“A great trail for fast hiking while enjoying the scenery along the South Platte River.”
— Derek Griffiths
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildlife
A smooth and wide dirt road that winds along the scenic South Platte River.
Need to Know
The canyon offers a great respite in the winter as Denver Water always plows this road up to the Colorado Trail. The road can get hot and dusty in the summer as it is very exposed at midday, 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 about half way up at a picnic area along the river.
Waterton Canyon is the gateway to the Colorado Trail and is a great option for an easily accessible hike along the South Platte River. The hike 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. Be sure to look up and around at the hillside as you travel along the road, as you may see elk, big horn sheep, or other wildlife on the mountains. You'll also have a great view 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. This would also be a good place for fishing or sticking your feet in the river on a hot day. You'll also 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 hike 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. The turnaround point for this hike is at the sign marking the continuation of the Colorado Trail. Take in the scenery and enjoy the well-earned breeze down to your car on way back!
Flora & Fauna
Deer, elk, big horned sheep, rabbits, coyotes, foxes, and a variety of birds and snakes (including rattlesnakes) all make Waterton Canyon home. You'll also see signs posted for bears and mountain lions although you hopefully won't encounter them on your run.