When in Colorado for months due to the COVID crisis, why not take advantage of all the state has to offer. While my outdoor preference is to hike in the Rocky Mountains, living in Denver, I can’t always be in the high country. As a result, I thought why not hike and bike the High Line Canal.
I have walked, biked and even ridden horses on portions of the High Line Canal, but I have never completed it in its entirety. I honestly didn’t know where it began or ended or if it was easily accessible in segments like the Colorado Trail.
Luckily, I stumbled upon the High Line Canal Conservancy Web Page. The Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization that works to preserve and protect the 71-mile canal. While the Conservancy is tasked to oversee the master plan, Denver Water owns and operates the canal.
History of the High Line Canal
The High Line Canal was originally constructed over 100 years ago to divert water from the South Platte River to settlers and farmers after an 1859 Gold Rush. Still today, Denver Water delivers water to contract holders from the spring to the fall.
But most the time, Colorado residents use the High Line Canal for recreation. It is one of the longest linear parks in the nation. The 71 mile urban trail spans 11 governmental jurisdictions beginning in Waterton Canyon and ending in Northeast Denver.
Biking the 14 Segments
Parking areas are spaced approximately every five miles on the canal. Accordingly, recreationalists may easily hike or bike each of the 14 segments. I selected biking, as despite many cottonwoods, places on the canal are pretty exposed to the sun. Walking 10 miles as an out-and-back for each segment this summer seemed a bit long.
With biking it is easy to knock out a few segments at a time, resulting in leisurely 20-mile out-and-back rides. I proposed my plan to my friend Nancy, and she quickly accepted.
After reviewing the maps on the High Line Canal Conservancy Web Page, we planned our first 16-mile ride over Segments 1-3. Though we faced a few challenges at the start, our Saturday ride went smoothly thereafter.
Parking, Segment 1, Waterton Canyon
To begin, the parking area at 11300 Waterton Road was closed. Apparently there was a fly fishing event and only participants could to enter. Fortunately, there is a small parking area just up the road, and we got the last few spots available at 8am.
The Waterton Canyon Trail acts as the Canal Trail in the canyon for the first segment. I had already walked this once as part of the 485 mile Colorado Trail. At the time, however, I didn’t realize it was part of the Canal Trail.
Additionally, neither Nancy nor I knew that the Waterton Canyon Trail is closed on the weekends! I suspect the closure reduces the foot traffic that interferes with resident mountain goats. In addition, it keeps nearby Lockheed Martin protected from passersby. Needless to say, our first four miles (2 out-and-back) alluded us. We’ll have to do it as a walk in the future.
Segment 2 of the High Line Canal
In order to reach Segment 2, we returned to the parking area next to the Platte Canyon Reservoir. Segment 2 includes mile markers 2 through 7 and extends a bit more than the 5 miles from parking area to parking area. As a result, the out-and-back of this section calculates to approximately 10 miles.
The crushed gravel canal trail passes the reservoir to the south and east as it weaves to the north parallel to Chatfield State Park. The trail proceeds through dispersed residential area with farmland, a cemetery, a historic cabin, and a riding club.
Trail users need to open and close a few livestock gates, but the views of red barns, horses, and pastures enclosed with white picket fencing makes it worth the effort. Hopefully developers won’t get their hands on this land, as one area of dirt under construction is little to be desired.
The canal trail surface intermittently changes between the crushed gravel, lose chip seal, and dirt as it continues to Roxborough Park Rd where Segment 2 ends. Those wishing to explore one segment at a time may park at a nice, paved lot at this intersection.
Segment 3 of the High line Canal
As I mentioned, we planned to ride segments 1-3. Thus we crossed Roxborough Park Road, and continued through meadows dotted with a few wildflowers and past a lush forested area of Chatfield State Park.
Segment 3 only continued about two miles to Plum Creek. Plum Creek is located just mile 9.5 where the trail access is blocked at a sign posted “Closed to Public Use”.
Upon completing the out portion of our bike ride, we turned around for the back portion. In all, the ride turned out to be 15 miles rather than the 19 originally planned, but it was a great start to our High Line Canal exploration.
We found the canal trail surprisingly quiet for a Saturday. I don’t think we saw even 10 people on the trail. There were more road cyclists on Roxborough Park Road, than there were walkers, runners and bikers on these segments of the High Line Canal Trail.
I’m certain when we ride segments closer to Denver, that will change, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Until our next outing…ETB
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