Cherry Creek State Park: The Complete Guide

Cherry Creek State Park
 Getty Images/David C. Stephens

This state park is considered Denver’s backyard. It’s close to downtown Denver (about 17 miles away, less than a half hour), and it has just about every outdoor activity you could want to experience in Colorado: camping, hiking, bird-watching, fishing, boating, swimming, volleyball, you name it. You can take your power boat, paddle boat, or sailboat onto the 880-acre body of water.  

The Cherry Creek State Park is a favorite camping destination for locals and visitors due to its convenience and location and activities.

The vast 4,000-acre park feels like you are a thousand miles away from the bustle of the big city. While this park won’t put you directly in Colorado’s beautiful Rocky Mountains, it will offer you a dramatic view of them. You will also be surprised by how much wildlife calls this natural area home. But if you need something at the store or you want to run into town for a meal, the conveniences of urban life are minutes away.

The Cherry Creek State Park is open year-round. Yes, even you can even go camping in the snow. The heart of the space is the impressive Cherry Creek Reservoir.

If you are visiting Denver but don’t have the time or desire to venture deep into the mountains, or if you’re a local who just needs a quick and easy staycation getaway, the Cherry Creek State Park will more than deliver the relaxation and outdoor adventure you crave. Here’s everything you need to know about the Cherry Creek State Park to get the most out of it during your next visit.

The Details

Location: Arapahoe County, in the city of Aurora, at 4201 S. Parker Road. It is just under 17 miles from downtown Denver.

Elevation: The Cherry Creek State Park is 5,659 feet above sea level, so slightly higher than Denver, which is 5,280 feet.

Cost: Admission is $9 per day. You can also get an annual pass for $73.

Seniors (age 64 and older) and military members can get discounted passes.

The park also has a special off-leash dog area that requires a separate pass for $2 per day or $20 annually.

Camping will have an additional fee. A basic campsite in the high season (May 1-Sept. 30) costs $20. A full hook-up site costs $30. Camp costs are slightly cheaper in the off-season (Oct. 1-April 30): $18 for a basic sit and $28 for a hook-up.

Facilities: The park has picnic areas, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, vending machines, a marina, a gift shop (with maps), concessions and basic food, a dump station, and a place to buy firewood.  

It’s open 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. unless you are camping. (Quiet hours are 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.) The busiest time to visit the park is on summer weekends. The best chance to get a campsite (or not be overrun by other people) is during the weekdays, super early or when it’s not as warm. Even early spring can be quiet.

Where to Stay: You can stay in a tent or at an RV site, as well as group campgrounds if you are traveling with multiple people. The campground has 135 total sites. You need to reserve a spot well in advance, especially in summer.  

History

The park was founded in 1959.

One highlight was in 1993, when the park was home to the World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II.

Other Highlights

There is so much to do at the park. Here are a few of the activity highlights:

  • Take the jet ski out on the lake.
  • Shoot arrows; archery is permitted.
  • Go for a bike ride on the trails. You can find paved and unpaved paths. 
  • Look for birds. Everyone’s highlight is the bald eagle, which lives here. There are lots of other birds, too, including the golden eagle, various kinds of hawks, meadowlarks, herons, larks, owls and other lovely songbirds. Pack your binoculars, and visit the wildlife observation log in the office.
  • Take a boat out on the reservoir. (Go waterskiing, too.) You can also go canoeing, rafting, and kayaking. Visit the marina and yacht club on the northwestern side of the water.
  • In the winter, you can go cross-country skiing here. You can also go ice skating (when it’s cold enough and permitted), sledding (although there’s no specific sledding zone), and snowshoeing. Winter camping is another kind of adventure, and you can bet the campgrounds won’t be as packed..
  • Cast out a line, and fish the waters. Fishing is big here. It boasts more than 24 types of fish in the park, such as largemouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, tiger muskie, and Northern pike, to name just a few. In cold weather, the lake opens up to ice fishing.  
  • Play volleyball on the volleyball court. You may need to bring your own net, but the posts and space is provided. 
  • Go swimming and build sandcastles at the swim beach, on the northeastern side of the reservoir. Sand was hauled in to complete the beachy vibe. The swim beach is only open in the summer, and it has a roped-off area but no lifeguards. Restrooms are nearby. 
  • Look for wildlife. The park is home to more than 40 different kinds of mammals. You might see different types of deer, prairie dogs, squirrels, raccoons (so keep your trash contained), beavers, muskrats, rabbits, and even coyote (keep an eye on small dogs and children). The best time to look for wildlife is typically sunset and sunrise. You might also see snakes and less dangerous critters, too, like toads and frogs.
  • Fly radio-controlled, model airplanes on the west side of the park in the Model Airplane Field, also called Suhaka Field. This special area (run by the Denver R/C Eagles Flying Club) features paved runways and taxiways, separate rotorcraft fields and more. Bring electric and gas aircraft here. Need help? You can get tips from an instructor for free.
  • Visit the outdoor shooting range.
  • Plan a picnic. There are picnic tables throughout (there are five separate picnic areas), or bring a blanket and set it up by the water.
  • Check the amphitheater for events. This outdoor stage seats 100. You can rent the amphitheater yourself for a special event. The park occasionally offers educational programs. You can also book guided walk or hike.  
  • Let your dog run free in the designated off-leash area, a 107-acre fenced stretch of land. The creek runs through this area and dogs can play in it. 
  • You can rent a horse to ride in the park at 12 Mile Stables. This stable also offers riding lessons and hay rides.
  • Go for a walk along the interpretive trail or another trail. The park boasts 35 miles of trails (12 of which are paved) that are open to walkers and runners, as well as bicyclists and horseback riders. The most popular trail is the Cherry Creek Trail (paved, 4.75 miles).

    If you want to explore less-busy trails, try the short, unpaved Dam Trail, which accesses the Cherry Creek dam; the short and unpaved Prairie Loop Nature Trail, a self-guided nature trail through the wetlands; the unpaved Vista Trail, where you can ride your horse over hills; the Railroad Bed Trail, 2 unpaved miles that bring you to a historic railroad bed (amazing photo opp); and the Windmill Creek Loop Trail, an unpaved pathway that will bring you to the most remote section of the park. Go here if you need to get away and want some peace in the prairie.

    Also consider the moderately busy Butterfly Hill Trail (about a mile long, unpaved); the Cottonwood Creek Trail (nearly 2 miles, unpaved), a great place to look for wildlife; and the Pope Trail (about a mile, unpaved), which passes a historical site. While most of the quieter trails are unpaved, the Campground Trail is not very busy and it is paved and accessible to wheelchairs. It will take you around the north side of the campground from the swim beach parking lot or the campground area.

    Note: Each trail has different permissions. Some allow dogs, others don’t. Some are just for walking. Check the trail map online or in the office for the details.