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Hike We Like: Waterton Canyon

This newly reopened portion of the Colorado Trail offers the expected mountain views—and a lesson in where Denver's much-needed water comes from.

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Why we love it: A near-to-Denver, year-round hike that is ideal when you just can’t bear to fight I-70 ski traffic.

When to go: Right now. Really. (The weather forecast says the Denver area might see 70 degrees today.)

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Rarely, it seems, do construction projects finish on time. Even more rare is finishing ahead of schedule. But that’s what’s happened on the upper portion of Waterton Canyon, the eastern start of the 500-mile-long Colorado Trail. The trail had been partially closed on weekdays since the fall so that electrical improvements could be made to Denver Water’s Strontia Springs Dam and other spots. But work wrapped up early and the trail reopened for use on January 16.

It is well known that 5280 is fond of the easy path that carves through Waterton Canyon and its importance to Denver’s water supply: We wrote about it in 2012, regularly obsess about the state’s water issues, and even included the Colorado Trail on our ultimate bucket list this month. The re-opening of the trail gave us an easy excuse to hop down there for a hike this past week and remember why this close-to-home trek is a perennial favorite for just about every type of outdoor enthusiast.

If you’re looking to stay dry, though, find another trail. The dirt parking lot is a soggy mess because of the recent snowmelts. The path, a gentle service road for Denver Water and government vehicles, is a bit of a mudslide, too. That being said, if you strap on last season’s sneakers, you’ll be fine. The trail is busy with mountain bikers hoping to log the 6.5 miles to the Dam and trail runners chasing after them. Families pushing BOB strollers lag behind, sometimes stopping at one of the trail’s many picnic areas for snack time. You’ll even find the occasional angler casting into the partially frozen South Platte River.

Throughout the trek, you’ll see massive pipes and other parts of Denver Water’s even more massive network that ensures that when you turn on the tap, you have fresh agua on demand. Take a moment to appreciate that feat while you stroll, run, or bike. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy Waterton’s natural wonders—the meandering river, steep rock cliffs, cottonwood trees—but it is rare to see those paired with an engineering feat, too.


Getting there: From Denver, take US-85 South to C-470 W. Travel about 2.5 miles and take the CO-121/Wadsworth Boulevard exit. Continue on CO-121 south and follow signs to the parking lot.

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(Check out more hikes we like)

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