Cherry Creek State Park: The Complete Guide

Cherry Creek State Park
 Getty Images/David C. Stephens
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Cherry Creek State Park

Address
4201 S Parker Rd, Aurora, CO 80014-4203, USA
Phone +1 303-690-1166

Cherry Creek State Park is located smack dab in the middle of Denver’s backyard in the suburb of Aurora. It’s only 17 miles from the downtown area and provides a nice refuge for those who want to experience nature but don't have the time or desire to venture deep into the Colorado mountains. The park is open year-round (yes, you can even camp in the snow) and is a mix of natural prairie and wetlands centered around the impressive Cherry Creek Reservoir, a popular spot for boating, paddleboarding, and jet skiing. This state park, founded in 1959, makes an easy staycation getaway for adventurous city dwellers. If you live nearby or are visiting the area, it's worth the stop to experience the bustling lakeside activity or to head out on a trail for the serenity provided by nature.

Things to Do

At Cherry Creek State Park, you can enjoy a plethora of Colorado-inspired outdoor activities, like hiking, trail-running, biking, horseback riding, and bird-watching. The park's 22 multi-use trails take you off the beaten path through grassland, marshes, and cottonwood groves. Serious hikers can link short trails together for longer jaunts, and wildlife watchers can use the trails to spot species like bald eagles, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, and ferruginous hawks, in addition to waterfowl and shorebirds. Great-horned owls and mule deer make their home here year-round and can often be seen when the park is uncrowded. Pack your binoculars, and visit the wildlife observation log in the park's office.

The reservoir at Cherry Creek is a popular spot for boating, swimming, waterskiing and wakeboarding, and fishing. And its lakeside campground makes it a favorite camping spot for both locals and visitors due to its proximity to the city and the activities it allows for. You can also plan a picnic if an overnight stay isn't in your cards.

In the winter, put on your cross-country skis and explore miles of groomed trails. You can also go ice skating (when it’s cold enough and permitted), sledding (although there’s no specific sled zone), and snowshoeing.

At this park, you can also play volleyball on the volleyball court, shoot arrows or guns at the outdoor shooting range, or 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 RC Eagles flying club) features paved runways and taxiways and separate rotorcraft fields.

Best Hikes & Trails

Head out for a walk along an interpretive trail or another trail in the park's elaborate trail system. Cherry Creek boasts 35 miles of trails (12 of which are paved) that are open to walkers, runners, bicyclists, and horseback riders. Each trail has different permissions. Some allow dogs, others don’t. Some are just for walking. Check out the trail map or check in with the office for details.  

  • Cherry Creek Trail: This popular 4.75-mile paved trail is open to hikers, horseback riders, and bikers. It gets heavy usages and can be busy right after work hours end.
  • Prairie Loop Nature Trail: This quarter-mile unpaved trail is an easy jaunt for those wanting to learn more about the flora and fauna of the park. A self-guided nature tour will take you through the wetlands ecosystem, pointing out the important species in its midst.
  • Railroad Bed Trail: Running on top of a historic railroad bed (a Rails-to-Trails conservation effort), this 2.11-mile, non-paved hike offers a few miles of excellent singletrack that is also suitable for mountain biking. Dogs are allowed on this trail, but must be kept on a leash.
  • 12-Mile Trail: The 12-mile Trail is not technically 12 miles; it's actually only a 2.8-mile hike that starts at the 12-mile north and south parking lots. This trail is part of a system that allows dogs off-leash in designated areas, so it gets a lot of traffic. Expect to also see horses and bikes along the route.

Boating & Fishing

The Front Range gets hot in the summertime bringing powerboaters, sailboaters, water skiers, wakeboarders, and jet skiers to this 880-acre suburban waterway. You can also go canoeing, rafting, and kayaking. Visit the marina and yacht club on the northwestern side of the water, adjacent to the swim beach, complete with trucked-in sand. Check out one of many fishing spots along the shore, too, that provide an opportunity for you to catch largemouth bass, rainbow trout, wiper, and even trophy-size walleye. You can also fish from your boat or go ice-fishing in the winter.

Before you launch your boat, you must obtain an ANS stamp, whether you're a resident or not. Stamps can be purchased any time through Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), either online or at a local office. Proper boat registration is also required for any powerboat or sailboat operating in Colorado waters. Additionally, boaters must comply with the CPW's Aquatic Nuisance Species regulations to stop the spread of zebra and quagga mussels, as well as other invasive species. This requires an inspection before launching at one of the park's two boat ramps.

