On hazy days crossing the Plains, you may squint to see if that really is the Front Range peeking out of the thunderclouds. But Denver's potential for instant adventure is no mirage. The city's 397 parks, 85 miles of bike paths, and endless views of fourteeners prime you for the Rockies. Add in 300 days of sunshine--more annual Vitamin D than San Diego--and you'll have the exhilarating feeling you're definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Gulp the thin air on Hayden Park's 20 serpentine miles of trails. The highlight is the 3.1-mile Hayden Loop Trail, which climbs 600 vertical feet to the 6,800-foot summit of Green Mountain. Catch your breath while scanning the Denver skyline and snowcapped Long's Peak, and catch glimpses of elk and fox and, if you're supremely lucky, mountain lion. (303) 697-6041
In 1858, local prospectors first found gold where the South Platte River meets Cherry Creek--now the location of Confluence Park. These days, paddlers happily settle for manmade Class II and III rapids--and the abundant tips from after-work kayakers who frequent the park. Demo one of 25 different boats at Confluence Kayaks (www.confluencekayaks).
Superhumans climb the first 2.7 miles of Mt. Falcon Park's Castle Trail in 30 minutes. Mere mortals will be lucky to clean it in 60. Whatever your Falcon time--as locals call it--leave a little in the tank for several more miles of singletrack atop the 1,400-foot grinder. Or just bomb downhill and let out a primal scream. The Bike Doctor (www.bicycledr.com) rents rides for $30 a day.