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  1. #1
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Default Getting to the Colorado Trail trailhead in SW Denver

    This thread describes in detail how folks flying into Denver can to get to the Colorado Trail trailhead in Waterton canyon in Denver on their own power. It also works for those arriving by train or bus.

    Right up front let it be known that this is sort-of convoluted, but it does work for those not wanting to take a taxi or rely on CT trail angels.

    For those flying to Denver International Airport (“DIA”): The first step is to take the Denver RTD (regional transportation district) light rail system, line “A” straight from DIA to downtown Denver, where it will arrive at Union Terminal. This fare is $9, but keep your ticket when you get off the train, because it will be good for the rest of this train/bus route. You basically would purchase a $9 “day pass” at the Denver airport for your line A ride, plus it is valid for your subsequent ride on the C line and later short bus ride.

    Union Terminal is also where Amtrak trains arrive, and there is a greyhound bus station close by. So from this point on, this description applies to all plane/train/bus arrivals.

    Before leaving Union station, there is an REI within walking distance, about 15 minutes away, if you need stove fuel or other hiking supplies. This is the Denver Flagship store, a really cool store. There are also plenty of restaurants in the area. My favorite is “My Brother’s Bar” on the corner of 15th and Platte, on the same block as REI. Fantastic pub-type food, huge beer menu.

    If you’re ready to head to the trailhead, from Union Station, take the RTD-Denver light rail line C to Littleton Mineral station. Don’t confuse this with “Littleton Station”, an earlier stop. Take line C to its southern terminus at the “Mineral” station. Basically just stay on this train until you have to get off of it. As already mentioned, you’re A-line skyride ticket is good for this 2nd lightrail ride. When you ride the lightrail in Denver, you don’t use the ticket to get on the train, you just have to have it with you when and if an RTD official comes by and checks that you have it. It is a hefty fine if you try to ride without it and get caught.

    So now at Littleton Mineral station, exit the train and cross the footbridge (no choice). At this point, an easier but more expensive and less adventurous option is to simply call a taxi or an Uber ride to the trailhead. I’ve heard anything from $25 to $35 for this ride. It is maybe 11-12 miles one way. You can arrange this via your cell phone on your lightrail ride when you get close to the Littleton Mineral station. One potential problem is that Uber or even regular Taxi drivers might not have a clue as to what or where the Colorado trailhead is, so you might want to have a map handy. You might have a better chance telling the driver you need a ride to Waterton Canyon (which is, of course, the CT trailhead).

    The rest of this description is for those wanting to take a combination of a bus and walking 6.5 miles to the trailhead.

    When across the footbridge, look to the right and see a bus stop area. Find gate “D” and wait for the “402L” bus. Depending on the time of day, this bus should depart every half hour, on the half hour, but sometimes only once an hour, on the hour. See “rtd-denver.com” web site for schedule.

    You can use your lightrail ticket to get on the bus. This is theoretically true, I have yet personally to do a combination lightrail-bus route. Just to be on the safe side, have 3 bucks handy for a $2.70 fare. The bus driver will not make change, so don’t just have a bunch of 20’s.

    Take this 402L bus south along Santa Fe for only 5 or so minutes, looking for “town center drive”. This is not a regular stop, so you have to request it. You might want to mention this to the driver when you board. Exit the bus at Town Center Drive, on the west side of Santa Fe Drive (Town Center drive is actually across the street, you don’t need to go there). Keep a sharp eye out for this stop! You don’t want to miss it, and again, the driver will not stop if you don’t prompt him to. I suggest having Google maps up on your phone and tracking your location. There might be a “Town Center Drive” sign on your right before the stop.

    The first pic shows a google map overview of the entire walking route. The rest of the pics show zoomed-in details.

    Get off the bus and start walking south on Santa Fe. This is a large, busy road, but there is a nice shoulder to walk on. Walk almost exactly ¼ mile south. Turn right on Brandon Drive (it’s the first paved road south of where you get off the bus).

    On Brandon Drive, walk just about another ¼ mile due west, arriving on a cul-de-sac. Bearing slightly right at the end of the cul-de-sac, there is a driveway exiting the end of the cul-de-sac; take this driveway, which is bearing northwest for about 100 yards. Directly in front of you is an entrance to “Pioneer Landscape materials” (decorative landscape rock/material retailer); you’re not going in there, you’re turning left here.

    Bear left around some trees and you’re on a gravel path. Follow this gravel path southward. This is the Highline Canal trail, which was built in the late 1800’s along with the actual canal. There is a gate here to keep out motorized vehicles, walk around the right side. Head south on this Highline Canal trail. If you look to the left (east), you should see the highline canal. It is usually dry. Follow this trail for about 800 yards (half a mile). It is basically a wide, gravel road. The trail now bearing SSW, you will cross a set of train tracks. After crossing the tracks, continue briefly along the trail for about 100 yards and you will come to a turn to the right off the highline and a second set of tracks.

