Site Details

descriptions and directions

Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Cherry Creek State Park - Arapahoe County
Aliases: Cottonwood Creek
Ownership: None Listed
Description: Mention Arapahoe County to almost any birder in Colorado, and this is the site that comes to mind. It has a well-deserved place among the triumvirate of metro area reservoirs (along with Barr Lake and Chatfield). Cherry Creek's main strength seems to be gulls. Just about every species reported in the state has been seen here, many of them more than once. Large flocks of waterbirds often grace the lake, and uncommon and rare species such as Long-tailed Duck, all three scoters, Red-throated Loon and Red-necked Grebe occur with some frequency. Super rarities that Cherry Creek has to its name include Arctic Loon, Iceland, Little, Glaucous-winged, and Great Black-backed Gulls, and Golden-crowned Sparrow.

There are two entrances into Cherry Creek. By far the more often used is the west entrance, so this description will go around the lake starting from there. As you drive in from the west entrance you will pass through some good grassland that has Swainson's Hawk during the summer, and Northern Shrike and Harlan's Hawk during the winter. Also keep an eye out for Rough-legged Hawk. Before long the road will come to the marina at the NW corner of the lake. This is often a great spot to scan gull flocks, especially early in the morning when they sometimes roost on the docks. The water around here is often some of the last to freeze (at least near shore), and can be a good place to look for ducks in the late fall. It is also the only good vantage point for this whole quadrant of the lake.

From the marina a loop road goes all the way around the lake to the NE corner. Following this road south you will pass through tons of good grassland on the right, and the tree-ringed reservoir on the left. The first two loops you come to on the left go to good vantage points for the west side of the lake, and to some small stands of trees that rarely have much in them. The next loop to the south is the Cottonwood Creek Loop. This loop ends at a trailhead that provides access to a myriad of trails in the SW portion of the park. One trail goes down to a viewing platform on the lake edge, where you can scan much of the south end of the lake, as well as the extensive cattail marshes. This end of the lake often has large flocks of dabblers, and, when the water is low, shorebirds.

Also leaving from this trailhead are some trails heading into the woods to the south. The trail first crosses Cottonwood Creek, which can be a great spot to look for migrants, Marsh Wren, and occasionally rails. The woods to the south and east of here rarely get much birding attention, but are of very high quality. Covering them can take some time, but would probably be well worth it. The habitat in here is particularly good for Winter Wrens, and this author has seen them there more than once.

Back where the main road around the reservoir crosses Cottonwood Creek there is a decent sized wetland that seems to be somewhat reliable for Green Heron, and would be a spot to look for other waders and shorebirds. The loop road continues south and east from here, through more grassland (with all the same species mentioned above). Ring-necked Pheasant seems especially reliable along this stretch. Short afterwards, the road crosses over Cherry Creek, and the associated thick riparian corridor. This is a good spot to look for landbirds, ducks on the small ponds, and snipe in the wetlands.

From here the road bends back north. Shortly after the creek crossing you can turn right towards another trailhead, where yet another myriad of trails heads south along Cherry Creek. By following these trails one can access more prairie, some excellent wetlands with rails, ducks, snipe, and others, and even more excellent riparian. This area of Cherry Creek doesn't receive much coverage, which is a true shame given its potential.

Continuing along to the north, the road reaches a split. Go right to reach the east entrance and most of the east end of the park, and go left to head towards the east boat ramp. From here you can drive right up to and along the water, providing excellent views of any gull flocks in the area, and ducks and other waterbirds on the lake. The gull viewing can be especially good here when the south end of the lake is frozen and the gulls are perched on the edge of the ice.

Heading back towards the eastern entrance, pass the split from the south end of the park, and continue east and north. Turn left at the next turn to head the NE part of the park, or go straight to exit the park via the eastern entrance. Continuing north into the park, you will pass a couple of small parking spots on the left that access some weedy gullies that can be good for sparrows (Harris' Sparrow has shown up more than once), and then the campground on the right. The riparian areas here can be good for landbirds, including warblers in migration and sparrows during the fall and winter.

Just past the campground you can turn left for the swim beach, which provides another good vantage point for the lake, and the best for scanning the NW corner. This is often the best spot to scan for divers, which like the deeper portions of the lake nearer the dam. Gull watching can sometimes be good from here, though it is generally better from the SW corner. Also be sure to check the trees around the swim beach parking area. They may not look like much, but for some reason migrants concentrate here, especially in the locust grove by the bathrooms. A system of trails winds through some of the thicker growth, and to a small pond, where you could find more migrants, dabblers, and the occasional Black-crowned Night-Heron or Green Heron.

Habitat: Reservoir, Lowland Riparian, Grassland/Prairie
Directions: Cherry Creek has two entrances, the main entrance on the eastern side of the lake, and a smaller side entrance on the western side. To get to the eastern entrance, take Parker Road south from I-225 for almost 2 miles to the entrance, on the right. To get to the west entrance, take Yosemite St south from I-225 for half a mile, and turn left onto Union Ave. Take Union Ave east for less than half a mile, take a right onto Dayton St, than an immediate left into the western entrance to the park. Note that Cherry Creek Reservoir has a small extra fee for entrance on top of the normal state parks fee, so even if you have a state parks annual pass, you still need to shell out a couple extra dollars here.
Other Wildlife:
Other Attractions:

Powered By Subgurim( Maps ASP.NET

Use the form on the home page to contact the editor with corrections or to volunteer to add a site.

