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Waterton Canyon is the Denver terminus for The Colorado Trail. The trailhead, parking and 6-mile canyon are administered by Denver Water and open to hike, bike and horse. It is, however, closed to dogs in order to preserve the wildlife habitat. Though you travel a wide gravel road, it's alongside the South Platte River where wildlife is abundant and often seen. The road is closed to public vehicles, but open to administrative vehicles, of which there are normally few. Many users enjoy this section of the CT and it serves as a good warm-up.
For rules & regulations, visit the Waterton Canyon webpage at DenverWater.org.
The Waterton Canyon Trailhead is located at…
Waterton Canyon Trailhead
Directions from Denver International Airport
Transportation from Denver International Airport (DIA) to Waterton Canyon is not an insignificant challenge; they are located on opposite sides of the Denver metropolitan area, a distance of about 60 miles.
A cab ride might be easiest, but is pricey. The local transportation through Regional Transportation District (RTD) is cheaper, but will take some coordination. If you study and plan well with RTD's Trip Planner, you can find which route suits you best. RTD can take you most of the way with your ride ending at the Mineral Park 'n' Ride; about 10 miles from Waterton Canyon. From there, you might take a cab or find a friend to take you to the CT trailhead. If you choose to walk or cycle from the Mineral Park 'n' Ride, contact the CTF office via email at email@example.com for directions.
Parking and Facilities at Waterton Canyon Trailhead
At the Waterton terminus, there is a big parking lot, bathrooms and a trailhead sign. That's it, there's no store, lodging or other accommodation.
Denver Water (DW) administers the parking lot at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead but there's no security there. You're welcome to park for the day. Multiday parking is also allowed IF you furnish your car and personal information with Denver Water, AND IF you're comfortable doing it. (Not too common, but there have been reports of break-ins.) Common sense would advise against leaving any valuables in your car for an extended period of time. DW does not encourage people to park overnight or long-term due to vandalism and is not liable for any damage or theft, etc. A better approach is for users to be dropped off by family or friends.
The Colorado Trail Foundation has no jurisdiction or responsibility whatsoever.
If you still decide to park overnight or long-term, DW requires people to call first, make arrangements and provide car and user info so they know the car has not been abandoned, etc.
Phone in advance and talk with a Denver Water authority:
Denver Water requires vehicle owners parking for multiple days to provide in advance:
A more secure alternative to parking at Waterton Canyon (or Indian Creek Trailhead) might be an RV STORAGE BUSINESS. There are a bunch of these in the Denver area and you can find them via a web search, secure their phone numbers, phone and inquire about whether they take cars, their rates and other particulars. A close one that users have reported as working well is Sedalia RV Storage (303) 688-3842 owned by Jim Sikora. You might even inquire about getting a ride from them to the trailhead.
Waterton Canyon Alternative #1 – Indian Creek Trailhead
Some users desire an alternative to Waterton Canyon; maybe you'd rather travel on singletrack or maybe you have a pooch and want a route open to dogs. If you'd rather avoid the Waterton Canyon road section, you can choose the alternate trail approach to the East end of Segment 1 and begin instead at the Indian Creek Trailhead accessible via CO Hwy 67 west of Sedalia. From here you can travel 4.4 miles of single track, open to dogs, and connect to CT mile 7.9 at Lenny's Rest Bench in the middle of CT Segment 1 via the West Leg of the Indian Creek "Equestrian" Loop Trail. This is described on the CT Segment 1 Map entitled Single Track and Dogs Route" – click here to download.
Waterton Canyon Alternative #2 – Roxborough State ParkOthers looking for an alternative to the Waterton Canyon approach to the CT will appreciate Roxborough State Park, though they don't allow dogs, horses, bicycles, camping or overnight parking. Fees apply; last we checked they charged entry of $7.00 per vehicle. Still, the Roxborough approach involves very nice singletrack through scenic landscapes. Choosing the Roxborough start, begin walking up the Carpenter Peak Trail that begins about 0.6 miles from the visitor center. The distance to the top of Carpenter Peak is about 2.5 miles, all uphill. Right before the summit, there is a turnoff with a sign that reads "Colorado Trail and Waterton Canyon." Mileage from the sign to the CT near Strontia Springs Dam is about 3 miles. You may connect with the CT in Segment 1 at mile 6.4, turning left at the main road, although another route is possible that would connect you at CT Seg 1, mile 7.9, Lenny's Bench. The Roxborough start shortens Segment 1 by approximately one mile but you'll climb and descend more. The Carpenter Peak Trail is very well maintained, with good views, but the connector to The Colorado Trail has suffered some in recent years. The Roxborough start offers more shade than Waterton Canyon, but one should not count on finding water along the way.