch Mansion

Steve Lagreca /

The mansion provides an insight into how its early settlers and pioneers lived.

The 1.4 miles of surface trails feature spectacular views and are part of the Highlands Ranch Metro District’s expansive trail system.

Meander across the gardens and see the iconic windmills, historic barns, and other ranch buildings.

The grounds of the Historic Highlands Ranch Mansion

Steve Lagreca /

Beat the Heat at Civic Green Park

Civic Green Park features a case pavilion that can accommodate more than a hundred people, as well as a garden and overlook shelters that each can make room for up to 40 people.

Your kids will love the playground not only because of the equipment but also because of the large books.

They will also enjoy playing on the splash pads and the stream, perfect for beating the heat during summer.

Located on Ridgeline Boulevard, Civic Green Park is also home to a garden with various followers, including Columbine in different colors.

It’s the perfect place to have some quiet time while appreciating the rock sculptures and art walks.

Don’t forget to dismount your bicycle when arriving at Civic Green Park; the park also doesn’t allow dogs.

Go Hiking at the Cheese Ranch Historic & Natural Area

The best place to go hiking in Cheese Ranch Historic & Natural Area is the Cheese Ranch Trail Loop.

Located on Sugarstone Circle, this trail stretches 2.3 kilometers with a 21-meter elevation which takes an average of 28 minutes to finish.

Aside from walking trails, there’s also a community garden and a fishing pond with a pier.

You can drop by the wildlife observation area to rest for a few minutes while on a stroll.

Watch birds, such as black-capped chickadees, house finches, and northern flicker from the observation area.

Challenge Your Family or Friends to a Round of Disc Golf at West Fork Disc Golf Course

If you’re tired of playing the same old games, you might like to try shooting a disc in a basket.

Located on South Broadway, West Fork Disc Golf Course offers drop-in use for free.

You can choose either of the two baskets from each hole—a green basket for an easy mode and an orange basket for a more difficult challenge.

Other park amenities include bike and skateboard racks and benches on each hole.

You can also bring your dogs along; just ensure they’re on a leash.

Remember that West Fork Disc Golf Course doesn’t allow motorized vehicles in the area.

Discover the Hudson Gardens & Event Center

Welcome sign of Hudson Gardens & Event Center

Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Indulge in nature, craftsmanship, and health and wellness at the Hudson Gardens and Event Center at Santa Fe Drive.

It’s a non-profit organization with 30 acres of garden exhibits, open spaces, event rendezvous, and trails.

See if you can find all 21 sculptures scattered throughout the 30 acres of walking trails at Hudson Gardens and Event Center.

You can explore the garden for free, which features permanent displays and makeshift installations.

Best of all, you’ll be able to practice beekeeping in a community apiary environment.

Let Your Kids Enjoy at the Dad Clark Park

There’s no better place for kids to enjoy than a spacious park with an amazing playground, especially when you don’t have to pay anything to have fun.

Dad Clark Park is a renovated and redesigned playground named after Rufus Clark, nicknamed “Potato King,” following a huge harvest of potatoes in 1859.

Situated on Astorbrook Circle, the upgraded playground now provides more slides, shade, and climbing equipment and allows you to bring your furry pal.

Your kids can play hide and seek behind tunnels while you keep an eye on them from under the tree shade.

Enjoy Dad Clark Park’s amenities, including barbecue grills, picnic tables, basketball courts, a sand play area, a pavilion, and a community garden.

Pay Homage to Heroes at the Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument

Acknowledged on July 1, 2009, the Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument commemorates the service and sacrifices of the nation’s veterans.

People from the community erected a local veterans monument to honor Army Staff Sargent Christopher Falkel’s death and his fellow veterans, including active military members.

Learn about their service and sacrifices for the nation.

Highlands Ranch Veterans Monument is situated along Ridgeline Boulevard.

Explore David A. Lorenz Regional Park

Used to be a Douglas County landfill, David A Lorenz Regional Park is now a 140-acre facility that provides many different fields and courses for people with athletic capabilities and skills.

You and your friends or family can take advantage of various activities such as BMX and disc golf or enjoy the impressive views of Colorado’s Front Range.

The County Line BMX Track was updated in 2020 and allows you to join camps, gate practice, or rent a track.

The disc golf courses, meanwhile, will challenge your skills.

There are five multi-use synthetic turf fields, including baseball and softball.

Located on Colorado Boulevard, David A Lorenz Regional Park also holds community games such as soccer, lacrosse, and flag football.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Appreciate the Beauty of Nature at South Platte Park & the Carson Nature Center

Waters of South Platte Park & the Carson Nature Center

Gennady Zakharin /

South Platte Park and Carson Nature Center offers a wide range of multi-purpose trails for both locals and visitors, as well as an opportunity for fishing and boating.

The park provides interpretive programs for all ages throughout the year, including campfire programs, guided nature hikes, and more.

You can ride your bike, watch different bird species while on a hike, or go horseback riding.

Birds at South Platte Park & the Carson Nature Center

Nina B /

Pan for gold, hit the bull’s eye with your bow and arrow, or trek the Mary Carter Greenway Trail, which is the chief trail through the park.

