Why we love it: There’s a little something—boating, camping, walking, biking, camping—for everyone at this near-to-Denver state park.

When to go: Early morning so you can spy on wildlife before passing cars make them shy away.

Today, it might be difficult to imagine the meandering South Platte River as a raging and distributive waterway. That is, unless you lived here in 1965 and watch the river destroy large sections of the metro area in a historic flood (read more about the water’s impact on the Globeville neighborhood here.) As the floodwaters receded, work began on stabilizing the river with flood control measures. Cue: Chatfield Reservoir (and a more than 13,000-foot long dam) was built.

The resulting wetlands area is, perhaps, best known as a boating or camping destination. But Chatfield’s plethora of birds—the Audubon Society of Greater Denver has a center there and there are more than 200 bird species in the area—should also be a draw.

On a recent weekend, we meandered on the gently rolling Wildlife Viewing Trail in search of nature. The path is paved, which made it ideal for our Bob stroller and toddling toddler. On the roadway, which runs alongside the path, bikers pedaled by, no doubt preparing for longer and faster summer rides. On the path, we were virtually alone—and moving at a much slower speed. (Anyone who has hiked waddled with a toddler knows what I mean). But the path offered plenty of “what’s that?” and “why” nature moments to entertain us, from a strikingly beautiful Meadowlark cry to slowly growing anthills. The vegetation was waking up from winter, so you could catch glimpses of vibrant green in between the grassland gold. We passed birdwatchers, standing still and gazing through binoculars, on the hunt for wetland animals, like the double-crested cormorant and great blue heron.

We had parked near the Open Water Riparian, but you can nab a spot wherever one is available and start walking on any of the area’s more than 30 miles of paths. Signs suggest moving slowly (no problem with a toddler) and talking softly (definitely a problem with a toddler) in order to spy wildlife. But despite yelps and giggles, we still saw plenty of avian friends. Next time, we’ll make sure to pack a picnic lunch and refuel at one of the many scenic overlooks of the water, which help you forget (at least for a few minutes) how landlocked this state is.

Getting there: Take US-85 south to the Titan Parkway exit in Douglas County. Turn right and travel on West Titan Road for 3.6 miles. Turn right at Roxborough Park Road and follow signs for Chatfield State Park. When you enter the park, turn left and drive, past the Model Airplane Runway, until you find a parking area you like. The Wildlife Viewing Trail is easily visible (and accessible from the road) and roughly parallel’s the reservoir’s shoreline.

Logistics: There is an $8 entrance fee.

(Check out more hikes we like)

Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.