Chalk this up as one of the many secrets of the metro area. Buffalo still roam here. Cranes and pelicans haunt the quiet waterways. Foxes and coyotes watch you much more often than you think. And just south of Aurora, there’s a gold mine of untapped natural wonder.
Who knew that so much beauty could lie just south of Aurora’s labyrinthine Nine Mile Station on South Parker Road?
By some miracle, a world exists just 20 minutes south of suburban enclaves such as Parker where one can romp in prairie meadows, and explore the caves and clefts of the oft-overlooked Castlewood Canyon State Park.
With intersecting trails, ranging from less than a mile to nearly 14 miles, the park offers options for families and serious hikers alike. Starting at a plateau, most trails wind down along the canyon toward Cherry Creek at the bottom, with a few trails that are even accessible to handicapped visitors.
Overall, hikers can admire the park’s 2,000-plus acres of the state’s Black Forest region, with sweeping views of Pikes Peak as well as the Castle Rock Conglomerate, with dense Ponderosa pine and Douglas firs dotting the landscape.
The park’s most-popular trails include Lake Gulch, Inner Canyon, Creek Bottom and Rim Rock, which travel through varied terrain that includes grassland, montane shrubland, montane forest and riparian.
Cherry Creek runs through the park and for thousands of years has sculpted away at the Castlewood Canyon, providing plenty of places for picnicking and plenty of boulders for sunbathers.
Another nice touch to the park is it is truly hiker-centric. Bikes are not allowed and only one trail is open to horseback riders.
And Castlewood Canyon — though a hop and skip into nature — gets far less crowded on the weekend than Boulder’s Chautauqua Park or the North Table Mountain trails in Golden.
There are two entrances to the park. The main or east entrance, sits just off of Highway 83, about five miles south of Franktown, and leads you to a visitor center. But the west entrance, which you can access by turning south on Castlewood Canyon Road just west of Franktown, offers a way to sneak into the trails without all of the hubbub.
The experience is not exactly stepping out into the vast Colorado wilderness where you will see nothing and no one for miles, but it does offer one of the most accessible waterfalls near the metro area.
It’s also not unusual to see a flock of wild turkeys crossing the road at any given point on your way to a hike in the Canyon. That’s because Castlewood is home to one of the largest black turkey vulture populations in the state during the summer months. Apparently in the winter the birds prefer to spend their time in warmer climates such as Mexico and Central America.
Another point of interest is the Castlewood Canyon Dam, where hikers can walk amidst the remnants of the ill-fated dam and historic homestead that burst in 1933, sending a 15-foot-high wave of water into Denver. Pretty gnarly.
The park is also home to rock climbing walls up to 60 feet and canyon-facing climbs, with storied climbers advising newbies to use the west entrance for access. But more than anything, the park offers a lot of surprises. Wildlife you didn’t know was here, and vistas you didn’t know were so close to home.
Open daily 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit
conditions or call 303-688-5242.