Castlewood Canyon State Park, a 2,621-acre parkland along state highway 83, protects a cliff-lined canyon carved by Cherry Creek a half-hour drive southeast of Denver. The park preserves the scenic gorge and its unique ecosystems, including pine and fir groves on shady slopes and quaking aspen in moist draws. Hikers enjoy over 14 miles of well-maintained trails that dip into the canyon, traverse wooded slopes, and cross open meadows on the rim. The trails range from the handicap-accessible Canyon View Nature Trail to the 2.6-mile East Canyon Trail, which explores the unspoiled upper canyon. Rock climbers also come to get vertical on over 300 routes on the park’s 60-foot-high conglomerate cliffs. After your hike, stop by the visitor center for films and displays about the park’s history and animals.
The first time I visited Castlewood Canyon was in 1984, twenty years after the state park was created. There were no established trails and no visitor center at this then-unknown area. I parked in the lower canyon and hiked up a narrow path above a deep barren channel. After a mile, I reached the ruins of a stone and earthen dam that once plugged the canyon. This placid site with wide meadows was the site of a major disaster in 1933. On the stormy night of August 3, heavy rains breached the dam and sent a 30-foot wall of water downstream toward Denver. The caretaker warned authorities and in a few hours over 5,000 residents fled the floodplain. The flood reached Denver at 5:20 a.m., causing over a million dollars in damages but claiming only two lives.
- Do the 1.4-mile-long Canyon View Nature Trail on your first visit. The wide paved trail is both stroller- and wheelchair-accessible, and yields spectacular viewpoints above the narrow canyon.
- Take your dog for a hike at Castlewood. Just make sure your furry friend is on a six-foot or shorter lease, and don’t forget to pick up after him.
- Visit Castlewood in summer to see the large flock of turkey vultures that migrate north from Mexico and Central America.
- Don’t hike off the trails during the warmer months. Lots of prairie rattlesnakes live at Castlewood Canyon, usually hanging out by rock outcrops. Watch for rattlers sunning on trails too.
- Check out Cherry Creek Falls in the lower canyon. The water tumbles 30 feet off a sandstone lip in the heart of Castlewood Canyon.
Recommended season(s): Year round.
—Stewart M. Green