Waterton Canyon, southwest of Denver, represents the South Platte's final journey through the Rockies before rumbling onto the Colorado Piedmont. Accessed by a six-mile, gravel roadway that parallels the River, the Canyon is a popular destination for hikers, fishermen, bikers and naturalists.
Towering walls of rock, foothill shrublands, pine-fir forest and the winding, vibrant River attract a wide variety of wildlife. Golden eagles, canyon wrens, dippers, scrub jays, belted kingfishers, Steller's jays and black-billed magpies are among the permanent residents; during the warmer months, they are joined by lesser goldfinches, rock wrens, black-headed grosbeaks, rufous-sided and green-tailed towhees, white-throated swifts and violet-green swallows. Resident mammals include mule deer, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, yellow-bellied marmots, golden-mantled ground squirrels, Colorado chipmunks, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion. The bighorn sheep are usually found on the sun-scorched, south-facing slopes of the canyon; since their breeding season begins in November, this is a good time to see the head-butting duels of the adult rams.
The popularity of Waterton Canyon often leads to congestion on warm weather weekends; I recommend an off-season and/or weekday visit if possible. To protect the resident wildlife, dogs are not permitted in the Canyon.