This week’s hike was in lovely Castle Rock, Colorado’s Castlewood Canyon State Park. When first arriving at the park, you may be hit with the same sentiment that I was—this looks a bit…urban. But we parked at Juniper Rock, one of the first parking lots available upon entry to the area, and began on the first available trail, which was paved and had a rather distracting view of the nearby highway. Picnic tables were everywhere, and there was even a volleyball net and playground nearby. Don’t fret as I did, though, folks—this certainly isn’t your suburban neighborhood park. Deeper within Castlewood Canyon State Park lies stunning views, trails for all fitness levels and even a bit of fascinating history.
I started out on trail A from the parking lot, which continued on for about ten minutes until meeting with trail K (a trail map is given to you upon entry to the park, and they are also widely available throughout the park). Trail K follows along the side of the namesake canyon for a while until plunging straight to the bottom with a series of staircases, and let me tell you—while the view of the canyon is beautiful from the top, it’s absolutely stunning from the bottom.
A river flows through the canyon, surrounded by a dense forest and flowing over various large boulders, creating a picturesque view. The trail itself isn’t too difficult, and creates a very pleasant and relaxing hike that people of all fitness levels can enjoy.
At the end of trail K, we set out on trail H and then M for a brief while to glimpse a view from the top of a very interesting historic ruin—the remains of Castlewood Dam. Constructed in 1890 with the hope of stimulating agriculture in the area, the dam broke after unusual amounts of rain in 1933, unleashing a wall of water that traveled all the way to downtown Denver, leaving the city flooded with four feet of standing water and wreaking havoc on property in the area.
The ruins of the dam itself are impressive, towering over the canyon as an eery reminder of that fateful night. You can walk right out to the edge for an impressive view of the canyon, but be careful—there are no railings to hang onto.
If you’d like to add nearly four miles to your hike (and your family doesn’t bail on you at the dam like mine did) you can continue on trail M and then trail J to the Lucas Homestead Historic Site—ruins of the residence of early settlers to the area. The Lucases arrived in Colorado in the late 1800s and constructed a house, cattle shelter, spring house and milk house, all of which still stand (in part) in the park. After abandoning the area in the late 1930s, the buildings were left to the elements and, eventually, the state of Colorado. Visiting the homestead is a great look at the challenges and realities of life out west before it was fully established, as well as a way to extend the hike and make it more challenging.
However, if you’re feeling beat by the time you get to the dam, hook back around on trail L, which creates a loop with trail K that will take you back out of the canyon and to the parking lot. Be warned, though, that it definitely won’t be as easy as descending into the canyon. While it certainly isn’t overly-difficult, it will definitely get your heart pumping. The entire hike took us about three hours, so it wasn’t too extreme by any measure and perfect for a short day hike.
If you’re looking for a scenic hike that can be easily adjusted to various levels of fitness challenge with a cool look at some little-known Colorado history, head down to Castlewood Canyon State Park. And don’t let the view from the parking lot deter you—there’s a lot more to this area than first meets the eye.