We were headed to Cherry Creek State Park in Denver when we took a quick detour to Castlewood Canyon State Park. There is no camping in Castlewood Canyon, but there are numerous hiking trails with varied terrain and accessible picnic areas that are near a large parking area. After packing a picnic, we stopped at this state park and enjoyed our lunch, the wild flowers, and a short walk. There is ample parking for campers, though the entrance of the park has a few low dips that could be challenging for some vehicles.
We entered Cherry Creek State Park in a line of cars carrying visitors for the weekend. Cherry Creek State Park boasts an 880 acre reservoir near the heart of Denver surrounded by 35 miles of multi-use trails (some paved, others dirt). There is a large, 135-site campground to the east of the reservoir, while other group sites are found on the west side of the reservoir. Large cottonwood trees are scattered throughout the campground. A marina that houses sail boats and sailing programs sits on the north side of the reservoir, while a large, sand beach with picnic tables and grills stretches near the campground on the east side.
We pulled into our site which was perfectly level and contained a few shade trees. There are some basic tent sites and several deluxe, full hook-up sites. A shower and laundry building is strategically placed close to the tent sites, but was also close enough to easily walk from our camper. A dump station is also available. Our site was more open than I generally prefer, but we enjoyed the grass surrounding the site. Trails leading to the swim beach are easy to access, and a bike is perfect for quick exploration.
After we arrived, we took a bike ride to the swim beach and around a portion of the reservoir. Denver’s downtown buildings are visible from the swim beach, along with the mountains in the distance on clear days. Several anglers were trying their luck at various parking lots designed specifically for this purpose. On our first night here in July, a large thunderstorm rolled in after dinner with torrential rain and incredibly close lightening.
This park does an excellent job bringing presenters to the amphitheater located in the campground, but unfortunately, the first night’s program was cancelled when a large clap of thunder and almost immediate lightening occurred right before it began. We ran back to the camper and watched out the window as torrential rain fell and created a flood on the paved street in the campground. Wind caused massive amounts of leaves and cotton to litter the ground around our previously perfectly groomed site. The host here was meticulous in her upkeep of the sites.
The following morning was chilly with clouds remaining from the storm. We were determined to enjoy the swim beach (it was July after all!). We enjoyed our pancake breakfast and then headed to the swim beach when the clouds lifted. The beach was fairly empty when we arrived, but it filled by early afternoon with families and large groups gathered to celebrate birthdays and BBQ. The shaded tables went fast, though there are plenty of tables and areas to enjoy a lunch on the beach. The water was quite warm and the swimming area is large. Boats generally remain outside of this inlet, leaving more peaceful waters for kayaking and other outdoor activities. We enjoyed the water and building sand castles.
With the forecast promising yet another thunder storm in the afternoon, we cut our beach day shorter than usual in the afternoon and took a shorter bike ride the opposite direction than we had the previous day, this time traveling counterclockwise. While we attempted to reach the marina, the storm forced us to turn around and again head back to the camper.
The bike trail that circles the lake is paved and wide enough for multi-use. It is also fairly flat, so it is a great ride for younger bicyclists. Pelicans of all types make their homes on this water and are interesting to watch. We waited through the storm, enjoyed dinner when it cleared, and then headed to the evening presentation at the amphitheater. This evening’s presenter was a “mountain man” who was there to tell stories about the lives of explorers in the west. He dressed the part and let the kids look at his tools and told tall tales as well as factual stories. All in attendance seemed to enjoy his presentation.
A visitors center sits at the entrance to the campground and rangers are helpful in providing maps and information to visitors. Several people camping here seemed to have been coming for years to enjoy the weekends here, most likely from Denver and the surrounding areas. Inside the visitors center, there are displays about the building of the reservoir and pictures from the opening of the swim beach. Ice cream is also available for purchase. If you are searching for more of a selection, you can check the vending machines inside the laundry area which contain various types of food, including some ice cream bars. We enjoyed our s’mores since it wasn’t storming and headed back to the lake as the sun set over the mountains.
The beautiful, cloudless morning allowed us to finally ride the entire trail around the lake. The Cherry Creek Trail actually runs from Castlewood Canyon State Park which we visited earlier, to this park and beyond. We rode the loop around the reservoir starting from the campground and traveling clockwise. This brings the rider past the reservoir, through open fields and into shaded groves. Picnic areas (some covered) surround the reservoir. Benches and areas to rest off the trail are strategically placed and usually face the lake or the mountains (or both). A group of model airplane enthusiasts was flying their planes at a designated field on the west side of the reservoir. We stopped to watch these planes. We finally made it around the lake, back to the campground.
This is a beautiful urban campground that provides easy access to Denver. Traffic can be heard if staying more to the east in the campground, so I recommend staying more to the west side of this lovely location. Bring your bikes, beach toys, and enjoy the water sports as well. It’s a great asset to the area and a perfect location.