Major Supplier: Hiking the Platte River Trail #654
text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather
A Local Favorite
Platte River Trail is located in Pike National Forest near the town of Lake George, CO. While this section of the South Platte River has been a longtime favorite for angler’s, the trail that skirts the river is a great way to see the South Platte up-close and personal...even if you're not fishing.
Just The Facts
Trail: Platte River Trail #654
Elevation Gain: 1814 ft
Distance: 9.43 mi. (out-and-back)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Biking
Trail Condition: Mostly well maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: trails.colorado.gov/@break_trail
Entrance fee: Free!
On Your Left
The Platte River Trailhead parking lot sits on the left side of CR 112, and it’s a tiny one. If you’re lucky, you’ll get three cars in there. Another spot is available across the road, but it’s not much bigger. There is also a sign posted saying “No Parking on Road”, so if both lots are full, you might have to walk a bit. That’s why I like to get going bright and early...just to be safe.
The trail starts immediately from the parking lot, and climbs for about the first mile and a half. The trail cuts along the hillside overlooking the dirt road below, and is well shaded under the cover of tall Ponderosa Pine.
There are many homes on private property during the first several miles of the trail, so be respectful, and stay to the trail.
At about the three mile mark, the trail drops out of the forested-hillside, and brings you right next to the South Platte River. The river is starting to change from meandering to “rushing river” as is plunges deeper into the canyon.
I don’t believe this canyon has an official name, but several other sources I’ve checked say the locals call it Wildcat Canyon. Did you know that until the 1920s, Castlewood Canyon was called Wildcat Canyon? Well, it’s a cool name for a canyon, so I’m glad it’s being used somewhere.
As the trail continues its path along the river, the terrain, and the action of the river, change too. Large boulders blanket the hillside, and loom large over the trail. Some of these same immense boulders have made it all the way into the river, and churn the water into a white frenzy as it washes around and over the rocks. The once wandering river now thunders to life off the canyon walls.
It Can Get Tricky
Even though it’s been well over fifteen years since Colorado’s largest forest fire, the Hayman Fire has left its mark—and the remnants are everywhere. There are many charred trees lying near or next to the trail. The hollowed-out trunks, are slowly decaying, but new growth is also filling in the void. There are many fallen trees crossing the path. Most look like they’ve been there for awhile, and are a part of life in the forest. While fallen trees are common, it’s best to be careful when crossing over them. There are lots of pokey limbs, and snags just waiting to trip you up.
As you near the end of the trail, the path does get a little faint. You’ll cross over some of the large boulders, and the sometimes the path is hard to find. Also, there are several sections where pine needles, pine cones, or random branches have covered the path. Take your time, and look for the blue diamond markers on the trees. The trail is there, but you might have to hunt for it at times.
End of the Line
The trail does have an end, and at about the five mile point you’ll see a sign posted. I’m not sure why, but it’s facing away from you. This is also the junction for the Platte Springs Trail, so the sign is probably letting those coming off that trail know where they are.
There is an unmaintained trail that extends past this point, so if you’re feelin’ adventurous you can go exploring a bit. There are also two large, stone fire pits here as well. You can camp here, but you must carry out all your trash, and fully extinguish all fires.
Remember the Hayman Fire? A careless act, and cause a sever forest fire. Even if you think the fire danger is low, don’t leave without making sure that fire is out.
Lay of the Land
The South Platte River is one of the more important rivers in Colorado, and is a major contributor to drinking water along the Front Range. As early as the mid 1800s, the river was diverted for agricultural use, and has been used to supply drinking water to Colorado Springs, and most notably, Denver.
While the South Platte is very important to Colorado, it’s also a very important river to the Midwest. The South Platte, after travelling nearly 400 miles through Colorado, converges with the North Platte River (another major river which starts in Colorado) near the town of North Platte, Nebraska.
From here the two rivers become the Platte River. The Platte River then flows 310 miles through Nebraska until it joins the Missouri River. The Platte River was first explored by Europeans in the early 1700s, and more than likely takes its name from the French word for flat.
The Platte is a major tributary of the Missouri river. The Missouri River (which is the longest river in North America) continues all the way to the Mississippi River. And, well...you know about the Mississippi.