Confluence Park is one of the major attractions in Denver.
Every day, it attracts lots of people looking to enjoy some nice scenery and perhaps partake in some exercise or take the dogs for a walk. It’s also a unique spot because of its rich history and unique geography.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting Confluence Park. From expertly planning your itinerary to optimizing every moment of your time there, I will provide you with a comprehensive guide that leaves no river stone unturned.
What is Confluence Park?
Confluence Park is one of several urban parks located in Downtown Denver. It’s found at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek and this urban oasis is known for its history as well as its outdoor recreation opportunities which includes man-made rapids enjoyed by kayakers and tubers.
Confluence Park history
The park has a deep connection to the formation of Denver and the origins of its gold rush era. But much like its water after heavy rains, the history is a tad murky when it comes to nailing down the exact details of all the events that played out.
Suffice it to say that around the summer of 1858, early settlers were sniffing out the scent of gold in this area and nearby creeks such as Little Dry Creek ushering in the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859.
Rumors of shimmering nuggets attracted fortune seekers like moths to a flame and soon early developments rose up around the park’s grounds and along Cherry Creek’s banks.
Despite the Arapaho and Cheyenne people’s cautionary tales of the treacherous, flood-prone nature of the dry beds, settlers forged ahead, convinced they could tame the unruly forces of nature.
Unfortunately for them, on May 19th, 1864, Cherry Creek unleashed a catastrophic flood that overwhelmed the banks and engulfed the surrounding area. The consequences were dire, as lives were lost and buildings destroyed, including Denver’s brand-new City Hall.
Flooding became a trend that plagued the area for decades to come with bridges getting wiped out and more city buildings under threat. To mitigate these recurring floods and restrain the destructive forces of nature, dams were constructed and reservoirs filled.
While they proved effective in certain instances, the most devastating flood in Denver’s history struck on June 16, 1965, unleashing widespread devastation throughout the Central Platte Valley.
But, it wasn’t solely the issue of flooding that posed a challenge for the city. The river had become severely contaminated with pollutants.
The banks were cluttered with old cars, appliances, mattresses, and tires. To make matters worse, toxic liquids such as used motor oil permeated from the shore into the water.
Over the years, commercial and industrial activities along the South Platte River had been irresponsibly disposing of their waste, further exacerbating the situation.
So in a nutshell, the confluence was pretty much the last place you wanted to be on a nice Saturday afternoon.
Soon a movement to beautify the area began and in the 1970s and the Greenway Foundation and the City of Denver began converting this area into a landscaped oasis.
In 1975, like a breath of fresh air, Confluence Park opened its gates, becoming the pioneer among many parks that now grace the banks of the South Platte River and its tributaries throughout Denver. It marked a turning point and a reclamation of the natural beauty that had long been overshadowed by neglect.
As the years passed, the area witnessed a resurgence of development and revitalization.
The 1990s brought forth a wave of transformation, with notable landmarks such as the REI flagship store finding its home in the historic Denver Tramway Power Plant. New residential buildings have also popped up nearby, carefully constructed at a safe distance, mindful of the lessons learned from the turbulent past.
And today, this beautiful area is like a lovely, green oasis right in the heart of Denver, attracting people from all walks of life who share a passion for enjoying the splendor of the outdoors.
Related: Meow Wolf Denver Convergence Station Review
How to visit Confluence Park
There are plenty of parking options close to Confluence Park.
You can locate metered parking with a maximum two-hour time limit or find nearby parking lots or garages for longer visits. When we visited, we found street parking on Platte St, which was not difficult to do on a weekday.
If you’re coming in on the light rail, you can get off at the Union Station LRT Nb station and it’s a short walk over to the park.
The official hours listed for the park are 5 AM to 11 PM. Admission is free.
Things to do at Confluence Park
Exercise or take a leisurely stroll
One of the most popular things to do at Confluence Park is to get some exercise or simply go for a leisurely stroll.
You can follow the paved paths that lead alongside the waterways, underneath bridges, and through shaded routes enveloped in lush greenery. The mixture of expansive, open green spaces and gritty urban infrastructure keeps things interesting. You never quite know what you’re going to find around the corner, for better or for worse.
During our time exploring the park, nothing ever felt unsafe and there did not appear to be any type of homelessness crisis or anything of that sort in the area. Still, you always want to be aware of your surroundings in an urban park like this.
The atmosphere is serene as you listen to the sound of the rushing rapids, and the paths will guide you to seemingly endless parks such as Commons, City of Cuernavaca Park, Fishback, and Gates Crescent. There’s also the skate park nearby.
I really enjoyed just strolling through the parks, crossing the many footbridges, and admiring the views.
If you’re looking to wander around the city, you’ll find trails for days.
Whether you prefer jogging or cycling, Confluence Park serves as an ideal starting point for your adventure.
It conveniently connects to trails that extend in all directions throughout the city, including destinations like Aurora and Cherry Creek State Park, among many others.
We mostly walked around the South Platte Trail, which can take you by the Aquarium, Children’s Museum, and Empower Field, and much further away if you desire. The Cherry Creek Trail is also extremely popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
When exploring these trails, be mindful of some of the trail etiquette which includes keeping to the right so people can pass you on the left and paying attention to bike lanes versus walking lanes.
