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Video: A Gravel Grind Through Waterton Canyon

December 19, 2018

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Video: A Gravel Grind Through Waterton Canyon

Although a railroad once existed there, Waterton Canyon now consists of a gravel service road that hugs the Platte River along a scenic 6.5-mile route, which finishes at the head of the Colorado Trail.

Although a railroad once existed there, Waterton Canyon now consists of a gravel service road that hugs the Platte River along a scenic 6.5-mile route, which finishes at the head of the Colorado Trail.

From there, this high-altitude singletrack can take you 486 miles all the way to Durango. During the summer months, you’ll commonly encounter fully-loaded bikepackers on their way out.

Just before the trailhead you’ll encounter the Strontia Springs Dam, a 235 ft structure built in 1983 that feeds water to the Foothills Water Treatment Plant via a 3.4-mile tunnel.

Waterton’s gravel road is regularly maintained by Denver Water, so I’ve found it offers a quick, rideable getaway from the city throughout the year. However, like much of the soil in the Denver area, the top layer turns into a peanut butter-like substance when it gets wet, so it’s best to avoid during these times.

And inevitably, since the Canyon is popular among cyclists, hikers, horseback riders, and wildlife viewers (the wild bighorn sheep are thrilling), the heavy traffic can leave behind some frustrating ruts once the soil dries.

Except for the final section immediately after Strontia, the gravel road delivers a gentle grade that nets uphill going south and downhill moving north. Total elevation gain is about 480 feet.

The 6.5-mile Waterton Canyon segment (seen here in Strava) features a wide gravel road, a gentle grade, and fantastic scenery while you work up a sweat—or just get warmed up to tackle the Colorado Trail.

No public vehicles are allowed on the road, although you’ll almost certainly pass an administrative truck or two while you’re there. Drivers are very nice and almost always smile and wave.

From the Waterton trailhead (the green dot in the image above), cyclists can connect to the adjacent Chatfield State Park, as well as Denver’s hundreds of miles o fpaved bike paths, bike lines, and bicycling routes.

Together with the incredible views throughout the ride, this makes Waterton Canyon one of my favorite segments in the area, whether I’m testing new tires or strolling with my family.

Derek is an avid cyclist with more than two decades of experience in the sport, and currently resides in Denver, Colorado. He enjoys all types, including road, MTB, cyclocross/gravel, commuting, and touring. When he's not writing reviews and guides related to bike accessories, parts, and gear for TreadBikely.com, he's riding, talking about cycling, or thinking about bikes he can't afford. #rolloutblissout
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