Looking at a trail map, I thought, “there’s no trail there.” Well, I was wrong! Although quite familiar with the city of Littleton, Colorado, I had somehow not noticed the Littleton Community Trail passing right through town. This newer suburban trail is hidden in plain sight and well worth a visit. Keep reading to learn more about the Littleton Community Trail.
About The Littleton Community Trail
The Littleton Community Trail was dedicated on March 8, 2015, during the city of Littleton’s 125th-anniversary celebration. Littleton, Colorado, is in the southwest Denver metropolitan area. A charming, historic downtown area sits between rail lines and the South Platte River. It can be considered a suburb of Denver today, but its long settlement and history give it a distinct personality compared to its more prominent neighbor.
The Littleton Community Trail is part of the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District (SSPRD) trail system. It’s a relatively new path, less than seven years old at this writing, but its route has great historical significance. Most of the trail follows an old irrigation canal colloquially called the “City Ditch.” One of the first canals built for irrigation in Colorado, it was completed in 1867. The City Ditch carried water from the South Platte River through the Littleton area and into Denver further north. It’s hard to overestimate the ditch’s importance as irrigation was essential to early settlers for growing crops and watering gardens and lawns.
Other facts about the City Ditch:
- This 26-mile long waterway was dug by hand.
- Homesteader and engineer Richard Little supervised the construction of the ditch, and Littleton is named for him.
- The City Ditch was the primary source of irrigation water in Denver for over twenty-five years.
- It was part of a network of canals over 1,000 miles long.
Today, adequate water is just as important as it was in the late 1800s, but underground pipes have replaced the vast majority of open ditches, including most parts of the City Ditch. As a result, no water flows by this trail.
One criticism of the Littleton Community Trail is the lack of signs or other markings noting the fascinating history of the City Ditch and water delivery. I’m hopeful that will change in the future, but even without on-trail information, just knowing that the City Ditch followed this path enriches the walk.
Walking the Littleton Community Trail
This out-and-back trail is relatively simple. It’s flat and mostly a straight line about 2.7 miles (4.3 km) long. While it’s reasonably convenient to many neighborhoods, the two main access points are at either end. In the south, park at the Lee Gulch Overlook off Santa Fe Drive and take the Lee Gulch Trail underneath Santa Fe into Ridgewood Park to find the trail start. On the north end, the trail branches from the Big Dry Creek Trail in Belleview Park. These intersections are well-marked, as is the rest of the trail. See the custom map below for more information.
Traveling north from the Lee Gulch Trail, the trail runs parallel to railroad tracks, tucked in between the tracks and the town. One set of tracks is for the light rail service that terminates in downtown Denver. The other set carries freight trains of the BNSF railway. While the tracks and busy Santa Fe Drive (Highway 85) were visible to the west, I couldn’t recall ever seeing anyone on this trail from the road, even though I drive it regularly.
This sensation became the theme of my suburban hike. While I was familiar with Littleton, I hadn’t seen it from the perspective of this trail. One of the benefits of walking is taking in more detail than is possible in a moving vehicle. At a walking pace, I had a slightly different angle on recognizable landmarks. I also realized that certain things about early Littleton’s layout hadn’t changed much. The location of the train tracks alongside the City Ditch was only one example (although the tracks were lowered below street level to address traffic in the late1970s). And the views of the Rocky Mountains in the west are likely not much different than they would have been at the town’s founding in 1890.
My initial reaction that this trail didn’t exist gave way to moments of recognition. Yes, I had seen the path before, but I didn’t realize what it was and what it represented. Some of the highlights observable from the trail are described below.
From Lee Gulch to Slaughterhouse Gulch Park
Not too far north (coming from the Lee Gulch Trail at the south end), only an iron fence separates the 150-year old Littleton Cemetery from the trail.
