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The 'trails' and tribulations of Waterton Canyon

Why this wild retreat next to the city is such a great attraction — and why we’ve so often had to close its gates.
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A man in a brown uniform shirt, backpack and hiking stick talks with a family on a trail.
Paul Bleau, Colorado Parks and Wildlife ambassador, answers questions from visitors in Waterton Canyon. Photo credit: Denver Water.

With the school year almost at its end and warmer days approaching, Coloradans and out-of-state visitors will begin hitting the trails.

But before you plan your hike in Waterton Canyon, it's important to check for closures as our crews have to ensure the safety of our trails and continued operations.

The first closure of this year (2021) will occur from Tuesday, June 1, through Friday, June 11. During this time, recreationists will only be able to access the trail on weekends while construction crews prepare the trail for summertime recreation use. Read more about the 2021 maintenance impacts here.

With more than 100,000 visitors a year, it’s no secret that Waterton Canyon is one of the most popular outdoor recreation amenities for Coloradans and tourists alike. But as a key Denver Water operational facility, the attributes that make this canyon so great can also lead to unexpected closures.

Let’s take a look at some of the ups and downs of this special place.

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A bicycle rider in a red shirt rides a dirt road next to the South Platte River in Waterton Canyon.
More than 100,000 people every year enjoy recreation in Waterton Canyon. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Why it’s great: Well-maintained trail for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

The road for Denver Water employees to access the canyon facilities and Strontia Springs Reservoir doubles as the canyon trail for recreationists.

Because this is a vital road for our operational crews, it’s always well maintained, providing optimal conditions for a family-friendly hiking and biking experience.

Challenge: As a working facility, there are times when infrastructure and maintenance projects create unsafe conditions for the public, prompting us to close trail access.

Why it’s great: A scenic mountain experience without having to venture far from the city.

Within minutes of starting the 6.5-mile hike up the canyon, visitors are engulfed in nature, losing sight of the Denver suburbs that are right around the corner. And as the South Platte River cascades along the canyon path, the echoes of the flows bounce off the valley walls, providing an escape from the everyday din of the city.

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Two bighorn sheep walk down a dirt road.
Be sure to give plenty of space to the wildlife that lives in Waterton Canyon. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Challenge: Environmental conditions can change quickly in the canyon.

During dry times, forest fires can spark in the area. When it floods, the beautiful winding river trail turns into a hazard, as high waters ascend the river banks. In either extreme, one thing is certain: the canyon gates will be locked.

Why it’s great: The wildlife experience.

The canyon is home to rattlesnakes, bighorn sheep, bears and more than 40 species of birds.

Challenge: The wildlife is a highlight for visitors, but the animals are exactly that — wild.

As we learned from bear situations in previous years, there are times when it’s necessary to keep the public out of nature’s way.

We love Waterton as much as you — for its natural beauty as well as its vitality to delivering our customers water.

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A white truck with a Denver Water logo with a herd of deer in the background.
Remember that Waterton Canyon is an operational part of Denver Water’s system that supplies drinking water to more than 1 million people every day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

When the construction crews move out and it’s safe for hikers and bikers to rush back in, we’ll reopen the canyon for weekday use.

But there will come a time when we’ll have to close it again. So when we do, know that it’s done to maintain a safe environment for the recreational users and workers who share the canyon.

Looking to branch out during the closure and find other recreational opportunities? See what some other Denver Water facilities have to offer:

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Images of the scenery around Denver Water's facilities.