Castlewood Canyon State Park

Our Favorite Colorado State Park to Hike

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!

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