Colorado Trail: Waterton To South Platte

4.56 out of 5
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↑ 5,800 ft
↓ 6,100 ft
elevation (ft)

Out & Back
Trail Description
About this trail
*Note: Waterton Canyon will be closed for for two extended periods in 2010 and 2011: 8/2/2010 - 12/3/2010 and 2/28/2011 - 12/31/2011. Alternate access to the first section of the Colorado Trail will be from the west leg of the Indian Creek loop. (from

This section of the CT is undoubtedly the most travelled section both for hikers and mountain bikers. It is about 17 miles from the Waterton parking lot to the parking lot at South Platte. The first 6 miles up Waterton Canyon is especially crowded, and is likely to be filled with children and weaving pedestrians. Once you get to the Strontia dam, the trail begins it's upward journey for the next couple of miles up to the "sitting bench." If you turn left you will be on the Roxborough Loop, and if you continue on past the bench (downhill) you will be on the Colorado Trail. Only 460 miles to Durango!

The singletrack is pretty sweet on this part of the trail, although this first descent is almost the only downhill you will do for about the next 8 miles! You will encounter some pleasant forest covered trail, as well as some very rocky and technical uphill sections that are easier to walk than to ride. On long distance rides you are better off walking some places rather than exert too much energy. You have to save something for the trip back! Remember that as you plow into these steep hills...

Once over a couple of these rocky sections, you will head into the open-to-motorcycles section of the trail, and the rocks get bigger and the trail gets even harder. You WILL be walking parts of the trail here. Again, this is mostly uphill...although it does eventually level out somewhat. Overall, the grades are pretty easy on this trail and it is mostly ridable once you pass the motorcycle area. Then begins a long steady climb with rolling hills and great views as you head west towards South Platte.

At about mile 13 you will find yourself on the top of a rocky outcropping looking down on the river to the west. This is the beginning of the last descent. This one is MAJOR. If you want an easy day, turn around here and head back to Waterton. No one will think any less of you. However, if you are up for a challenge, you can complete this section of the CO Trail by heading down what is nearly a 4 mile descent straight down. Great fun as the trail is well maintained, and the switchbacks are all pretty ridable. Your hands will burn from using the breaks and holding on for dear life as you blaze down this trail and finally emerge at the river. As you turn around, you will be shocked at how far you dropped! Congratulations, you have just completed section 1 of the Colorado Trail!

It is best to carry a water filter, as you might find yourself on the edge of your water allowance on the return trip. This is important as now you are looking at a 4 mile climb to get out of the valley and get back to Waterton! After a rest, you can begin the ascent and hopefully survive the climb without too much walking (some of the switchbacks are a bit tricky when going uphill). Note the joy on the faces of those downhillers speeding by you, and remember a happier time when that was you! Honestly, the grade is not terrible and although long, most of this ascent is not that bad. If you do OK on Mt. Falcon or Deer Creek, you will probably have no trouble here.

Now, once you knock out that climb, you are looking at a great ride back towards Waterton. For the first several miles you have rolling singletrack that is a pure joy to coast down. I would estimate that for about 5 miles the trail is rolling singletrack, until it eventually goes back into the motorcycle area. Going down is much easier, despite the large rocks in the trail. You will also be able to go down the steeper hills at the end of this stretch if you don't mind loose, steep, rocky trail. At the very end, you will have one last ascent that can be a bit of a burner after all you've been through to this point (about 25 miles of trail behind you). When done, you will be back up to the resting which point it is all downhill and dirt road back to Waterton parking lot. Total mileage should be around 34 miles to do the out and back.
added by SiberianGramcounter
Trail Features
Trail features
  • Lift Service
  • Drinking Water
  •   Night Riding
  • Pump Track
  • Restrooms
  • Winter Fat Biking
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Recommended Trails
Recommended Trails
Waterton Canyon
Indian Creek Loop
Mount Falcon Park
Bergen Peak
Lair O' The Bear / Bear Creek Trail
Deer Creek Canyon
Oil Well Flats
Local Info & Nearby Trails
Trail Check-ins
Trail Check-ins
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Recent Trail Check-ins     (51 total check-ins)
  Kerry   on Sep 14, 2019
  jondury   on Sep 11, 2019
  DanOxender   on Jul 27, 2019
  teables   on Jul 14, 2019
  jimmyreese   on Jul 7, 2019
Photo & Video Gallery (7)
Trail Photos & Videos (7)
Reviews (9)

Bunny Hop

May 18, 2015
Review: Once you get past the first section of the CT, you'll be mostly ion your own. The trail can get pretty technical, and there a plenty of opportunities for hard impact on your pedals and frame. Not a great trail to ride alone just for that reason.


November 10, 2014
Gdb49 Gnarly  
Review: Rode this from S Platte to the resting area at top of Waterton. Over 3600' of elevation gain. This is an epic trail, crazy climbs- 2 of over 1400' each, a few fun rock gardens, and you finish with a 3.8 mile uninterupted down hill. Beautiful and fun, simply awesome! Brutal climbs!!


September 30, 2012
vbeckman74 Gnarly  
Review: The mountain you have to go over from Waterton to PLatte is steep, rocky and not to be taken lightly. It doesn't matter which direction you go.

Similar Trail: Seven Bridges Trail

Granny Gear

May 22, 2010
Review: This is a truly epic trail. Don't let the first 6.5 miles of trail fool you (flat jeep road, kind of boring but at least it lets you warm up). Once you get onto the Colorado Trail, the fun starts. At about 8 miles from the start, you will come to a resting point with a bench. You can choose 2 different routes, continue with the Colorado Trail to the South Platte or do the Indian Creek loop. Both are extremely fun, with varying degrees of singletrack/jeep road/climbs. Both trails offer pretty much everything that you could want in a ride. The only part I don't like is the 6 mile flat jeep road you once again have to take to get back to your car. I rode this on May 20 and it was in very good shape. There were some puddles of mud and the creek crossings were deeper but overall everything was still rideable. Check out for my informal trail guide to other trails in the denver area.

Bunny Hop

June 30, 2009
flip8u Bunny Hop  
Review: Great trail with very few people. On the way out to the river, the second climb is long and rocky with a couple sections I always end up walking. Maybe a crazy racer guy could do it? The climb back up from the South Platte is strenuous but sustainable. Makes for a good days ride 3 - 4 hrs.

Bunny Hop

July 13, 2008
BFD Bunny Hop  
Review: Missed the Rox turn and ended up doing this ride unknowingly...had a great time but ran out of water and was in dire need...a big thank you to the hiker and his gf that hooked me up with a bottle of h2o. This trail is amazing and among the more technical that I've ridden. Being that I did it on a hardtaill; I might just wait until I've got a dualie/xc before taking it on again. I just noticed this trail is listed as taking 2.5 hours...NO WAY!

* Review edited 4/8/2009


August 27, 2007
Review: awesome.. some technical spots not to knarly


December 2, 2006
Lancefan Gnarly  
Review: I have not ridden all of this trail but what I have ridden of was great.


June 23, 2006
yellowdman Gramcounter  
Review: This is a good all day ride! When comming back the last climb is like Mt. Falcon (non stop climbing). Make sure to bring a Camel Back or some kind of hydration pack because you'll need one. Remember to pace yourself and have fun because that's what it's all about!

Colorado Trail: Waterton To South Platte MTB Trail 4.56 out of 5 based on 9 ratings. 9 user reviews.
Trail Conditions
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