The Waterton Canyon Recreation Area is located in Littleton, a short drive away from Denver and its surrounding suburbs. The gravel road runs alongside the South Platte River for 6.5 miles, and it makes for an easy hike or bike ride. It can be very busy in summer and fall weekends, but even then there are opportunities to observe its abundant wildlife, including big horn sheep, black bear, mule deer, and several other species.
Besides being a beautiful recreation area, the canyon is a historic site and an important water source for the Denver metro area. In the mid 1870s, construction of a railroad connecting Denver to Gunnison began. The first section was completed in 1878, and the railroad operated until 1937. It has been dismantled, and there are no signs of its existence other than the road itself.
Starting from the parking lot on Waterton Road, the first mile is almost flat. It leads by the site of the Berens family homestead and past a picnic area that is surrounded by cottonwood trees that turn into beautiful shades of yellow in fall. The road then goes under high pressure pipes that transport water to a water treatment plant. Water from the river is diverted, and it flows through the mountain and those pipes for over 3 miles. It is not difficult to miss this engineering feat while enjoying the hike or bike ride.
The section between 1.5 and 3 miles from the trailhead often offers the best views of wildlife. Black bear can be seen, especially in late summer and early fall. Big horn sheep are year round residents in the canyon, but especially in fall when they offer amazing head-butting displays. Rattlesnakes also inhabit the canyon, so be careful when venturing beyond the gravel road.
The road ends 6.5 miles from the parking lot near Strortia Springs Reservoir. At that point it connects with the Colorado Trail, which is almost 500 miles long and extends all the way to Durango in southwest Colorado.