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Colorado State Parks | 8 Spectacular Areas Close to Denver

Posted at 08/19/2021 09:15 AM by Pat O'Connor

Now that the temperatures are starting to fluctuate, there's no better time to get out and enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors. In fact, fall is one of the best times to explore the terrific state parks that are nearby. COVID-19 has reawakened the love of the outdoors which have proven benefits for many, and Coloradans have an embarrassment of natural wonders at their doorstep. From national forests and parks, BLM land, to green belts and open spaces, there are easy getaways for urban and suburban dwellers alike.

One of the Centennial State's most prized possessions is the 42 state parks within our borders, eight of which are within a 30-mile radius of Denver. Whether you are looking for hiking trails, bike paths, or off-leash dog areas, these parks boast an array of recreational opportunities throughout the year. And it’s still one of the best bargains at $70 per vehicle. The pass allows you entry into any of the state parks from the time of purchase to a year afterward, and it can be bought online as well as at the entrance to the various parks.

In addition to the multiple recreational activities at Colorado State Parks, there are affordable accommodations as well. With more than 4,000 campsites and many cabins and yurts located throughout the state, people can enjoy inexpensive overnight experiences in the outdoors.

Check out these incredible state parks that are practically in our backyard:

Barr Lake

13401 Picadilly Road, Brighton, CO

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Barr Lake | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Established in 1977 near Brighton, this 2,715-acre park has 12 miles of trails, including a 9-mile loop that encircles the lake, and an archery range featuring 12 shooting lanes and a 3D target course. The Burlington Ditch, a water diversion channel from the South Platte River, feeds Barr Lake.  Fishing and boating are allowed in the northern half of the park. The southern half is a wildlife refuge, with several wildlife viewing stations, a beautiful boardwalk and a nature center. Over 350 species of birds have been observed at Barr Lake and as a result is popular among birders. Barr Lake serves as wintering grounds for bald eagles and each year, a pair returns to nest and raise their young. The Bird Conservancy of  the Rockies is located on the west side of the lake. 

Castlewood Canyon

2989 South State Highway 83, Franktown, CO

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Castlewood Canyon | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

A favorite among hikers and rock climbers alike, this park outside of Franktown features great views, historic sites, a waterfall, and a natural amphitheater. The trails range from 1/2 mile to 4 miles and can be combined for longer treks. Cherry Creek winds along the canyon floor before eventually flowing into Cherry Creek Reservoir to the north. Rock climbers enjoy cliffs and rock faces rising 60 feet. The park preserves 2,634 acres of the ecologically unique Black Forest region of Colorado and visitors will relish the panoramic views of the Front Range and Pikes Peak. Trails along the Cherry Creek wind past the ruins of the Castlewood Dam, which ruptured in 1933, causing one of the worst floods in Denver.

Chatfield

11500 N. Roxborough Park Road, Littleton, CO

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Chatfield State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Located 25 miles southwest of Denver, Chatfield State Park has evolved from its farming roots into the ultimate recreation area that hosts 1.6 million visitors per year, making it the most popular state park in Colorado. The park includes nearly 5,400 acres of land. Colorado Parks and Wildlife secured a lease for the area in 1974 and established the park in 1976. With its backdrop along the Front Range and sweeping vistas of the foothills, it’s no wonder its popularity is soaring. The park offers a cornucopia of activities: sailing, SUP, kayaking, boat rentals, cycling and walking trails, horseback riding, kids’ camp, clinics, and naturalist programs and campfire stories led by park rangers. Photo via Colorado Parks & Wildlife Website.

Cherry Creek

4201 South Parker Road, Aurora, CO

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Cherry Creek State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The closest state park to the city of Denver, Cherry Creek is anchored by the 880-acre reservoir. The lake was established in 1950 with the construction of the dam which was necessary to avoid frequent flooding of Denver from the unbridled Cherry Creek. The surrounding area became Cherry Creek State Park in 1959. In addition to water sports, the area has a popular shooting range, an off-leash dog area, 35 miles of multi-use trails, and a model airplane flying area. When snow is on the ground, this is a great spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. More than 40 mammals call Cherry Creek home including mule deer, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. 

Eldorado Canyon

9 Kneale Road, Eldorado Springs, CO

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Eldorado Canyon State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Considered one of the most accessible and comprehensive rock climbing areas in the nation, Eldorado Canyon State Park is truly a masterpiece. Located in Boulder County just south of the city of Boulder, Eldorado Canyon boasts over 500 technical climbing routes along the rock outcroppings and attracts climbers from all over the world. Even if you aren’t a climber, you’ll love the pastoral South Boulder Creek which flows through the canyon and the challenging hikes. Eldorado Canyon is normally an excellent fly-fishing area for brown and rainbow trout.  During the summer, people enjoy a dip at the historic Eldorado Canyon Swimming Pool, which is fed by an artesian spring and gives the water a natural deep blue hue.

Golden Gate Canyon

92 Crawford Gulch Rd., Golden, CO

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Golden Gate Canyon State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Located northwest of the city of Golden, Golden Gate Canyon State Park has 12,000 acres of dense forest and is a mountain biker’s paradise. Hikers and bikers enjoy 32 miles of trails, 19 of which are designated multiple use. Ralston, Nott and Deer Creeks all flow through this scenic park and there are tranquil ponds and riparian areas for your fishing and viewing pleasure. Campers can select from 100 campsites or stay at one of the five cabins and two yurts at Golden Gate. In 2008, the park began renting out guest houses, a first for a Colorado State Park. Winter will find visitors cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice fishing and ice skating.

Roxborough

4751 East Roxborough Dr., Roxborough, CO

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Roxborough State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Designated as a National Landmark in 1980, Roxborough State Park is highlighted by its dramatic red sandstone formations set against the Front Range foothills. Located 20 miles southwest of Denver in Douglas County, it encompasses over 3,000 acres and its trails connect with Waterton Canyon and Pike National Forest. Roxborough is a photographer’s paradise with its spectacular rock formations, towering red cliffs, hogbacks, and spires. Don’t miss out on the short half-mile Fountain Overlook trail that affords a spectacular view of rock formations and the challenging 6.4-mile trek to 7,160-foot Carpenter Peak. Be aware that pets, horses, and bicycles are not allowed on the trails. Photo via the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Instagram Page.

St. Vrain

3525 State Highway 119, Firestone, CO

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St. Vrain State Park | Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Formerly known as Barbour Ponds, this intimate state park features incredible views of Longs and Meeker Peaks, and allows easy access off of I-25. This is an anglers’ paradise as there are 11 ponds of varying sizes and 15 species of fish. Test your skills at the trophy bass ponds of Bald Eagle and Blue Heron Reservoirs. Trails encircle all the water and you’ll find fishing piers to accommodate the disabled and young anglers. You find 87 updated campsites that are open year-round and are right on the shoreline. These sites fill up quickly so make sure you get a reservation. In addition to fishing and walking, St. Vrain is popular among bird watchers and people looking to enjoy a picnic.

(This blog was previously published in September 2019. It has been updated and edited to provide new information).

Posted by Pat O'Connor

Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.

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Topics: Things to Do in Denver