Where to Camp

This vast 4,000-acre park feels like you are a thousand miles away from the bustle of Denver. And, while this park won’t put you directly into Colorado’s beautiful Rocky Mountains, it does offer you a dramatic view from your campsite. Plus, if you forget something at the store or you need to run into town for a meal, the conveniences of urban life are only minutes away. Winter camping is also available for the adventurous, and you can bet the campground won’t be packed.

Cherry Creek has one year-round campground located on the northeastern side of the reservoir. The campground contains 152 tent, RV, and deluxe hookup sites, and three group sites. The campground offers several on-site bathrooms, as well as a laundry facility and showers. There is also a seasonal dump station and an amphitheater for performances, complete with bench seating for 100 people, a podium, and a fire pit. Group sites have electric hookups only and can accommodate 36 people, with one site accommodating up to 72 people. Make reservations ahead of time for regular and group sites, especially if you plan to visit on a busy summer weekend. In the winter, reservations for the Abilene Loop are not necessary. 

Where to Stay Nearby

When staying nearby Cherry Creek, you can choose from many chain hotels in the Aurora area. This region also services the Denver Technological Center (Denver Tech), which is a big trade hub for the area and home to several businesses and corporations. This Denver suburb contains many economical hotel options.

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Denver Cherry Creek: This lodging option boasts scenic views of the Rocky Mountains, Marriot-style bedding, and free Wi-Fi and breakfast options. Located close to local restaurants, like Hacienda Colorado, the Cherry Creek Grill, and Cherry Cricket, this property offers a fitness center and indoor pool. Choose from king, double queen, or executive king rooms, or a one- or two-bedroom suite.
  • Tru by Hilton Denver South Park Meadows: Families often choose Tru by Hilton, with its Tru play area, game zone (complete with a pool table), and indoor pool. The modern-style king, double queen, and handicapped-accessible rooms perfectly accommodate any family. A breakfast buffet and small convenience store are offered on-site.
  • Holiday Inn & Suites Denver Tech Center-Centennial: Kids stay and eat free (at any time of the day) at the Holiday Inn & Suites. This hotel offers guest rooms, suites, and handicap-accessible rooms, as well as an indoor heated pool and whirlpool, and a fitness center. Dine at the on-site Burger Theory restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner and can accommodate adults in the bar area.

How to Get There

Cherry Creek State Park is located in Aurora Colorado and can be accessed easily off of I-25, coming from Fort Collins, from the north, or Colorado Springs, from the south. From downtown Denver, take I-25 South for approximately 6 minutes. Take Exit 200 onto I-225 East and then get off on Exit 4 onto CO-83. Take a right onto East Lehigh Avenue and continue on to the park's main entrance.

The closest airport, Denver International Airport, is approximately 35 minutes away. To get to Cherry Creek from the airport, take Pena Boulevard to I-70 West, then take Exit 282 to merge onto I-225 South. Next, take Exit 4 to CO-83. Take a right on East Lehigh Avenue and follow it to the park's entrance.

Accessibility

Cherry Creek State Park does a great job of accommodating people with all ability levels. You can find special facilities for those with disabilities at all of the fishing access areas, the campground, the swim beach, and the group picnic sites. Parking for visitors with disabilities is designated throughout the park. And, the Campground Trail is paved and accessible to wheelchairs, as are most of the park's paved pathways.

Tips for Your Visit

  • The park has a small per-day admission fee, and you can also purchase an annual pass to all of Colorado's state parks. Seniors (age 64 and older) and military members can buy discounted passes.
  • Cherry Creek State Park is open from 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, so the best chance to get a campsite (or to not be overrun by people) is on a weekday or during the off-season. Early spring can be quiet here.
  • 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. This section of the park has a special admission fee and annual pass, as well.
  • 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 coyotes (keep an eye on small dogs and children).
  • The best time to look for wildlife is typically at sunset and sunrise. You might also see snakes and less dangerous critters, too, like toads and frogs.
  • Reserve the amphitheater to host your own special event. The park occasionally offers educational programs here, as well. Check with the office.
  • Rent a horse to ride in the park at 12 Mile Stables. This stable also offers riding lessons and hayrides.
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Cherry Creek State Park: The Complete Guide