Other Sites in Arapahoe County
eBird Seasonal Bar Chart

Latest Cherry Creek State Park Sightings from eBird


CBRC Records from Cherry Creek State Park

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Brant (Atlantic)8-81-5810/24/1981 - 10/31/1981
Black Scoter8-75-15411/9/1975 - 11/16/1975
Black Scoter8-75-16111/15/1975 - 11/22/1975
Black Scoter8-76-10010/12/1976
Black Scoter8-93-9911/16/1993
Red-necked Grebe1998-00410/31/1998
Piping Plover2019-021 8 May 2019
Red Knot19-93-298/8/1993
Buff-breasted Sandpiper19-74-1019/6/1974
Buff-breasted Sandpiper19-77-699/7/1977
Buff-breasted Sandpiper2009-080 8/30/2009
Short-billed Dowitcher19-94-289/14/1994
Short-billed Dowitcher2011-042 5/1/2011
Red Phalarope2007-058 9/11/2007
Red Phalarope2007-092 11/6/2007
Jaeger sp.22-73-14312/17/1973
Jaeger sp.22-75-1168/15/1975
Jaeger sp.22-86-419/26/1985
Pomarine Jaeger1963-0019/30/1963
Pomarine Jaeger22-75-14710/5/1975
Pomarine Jaeger22-86-111/23/1985
Pomarine Jaeger22-96-1811/19/1996
Pomarine Jaeger1999-04911/15/1999
Pomarine Jaeger2005-093 9/14/2005
Pomarine Jaeger2006-121 9/5/2006
Pomarine Jaeger2006-132 9/24/2006 - 10/5/2006
Parasitic Jaeger2016-094 09/15/2016
Long-tailed Jaeger22-73-1159/20/1973
Long-tailed Jaeger2008-103 9/7/2008 - 9/24/2008
Long-tailed Jaeger2010-094 9/6/2010
Long-tailed Jaeger2011-115 9/10/2011 - 9/11/2011
Black-legged Kittiwake23-83-7012/5/1982
Black-legged Kittiwake23-85-311/10/1984 - 11/11/1984
Black-legged Kittiwake1997-04111/12/1997
Black-legged Kittiwake2006-151 11/2/2006
Black-legged Kittiwake2010-143 11/10/2010
Black-headed Gull23-88-3310/8/1988 - 10/9/1988
Little Gull23-88-3211/13/1988
Little Gull23-89-198/30/1989
Little Gull2002-080 9/18/2002
Little Gull2014-120 08/19/2014
Ross's Gull2010-151 11/19/2010 - 11/23/2010
Laughing Gull23-77-194/17/1977
Laughing Gull23-93-4412/13/1993
Laughing Gull23-95-378/31/1995
Laughing Gull2012-049 4/20/2012
Short-billed Gull23-85-11/29/1985
Short-billed Gull23-93-3511/18/1992
Short-billed Gull23-96-2511/2/1996
Short-billed Gull1999-05811/20/1999 - 11/21/1999
Short-billed Gull2005-138 12/12/2005
Short-billed Gull2008-136 11/29/2008
Short-billed Gull2014-019 09/27/2008
Short-billed Gull2010-153 11/21/2010
Iceland Gull2005-009 2/11/2005 - 2/12/2005
Iceland Gull2014-092 12/11/2010
Lesser Black-backed Gull23-90-2511/17/1990
Lesser Black-backed Gull23-92-4111/11/1992 - 11/14/1992
Lesser Black-backed Gull23-92-902/24/1992
Lesser Black-backed Gull1999-06812/4/1999
Lesser Black-backed Gull2000-05711/12/2000
Lesser Black-backed Gull2000-06010/15/2000
Lesser Black-backed Gull2001-14512/24/2001
Glaucous-winged Gull23-89-204/11/1989 - 4/16/1989
Glaucous-winged Gull23-92-825/1/1990
Glaucous-winged Gull23-92-813/1/1992 - 4/1/1992
Glaucous-winged Gull2001-0163/9/2001
Glaucous-winged Gull2003-0223/29/2003 - 3/30/2003
Glaucous-winged Gull2005-015 3/14/2005
Great Black-backed Gull23-95-449/17/1995 - 10/25/1995
Great Black-backed Gull2000-06310/15/2000 - 11/12/2000
Great Black-backed Gull2005-010 2/12/2005
Arctic Tern2013-213 09/21/2013
Red-throated Loon1-86-5911/2/1986
Red-throated Loon1-92-811/14/1992
Red-throated Loon1-93-10011/11/1993
Red-throated Loon2010-150 11/19/2010
Red-throated Loon2011-035 4/19/2011
Magnificent Frigatebird2020-0258 Nov 2020
Neotropic Cormorant4-94-610/30/1994
Neotropic Cormorant2011-025 4/8/2011 - 4/15/2011
Neotropic Cormorant2011-147 10/22/2011
American White Pelican2016-10801 Jan 2016
Little Blue Heron5-75-334/12/1975 - 4/15/1975
Glossy Ibis1999-0154/26/1999
Red-shouldered Hawk2000-0271/1/2000 - 3/11/2000
Blue-headed Vireo2008-099 9/4/2008
Philadelphia Vireo51-75-1379/14/1971
Gray-cheeked Thrush44-76-585/17/1976
Common Redpoll2015-15401 Nov 2015
Golden-crowned Sparrow2001-0171/1/2001
Nelson's Sparrow2020-030 25 Sep 2020
Mourning Warbler2008-100 9/5/2008
Blackburnian Warbler2005-084 9/3/2005
Palm Warbler2008-16325 Sep 2008
Pine Warbler2005-094 9/15/2005
Prairie Warbler2014-181 05/24/2014
Canada Warbler52-75-13510/27/1970
Canada Warbler52-94-8310/4/1994