Chatfield State Park: A great family getaway for fall
If you want a nature experience that doesn’t have to end at sunset but is still close to the city, pack your tent and head to Chatfield State Park.
There, you can choose from nearly 200 campsites, all with electrical hookups — all a stone’s throw from the water.
“Camping is incredibly popular here,” says manager Scott Roush. That’s because when campers wake up, a full slate of activities beckons.
An early riser might start by hiking the many trails weaving along the lake, Plum Creek or Highline Canal.
“You’ll see all kinds of wildlife,” Roush says. “Foxes, deer and elk are common, and it’s great for bird-watchers.”
Chatfield used to be home to a heron rookery, he says. While it’s no longer there, visitors will still see plenty of herons, along with more than 300 species of other birds, including eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.
This watery playground is leased by the state from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The area, named after Civil War Lt. Isaac Chatfield, flooded many times in the mid-1900s.
The corps constructed the dam beginning in 1967 to alleviate the problem, and the area was leased to Colorado State Parks in 1974. Chatfield opened in 1976, to the delight of Denver residents eager to escape the city.
Whether you head to the park for a day trip or you’re camping overnight, add a few unusual activities to your list of things to do.
Not many parks can boast a balloon port, but you’ll find one near the Deer Creek entrance. If you don’t have a hot-air balloon to launch (and a license to do so), perhaps a model airplane is more your speed. Paved runways and frequency posts are located south of the campgrounds.
If you want to see the sights but your feet are tired, lease a horse at Chatfield Stables or take a breakfast ride.
Chatfield has a little something for everyone in the family, including for the family dog, Roush says.
“Our off-leash dog park is incredibly popular,” he says. While your dog is welcome in most areas of the park on a leash, dogs that are under voice command can run free in 70 acres on the north side of the lake. A daily pass for your pup is $2; a yearly one is $20.
One of the few areas Rover can’t roam is the swim beach, which has been closed several times this summer because of unsafe levels of bacteria.
“It’s because of the runoff from all the rain,” Roush says. “Is it unsafe to swim? It may be fine, but we just don’t like to take chances.”
The beach was open on a warm day in July, and members of the Garnett family from Utah were visiting relatives in Colorado.
“My sisters and I all have teenagers, so this is the perfect place to gather,” said Carol Garnett, gesturing to a group of kids splashing in the water. “They spent the morning boating, and now they’re swimming, so they should be worn out by evening.”
Boating is among the park’s biggest draws, Roush says. A marina offers boat rentals and supplies. The hum of powerboats is audible around most of the lake, but Roush points out that a no-wake area exists at Chatfield. It’s a perfect place for kayaks and canoes.
“Fishing is another popular sport here,” he says. “People come to fish for trout and walleye mostly, but we have perch, catfish and crappie, too.”
Whether you want to spend an afternoon hiking or a couple of days camping, Chatfield serves up a break from urban frenzy.
“You go to other parks in and around Denver, and you’re always aware that you’re near the city,” Roush says. “Here, you can forget you’re anywhere near an urban area. I know a lot of people who tell me they come here just to get away from it all and get back to nature.”
Chatfield State Park
Where: 11500 N. Roxborough Park Road, Littleton
What’s there: Camping, fishing, hiking, boating, horseback riding, wildlife, off-leash dog park
More details: State parks have an admission fee per vehicle — $7-$9 daily; $70 for an annual pass. Info at parks.state.co.us/parks/chatfield
Go now: Combine your excursion to Chatfield State Park with a stop at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield. Mark calendars with a family fun night Aug. 26, a corn maze Sept. 9-Oct. 31, the opening of a new visitor’s center Sept. 28 and a pumpkin festival Oct. 8-9. Tons of wildflowers will be blooming through September at the gardens; there are also hiking trails there. More info: botanicgardens.org
By Maria Cote