Emily & Silent Partner
In our continuing series on places we’ve stayed in the Airstream, I am proud to introduce Chatfield State Park Colorado.
*At the time of this blog Chatfield State Park is undergoing extensive renovation to fill the reservoir an additional 12 ft (3.7 m). It is said the park will remain open during these renovations but perform your due diligence before booking.
This is another mega-post, primarily amount mountain biking the Denver area. Enjoy the photos and take your time!
Reservations for Chatfield can be made on the Reserve America portal. When I was a kid Chatfield was considered to be way out in the sticks. I only have one distinct memory of actually going there and at that age I felt like we’d driven to Utah. Now days though, Chatfield is in the middle of the massive urban sprawl that has become Denver. RV sites bloom over three massive loops, but owing to the park’s immediate proximity to the city it is still extremely busy and it pays to make reservations way in advance.
We were able to get reservationos, albeit over Memorial Day, but only at a site with power and water but no sewer. As a result we towed to the dump station once a week. The dump station, by the way, is the best we’ve ever used owing to small concrete bumps that tilt the trailer gently towards the driver side making it drain faster.
Chatfield State Park is located south of Denver and has two major entrances, one off of Roxborough Park Rd to the south and another off of South Wadsworth Blvd to the west, though it appears that entrance may experience interference during renovation. The entrances are guarded during the day and unmanned at night. One sour patch for us is we found it cheaper to buy an annual pass rather than pay a daily vehicle fee and the park rangers threatened us with a ticket if we didn’t affix it to the passenger-side windshield!
Camping is split among three enormous loops, Loop A, Loop B (our loop) and Loop C, as well as some group camping options. Each loop contains a combination of bath houses, laundry and bathrooms. We were somewhat put off by having to pay for showers – a curiosity that never took place before or again on our entire trip.
Pads were a mixture of asphalt and concrete backing up to extremely well groomed and open play areas with a fire pit surrounded by gravel. There was also a publicly available WiFi network that was fast and reliable, even during Memorial Day weekend. Even without the WiFi, cell signal here was strong and catching a satellite signal was a snap.
We found noise at the campground to be highly variable, depending on where you were located. Our site experienced intermittent music but the park patrol was omnipresent and we enjoyed our stay, which the deer did too.
Activities around the park include kayaking , swimming, boating, hiking, fishing, bird-watching and biking. It pays to bring binoculars when possible as the wildlife in this area is prolific along the water line.
I also mentioned we were in Denver to drop the Airstream off at Windish RV, which we did immediately after staying here. Denver is a giant city, so you can find all your needs here from propane to trailer storage.
Though not right by the park I am obligated to give a shout-out to the Colorado Rail Museum in Golden, I love trains!
Ah yes, my favorite topic – mountain biking. The Denver area is bubbling over with mountain biking opportunities, some of which I mention below.
Waterton/South Platte Canyon & Wetlands Connector
The South Platte Canyon trail follows the South Platte River up into the Rocky Mountains and can be accessed via the Wetlands Connector Trail directly from within Chatfield. This ride is not even close to technical and beginning at the Waterton Trailhead riding here can become exceptionally congested, especially on the weekends. This trail also suffers frequent closures so perform your due diligence before showing up to a closed parking lot.
The ride is slow and lazy climbing an easy few-percent grade along a mild-mannered road that hugs the South Platte river, which feeds the famous High Line Canal.
We rode this trail multiple times and turned around at the Strontia Springs Dam.
On the way back we often stopped on one of the bridges, ditched the bikes and stuck our tootsies into the cool water.
Another amazing feature of this ride is the bighorn sheep, which appear en masse.
The bighorn sheep are protected…
And there is extensive signage here alerting people not to interact with these guys in any way.
Buffalo Creek Trail System
The Buffalo Creek Trail System is roughly an hour from Chatfield by car though you can link into it directly from Chatfield via the Colorado Trail Segment 2 (which we did not do). This trail system is rich and complex allowing you to make your own loops, much of it threading through a former burn area, but still gorgeous and wonderful.
