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Hiking at Castlewood Canyon State Park: Lake Gulch Trail & Inner Canyon Trail

Along the Lake Gulch Trail
Along the Lake Gulch TrailDeb Stanley

Castlewood Canyon State Park is one of the few state parks on Colorado's Eastern Plains. However, Castlewood Canyon has something you wouldn't expect on the plains -- a canyon.

Castlewood Canyon
Castlewood CanyonDeb Stanley

All of the hikes on the park's east/main side start on the canyon rim and drop into the canyon. If you're looking for a nice loop hike, I recommend taking the Lake Gulch Trail to the Inner Canyon Trail.

At the east entrance, take the park's main road all the way back to the farthest parking lot (directions below). Here you'll find two trailheads -- one by the bathrooms (Lake Gulch) and one near the middle of the parking lot (Canyon View Nature Trail). Start at the "Lake Gulch" trailhead sign and walk along the paved path.

Soon the paved path ends and you'll be hiking a slight downhill on a dirt trail, next to some fun-shaped rocks. These look like sand dunes that froze into rock formations. You'll be hiking slightly above a long, flat stretch of grazing land. On the day we were here, we found a herd of cows below us.

About 0.4 miles from the parking lot, there is a nice overlook. Take a break here, enjoy the scenery and then continue on the path. By the way, this is not Castlewood Canyon, that's another 0.4 miles or so up ahead.

As you approach the canyon, the scenery changes. You'll see the rocky cliffs with trees below. Stay on the path as it crosses over Cherry Creek (there are a couple rocks to skip over), then to a trail split. This is where the Lake Gulch Trail ends.

However, don't turn right yet on the Inner Canyon Trail. Instead, turn left and hike a short distance over to the stairs leading down to the canyon. You don't have to take the stairs, but from here you'll have a view of the dam remnants. The dam, built in the late 1800s, burst in 1933, sending a 15-foot-high wave of water miles into Denver.

I recommend walking to the dam and taking the short Dam Trail up and over the dam ruins so you can see the construction on both sides.

Or, you can return to the last trail split and start hiking the Inner Canyon Trail. The Inner Canyon Trail wanders along the banks of the Cherry Creek. This trail can be quite rocky at times, but I enjoyed being close to the water. At some point, find a place to stop by a "pool" and watch the kids and dogs playing. You may even want to take off your shoes and cool off your feet.

When you're ready, continue down the path to where the trail cross a bridge. It's just a few steps down the path to a series of stairs back up to the parking lot where you started.

Learn more about the park, get maps and directions on the Castlewood Canyon website. Find more hikes in Colorado State Parks and across the state in this article on 200+ hiking trails. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Details: The loop hike on the Lake Gulch Trail to the Inner Canyon Trail is about 2 miles with 200 feet of elevation gain. Add about a half mile and another 200 feet of elevation gain if you decide to hike to the dam ruins and back.

Admission: The price of entry was $7 in 2014.

Directions: To reach the main entrance of Castlewood Canyon State Park, take I-25 to Castle Rock, exit onto Founders Parkway eastbound. Take Founders Parkway to Hwy 86, go east on Hwy 86 four miles to Franktown. Turn South on Hwy 83 (S. Parker Rd) and go five miles to the park's entrance. Take the main road past the entrance station, then drive to the end of the road.