Located adjacent to Chatfield State Reservoir, Waterton Canyon is a refreshing surprise for visitors with its rich level of biodiversity that rivals the trails deep in the Rockies. Because of its easy access Waterton Canyon is a great outdoor destination during the spring, summer, and fall whether you are looking for extensive exercise or a nice casual stroll through nature.
What Makes It Great
Waterton Canyon serves as the first segment of the Colorado Trail, and the great part about it is that you can pick and choose your distance. It winds alongside the South Platte River through thick cottonwood trees and towering canyon cliffs for 6.5 miles until reaching the canyon’s end at Strontia Springs Reservoir which is actually the City of Denver’s water supply. At this point, visitors can decide to either continue on the Colorado Trail for another 400 miles all the way to Durango, or just turn around and make the more realistic trek back to the trailhead.
To get started, park your car in the designated lot just off Wadsworth Blvd and then cross the street to the trailhead. The trail is actually a wide gravel road designed to accommodate large amounts of people. Waterton Canyon is located in close proximity to urban populations, but this is not a drawback. After the first half-mile, the power lines become hidden by foliage and all city noises are drowned out by the thick canyon walls and rushing river.
The trail is mostly flat and not technical. It only gains about 100ft in elevation to the reservoir so visitors can concentrate on the vibrant scenery and wildlife. The area is home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, blue heron, mountain lions, and a variety of other smaller canyon creatures. One of the best parts of Waterton Canyon are the bighorns. When it comes to the Denver- Metro area, this is the closest bighorns can be seen. Whether they are on the actual trail or climbing up the steep, jagged rocks lining the canyon, bighorns are plentiful and visible in herds of 20 or more after the first mile. The larger males with the signature curled horns have been starting to butt heads around the 3-mile mark.
Who is Going to Love It
The canyon is heavily traveled by hikers and trail runners, mountain bikers, people on horseback, and families enjoying the day. In order to protect the animals in Waterton Canyon, dogs are not allowed on the trail. If you are planning on hiking all the way to the reservoir, make sure to bring plenty of water because the trail is so wide the trees do not provide much shade from the heat. Roundtrip takes approximately 3 to 4 hours depending on the amount of stops taken.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
While there is a lot of parking at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead, it can fill up pretty quickly on the weekends. If you are looking for a quieter experience where you can skip the crowd, it’s best to hit the trail on a weekday. This is a Denver destination not to be missed.