Castlewood Canyon State Park

Our Favorite Colorado State Park to Hike

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Castlewood Canyon State Park is our favorite place to hike. This Colorado State Park is located approximately 35 miles South of Denver. My husband and I fell in love with this state park nearly 15 years ago and have hiked it over a dozen times. There are 15 different trails to explore at the canyon – most are very short, with the longest being just over 2 miles. We love the beautiful terrain of the canyon, hiking next to Cherry Creek, and the easy, well-marked trails that loop around. My inner-geek goddess also loves the geological and historic aspects of the park.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

Geological Features

Reading about the geological history of the canyon and surrounding area prior to visiting the park is highly recommended. Both adults and kids will enjoy finding the geological remains of this park’s history while on the trail. Detailed below are a few of the geological discoveries you may see on your hike.

Petrified Wood:  Nearly 55 million years ago, a tropical rainforest covered this part of Colorado. The landscape featured a thick, humid forest and traces of the ancient forest can be found in fossils within the park. The most common fossil found at the park is a butter-scotch-colored rock, which is petrified wood from a tropical tree.

Rhyolite Rocks:  A few million years later, during the Late Eocene (which was also close to the world’s major extinction event), a large volcanic eruption sent a cloud of liquid rock and volcanic ash over 90 miles away to this area. Pieces of this once liquid rock, now called rhyolite, can be found throughout the park. Look for rocks with sharp edges, tiny air holes, and shiny specs.

Conglomerate Rocks: These rocks were washed down from the eroding Rocky Mountains and formed the canyon walls and caprock (the rock sitting at the top of the canyon). Best described by the Castlewood Canyon pamphlet, these rocks look like cookie dough with bits of chocolate chips sticking out. The “dough” is sedimentary rock and the chips are pebbles and boulders smoothed over years and then cemented into the larger rock. The large boulders at the bottom of the canyon were once on the caprock and forces of nature (or a mammoth’s butt) resulted in these being broken and placed on the canyon floor.

Historical Events

Castlewood Dam was built along the Cherry Creek in the late 1800’s to assist with agricultural irrigation. The dam project came with lots of controversy and fears of significant and disastrous flooding, but the owners of the dam guaranteed this would never occur (hmmm…famous last words?).

The dam had some issues over the years, changed ownership multiple times, and minor flooding occurred due to holes in the dam. But, over time, the holes were repaired, and the reservoir filled creating a local vacation spot for fishing and camping.

Then in 1933, after a series of significant thunderstorms, the reservoir filled to capacity. On August 3, 1933 at 1PM the dam broke, sending a wall of water down the Cherry Creek towards Denver. The city was flooded a few hours later and incurred a million dollars in damage. Thankfully, only 2 lives were lost during the flood. Although some wanted the dam rebuilt, it never happened, and the dam ruins were abandoned. In 1964, the area was designated as a Colorado State Park.

Dam Ruins: From the Inner Canyon trail, you can loop in the Dam trail which will take you to the ruins. We didn’t take this route on our most recent hiking trip, but we plan to go on our next trip. We went a few years back and found ourselves impressed by the size of the ruins; we could imagine just how powerful and destructive the water was when the dam broke. I plan to update this post with pictures when we go again.

Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon Loop (aka Our Hike of the Day)

On our recent hike, we trekked the Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon trails for a 2-mile loop starting and ending at the parking lot. The hike is indicated as a moderate trail, however, our 7-year-old daughter had no issues. There were a few steep steps (they literally made steps) and some steady footwork around the rocks, but otherwise it was just a nice walk.

Our hike started on the Lake Gulch trail. This trail overlooks the grasslands, has some interesting rocks that are easy to climb, and flat-wide trails.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

Along the way, we connected to the Inner Canyon trail where the trail dips down into the canyon providing shade, and therefore cooler temps. In the winter, that means that some parts of the trail might be icy, which it was during our early January hike.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

This part of the trail is my favorite because it has the most interesting landscape. High canyon walls, tons of boulders to climb, and a rocky stream. In the spring, the stream offers a shallow spot for pups, the young, and the young at heart, to run through. In the winter, it is frozen over and quite picturesque.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

Due to the amount of easy to climb rocks, this trail is loved by the kids (and husbands). The boulders are huge and offer lots of fun! We saw a couple of boys having the time of their lives jumping from boulder to boulder. Just a note of warning, rattlesnakes also love these rocks and you should always keep a watchful eye out for these slithery foes.

Castlewood Canyon State Park

We ended with the staircase back to the parking lot, my thighs felt like jello, but it was such a satisfying feeling! I can’t wait to tackle our next family hike!!!

Castlewood Canyon State Park

What is your state’s best park? Let me know in the comments!

Castlewood Canyon State Park is our favorite state park in Colorado! Located 35 miles south of Denver, this kid and dog friendly park is ideally located for a quick family hike!

Outdoor Outpost Blog Party: I’ve linked up with the Outdoor Outpost group on Vera Vise! Join this blog hop with your outdoor adventures every other week!

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  1. I want to hike here!!! What a great park! Pretty trail plus interesting historical stuff. I’m pinning this for a future trip.

  2. This is one of the things I love about Colorado, there is an abundance of free things to do. I love exploring all of the great hiking trails and this is one I haven’t done yet, so thank you for adding it to my list!

  3. This looks like a great and not to strenuous hike. I love the scenery. These are my favorite kinds of hikes. I like to see things, not just trees. I get bored easily when hiking, this looks like the perfect hike for me.

  4. What an awesome place. I would love to hike here and to explore the Park. I am fascinated by geology and it never ceases to amaze me what wonderful rock structures have been created by nature and time. Yes, I would be the one to have the jello legs at the end with the prospect of climbing steps back up to the parking lot.

  5. We dont do as much hiking as we should. Id really have to look to find something locally (We can do a 3 or 4 mile boardwalk walk at our local beaches so cant complain about that). We have trails up along the Hudson river that I keep saying we should take a day trip to! I went to CO when I was in 9th grade (summer time) and its such a different landscape than here.

  6. Surely it will become my family favorite state park if we leave around Denver, too. My son will have endless joy exploring the rocks. That’s one thing I like about CO. Nature has different kind of things for people to explore.

  7. I love having beautiful places to hike close to home & you have what sounds like an amazing place close by. I love the history and the geological features, especially the petrified wood. That has always fascinated me for some reason.

  8. It is amazing how much history there is surrounding how this park came about! I cannot believe it used to be a tropical rainforest, though that is almost scary considering all the talk of climate change! I’d love to check this out someday, though being from the northeast, I am not exactly sure of how I feel about having to look out for rattlesnakes : 0

  9. I always love finding new hikes in the area! Every once in a while we land on a not-so-great hike and wish we had done a little more research before hand. Can’t wait to try this one out! Is there a campground in the park? It would be fun to make a weekend of it, especially with the warm weather we’ve had lately!

    1. No campground in this park, but if you were hitting up south Denver area for the weekend then maybe add on Cherry Creek State Park for camping (kayaking, boating, lake adventures, etc.). You could even hit up Sam’s #3 (just a bit further north on Parker Rd) for a HUGE breakfast. Yum….

  10. Hahah…shorts in the snow! Looks like my husband! You are so blessed with amazing outdoor areas in Colorado! Thanks for linking up to #outdooroutpost this week!

    1. He’d prefer to wear shorts all year long, while I’d rather never! Thanks for including me in the #outdooroutpost! It is always such a great collection of bloggers.

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