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Exploring Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area in Colorado

July 15th, 2021

View of Eleven Mile Reservoir and mountains in the distance
View of Eleven Mile Reservoir from the Overlook Trail at Spillway Campground

I’m just in the early stages of exploring all that Colorado has to offer for outdoor adventures (or at least all that I can explore). I discovered Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area in part by accident, after searching a 100-mile radius on the map for last-minute campground reservations. After many fails on recreation.gov, I finally secured one campsite at Spillway Campground within the Recreation Area and off we went!


One Friday afternoon in June, I cut off work a little early, Stacia and I loaded up the car with gear and dogs, and we hit the road. From Colorado Springs, it took about an hour to reach the entrance to Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area.


There’s a small booth at the entrance to the Rec Area used to collect a fee and hand out tags. Since we had camping reservations, we were not charged an additional fee. The Day Use fee, however, is $7.


Dirt road to the right, South Platte River to the left running through the canyon
Dirt road through Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area along the South Platte River

Once through the entrance point, the road becomes narrow as it follows the old Colorado Midland Railroad bed, always remaining in sight of the South Platte River. Just a drive on this road is pretty cool, as it overlooks some river rapids, offers scenic views of the winding South Platte and canyon walls, and traverses several old railroad tunnels cut through the granite.


A dirt road and two old railroad tunnels through granite rock
Two of three old railroad tunnels through the granite rock of Eleven Mile Canyon

Why Visit Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area?


1. Proximity to Denver and Colorado Springs

Did I say that Eleven Mile Canyon is a short drive from Colorado Springs? Well that also means the drive is short-ish from Denver too! In fact, one can leave Denver and arrive at the Recreation Area entrance in just over 2 hours, depending on the route.


In theory, the quickest route from Denver takes you south on Interstate 25 to Colorado Springs, then west through Woodland Park and Divide. The alternate, scenic route follows route 285 partway to 126 through Deckers. This route adds on about fifteen minutes but offers more views of the South Platte River, where it runs through Deckers a bit north of the recreation area.


A view of rapids and lots of boulders in the South Platte River
The raging South Platte River

2. The Fishing

I’ll admit, my limited fishing skills are a bit rusty. But if I were to take up fishing again, I would head over the Eleven Mile Canyon to fish the South Platt. There’s over 8 miles of fishing spots right off the dirt road, with some areas more accessible than others. Judging by the abundance of fishermen and fisherwomen (and fisherchildren...is that a word?) lining this canyon during our June weekend, I’d say the fish are abundant!


In fact, our camp neighbor (a ten-year-old boy who frequently popped over to pet the dogs) excitedly reported numerous fish caught and released (this is a strict catch-and-release area) throughout our 48-hour camp stay.

The western half of Spillway Campground one evening in June

3. Camping Opportunities

As I said previously, one last-minute camp site opening drew us to Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area, but I think most people visit for the fishing or the river. With that said, this Recreation Area contains four separate campgrounds, all of which require reservations during the peak season - aka the summer months.


Stacia and I camped at Spillway Campground, located at the very end of the road through the canyon. It was a nice spot with plenty of shade and a view of the Eleven Mile Dam, though there are several campsites that trade off shade for direct access to the river. At 8,500 feet in elevation, I’d choose shade over direct river access in the summer, but that’s just me!


The South Platte River widening in spots as it weaves through the canyon

4. Picnicking by the River

In addition to four campgrounds, there are also four picnic areas dotted along the South Platte River. The most popular of the four is Eleven Mile Picnic Area, where the canyon opens up and the river widens and slows, leaving a large grassy area along the west bank. Here, picnic tables are spread out along the canyon walls with plenty of pines for shade, and little sandy river beaches line the river’s edge.


Stone stairs up through the rock on the Overlook Trail

5. Rock Climbing

I am no rock climber, though I do enjoy it as a spectator sport! Judging by the looks of the giant granite domes in and around Eleven Mile Canyon, along with the various websites with climbing route information, this area looks like an excellent and relatively unknown gem for rock climbing enthusiasts. While I did not see any climbers during our weekend in the canyon, SummitPost boasts 21 climbing routes within the canyon.


Me standing at the end of the Overlook Trail, looking out over Eleven Mile Reservoir

6. Hiking the Overlook Trail

Okay as you can tell from this blog, I’m usually in it for the hiking. Unfortunately for me, the main activity within this recreation area is not hiking, but fishing. Actually, there’s only one hiking trail along this 8 mile road - the Overlook Trail at the Spillway Campground. This trail is not long by any means (0.8 miles out-and-back), but it does climb nearly 400 feet in elevation to one stunning view of Eleven Mile Reservoir and the peaks of the Sawatch Range in the distance.


Whether you’re looking to camp, fish, or just spend the day by the river, I highly recommend this recreation area just south of Lake George, Colorado!


-Jessica

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