Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Bighorn Sheep Abound!

What a great experience to see bighorn sheep up close, and personal. When I read that Waterton Canyon was a great place to see them, I imagined them being up on the hillsides, not fifteen feet away.

Waterton Canyon Trail follows the South Platte River.

Let me share the hike with you, then tell you my sheep story. The hike itself is what I’d categorize as very easy. It is along a dirt road that follows the South Platte River and used by the Denver Water Department to service the Strontia Dam at the top of the trail. If you hike this be aware that there are vehicles sharing the road with you. It is not open to the general public so the cars are minimal. The bikes are not. This is an excellent out and back quick ride for bikers so there are quite a number of them. I hiked this on a Tuesday so it wasn’t as busy as weekends.

The incline is steady, but hardly noticeable. I saw someone pushing a stroller, young children on bikes or walking, along with a gentleman riding an electric handicap scooter (he was at mile three photographing the bighorn sheep). You can hike the full 12.4 out and back, or continue on up about another 4 miles where the Colorado Trail connects (bikes are not allowed past the dam). I only went to mile 3.5 where the first of the bighorn sheep were lounging in someone’s front yard.

This is the point where I stopped at a picnic table and had a snack before heading back down where I had my second encounter with the bighorns.

About halfway down I came across a herd of about eleven bighorns. They were on the younger side compared to the group lounging in the yard. They seemed to be heading the same direction as I was which felt a little disappointing as I wanted to get a few photographs. They must have heard my thoughts because, after a couple of them bounced around on the rocks the group started up the road in my direction.

The lead bighorn slowly made its way toward me, boring a hole through me as it was deciding if I was a friend or foe. The others walked slowly behind. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do so I moved off the side of the road and kept a side eye on the group. When they got about 15 feet away they decided it was safe to pass, at full speed.

Not only were bighorn sheep grazing the canyon, but the fall colors were still putting on a show. I missed the scrub oak by a couple of weeks, but the cottonwoods were a beautiful golden yellow. Mixed in with all the activity were the fishermen who seemed to be having a bit of luck too.

Waterton Canyon is easily accessed from C-470 and Wadsworth (Hwy 121). Take Hwy 121 south off C-470 to Waterton Canyon Rd. The intersection is well marked. The large parking lot is right off Waterton Canyon Rd. This is a heavily used area on weekends so arrive early to beat the crowds.

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