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Waterton Canyon/Strontia Springs Reservoir

From bighorns to bike trails, a great place to play

Strontia Springs Dam is 6.2 miles upstream of the mouth of Waterton Canyon on the South Platte River. Water is diverted from the reservoir to the Foothills Water Treatment Plant and Marston Water Treatment Plant. Completed in 1983, this dam rises 243 feet above the South Platte streambed.

Waterton Canyon is home to many different types of wildlife, including the popular Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep herd. There are also mule deer, black bears, mountain lion(s), elk, lizards and snakes, including the prairie rattlesnake.

Strontia Springs Reservoir
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By the numbers

7,864

capacity in acre-feet

6,002

elevation at dam spillway in feet

98

reservoir surface acreage

40

bird species in the canyon

% full

Recreation notes

Recreation map

Fishing: The stream fishery is managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. For lake fishing, note that Strontia Springs Reservoir is difficult to access from the Bear Creek inlet off the Colorado Trail or at the South Platte from the confluence of the main stem and north fork of the South Platte River.

Handicapped accessible fishing pier: A mile and a quarter up the canyon, the site was chosen for its mountain canyon stream location and access to fish habitat structures in the river. Handicapped persons have priority use.

Biking: For the first 6.2 miles of trail, road bikes are suitable. Beyond the dam, mountain bikes are a must.

Hiking: The canyon offers a 6.2-mile hike to the dam. The Colorado Trail continues above the reservoir about 10 miles to the confluence of the North Fork of the South Platte and the South Platte. The Colorado Trail continues to Durango. Waterton also connects to the Roxborough State Park system and Indian Creek Trail (USFS #800).

Horseback riding: Waterton Canyon connects to the Chatfield State Parks trail system and the U.S. Forest Service Indian Creek system. Trailer parking is provided at Waterton and at the Discovery Pavilion.

Wildlife viewing: Bighorn sheep and mule deer are often seen in the canyon, which also hosts more than 40 species of birds. To protect the bighorn sheep, dogs and other domesticated pets/animals are not allowed on the canyon trails.

Special events: Requires a permit for group events over 25 people. Request must be received 30 days prior to event. Call 303-634-3744 or  303-634-3745.

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Take Survey

Directions

  • Follow Wadsworth Boulevard (Highway 121) south of C-470 past Chatfield Reservoir.
  • Turn left on Waterton Road.
  • Take second entrance to the parking lot on the left.

Rules and regulations

Waterton/Strontia: General rules and regulations

  • Pets: Dogs and other domesticated pets and animals or livestock are not allowed in the canyon, to protect the bighorn sheep. Horses, donkeys, and mules are allowed in the canyon.
  • Trail use: Foot, bicycle and horseback access only. Waterton Canyon is an operational facility, you may encounter vehicles and equipment.
  • Prohibited uses: Canoeing, kayaking, tubing and rafting are prohibited. Alcohol is not allowed in the canyon. Overnight parking is prohibited.
  • Body/water contact:  Body contact with water is prohibited (e.g., swimming and wading). 
  • Vehicles: No public motorized access, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, minibikes, e-bikes, scooters, or other combustion/electrical power-driven devices. Devices approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act are permitted.
  • Fires: Fires or fireworks of any type are not allowed. Smoking is not allowed in the canyon.
  • Trespass: Trespassing is prohibited on the dam or within any fenced area, facility or posted areas.
  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems: UAS or drones are not allowed to launch or land on Denver Water property.
  • Firearms: Firearms and archery equipment are only permitted during open hunting season on U.S. Forest Service lands 2.7 miles up the canyon. Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations apply.
  • Permits: Special use permits are required for group events over 25 people. Request must be received 30 days prior to event. Contact Denver Water at 303-634-3744 or  303-634-3745.

Denver Water reserves the right to remove any visitor from Waterton Canyon in the interests of safety and security as determined by Denver Water personnel.

Waterton/Strontia: Boating regulations

Not permitted on Strontia Springs Reservoir or on the South Platte River through Waterton Canyon.

Waterton/Strontia: Camping regulations

Permitted only on the Colorado Trail above Strontia Springs on U.S. Forest Service property. Check with Pike National Forest South Platte River District for restrictions.

