If you have dreams of tackling the famous Colorado Trail, whether you want to do it one section at a time or all at once, this is where you should start. I just rode this section of the trail and loved it. Once past Strontia Dam, the trail gets a bit challenging, but it’s rarely technical. Some members of my group thought the first (extremely wide and relatively flat) section of the trail was boring, but I strongly disagree. It is on trails like this that you can actually look around at the scenery rather than constantly concentrating on the bumps and ruts in front of you.
And the scenery in Waterton Canyon is lovely. You follow the river most of the way up, the hillside are thick with bushes but not populated by many trees, so you can see all around you. And it’s not at all unusual to see bighorn sheep, deer, and other canyon creatures.
Waterton Canyon is close to some major urban population centers, so it gets a bit crowded on weekends. But it is designed to handle the traffic nicely. The first six miles of trail is wider than some two lane roads. so even on the most crowded days, it’s not actually congested. The parking lot may be, but not the trail. Then, as riders progress up the canyon, the trail gets narrower until it is finally single-track for the last mile and a half to the high point. (The portion of the trail in the map below and being reviewed in this trail description is actually only half of section 1 of the Colorado Trail.)
The single-track portion of this trail, although not really technically difficult, can be physically strenuous and contains a few switchbacks. It is not unusual to encounter snow on the trail up until mid to late April. The first six miles of the trail can be done with a hybrid bike, but the last mile and a half requires a mountain bike with good trail tires.