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On Walkabout At: Eleven Mile Canyon, Colorado

Basic Information

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Narrative

Spring has finally arrived here in Colorado which means the weather has been getting warmer.  Taking advantage of the good weather my family and I decided to take a drive from Colorado Springs up to Eleven Mile Canyon which is located up Highway 24 and just outside of the village of Lake George:

As always it was a pleasant drive up Highway 24 and in just over an hour we reached Lake George.  At Lake George there is a sign that points to the left hand turn that needs to be made to access 11-Mile Canyon.  After a short drive on a dirt road we came to the entrance to the canyon:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

The canyon is part of Pike National Forest and thus run by the US Forest Service.  There is also the Eleven Mile State Park that is adjacent to the canyon which is the large lake that is managed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  So for people with Colorado State Park passes like I have, they are of no use in Eleven Mile Canyon.  What that meant is that I had to stop and pay the $5 fee at the self-service kiosk once I entered the canyon.  I highly recommend paying the fee, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because on multiple occasions during out visit we saw Forest Service personnel checking vehicles for their passes.

Here is a picture looking at the entrance to the canyon:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

The South Platte River is the water source that flows through the canyon.  At the mouth of the canyon the river is slow moving and pleasant:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Here is the view looking back from the mouth of the canyon as the South Platte River flows towards Lake George:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Something else I noticed at the mouth of the canyon was this piece of railroad track:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

I did not see any marker to go along with it, but I assume this is something in remembrance to the Colorado Midland Railway that once passed through Eleven Mile Canyon before the dam at the end of the canyon and its accompanying lake was built. Here is a picture from the Denver Public Library collection that shows a train passing by Dome Rock in Eleven Mile Canyon sometime between 1887-1900:

Here is a picture of the same Dome Rock today:

Dome Rock In Eleven Mile Canyon

You can see more historic pictures of the railway at this link.  Below is a map that shows the route of the Colorado Midland Railway:

After the construction of the dam in 1932 the old railway line through the canyon was closed and became the access road to the dam instead:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

The dirt road is in great shape today and easily passable by 2-wheel drive passenger cars with the occasional pothole to look out for:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Once the road enters deeper into the canyon the scenery becomes quite rugged with large rocks framing each side of the river:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Due to the increasing narrowness of the rugged canyon walls the South Platte River has some pretty good rapids in spots which is quite a contrast to the peaceful river flowing out of the canyon:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

We even spotted a little waterfall along the river’s course through the canyon:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Not all of the river has fast flowing rapids; there is this short section of river that turned into a pool:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

The few areas in the canyon with slow moving water were popular places for ducks to hang out:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Besides ducks something else that the river drew was a lot of fishermen.  Throughout the canyon people could be seen fly fishing.  Most of the canyon is designated for fly fishing with most of it also being catch and release.  Judging by the amount of fly fishermen I saw, I assume the fishing in Eleven Mile Canyon is quite good.

Besides the road being a reminder of the railroad that once passed through the canyon there are also three small tunnels.  Here is the first tunnel:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Here is the second tunnel:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Finally here is the third tunnel:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Shortly after the third tunnel we reached the Eleven Mile Canyon Dam:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

This dam is part of the Denver water system since the South Platte River flows right through Denver.  Here is a brief history of the dam from the Denver Water website:

Completed in 1932 after two years of construction at a cost of only $1.5 million, Eleven Mile stands 135 feet above the South Platte riverbed. The six-mile long reservoir is second largest in the Denver system and one of the largest bodies of water east of the Continental Divide. Eleven Mile has a surface area of 3,405 acres and 23.9 miles of shoreline.  [Denver Water]

Visitors to the canyon cannot actually visit the dam since there is a big fence denying access.  However, there is a sign that shows all the recreational opportunities to be found in the canyon to include near the dam:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

My family and I had plans to go hike the Overlook Trail that begins at the Spillway Campground near the dam.  From the canyon Eleven Mile Reservoir cannot be seen; the only way to see it is to hike up the Overlook Trail.  Before starting our hike we first found a table at a nearby picnic area to eat the lunch we brought with us:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

I bought some noodles the day prior from Whole Foods to warm up in hot water.  Using the pot accessory for my Jet Boil I was able to warm up everyone’s noodles pretty quickly:

Picture from 11 Mile Canyon, Colorado

Conclusion

Overall I was really impressed by Eleven Mile Canyon.  It was much more scenic than I was expecting.  The Forest Service has also done a good job spacing out the picnic areas and campgrounds throughout the canyon.  My family I really enjoyed sitting down at a table that also had a nearby restroom facility to eat our lunch at.  Considering how many people I saw fishing here already during the Spring time, I imagine this place gets swamped with visitors during the Summer months.  I cannot blame them from wanting to come here though because Eleven Mile Canyon is another beautiful location to check out in Colorado.

Next Posting: Eleven Mile Canyon’s Overlook Trail

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