The South Platte River Trail is a 17-mile long paved trail along the South Platte River, running from Thornton, northeast of Denver, through metro Denver, and into Lakewood, southwest of Denver. Jessica, Josh and I visited the Thornton portion of the trail on Saturday, March 7th, 2015 in search of a duck, namely a Barrow’s Goldeneye.

South Platte River Trail

Platte River Trailhead Park in Thornton is about a 40-minute drive from our house in Boulder, and when we arrived around 2pm the parking lot had only a few cars. There is also a “fishing facility” here, which appears to be enclosed ponds with what I assume is stocked fish, but it is closed during the winter so I couldn’t explore and investigate. The park itself is really just a parking lot with a gazebo nearby and access to the river trail. The trail, as mentioned, runs through very urban surroundings, with warehouses, power lines, barbed wire fences, railroad tracks and all the amenities of the modern industrial park in abundance.

South Platte River Trail

The three of us walked a few hundred yards downstream (which oddly, at least to this Texan, is North-Northeast), but soon turned back upstream since Jessica thought that’s where her fellow birders had seen the duck she was after. It was a beautiful day, around 50 degrees and sunny, and the paved trail was lightly traveled by bikers and the occasional walker, birder and runner. I decided the running prospects were too good to pass up (beautiful day, flat paved trail), so I changed clothes and set off on a 4 mile run. (As an aside, I surprised my slow self when I ran my fourth mile in 7:58. Surprised and saddened.)

The trail runs along the river, but in places it is several hundred feet from the river itself. Down on the shoals were a couple of men and families fishing. Parking lots and bathrooms, picnic tables and benches appeared every so often. And even though you’re walking/running through an industrial park, it still feels like “being out in nature” with the rabbits, prairie dogs and the ducks. Oh yes, the ducks. Along my run I stopped, for Jessica’s sake, to ask obvious birders if they had seen a Barrow’s Goldeneye, and one lady claimed to, but on further questioning wasn’t sure of the difference between a Common Goldeneye and a Barrow’s Goldeneye! Can you believe that?! Duh, obvious!

South Platte River Trail

Upon finishing my run I returned to Josh and Jessica, who unfortunately hadn’t spotted her duck that day. Josh and I walked the mile or so back to the car with Jessica lingering behind and continuing her duckless quest. A friend had told Jessica the trail was not a safe place for females walking alone, but we never sensed that vibe, and it rather seemed like a pleasant, uncrowded natural oasis amidst an industrial desert.

Jessica soon reached the car and we left, duckless but undaunted. We agreed that we might not ever return. However, if there’s a particular bird there, I’m sure Jessica will be back. I might also like to explore the fishing options. All-in-all, a nice place to go if you have a reason (birding, biking, fishing), but not somewhere you would make a destination.

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