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Hiking at Castlewood Canyon State Park: "The Falls"

A snowy and rainy spring is the best time to see the "the falls" at Castlewood Canyon State Park and there are two ways to get there. The short way via the westside trailhead and the longer way via the eastside trailhead. I prefer the eastside trailhead because you also get to the see the dam ruins.

"The Falls" - the goal of this hike
"The Falls" - the goal of this hike
Deb Stanley
"The falls" At Castlewood Canyon State Park
"The falls" At Castlewood Canyon State Park
Deb Stanley

All of the hikes on the park's east/main side start on the canyon rim and drop into the canyon (directions below). 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. On the other side of the creek, the Inner Canyon Trail goes to the right. Remember this spot, you'll be coming back here to take the Inner Canyon Trail.

For now, turn left and hike a short distance over to the stairs leading down to the canyon. Walk down the stairs, cross a bridge over the creek and continue on the path along the creek bed. (We'll take the upper trail/dam trail on the way back.)

The dam you see here was built across the entire gorge in the late 1800s. However, it burst in 1933, sending a 15-foot-high wave of water miles into Denver. It was never rebuilt. It was replaced in the 1940s by the Cherry Creek Dam and Reservoir downstream.

Continue hiking along the creek bed until you come to an overlook of sorts with a wooden fence about two miles from the trailhead. Look into the canyon below and you'll see "the falls." If you look closely, you may notice some items in the water below the falls, likely remnants of old bridges washed away in previous floods through the canyon.

From this spot you can continue on the trail to the other end of the park and loop back using the Rimrock Trail, but since I wanted a fairly easy day, I turned around here.

As you hike back on the Creel Bottom Trail, you may notice another cascade or two. The map calls this the "falls area." You may see people playing on the rocks, but be careful, the rocks may be slippery.

On the hike back, look for the "dam" trail. Climb up the stairs and walk over the dam and back down the other side to get a view of how the builders used different building techniques on each side. Signs warn visitors to stay off the dam.

After hiking the spur trail, return to the trail, cross the creek and climb the stairs on the other side. Stay on the trail until you come back to the turnoff for 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 hike on the Lake Gulch Trail to the Falls area and back via the dams ruins and the Inner Canyon Trail is a loop of about 4.2 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain.

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.