Outdoor Colorado artworks walks in Denver, Boulder, Breckenridge, more

Art doesn’t need to be hemmed in by museum or gallery walls to be appreciated. In fact, outdoor art enlivens communities for both residents and visitors. Sculpture parks and gardens, art districts, outdoor murals and street sculptures beckon us to stop a while, be mindful and inhale the inspiration.

These outdoor galleries are invigorating — awakening our eyes, minds and spirits to unique and creative ideas and, sometimes, offering lessons in history and culture, challenging our views on social issues, and, of course, providing some fun. Wander about any of these 10 outdoor art venues for experiences that promise to be transformative.

Benson Sculpture Garden

A multitude of sculptures (178 to be exact) dot this 10-acre natural environment in Loveland. You could easily spend an afternoon roaming the paved paths that wind through areas shaded by Japanese lilacs, lindens and chokecherries, around wetlands, over footbridges, and past picnic spots. The begonias, black-eyed Susans and other blooming flowers are eye-catching, as are the birds flitting about, such as black-capped chickadees or common grackles.

The art on display is diverse, appealing to many interests. Open Window by Ted Schaal is a textured black monolith with a polished stainless steel orb, created to represent a feeling of the divine, suspended in an aperture. A giant yellow banana on skates (On A Roll by Jack Hill), and a frog perched on a toadstool while making a heart sign with its fingers (Amoré by Kim Kori) provide humor to your visit.

Downtown Fort Collins

Public art pops up in some of the unlikeliest places in Fort Collins. You’ll find a variety of innovative, sometimes surreal pieces — quite unexpected in a city dating back to 1862, where 19th and early 20th century buildings still stand in the Historic District. A vividly green iguana grasping tropical foliage is splashed across an electrical transformer cabinet (“Jungle Jumble” by Kirsten Savage), while another cabinet is painted with an agricultural landscape reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh (“RollingLand” by Werner Schreiber).

In Old Town Square — one of five such outdoor downtown locations — a working piano is painted with a fanciful woodland of crimson leafed trees. And plenty of sidewalk art can be found underfoot along, for example, Montezuma Fuller Alley, where pedestrian pavers reveal a sustainability theme (think wind turbines and solar panels). Among the murals peppering downtown is Lindee Zimmer’s stunning “Sun Goddess,” a blue tattooed woman clasping the sun in her outstretched hand, lighting up the forest.

Burns Park Sculpture Garden

Though bordered by a trio of major traffic arteries, this 13-acre expanse provides a sanctuary that celebrates outdoor art and also offers a recreational venue for those in Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood. This green space is home to more than 100 species of trees (including Austrian pines, honey locusts and flowering pears).

Of the six minimalist sculptures gracing the property, four of them date from 1968, when a symposium was held here with renowned sculptors who created their works on site. (The display was supposed to be temporary. Lucky us that it wasn’t.) Among the original pieces, Angelo di Benedetto created two canary yellow and white semi-circles, while Wilbert Verhelst’s work is a duo of red and black pleated monoliths. Roger Kotoske’s piece consists of three large octahedrons. A newer work, Jazz by Barbara Baer, is a red and gold steel curl that sweeps this way and that.

Breckenridge Creative Arts Corridor

Those who seek out Breckenridge for its stellar downhill skiing might be surprised to learn that this former gold mining town is also a destination for art aficionados. Downtown, sculptures are scattered about five square blocks. The greatest concentration of outdoor works are on display at the Riverwalk Center that sits on the banks of the Blue River, the BreckCreate Arts District Campus, and along Main Street.

Among the diverse sculptures are Toro by Fred Zietz, a large, upcycled robot constructed from auto parts, and Albert Paley’s Syncline, a 24-foot-high azure abstract bearing the name of a geological feature involving the folding of rock layers. Albert Belleveau created a whimsical outhouse of iron filigree and weathered river stones (Outcropping House II).

The Arts Corridor’s ability to meld past and present is especially evident on the campus where public classes on everything from ceramics to printmaking are held in the petite 19th-century edifices.

Rio Grande ARTway

Navigating from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, the Rio Grande Trail is a repurposed rail corridor transformed into a multi-use path that’s ideal for walking and cycling (and cross-country skiing in winter). In Carbondale, along a 1-mile portion of this 42-mile path, a trio of art-centric parks showcase the area’s imagination and multiculturalism. A steel archway composed of a collage of old bike parts, metal flowers and glass shards hovers over the entrance to DeRail Park. Repurposed railroad crossing signs are playfully painted.

The Latino Folk Art Garden displays a large mural with images of Frida Kahlo, flamenco dancers and other references to Latin cultures, from Cuba to South America. The newest of the trio, the Youth Art Park, opens this summer as a nexus of art and play. A large sculpture beckons children to crawl through and clamor atop the cut-out letters spelling “Unity” and “Unidad.” Architecturally, the letters mirror the silhouette of Mount Sopris, a dominant feature in the area.

