I had purchased tickets to Red Rocks and was looking for a campground near this area to stay. I found Chatfield State Park, a campground with 197 full hookup sites clustered around a 1,500 acre reservoir. It was easily accessible traveling on HWY 470 or HWY 85. I booked site 40 and started reviewing all the offerings at Chatfield.
While the main draw for most visitors is the reservoir, there is a paved and non-paved trail system that circles the lake and brings visitors to look-out points, a swimming beach, and other attractions. Due to its proximity to Denver, the weekend we visited in August was bustling with boaters. We arrived in the evening to make dinner and set up camp. The park ranger at the entrance was helpful and told us about the programs they offered at the amphitheater, the numerous trails they had (though several were closed due to a large construction project), and other important information. She also gave our son a State Parks Passport to have stamped at each park he visited. I wished we had this earlier in the summer.
We drove into the park on a winding, paved road that meandered to numerous campgrounds. Despite being in a relatively open location, several large cottonwood trees were scattered throughout the area. They clearly had been planted when the reservoir opened for recreation in 1975. We found our spot and parked. The site was perfectly flat. The area was dotted with pinion pines and cottonwoods. Geese were out for an evening stroll on the healthy grass.
A handful of sites have views of the water. Ours was not one of these, but we were pleased with our view and the larger spots. We made dinner and then a campfire to roast smores. Within minutes of finishing our smores, the perfectly still evening transformed with a fierce, 50 MPH wind. My phone warned that this wind would continue for the next hour and was the edge of a torrential rainstorm in the Denver area.
As soon as the wind started, I ran into the camper to close the awning and secure the windows, but I didn’t have time to close the windows because the flames of our very conservative fire were pushed at least one yard outside the fire ring with the devastating wind. We ran to extinguish the fire, while our son grabbed all the food and plates from the table to take them inside. Like the tornado scene from The Wizard of Oz, objects of all sizes began flying. Our new Kelty camp chairs were being tossed dangerously close to the fire. As I grabbed one and threw it under the camper, I noticed the bag for one of the chairs was now engulfed in the overstretched flames. I grabbed it and doused it with water. We got everything into the camper and closed the windows. And then we waited for the wind to stop. As promised, it shook the camper and howled for about one hour. The sun was down by the time we ran inside, so all we could see were the campfires around us jumping and spreading embers on the surrounding grass.
It wasn’t until the next, peaceful morning when we looked outside that we saw several campers around us had completely given up and gone home. A pop-up camper further down our circle, whose campfire we had watched for some time from our camper, was now completely gone. When we were enjoying our smores, this family had been cooking dinner and had created a large outdoor kitchen on their picnic table. Now, it looked like they had never been there.
After breakfast, we decided to go kayaking. It was still before 10 a.m. and we found the closest parking area and launch/beach for this activity. Luckily, we got one of the last parking spots available. We kayaked until noon and then headed back to the campsite for lunch. The problem with this campsite is that there is little shade and a shade tent over the table would be beneficial. However, anyone who was camping the night before no longer had a shade tent. There were several crumpled frames hiding behind pinion pines and sticking out of dumpsters. These simple tents were single-use items at this campground.
We drove around the lake and walked some of the trails. The 26 miles of trails are well marked and accessible for bikes and walkers. If we return, we will bring our bikes. The construction met that the swim beach was closed, but it also created odd detours and closures around the busy waterway. Several people were having difficulty finding parking, looping through parking lots near popular fishing spots. The campgrounds, however, were peaceful despite being full.
Chatfield offers plenty of trails for horseback riding and hot-air balloons take off early in the morning from this park. There is also a designated model airplane flying field near the campgrounds (though you don’t hear the planes), and you can rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards to use at the lake. Several picnic areas are also placed around the entire property, including larger group facilities. We enjoyed this spot and its proximity to Red Rocks for the concert. It was a quick commute back to the campground and made for a relaxing weekend.