Spotlight on Parks: Castlewood Canyon State Park

It’s the evening of August 3, 1933. Sheets of rain pour down on the saturated ground around Franktown, CO. Cherry Creek is already bloated with water from earlier in the week and the additional rain sends it pounding, hammer-like against the Castlewood dam, causing it to give way. A fifteen foot high wall of water rushes all the way into Denver, initiating a massive and devastating flood, but, miraculously, only 2 people die.

The ruins of Castlewood dam at Castlewood Canyon State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.
The ruins of Castlewood dam at Castlewood Canyon State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

You can still see the ruins of the Castlewood dam today at Castlewood Canyon State Park, a 2,303 acre park within the Black Forest region of Colorado, so-named for the number of ponderosa pines growing in the area. Established as a state park in 1964, Castlewood Canyon is a prime spot for rock-climbing, geology, and birding.

I visited the park last month with the objective of maybe catching a glimpse of a porcupine. Full disclosure: the porcupine were wily and I didn’t see a single one. I did see some spectacular snow-covered scenery though.

Castlewood Canyon sits on an ecotone, which is the transition zone from one ecological community to another. In Castlewood Canyon, this ecotone melds the prairie with the mountains. The meeting of these two communities has resulted in an amazingly diverse amount of animal and plant life within the park, including several extremely rare plant species.

On my hike along the Creek Bottom and Inner Canyon trails, I saw several mule deer and many birds. The highlight for me was the tiny canyon wren that popped up on a rock in front of me, clearly agitated by my presence.

Canyon wren at Castlewood Canyon State Park.  Photo by Jamie Simo.
Canyon wren at Castlewood Canyon State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Though I visited in the winter, the summer is apparently a fantastic time to see the park as it’s a hot spot for turkey vultures which roost in the rocks along the canyon’s rim. Bears and mountain lions are also occasionally seen passing through the park so I’ll be sure to come back to see what the other seasons have to offer!

There’s no camping in the park, but visitors can enjoy Castlewood Canyon from 8am to sunset every day. Like all Colorado state parks, entrance to the park costs $7 or $70 for an annual pass. Additional fees for facility rentals for weddings (very popular here), picnics, or other gatherings can be found on the park’s website.

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