Sterling Creative District

Sculptor Bradford Rhea saw infinite possibilities in Sterling one winter in the early 1980s, after numerous cottonwood and elm trees succumbed to freezing temperatures. He carved their trunks into an array of figures, animals and fanciful creatures, including Metamorphosis where a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, and a quintet of giraffes (Skygrazers) craning their necks as if to touch the clouds. (These were subsequently cast in bronze to protect them from the elements.) No wonder Sterling is nicknamed the City of Living Trees.

But this historic city with dozens of buildings harkening to the turn of the last century is also a bastion of contemporary metal art, and striking murals. Tying into the former Pedal the Plains bicycle event that celebrated regional history and culture, artist Steve Parrish created a silhouette of cyclists against a background of Native Americans on horseback. A mural by Jonathan Judge envelopes the facade of the Food Bank with nature-based scenes that include native birds in flight.

Chapungu Sculpture Park at Centerra

Adjacent to a busy retail center in Loveland, this lush property wraps you in birdsong and an aura of stillness. The 26 acres, with almost 2 miles of trails wandering through gardens and along a canal, attracts a wide swath of visitors, from joggers and dog walkers to bird watchers and art lovers. The grounds are landscaped with flower beds, including sunset hyssop and hummingbird trumpet, and sprinkled with 82 sculptures hand hewn from serpentine and other stones by the Shona artists of Zimbabwe.

The works are grouped by themes that are central to traditional African societies. In the Role of Women section, a mother carries a child astride her shoulders while another little one grabs her skirt (Me Too Mama by Taylor Nkomo). A dignified figure holding a staff represents those who preserve oral narratives in Agnes Nyanhongo’s Keeping the History, found in The Elders section.

Greeley Creative District

Known for its agrarian roots — local crops include sugar beets and potatoes — Greeley is also a bastion of artistic vision. The Creative District that runs through downtown and up to the University of Northern Colorado campus is home to an abundance of playful, offbeat and avant-garde murals and sculptures that salute the city’s diversity. Between 8th and 9th streets, a once tumbledown corridor is invigorated by a dozen vibrant murals (with a music theme) painted by Greeley artists. (Acknowledging the past, bricks dating from the city’s founding remain unpainted.)

In “The Singer of the Hues” by Elijah Trujillo, the performer’s hair is a swirling collage of colors and patterns. Linking downtown with the university, almost three dozen metallic trees “grow” along 8th Avenue, with branches or leaves resembling everything from lollipops to a microcircuit board. In historic Lincoln Park, one of several green spaces with sculptures, Dale Lamphere’s Jet Stream is an aluminum, abstract swirl, perhaps representing vigorous winds.

Downtown Boulder

The vibrant energy that thrums through downtown Boulder is captured and enhanced by the medley of murals and sculptures along Pearl Street and the streets and alleys surrounding it, and the Boulder Creek Path that’s a favorite with joggers and cyclists. Vinyl reproductions of Boulder artists’ works decorate the back alley doors and walls of businesses with brilliant images, including a crimson octopus and baby blue-footed seabirds.

The nonprofit Street Wise Arts installed more than eight dozen murals in downtown that stimulate conversations on resilience and equality, such as the divine female sprouting flowers in “Dream Weaver” by Sandra Fettingis and Sandi Calistro. (The organization hosts guided, walking mural tours, $5-$25, on the first Saturday of the month; 720-352-8194.) While Charles A. Haertling’s organic architecture is all around Boulder, the titular Sculpture Park dedicated to him is populated by a handful of works by local artists, including the free-standing, aluminum monuments that make up Bill Vielehr’s Human Glyph Series.

River North (aka RiNo) Art District

Speckled just about everywhere, street art and murals transformed this factory- and warehouse-laden early 20th-century neighborhood into a vital, bubbling outdoor art gallery that stretches across a 1-mile radius. Among the more than 120 dynamic works, including those clustered between 26th and 27th streets and Larimer, is the quintessential “Larimer Boy/Girl” by Jeremy Burns. Covering the facade’s fins, this 3-D image is a grand optical illusion: Walk from one direction to gaze upon a melancholy girl; from another, it’s an awe-struck boy.

Artist Bimmer Torres celebrates Denver’s Hispanic roots with “Mitotli,” which is sprayed on an impressive canvas of 85-foot-high grain silos at 37th and Wynkoop streets. Named for the word “dance” in an Aztec language, this work depicts a duo of whirling women: The black-and-white female in the background represents the pre-colonial past of the Indigenous Central American people; the foreground shows off a colorfully dressed, present-day mestizo (mixed-race) woman.

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