The Freedom Of the Bike and Waterton Canyon–Inspired by Paraglider in CA

By Bill Plock

As I took a long walk on a beach near Santa Barbara, I saw a paraglider hugging the cliffs a couple a hundred feet above. I kept walking wondering how the pilot got there as I knew it was a remote area. As I meandered I saw an old set of stairs. So I climbed them and emerged on a hard packed single track trail hugging the cliff high above.

I walked, a little cautiously, and suddenly I saw a bike perched on the ledge and a man unpacking a paraglider. Turns out it was a motobecan e-bike and the man rides here with his paraglider, unpacks it, ditches the bike in the bushes and flies for hours above the ocean—depending on the winds. He told me he once climbed to 7,000 feet off the coast of Carpentria about 40 miles southeast of here. 

But the point is, he rode his bike. Here surfers ride their bikes to find uncrowded surf and deserted beaches, often on e-bikes. So many people seem to bike here to do something else. It made me think of Colorado and some opportunities we have to bike and recreate. 

Strontia Springs Dam

Fishing and Waterton canyon came to mind. Waterton Canyon was built in the late 1870’s as a railroad (of course) that connected Denver to south park and beyond. Companies competed for mining freight and thus railroads carved out beds in most of the canyons we now ride or drive. Rail service stopped in 1937 and the tracks were ripped up in the 1940’s as scrap metal for the war. In 1983, Denver Water constructed the 200 foot Strontia Springs dam and what remained was a very smooth gravel access road closed to cars, but open to bikes and pedestrians.

A parking lot at the mouth of the canyon gives access to this 6.5 mile road that ends just passed the dam. Where the road ends, the Colorado Trail begins and ends 486 miles later in Durango (550 by bike). If you travel east from this parking lot you can access the beginning of the High Line Canal. Overall the road gains 650 feet in elevation making it a gentle grade.

Many decades ago

Please note the road will be closed June 1st through June 11th 2021 for maintenance. 

The High Line Canal is one of the longest urban trails in the United States at 71 miles. Most of it is on dirt. Believe it or not it was built in 1883. Not all of it of course but by 1924 Denver Water had acquired it and finally in 1970 lifted restrictions and the bike/ped path was born. 

Whether you head west or east from the mouth of Waterton, adventure awaits. Heading west, I often take a fly rod and explore some of pools of the South Platte. The fishing can be quite good, especially a few miles up where most people don’t walk. Also there is a good chance you will see big horn sheep. Be on the lookout though for water department trucks and a there is a couple of caretaker homes in the canyon so there can be a car or two.

The road is smooth enough for road bikes for the most part. Gravel and mountain bikes are popular as well as is the same on the High Line canal. 

E-bikes, like the paraglider had, are permitted as well as long as they are class 1 or class 2. Click here for rules and regulations and defining classes of E-bikes:

Here are directions to get to the parking lot at Waterton Canyon. Take Wadsworth south of C-470. Go beyond Chatfield Reservoir and just as the road begins to head west into Lockheed Martin, there is a light, take a left onto Waterton Road and then take the second left into the parking lot. 

Waterton Road continues on and can be looped in with Roxborough and Titan roads with access to the south entrance of Chatfield State Park. Many people will park on Deer Creek road, just south of c-470 and do a loop around Chatfield using this road, making for about an 18 mile loop or often they ride from Denver on the South Platte trail and do this loop.

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1 Comment

  1. s platte

    Nice article, however to clarify e-bikes actually are not allowed in Waterton Canyon. The Canyon is a mix of both USFS and DWB ownership and neither jurisdiction allows for this use.

    On National Forest System lands, e-bikes are only allowed on roads and trails that are specifically designated as being open to motorized vehicle use, by the public (I.e. not administrative roads). This could potentially change over time on certain routes pursuant to travel planning rules and a requisite environmental analysis. You can also find this information on related USFS and DWB webpages and the area is signed as such.

    In the Denver area, e-bikes are only allowed on certain County open space trails, some State Park trails, and generally on hardened bike paths.


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