Keeping your dog on a six-foot leash is also requested. However, the leash requirement seem pretty lax at least in certain areas like at City of Cuernavaca Park where we saw lots of dogs roaming free.
Swimming at Confluence Park
On warm Denver summer days, the refreshing waters of Confluence Park become an irresistible oasis.
But keep in mind that this is an urban park and so the waters here are likely full of humanity’s discarded oddities that you probably do not want to mingle with.
Amongst the broken glass bottles, trashed plastic bags, submerged tree branches, and perhaps even the occasional rogue syringe, the water becomes a curious cocktail of surprises and gnarly junk.
So if you plan on getting in the water, make sure that you wear proper water shoes to protect your feet and maybe give your immunity system a little boost because the water itself may also not be the cleanest with potentially unsafe E. coli levels.
And finally, there are some signs indicating no swimming and it might even be illegal in some parts of the river.
Despite all that, there are still plenty of brave souls who can’t resist taking a plunge in these waters. If you’re up for the challenge and decide to dive in, make sure to hit the showers once you’re out, and do your absolute best to avoid gulping down that river water!
If you don’t want to submerge yourself in the questionable waters, you could just sun bathe on the mini “beaches” or consider other ways to enjoy the water.
Kayaking, rafting, or tubing
One of the distinctive aspects of Confluence Park is the kayak run, featuring a series of thrilling whitewater rapids.
To experience the exhilaration of kayaking, you can conveniently rent a kayak for the day from Confluence Kayak & Ski, situated just a short stroll away from the park.
They will provide you with all the necessary equipment, including a helmet, personal flotation device, paddles, and a pump.
You can choose to rent a single kayak or tandem and if you are a beginner you probably want to start off with something like an inflatable kayak. Those who choose to go with kayaks tend to venture about a mile or two down the river so it would be wise to arrange transportation to get you back prior to getting into the river.
If you want to get more advanced and take a course in kayaking, look into the Colorado River School or the White Water Workshop.
For a more relaxing experience, you have the option to rent an inner tube and leisurely float along the rapids, allowing yourself to drift downstream and enjoy the serene waters surrounding the confluence. Or if you want a little bit more of a core workout consider stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).
The river should be running pretty consistently throughout the summer, with the water becoming more stagnant towards the end of the season. But don’t forget about those heavy rains and floods mentioned earlier because sometimes the water levels can become dangerously high. In fact, the photos in this article were taken shortly after one of the biggest floods to hit in recent times.
If you happen to build up an appetite or find yourself parched, worry not, as the park boasts concession stands that offer treats such as hotdogs and refreshing sports drinks. Credit cards and Apple Pay accepted.
Picnicking or just hanging out
Near the water, there are some benches and picnic tables that would be perfect for having an afternoon picnic or just hanging out. You might even be able to get a little break from the sun on those hot summer days.
Check out the urban art scene (and do a guided tour)
You’ll find some art installations around Confluence Park and the surrounding parks.
Some of this is true street art consisting of beautiful done murals and you’ll also spot your fair share of graffiti — some done with real finesse, while others… well, let’s just say they’re not exactly Banksy.
You’ll also come across series of interactive stone sculptures inviting tactile exploration and playful interaction for people of all ages, but especially kids.
If you’re interested in exploring the world of public art at Confluence Park, consider booking a tour to delve deeper into its artistic installations. A guided tour will provide you with a comprehensive and insightful experience, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of the various artworks and their significance within the park’s cultural landscape.
The Flasgship REI store
If you’re into the outdoors, then you owe it to yourself to check out the flagship REI store which is located right in the middle of Confluence Park.
It’s housed in the Denver Tramway Power Company building which was constructed in 1901 and the store is absolutely huge, featuring a 47-foot pinnacle climbing wall that would make Alex Honnold proud.
It’s definitely not your typical REI experience and I’d highly recommend that you stop by to check out all of its different floors and the historic interior of the building.
Even if outdoor retail clothing and gear doesn’t pique your interest, you can still treat yourself to a refreshing beverage from Starbucks and discover a cozy spot on the patio that offers a nice view of the park.
If you want to take a step back in time, consider taking a ride on the Denver Trolley.
It runs during the summer and doesn’t begin service until after Memorial Day but it will take you all around to some of the major spots in the city. It also runs on game days for the Denver Broncos taking you to Empower Field at Mile High.
Lower Downtown (LoDo) aka Union Station
If you want to explore Lower Downtown (also known as LoDo), you can easily make your way over to the area.
I’d suggest heading through the Commons Park to take Millennium Bridge which is a cool looking bridge worth checking out on your way to Lower Downtown.
Denver’s Confluence Park is an awesome spot to explore if you’re into spending time outdoors.
Whether you’re up for a good workout or just want to take a leisurely stroll to clear your mind, this place has got you covered. The best part? It’s free and super close to tons of downtown attractions!
Personally, what got me hyped about coming here was experiencing the rich history of this place and witnessing the confluence of two rivers, including a portion with white water rapids which is something you don’t typically expect to find in the downtown area.
I also enjoyed people watching and seeing so many other like-minded individuals enjoying fresh air as and spending time with their furry friends. It’s a real treat for the soul!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.