The trail offers panoramic views of the South Platte Reservoir, Cooley Lake, and Eaglewatch Lake.

Located on Carson Drive, South Platte Park & the Carson Nature Center is connected to the neighboring area from an efficient urban trail system that weaves throughout Centennial, Littleton, and the Greater Denver Metro area.

Trail at South Platte Park & the Carson Nature Center

Gennady Zakharin /

Discover Farm Life at Littleton Museum

Exterior of the Littleton Museum

Jim Lambert /

Located on Gallup Street, Littleton, the Littleton Museum is where you’ll learn how the farmers of the 19th century lived and worked.

Costumed staff and volunteers will make your day as they’re dressed up in clothes from the 19th century, helping you understand the similarities and differences in how farmers did their work from the 1860s to 1890s.

Each farm makes space for the exact breeds of livestock and plant species that thrive in the original fields and gardens, including beehives and an orchard.

Watch how the fire shapes important farming tools and everyday items they needed during those times.

Littleton Museum also features a log barn, a sheep pen, an original pre-existing log cabin, and a schoolhouse constructed in 1865.

Littleton is a 15-minute drive from Highlands Ranch.

Visit William F. Hayden Park

Green mountain trail at William F. Hayden Park

Brian Wolski /

William Frederick Hayden Park is the second biggest park in Lakewood which features a formidable system of multi-use trails.

Since 1972, most of the park was donated by or bought from the Hayden family, which was once home to buffaloes.

The park now nurtures a rich biosphere for a wide array of wildlife, such as rattlesnakes, rabbits, hawks, coyotes, and sometimes mountain lions.

Situated along Rooney Road in Lakewood, the 6,800-foot summit of Green Mountain Trail provides unique and striking views of the Denver metropolitan to the east and high mountain peaks to the west.

You can reach William F. Hayden Park via CO-470 W on a 25-minute drive.

Spend a Day with Your Family at Clement Park

Spend quality time with your loved ones by taking them to a place with lots of activities.

Clement Park is the place to be as it features a combination of athletic fields, an open play area, trails, and picnic shelters.

The park got its name from former County Commissioner Bob Clement, the vanguard behind the purchase negotiations of the original property and securing the resources for the initial park development.

Johnson Lake has been the major attraction of the park, which serves as a sanctuary for various waterfowl species such as common goldeneye, canvasback, hooded merganser, and bufflehead.

There are different amenities that the whole family will enjoy, including horseshoe pits, lighted trails, a skate park, softball fields, sandpit volleyball courts, a playground, a lake, and more.

Located on W. Bowles Avenue in Littleton, Clement Park offers free admission and is just 19 minutes away from Highlands Ranch via CO-470 W and S Wadsworth Boulevard.

Tackle the Mary Carter Greenway Trail (Arapahoe Greenway Trail)

The Mary Carter Greenway Trail is a paved and landscaped trail alongside the South Platte River connecting the metropolitan network, which began in 1976, turning junky waterways into leisure and scenic facilities.

Also known as the Arapahoe Greenway Trail, this eight-foot-wide trail interconnects other attractions, including Theo L. Carson Nature Center and Hudson Gardens, to name a few.

It also functions as a local stretch of the Colorado Trail, directing west into Platte Canyon.

The greenway encompasses 625-acre South Platte Park with seven lakes in previous gravel pits.

Mary Carter Greenway Trail is just an 18-minute drive from Highlands Ranch via US-85 N/S Santa Fe Drive.

Enjoy Majestic Nature Views at Deer Creek Canyon Park

Scenic view of Deer Creek Canyon Park

Sherry Little Fawn S /

Situated in Denver’s metropolitan area’s southwestern part is Deer Creek Canyon Park, located at Grizzly Drive in Littleton.

It comprises 11 miles of seven trails with varying elevations, from 5,744 to 7,484 feet.

The park has three named mountains: Wilds Peak, Plymouth Mountain, and Bill Couch Mountain.

Rock formation at Deer Creek Canyon Park

Joanna Tillson /

These have grassy havens where you can spot bears, elk, and cougars while on a trek or biking; watch out also for rattlesnakes.

You can take a 21-minute to Deer Creek Canyon Park from Highlands Ranch via CO-470 W.

Hikers at Deer Creek Canyon Park

Wayne Broussard /

Enjoy Outdoor Fun at Centennial Center Park

Centennial Center Park opened its doors to the public in 2012 and remains a great destination for locals and visitors.

You’ll find this 11-acre park on E. Peakview Avenue in Centennial, near the Centennial Civic Center.

At the main plaza, you’ll learn about the historical record of the Cherry Creek Basin, including trivia and a map of the Cherry Creek Watershed.

The “Colorado Statehood Walk” showcases interesting facts about Colorado, while the “Viewfinder Walk” is a trivia challenge that takes visitors on an exploration across the park.

You can reach Centennial Center Park via a 26-minute drive on E Dry Creek Road.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to spend a lot when visiting Highlands Ranch.

This community offers many free attractions and activities that your whole family will enjoy.

Keep in mind this list of free things to do in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, when planning your itinerary!

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