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A great trail beginning with South Platte views, and finishing in a more alpine region.”
— Adopt These Trails!
At first, this portion of the Colorado trail is a smooth and wide dirt road that winds along the scenic South Platte River. After the first 4 miles or so, the incline gets steeper, and the CT will continue on to a more narrow singletrack trail as you continue to gain elevation.
Need to Know
The lower portion of the canyon offers a great respite in the winter as Denver Water always plows this road up to the signs for the Colorado Trail. The road can get hot and dusty in the summer as it is very exposed at midday, but the second portion of trail makes its way through more heavily forested terrain. Either way, you'll be heading into remote territory, so prepare accordingly.
There is a bathroom at the parking lot at the trailhead, and one at the top of the trail near the dam. There is also a bathroom at a picnic area along the river.
The first part of this section is a dirt road that has a gradual incline on the way out. The smooth surface and gradual incline make this section perfect training ground for all types of workouts, from tempo runs to long runs to fartleks and anything in between.
Once you reach the shelter at the top of the trail near the dam, you continue on past the buildings to continue on the Colorado Trail. From here, your pace may slow, as the incline gets steeper and as the road turns more into true trail. Watch for rocks and roots, and be sure to bring plenty of food and water!
For the firs portion of this section of the Colorado trail, you'll follow Waterton Canyon
, which is the gateway to the CT. While other portions of the trail end up being remote, this section offers easy access and beautiful views of the South Platte. The route starts at the parking lot off of Waterton Road where you'll find plenty of parking even on a busy weekend and restrooms. Cross Waterton Road at the pedestrian crossing to access Waterton Canyon
The first mile of the road is through open space with grasslands and cottonwoods along the Platte River. After this, you'll enter the canyon where the road winds alongside the river. Wildlife abounds here and you may see elk, big horn sheep, or other critters scattered through the mountains. You'll have great views of the Platte River as the road meanders along its banks for about six miles.
Around the three mile mark, there is a small pull-out with restrooms and a picnic spot. You'll see numerous mountain bikers along the way, and you may encounter a few Denver Water vehicles, but this is rare as the road is closed to motor vehicles.
Around 4.5 miles, the slope gets a bit steeper as you make your up to a small manmade dam and reservoir. The road narrows here and the rock outcroppings are a bit more pronounced than along the earlier miles of the road. Past this point, the road gets a little bit steeper (compared to the barely noticeable incline you were on previously) as you wind your way up past the Strontia Springs Dam.
You'll continue on past a sign marking the continuation of the Colorado Trail. Take in the scenery as you continue on the more narrow trail. Soon, you'll be climbing through singletrack trails, and will make use of various switchbacks. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, as you'll end your journey nearly 2,000 ft. higher than the starting point. The temperatures might drop quickly, and weather changes quickly.
Flora & Fauna
Deer, elk, big horned sheep, rabbits, coyotes, foxes, and a variety of birds and snakes (including rattlesnakes) all make this area home. You will also see signs posted for bears and mountain lions although you hopefully won't encounter them on your outing.