A state park gem exists east of Castle Rock that is worth a visit to explore Castlewood Canyon, intersecting an area where plains and foothills meet.
Head north from Interquest Parkway on Colorado Highway 83. After about 25 miles, reach the east entrance to Castlewood Canyon State Park, just south of Franktown.
While the trails are family friendly, the poison ivy along the trail is not. But with care, it can be easily avoided.
Follow the entrance road for about a mile, ending at a large parking area. Locate the Lake Gulch Trail at the west end of the lot and hike northwest across relatively flat terrain through grassland and Gambel’s Oak shrubby areas enhanced by rock outcrops.
After about .75 miles, the route swings east for about a quarter-mile where the trail spans a rocky area crossing Cherry Creek before ending at an intersection with the Inner Canyon Trail. Turn left and travel west for about a quarter-mile to the Dam Trail to view the ruins of the dam that burst in 1933, sending a 15-foot high wave of water into Denver.
Return to the Lake Gulch/Inner Canyon trail intersection and continue east on the Inner Canyon Trail that follows the creek. The rocky terrain advances to moderate difficulty and large boulders along the trail provide some entertaining rock scrambling, especially for kids, but beware of poison ivy!
While fall colors are limited, some yellows can be seen among the cottonwoods and willows in the riparian area. Scattered conifers line the canyon and choke cherry is also abundant here, feeling right at home along the well-named Cherry Creek.
After about .75 miles traveling southeast, some footbridges cross the creek before the trail climbs up to and ends at the Canyon View Nature Trail. Continue southward for about .25 miles back to the parking area.
On the way out, stop to check out the Visitor Center where hikers can also walk a few hundred yards east to soak in the view at the Bridge Canyon Overlook.
From the Overlook area, the East Canyon Trail heads east through dry Pinyon-Juniper woodland and under Colorado Highway 83.
This 2.5 mile out and back trail provides more solitude and drops down into a scenic wetland along Cherry Creek with a loop at the end.
Joe LaFleur …….