    Leave the highline trail and cross the second set of tracks. Look directly west (towards the mountains) and down and you’ll see a short, steep little path descending a hill. Down at the bottom, there is a white rectangular sign. Head for this sign, the key to finding the path into chatfield state park. The third attached pic shows a zoom in of this portion of the walk.

    Walk past the sign, now on a paved pathway. Follow this curving, paved path through the woods for a good ¼ mile. You’ll come to a gravel parking lot. Turn left on the path just before the parking lot. The path is now an old asphalt path. Take this path about ¼ mile out to a road, and turn left (south) on the road. Take this road a couple hundred yards to a T intersection, and turn right. There are three campground loops coming up on your right. Loop A is the first right. Loops B/C are the second right. There is an entrance Kiosk soon after the second right. The fourth attached pic shows a zoom-in of this portion.

    To spend the night at this campground, a reservation is recommended. There are 1st-come, first served sites as well. These all tend to fill up all days in the summer, and most weekends in the spring and fall. This is a mostly wide open, sunny campground, though there are some shadier spots. Denver’s climate is hot and dry, so if you are arriving here in the summer before later in the evening, be aware that it will probably be very hot.

    The fifth attached pic shows an overview of the rest of the walking route, approximately 4.5 miles. Leaving the campground area, continue south on this main Chatfield SP road. It curves around a bit, generally heading SW. About 1.75 miles south of the campground (one could hitch a ride for this) , you’ll cross a bridge over the Platte River (the biggest river going through the Denver area; small by eastern standards). After crossing the bridge, take a left on a wide dirt road, heading now due south. Follow this road for 1.25 miles, first along the east side of a small lake, then it curves around the south end of this lake and heads west. Follow this until it T junctions with another dirt road. Turn left and head south. Follow this road 1 mile, mostly due south, with a slight curve.

    The dirt road ends in a dirt parking lot. Walk south through this lot to the south end, then turn left on a small trail, now heading east, then curving towards the southwest into the large, actual Waterton Canyon parking lot.

    The sixth attached map show a detail of this area, including the trailhead. One could simply follow the road towards the left on the pic, but this is a busy road with little or no shoulder, so be careful if you choose to do so. Also be careful crossing the road just before the trailhead. There is a crosswalk, but this doesn't mean all drivers will stop.

    Enjoy hiking the Colorado trail!
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    Damn..good stuff.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Paul "Mags" Magnanti
    http://pmags.com
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

  3. #3

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    Thank you colorado_rob, I cut and pasted your post onto a word file that I'll keep with my other Colorado Trail planning info.

  4. #4

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    That is great. Thanks for putting it together. Mag's - can you make it sticky?
    May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.


    ~ Edward Abbey

  5. #5
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    Great Information. I walked the mostly paved path from the light rail station to the park, along the creek/river. Not much shade, but being from the low lands, I considered it acclimation. I like your route.

  6. #6
    Registered User colorado_rob's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ercoupe View Post
    Great Information. I walked the mostly paved path from the light rail station to the park, along the creek/river. Not much shade, but being from the low lands, I considered it acclimation. I like your route.
    It didn't occur to me to post info on a complete walking route from the Mineral lightrail... maybe 11-12 miles vs. 6.5 taking the bus like I described below. If anyone has interest, I'd be glad to share this in detail, but looks like you figured it out no problem. Google maps/satellite is a wonderful thing!

    One major problem with this overall scheme is the lack of anywhere to camp except at Chatfield state park, which charges a whopping $26 a night, plus a $10 reservation fee, it turns out (Slogoen reported back on this). There are a couple places that if arriving late in the day (near or after dark), one could stealth camp in some woods, but pickings are slim and most of the "woods" along these routes are Plum creek or Platte river waterways, lots of wet areas. I betcha one could wander around the Chatfield campground and find a friendly RV owner that would let you throw up a tent in his/her site, maybe flip them a 10-spot or something.

  7. #7
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    Bought a ticket from Chaffee Shuttle/Black Hills/ Arrow Bus Lines to Salida for an inside out CT flip flop thru-hike. i.e.' start at Salida(Monarch Pass). Picked the ticket up at the Black Hills/Arrow Line ticket counter at Denver INT AP. With this ticket I was allowed to get on the I believe RTD bus to the Denver Greyhound Terminal downtown for transit to Salida the following day. Saved me $9. It was within walking distance of a hostel, longish walk to REI, etc. Easily could use trains or buses to get around though.

    Yes, G R E AT info CR.

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