Friday, May 22, 2015

Hike Planning for Castlewood Canyon State Park

Castlewood Canyon State Park
Castlewood Canyon State Park lies just east of Castle Rock and is accessible from both highway 83 and highway 86.  Hiking trails range from one half a mile to 4 miles in length. Inside the canyon there are ruins of the old dam that held back Castlewood Lake and a historic pioneers homestead. Scenic trails run from canyon top to canyon bottom, and follow Cherry Creek.  Bicycling is allowed only on the roads, Castlewood Canyon road being a nice loop route from Castle Rock.

Denver Post photo of the flooding
Castlewood Dam was built in 1890 on Cherry Creek across a canyon 5 miles south of Franktown in Douglas County.  The rock-filled structure was built by the Denver Water Storage Company.  The dam was built like others in that time, using the weight of the rock rubble inside the dam to hold back the 5300 acre feet of water the reservoir was to hold. The dam was built 50 feet thick at the bottom, 8 feet thick at the top, spanned 600 feet at 70 feet high.  Of course the dam leaked from the start.  The shifting sandstone strata under the dam caused many leaks and may have caused its failure 43 years later.  The plan was to provide water for some 30,000 acres downstream. Arguments about the dam's safety raged for decades.
Flood wall reaches Denver
It was early August of 1933 when successive days of rain caused the 43 year old Castlewood Dam to fail, sending a 15 foot high wave of water all the way through Denver. The sound of the dam bursting was heard 2 miles away as a mile-wide wave roared down the Cheery Creek valley, past Franktown and Parker, killing two people.  The debris-filled water washed out 6 bridges in quick succession when it reached Denver, flooding homes, causing power and phone lines to be cut.  Police sirens and telephone operators are credited with saving many lives as hundreds wearing only their night clothes fled in automobiles to higher ground.  Property damage was estimated at $1,000,000 from the billion gallon deluge along the 35 mile path of destruction.  The historic photos of the flood show the wall of water, estimated from 11 to 15 feet high, plus all the damage, destroyed bridges, flooded farmland, homes and businesses.  Read the personal accounts of the flood HERE.  

Trailhead for Homestead Trail around the historic Lucas Homestead
Today Castlewood Canyon is a peaceful place, with 30 picnic sites, 14 miles of quiet hiking trails, 60 foot high climbing walls (with some restrictions), offering birding and wildlife viewing.   There is no camping but picnicing is king here with 3 reservable group shelters available.  The family-oriented visitor center hosts videos on wildlife and nature.  A list of hiking trails and a map are HERE.
There are hiking trails along the Cherry Creek bottom, on top of the mesa above the creek, around the dam, and east along Cherry Creek from the main park area on highway 83. My favorite hike is the Creek Bottom Trail, about 1.7 miles, starting at 6200 feet elevation. This riparian area is beautiful with trees and shrub, birds and wildlife and the canyon walls, along with a small waterfall.
Finding the park is easy.  From Denver, head south on I-25 to exit 182, go east on highway 86 for 4 miles to Franktown.  Turn right/south on highway 83 and drive 5 miles to the park entrance on the right. Alternately, you can enter the west gate from highway 86.  Turn right onto Castlewood Canyon Road prior to crossing Cherry Creek bridge about a quarter mile west of Franktown.  Follow the road south to the entrance.  This road becomes dirt once inside the park.

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