Perhaps the most famous grave in the cemetery is for Alfred Packer, the sole survivor of a gold-mining party lost in the Colorado mountains during the winter of 1873-74. Packer allegedly resorted to cannibalism to survive the harsh environment after the others had perished. Whether their deaths resulted from exposure to the elements or murder by Packer or another prospector in the group is not entirely clear to this day. (The Packer grave is not visible from the trail.)
Past the cemetery, the trail crosses S Prince St at W Lake Ave and follows the sidewalk on S. Prince before aligning with the tracks again.
Arapahoe Community College (1965) is visible on the other side of the tracks. Just ahead, the trail looks down on the Littleton Light Rail Station, also on the west side of the tracks. The parking lot for the light rail houses a historic stone train depot building. The depot, built in 1875, was moved to this location in 2000 and is now a coffee shop.
Still running parallel to the train tracks, the trail crosses over West Littleton Blvd. Littleton Blvd crosses over the tracks, and on the other side is Littleton’s historic downtown (with the street name changed to Main Street). The Littleton Municipal Courthouse (built in 1907, restored in 2000) with its distinctive cupola is just to the east. The courthouse lines up with Main Street. Mountain peaks are in the distance.
Click here to view the streaming feed from the “Littelton’s Cupola Cam”, the camera located at the top of the courthouse. What do you think of the views?
The gravel trail continues to the north, where it winds through Slaughterhouse Gulch Park, an open space with no parking and few amenities. This Park is surprisingly undeveloped despite being so close to downtown and residential areas.
The Northern Part of the Trail
At Prentice Ave, things change. While the City Ditch continued north, the trail now takes a sharp right onto the sidewalk for three blocks. Signs then direct trail goers to turn north on S Windermere Street, the border of Cornerstone Park and the city of Englewood. Continuing north on the sidewalk past W Belleview Ave, getting back to a real trail starts to look like somewhat of a lost cause. Just then, the pavement veers from the road and into Belleview Park. After a slightly confusing route, the trail terminates at its intersection with the Big Dry Creek Trail. See the custom map below.
Considerations for Littleton Community Trail
Littleton is a relatively safe city. There were only a few others on the trail when I visited on a chilly winter morning, and I didn’t feel the need to take any special precautions. The trail’s proximity to residential and retail means that help is generally always near.
The Littleton Community Trail is a fun path on its own, but it’s also a great jumping-off point for choosing another adventure. Both the Lee Gulch and Big Dry Creek Trails, the bookends of the Littleton Community Trail, connect to the Mary Carter Greenway that runs along the South Platte River. It reaches suburbs north of Denver and connects to Chatfield States Park in the south.
As mentioned above, the trail is a sidewalk bordering Cornerstone Park close to the northern end. It’s convenient to add an extra 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to the trail by following the path around Cornerstone Park, as shown on the map below. The park has a couple of restroom facilities and other amenities, and the mountain views are incredible.
The trail ends in Belleview Park, which also has parking, restrooms, and other paths.
Custom Map of the Littleton Community Trail
I created this map on AllTrails to summarize all of the access information to the Littleton Community Trail in this post.
Red: Littleton Community Trail
Blue: Connectors or access
Purple: Add-on loop around Cornerstone Park
Don’t see the map or want to see the original? Click here to go to the map page on AllTrails.
Other Trail Information
|Distance||2.7 miles (4.3 km) one way|
Cornerstone Park loop, 0.9 miles (1.4 km)
|Difficulty||Easy (total elevation gain, 138 feet, 42 m)|
|Trail Type||Point to Point|
|Trail Surface||Mostly unpaved, natural, with a few paved sections|
|Besides Walking:||trail running, cycling|
|Links||SSPRD Trail Map |
Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) Page
|Closest Towns||Littleton, Englewood|
The Littleton Community Trail slices through the city along a route defined by the former City Ditch irrigation canal. For the historically inclined, this urban to suburban trail provides an opportunity to reflect on some of the city’s distinctive sights. Beyond that, walking the trail is a gratifying way to see the familiar in a new way, as it allows for a viewpoint not possible from a car.
What do you think about the Littleton Community Trail? Leave a comment below!