Chatfield State Park, 15 miles southwest of Denver, surrounds 1,150-acre Chatfield Reservoir. Floods along the South Platte River, including a devastating one in 1965, led the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to build a massive dam and lake. Over 1.6-million folks now visit the 3,894-acre park annually, taking advantage of lots of recreational opportunities. Fishing is a popular pastime, as well as hiking and bicycling on 26 miles of trails, wildlife observation at the Audubon Nature Center, camping at 197 sites in four campgrounds, boating and water skiing, flying model airplanes from a paved runway, lifting off in a balloon from a launch pad, and letting dogs romp on 70 acres of unleashed fun. Chatfield truly offers something to do for everyone.
State Park Area
- Besides a healthy population of rainbow trout and bass, you’ll find walleye, channel catfish, yellow perch, crappie, bluegill, sunfish and carp at Chatfield. The trout fishing is renowned as the best near Denver. Don’t forget your fishing license, which can be purchased at the park office. Disabled fishermen can access the lake at Handicap Pier or follow an accessible trail to the Platte River fishing platform.
- Chatfield State Park is a wonderful wildlife watching area, with habitat along the river corridor. The Audubon Nature Center offers hands-on programs for everyone to learn more about ecology, wildlife, and life zones. The park has lots of wetlands and ponds on the South Platte River and Plum Creek, as well as a heron rookery. Over 345 bird species are spotted at the park, named an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. Also look for coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, and, more rarely, black bear and mountain lion.
- Chatfield Lake has a lot of water, making it an ideal destination for water sports. Bring a motorboat, sailboat, or jet ski and cruise around the lake, or use a kayak or canoe to paddle around the wakeless areas. Water skiers, windsurfers, and paddleboarders also share the lake’s fun. The swim beach on the west side is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There’s no lifeguard on duty and kids under 12 must be supervised.
- The 27-acre heron rookery is Chatfield’s most unusual wildlife area. Up to 50 pairs of great blue herons nest atop dead cottonwood trees every year. Stand on an observation deck with binoculars to get personal with these elegant birds. The area is closed during summer nesting season since the slightest disturbance can cause them to desert their nests.
Recommended season(s): Year-round
—Stewart M. Green