We rode there when the aspens were changing
My favorite personal loop was:
- South Buffalo Creek Road
- Shingle Mill Trail
- Colorado Trail Segment 3
- Tramway Trail 723
- Back to South Buffalo Creek Road…
Though this trail system is not wildly technical nor crazy on the grades, for one reason or another I found it to require high fitness.
Staunton State Park
Staunton State Park is located just a little north of Buffalo Creek and it too offers a wide range of trail options.
Sadly I was somewhat ill on this expedition so we only rode Staunton Ranch Trail South to Bugling Elk Trail and back. I realized I was ill at the beginning of Border Line Trail so we only went up it a mile or so before bailing. Staunton Ranch and Bugling Elk were mild-mannered greens. Border Line is marked as a blue but I feel like it could easy be called black, at least owing to fitness.
Deer Creek Canyon
The Deer Creek Canyon trail system is located about 20 minutes west of Chatfield up Deer Creek Canyon Road. We rode Rattlesnake Gultch Trail, Grazing Elk Trail, Coyote Song Trail, all of which were green. We also rode a portion of the Deer Creek Canyon trail, which is marked as black, but we found the conditions so poor we turned around pretty quickly.
Highlands Ranch & Bluffs Regional Park
The highlands ranch trail system is private, but we were granted access while staying with family. This is a twisty and satisfying system that forms complex loops through foothills scrub oak.
Even though highlands ranch is private, the trail system hooks directly into the Bluffs Regional Park which is open for all and has awesome views of Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch and in the distance, Denver.
Green Mountain overlooks the C470/70 interchange and provides jaw-dropping views of the Denver Metro area. We rode the Green Mountain Intermediate Loop multiple times and found it to be massively difficult on fitness and moderate technically. I highly recommend it though, the views are worth it.
Our final ride in the Denver area was up Rollins Pass. Make no mistake about it, Rollins Pass is primarily an OHV road but lots of mountain bikers ride there too. It takes a good two hours or more to get there from south Denver so I realize this might not be “the Denver area” in the strictest terms, but this stands out as the best mountain bike ride I have ever done. Ever.
This is an eye-popping trail because it follows an old rail line over Corona Pass threading its way through spectacular Rocky Mountain vistas that straddle the continental divide. The “trail” begins at the Moffat Tunnel and tops out at the Needle’s Eye Tunnel which is at a comfy 11,600′ (3535 m). This entire ride is cloaked in thick forest until the last portion which is several hundred feet above timber line (the elevation at which there isn’t enough oxygen to support trees).
Our journey began in the early AM in Highlands Ranch.
Shortly west of Rollinsville we followed the contemporary Union Pacific rail line to the Moffat Tunnel.
Because this grade was followed by steam engines or yore, it rarely exceeds 5% – making for an extended but doable climb. Much of the former rail line was blasted right out of the rock.
My favorite part of the climb began at Yankee Doodle Lake, as you can look up see a little dot where the Needle’s Eye Tunnel exits towards the west. Knowing you’re riding a bike up there is exhilarating.
As the climb proceeds you are presented with the epic final grade where you can imagine old steam engines working hard to make the summit. Carefully examine this photo and you can see the tunnel up and to the right.
At the tunnel you can look down on the awesome climb.
The tunnel is closed but still fun to look at.
You can climb over the tunnel and look down on the aforementioned Yankee Doodle Lake.
This entire journey actually taught me the meaning of Rocky Mountain High.
What Could Go Right
I mentioned several times we got “caught” in Denver much longer than expected due to Airstream problems. But my god, look what it brought us. Windish RV did an awesome job on the trailer and their fixes got us back on the road. In the meantime while the trailer was undergoing repair we saw the most unbelievable side of Denver and surrounding area.