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Things To Do on the South Platte River in East Colorado

May 13th, 2024

The South Platte River is a ribbon of life snaking through the vast plains of northeastern Colorado, offering a surprising abundance of adventure.

And yes, though traveling west of Denver gets you the mountains, the lakes, the peaks and the forests, there’s still plenty of adventure and attraction to be found up to the north and east. The further down the river you go, the more open, more peaceful and wild it gets. It may be far from the dramatic peaks that dominate the state's image, but the eastern portion of the South Platte carves a path rich in history, wildlife and outdoor recreation through northeast Colorado. 

Whether you seek some serenity on the water, some quiet time in nature or some historical intrigue, the South Platte is sure to have something you'll enjoy.

Adventures along the South Platte River in northeast Colorado

On the water

For water enthusiasts, the South Platte is ripe with a variety of water-based opportunities. Gentle stretches of water, particularly near Sterling, are ideal for kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. While you’re gliding on the cool, fresh water, listen to the wide variety of birdsong and keep an eye out for blue herons or kingfishers hunting for their unsuspecting prey.

Tubing is another great option, as the slower, more lazy sections of water are perfect for a relaxing float down the river. It’s a great opportunity to do absolutely nothing while also adventuring, which is honestly just how we like it!

Anglers will find themselves in a paradise of potential, too. The South Platte boasts numerous Gold Medal Waters, which is a designation reserved for rivers with exceptional water quality and healthy fish populations. Cast your line for prized brown trout, rainbow trout and channel catfish — but remember to research and adhere to catch-and-release regulations to ensure this special fishery thrives for future generations!

The South Platte is also a haven for birdwatchers, and the diverse habitats along the river attract a remarkable array of feathered friends. Look for great blue herons stalking the shallows, majestic bald eagles soaring overhead or the vibrant flash of a red-winged blackbird perched on a cattail. Birdwatchers come to Colorado in the droves to see the migratory and permanent species here, and the riverside is the perfect place to spot them!

On land

There are several state parks and natural areas dotted along the river that make for great picnic spots and hiking excursions. Many of them also offer designated campgrounds with basic amenities that are great for spending a night or a weekend under the dark night sky. 

If you’re a hunter, then there’s plenty to do out here in the vast, wild areas around the South Platte. Waterfowl hunting holds historical significance in this region, with ducks and geese being the primary targets during their respective seasons. Big game hunting opportunities are more limited along the river itself; however, depending on the location, mule deer or pronghorn antelope hunting might be possibilities in adjacent public lands. Be sure to check the state regulations before doing any kinds of hunting to be sure!

Historical and Cultural Gems

History buffs will find themselves captivated by the stories woven into the fabric of the South Platte. Fort Sedgwick, a meticulously preserved outpost, stands as a testament to the region's role in the Pony Express. Explore the restored buildings and imagine the brave riders who once galloped past on their legendary mail runs.

The South Platte River Trail Scenic Byway, a designated scenic byway, offers motorists a 19-mile scenic drive through a region filled with history, viewpoints and scenery. 

The Overland Trail Recreation Area offers a glimpse into the lives of the pioneers who ventured west on this historic route. Walk in their footsteps, ponder their hardships and triumphs and appreciate the tenacity of the human spirit, all while surrounded by the wildlife and natural scenery that they would have been seeing back then, too!

Planning your trip

The best time to visit the South Platte depends on the activities you want to do!

Spring and fall offer the most comfortable temperatures for hiking, biking, birding and other outdoorsy activities on land. Summer is ideal for water sports, but be prepared for hot days and potential afternoon thunderstorms. Winters can be cold and snowy, but the serenity of the frozen landscape holds a unique appeal that’s perfect for some serious solitude. 

Safety should always be a priority on rivers, especially ones as large as the South Platte. Be aware of water levels and currents, particularly during spring runoff when the water can suddenly rise and speed up. Remote sections of the river are great for tubing, but have plans for first aid in case something happens far from civilization!

Adventure awaits!

If you live in or near our luxury Denver apartments, then this is a great time to explore the portions of the South Platte beyond the metropolitan jungle. 

The South Platte River in northeastern Colorado is more than just a waterway. It's a vibrant ribbon of life teeming with opportunities for exploration, recreation and historical discovery. Whether you cast a line, paddle beneath the open sky or wander through remnants of a pioneering past, the South Platte River is sure to deliver an adventure! 

So, pack your bags, grab your sense of adventure and head to the South Platte — there’s so much out there to see and do!

Have fun!

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Featured photo by Samantha Deleo on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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