Waterton/Strontia: Fishing regulations

  • Waterton Canyon entrance to Marston Diversion Dam
    • Live bait may be used.
    • Bag limit is four trout any size.
  • Marston Diversion to Strontia Springs
    • Artificial flies and lures only.
    • Bag limit is two trout any size.
  • Strontia Springs Reservoir

Waterton/Strontia: E-bike restrictions

Denver Water has been and continues to discuss and evaluate how we can move forward with our partners regarding recreation e-bike restrictions in the future. 

For some background, in Waterton Canyon, Denver Water is the owner of portions of this path and most of the facilities in the canyon. There are also other entities in the canyon, including the U.S. Forest Service that own portions of the path. The U.S. Forest Service classifies the canyon as a “non-motorized path.” 

To ensure a mutual understanding for how we manage Waterton Canyon for recreation, Denver Water entered into the 1979 Foothills Agreement with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The agreement prohibits the use of motorized devices in the canyon. We are committed to having discussions to help find the best solutions with our partners and for our community, which will require a formal process that will take time.
  
Class 1 and 2 e-bikes used as part of an ADA accommodation in Waterton Canyon are permitted on Denver Water’s portion of the path, depending on the size, weight and speed of the device, so long as it wouldn’t cause a safety risk because of crowds or trail conditions (e.g. on a busy day) and so long as the requestor can provide credible assurance that they require an accommodation to access the facility. 

As we continue to work on a more formalized process, those seeking ADA accommodations in Waterton Canyon can contact our Recreation team at recreation@denverwater.org. You will need to be able to provide credible assurance that you require an accommodation to access the facility before arriving. As a reminder, Denver Water can only grant permission for use on its property and does not have authority over the path owned by U.S. Forest Service. There are clear signs noting the demarcation of property owned by Denver Water and by the U.S. Forest Service.

Denver Water strives to offer as many recreational activities as possible while also maintaining a safe, efficient environment for recreational users and the workers that share the canyon. 

Colorado Trail

  • Starting in Denver — Colorado Trail Foundation.
  • It is not advised to start a through-hike before late June or end the trail after late September.
  • No overnight parking. Shuttling is advised. 
  • Phone service is lost 2 miles up the canyon. In case of emergency, contact a Denver Water ranger or employee. 
  • Camping, grills, and open flames are prohibited in the canyon to protect the watershed. U.S. Forest Service dispersed camping is located on the single-track portion of the Colorado Trail. This is 7 miles up from the start of the canyon and located above Strontia Springs Dam. 
  • Last point of potable water is located at the Last Chance water fountain near the start of the trail. 
  • Last reliable point to collect nonpotable water is 6.2 miles up the canyon, below Strontia Springs Dam. Be aware that Bear Creek is seasonal and will dry up after spring runoff. Next point to collect water is at the South Platte River at the start of Segment 2.
  • Domesticated pets, such as dogs and cats are not allowed in Waterton Canyon to protect the wildlife. This also applies when coming from the Colorado Trail. Please plan accordingly to avoid this section.
  • Denver Water conducts road work annually, usually in early June, which requires closure of Waterton Canyon for approximately two weeks. During this time, the Indian Creek Trailhead and Roxborough State Park are available to start or end the Colorado Trail.
     

Sights

Activities

Bicycling

Bicycling

Fishing

Fishing

Hiking

Hiking

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding

Nature Viewing

Nature Viewing

Picnicking

Picnicking

Seasons and hours

Regularly open year round, half hour before sunrise to half hour after sunset.


Weekday access will be closed from Monday, May 16, through Friday, May 27, for the annual dust mitigation project. Waterton Canyon will remain open on Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, for weekend recreation.

Contacts

Denver Water (owner, operator and recreation manager): 303-893-2444 or Customer Care Contact Form

U.S. Forest Service South Platte Ranger District: 303-275-5610

Colorado Parks and Wildlife: 303-291-7227

All groups and special events over 25 people require a permit. Reservations not required or accepted for picnic shelters or pavilions. Call the ranger office at 303-634-3744 or 303-634-3745