Waterton Canyon is one of the most convenient fisheries for those living in Denver and the surrounding areas in the front range of Colorado. In a short 30-minute drive from downtown, you can leave the city behind and immerse yourself in nature along the South Platte River. In addition to great fishing in between two tailwaters, Waterton Canyon is home to several herds of native bighorn sheep (ram), beavers, and lots of other wildlife so you’re guaranteed to see wildlife every time you visit (almost).
Waterton Canyon can be accessed from the parking lot on highway 121 just past Chatfield Reservoir (directions below). From there, it is foot or bike traffic only for the next 6.2 miles to the Strontia dam. The most efficient way to fish waterton canyon is to bring an old mountain bike and bike up the canyon until you find a great spot to fish.
Normally we would supply a river section map, but Waterton canyon is quite simple. It is one road that allows access to nearly 100% of the river all the way to the top of the road. Great fishing is available for nearly all of it, and the areas where you cannot fish are clearly marked.
Waterton Canyon is broken up into three main sections. The section from the gate to the Highline Canal diversion, the section between the Highline Canal diversion and the Marson Diversion, and the final section past the Marson Diversion before reaching the Strontia dam.
Gate to Highline Section: This section of water has fewer fishing restrictions than the rest of the canyon. Most normal state of Colorado fishing rules apply, so make sure to check the signs on your way in for restrictions specific to the canyon.
Highline to Marson Section: This section of the canyon is about 1.9 miles into the canyon and marks the start of the artificial flies and lures only restrictions in the canyon. In this section of the canyon you’ll find many manufactured rock weirs that will hold fish in the pools above and just after the drop pools below.
Marson Diversion to Strontia Section: This section of the canyon starts 3 miles in and continues until 6.2 miles into the canyon when you reach the Strontia Dam, which marks the end of Waterton Canyon and the continuation of the Colorado trail past the Strontia reservoir. If you’re looking for a more natural experience, this section of the river is recommended. The manufactured rock weirs disappear and the South Platte is free flowing in its natural state.
The River System
Waterton Canyon is a small section of the South Platte River system located between reservoirs. Read more about the entire river system in our Guide to Fishing the South Platte River.
What Fish Are In Waterton Canyon?
Most anglers are targeting trout in Waterton canyon and you can find several different species there including rainbows, brown trout, cutthroat, and cutbows. However, rainbows and browns are most common. In addition to trout, there are other species of fish swimming around in the large dammed sections past the Marson Diversion.
Best Places to Fish Waterton Canyon
Fishing past the Marson Diversion is the best place to fish in the canyon. Not only will you leave behind the artificial weirs, but you will also have a chance to get some year round dry fly action in the sections past the Marson Diversion. After the diversion, deep pools are great places to find fish, but they can also be found in several great holes through the stretch of river before the Strontia dam. This area of the river can get crowded on weekends because it’s so close to Denver, but there’s 3.2 miles of fishable water, you can definitely find great holes even if there are a lot of people. Just remember to bring your bike!
River Rules & Regulations
Here is the CO fishing rules and regulations book: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/fishing.pdf
Find waterton canyon on page 35. (In this book, search / control “f” / command “f” for “south platte” to find information quickly.)
Waterton Canyon entrance to Marston Diversion Dam
– Live bait may be used.
– Bag limit is four trout any size.
Waterton Canyon is fishable year round. In winter, sections do freeze over, but generally there is always some fishable water. You are going to find anglers at all times. Be prepared to get their early to avoid the crowds during summer months.
Best Flies for The Waterton Canyon
During the summer and in the warmer months in general, Stoneflies and Caddis work well in Waterton canyon. Size 14-18 hooks would be best during the summer. At the right times you can also be effective with Blue Wing Olive Nymphs like pheasant tails or RS2s.
During the winter and in colder months, you’ll want to go smaller with your flies. Midges work really well. Anything size 18-24 like the zebra midge or black beauty will work well. Small is the name of the game during the winter, but the best part of Waterton Canyon is that it’s fishable year round as long as Denver Water is allowing access.
Waterton Canyon Fishing Guides
If you are looking for a guide in the canyon, be sure to check out the following, or reach out to us.
Use our page on Colorado Fly Fishing Guides, to find a guide near Waterton Canyon.
Angler’s Covey: https://www.anglerscovey.com/
Blue Quill Angler: https://bluequillangler.com/
Colorado Trout Hunters: https://hikingandfishing.com/adventure-guides/guides/colorado-trout-hunters/
Current Water Flows For Waterton Canyon, South Platte River, CO
Current Weather Conditions
Here is a detailed forecast for the next four days:
Roxborough Park, CO
Sunny. High near 84, with temperatures falling to around 81 in the afternoon. East southeast wind 5 to 10 mph, with gusts as high as 16 mph.
Mostly clear, with a low around 50. West southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.
Sunny. High near 86, with temperatures falling to around 83 in the afternoon. Southeast wind 6 to 12 mph, with gusts as high as 17 mph.
Mostly clear, with a low around 51. South wind 7 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 86. South southwest wind 7 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph.
Partly cloudy, with a low around 55.
Sunny, with a high near 82.
Directions & Parking
Waterton Canyon is situated off of Highway 121 in Littleton, Colorado just past the Denver Audubon Nature Center. From Downtown Denver, take I-25 to C470 and exit Wadsworth then follow 121 south to Waterton Canyon road to the parking lot on your left. The trailhead is just across the street from the parking lot. If you’re heading from the mountains take C470 off of I-70 and then follow the same directions as above.
Here is a Google pin at the trailhead:
Paul Brastrom is an active outdoorsman from Houston, Texas. He recently completed his goal of climbing all of the Colorado 14ers and is continuing to spend his time in the Colorado Rockies. A digital marketer during the week and a mountain biker, splitboarder, rock climber, hiker, runner, and fly fisher when he’s not a work, Paul is at home in the mountains.