Waterton Canyon - An Extraordinary Gorge

Storm over Waterton Canyon

The Platte River spills down from the mountains and carves an extraordinary gorge through the Rampart Range that concludes with a rugged canyon known as Waterton. This is where the South Platte emerges from the foothills and onto the boggy wetlands just southwest of Denver. The gravel service road that follows the river course is wide and flat making it a perfect track for biking, hiking or trail running. Bighorn sheep are the park’s feature attraction but mule deer, blue herons, black bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes also frequent the area.

We approached the rocky corridor during a late June blizzard. Flakes of white, cottony seeds from gnarled cottonwood trees fell on us like a spring snowstorm. To the west, gray clouds foretold afternoon thunder showers so we picked up the pace. Before long, the steep, red walls had risen to one thousand feet. Dark-green shadows stretched across the narrow pathway.

Just around the bend, water confined by an ancient dam was diverted through a tunnel and into the Highline Canal. We proceeded into Pike National Forest hoping to see the resident bighorn sheep but it started to rain. Trying to stay ahead of the storm, we hustled back to the trailhead but the much needed rainfall thoroughly soaked us. Nevertheless, we dried out quickly upon re-entering the land of lizards, fire and sun.

Cotton fell on us like spring snow

The canyon walls are a thousand feet high

Just around the bend was an ancient dam

Water is diverted through a tunnel into the Highline Canal

The South Platte carved Waterton Canyon

The river emerges from the foothills just southwest of Denver

We missed the sheep but spotted this merganser


  1. Beautiful pictures, your descriptions made me smile and remember the days we hiked and camped in around The Denver area.

    1. Thanks Sandy, I'm glad it brought back good memories. We're always looking for new places to explore and hike. This was a good one.

  2. Very beautiful Dan - what a fantastic place for a hike! Your pictures made me feel like I was there!

    1. Thanks Judi, it was a great hike. I took lots of photos but we missed the Bighorn Sheep. Maybe next time.

  3. Ah, that looks so much nicer than the week I've spent editing behind a keyboard...

    1. That's why you're such a good writer, always working. It was a nice walk. It even rained on us.


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