Our last local hike before hitting the road again was Castlewood Canyon State Park. This was hike 31 of our 52 Hike Challenge. Colorado's Covid-19 ten mile radius rule for recreation was lifted that day, and there were plenty of others enjoying the trails with us.
Castlewood Canyon State Park is along Cherry Creek, south of Parker and east of Castle Rock. Cherry Creek Trail is supposed to go from downtown Denver all the way to Castlewood Canyon State Park, but we’re not sure if all of it is complete or there are a couple of small sections still missing. However, once you get to Castlewood Canyon, you’ll need to leave your bike at the trailhead because bikes are not allowed on the trails. However, pets are allowed on most of the trails and there are several rock climbing walls.
To get to Castlewood Canyon, we drove down South Park Road through Parker and Franktown. Big Jim’s Ribs food truck was sitting on the corner of Parker Road and Longs Way, where it usually is, but it was closed since he is only open on the weekends. Big Jim’s usually attends the Broomfield Days every fall, which is where we discovered his delicious BBQ years ago. A few years ago, in order to enjoy his pulled pork more than once a year, we rode our bikes down Cherry Creek Trail to his food truck for a wonderful treat. Franktown is a popular destination for bikers and there are usually a line of motorcycles lined up outside the Stagecoach bar. However, because of COVID and being a weekday, we didn’t see any parked motorcycles as we drove through town.
We were surprised to find a short line of cars to get into the park. Then again, we shouldn’t have been surprised that people wanted to get out and enjoy the sunny 70 degree weather. Several cars were waiting to use the self-service pay kiosk. We have an annual pass, but we still had to wait for the cars in front of us to pull off the road far enough for us to get around. There were a couple of cars with Arizona plates that looked like they were traveling together.
Starting at the Canyon Point Trailhead, we made a large loop consisting of the Inner Canyon Trail, the Rimrock Trail, the Homestead Trail, the Creek Bottom Trail, and the Lake Gulch Trail. It took us a little over five hours to complete the 7.3 miles and 900 foot elevation gain.
The Inner Canyon Trail is close to Cherry Creek among large boulders. A lot of families with small children made the trail seem a little more crowded than our previous recent hikes. Almost no one was wearing masks, but the majority of people were considerate and gave us our space when passing by. There are many places to access the creek which children and dogs were taking advantage of to splash in the water. Despite the large number of people in the Inner Canyon, there was a large variety of bird songs filling the canyon with their music. Were the birds being extra vocal because it was spring or are they normally this active in the canyon?
The canyon opens up to a wide valley at the historic Castlewood Canyon Dam ruins before narrowing into a rocky canyon again beyond the dam. From the dam, we took a wrong turn somewhere and lost the official trail. We didn't realize it for about a quarter to half a mile as the trail we were on got narrower and harder to follow. We were below rim in the trees and the trail we intended to follow was Rimrock Trail. We pulled out our phones and looked up our location in the Hiking Project app. Yup, we were suppose to be on the rim. So we scrambled up some boulders to reach the rim. Rimrock was aptly named and followed the east rim of the canyon on top of solid rock. There were signs along the rim indicating that the Vulture Wall was closed for the month of May. We're assuming those signs were for the rock climbers. There were quite a few turkey vultures flying overhead. We counted seven vultures in the air at the same time.
At the end of the canyon, the trail makes a steep descent down to Cherry Creek. The number of people on the trail at this north end of the canyon was much fewer than the density of people in the Inner Canyon. As we approached the creek, we noticed the wonderful sounds of birds again. Just on the other side of the creek, people had strung up a couple of hammocks in the trees, enjoying the peace of the area. Crossing the creek we headed up the Homestead Trail to check out the ruins of the historic Lucas homestead and ranch. The Cherry Creek Trail leads off to the north from the parking lot at the Homestead site. This is the same trail that we were on during Hike 14. Today, we did not go on Cherry Creek Trail, but instead headed back down the Homestead Trail to the Creek Bottom Trail, heading south on the west side of the creek.
The Creek Bottom Trail is not as aptly named as Rimrock. The Creek Bottom Trail follows the creek, but is mainly in the trees and feels closer to the west rim than to the creek until after passing the Falls Area. We passed a couple more people in hammocks along the trail. In the Falls Area, the canyon walls are steep. After the falls, the trail is right next to the creek among the willow trees.
Most of the dam ruins are on the west side of the creek and there is a trail that leads you up to the top of the dam ruins, but we did not venture up the dam. The dam was built in 1890 to help irrigate the local farms, but broke in 1933, causing a disaster in Denver.
After passing the dam, we took the Lake Gulch Trail back to the Canyon Point trailhead where we started. The Lake Gulch Trail ventures away from Cherry Creek and the canyon, but has views out over the valley of pasture land where the reservoir from the dam formerly was. All along our hike, there were unusual rock formations that looked like round rocks were embedded in larger boulders, resembling concrete. We’re not sure what caused this, if it was some natural phenomenon or man made.
We’ve been to Castlewood Canyon before, but we went on more of the trails this time. Castlewood has a lot to offer despite its close proximity to Denver. There is beautiful scenery, no bikes to share the trail with, historic ruins, and wonderful sounds of nature. We challenge you to discover the little outdoor gems near you.
Check out our related video: Castlewood Canyon State Park in Colorado