Thrilling Water Sports and Tubing at Cherry Creek State Park


Spread across 4,000 acres, the park features an 880-acre reservoir that serves as the centerpiece for a wide range of water activities during the summer months. From sailing and paddleboarding to tubing and waterskiing, visitors flock to the Aurora Reservoir each year to beat the heat.

Beyond the water, Cherry Creek State Park contains prairie grasslands, wetlands, and cottonwood trees that provide hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing opportunities. The park truly serves as Denver’s backyard playground thanks to its family-friendly amenities like playgrounds, picnic shelters, a dog off-leash area, and even a shooting range. With camping facilities that accommodate tents, RVs, and everything in between, it’s easy to spend days immersed in nature here.


  • Cherry Creek State Park contains a large reservoir that allows for tubing, boating, sailing, and other summer water activities.
  • The park offers many family-friendly amenities like playgrounds, picnic spots, a dog park, and a shooting range.
  • Camping options range from primitive tent sites to full RV hookups spread throughout the park.

Key Attractions at Cherry Creek State Park

As one of the most-visited state parks in Colorado, Cherry Creek contains a wealth of attractions that make it an appealing destination year-round. The Cherry Creek Reservoir sits at the center of most activities during the peak summer months of June through August.

Beating the Summer Heat at the Aurora Reservoir

When temperatures climb into the 80s and 90s, the sandy beaches and cool waters of the Aurora Reservoir provide much-needed relief. Visitors from across the Denver metro area flock to the reservoir for watersports like waterskiing, sail boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and tubing. Special annual permits like the ANS stamp are required for all motorized and sail-powered watercraft to prevent contamination by invasive species.

Tubing represents one of the most popular and affordable ways to enjoy the reservoir during the summer. Visitors can rent tubes and traverse the calm sections of the lake or venture down thrilling tube chutes near the dam. The reservoir also contains dedicated swimming, scuba diving, and windsurfing areas.

Land-Based Recreation

While the reservoir is the crown jewel, Cherry Creek State Park contains over 12 miles of multi-use trails that traverse prairie grasslands and wetlands within the park. These trails allow visitors to hike and bike through scenic areas rich with birds, small mammals, and other wildlife. During the fall and winter months, trails also open up for horseback riding.

The park also caters to aviation enthusiasts through a dedicated area for flying model airplanes and drones. The Willows model airplane facility provides space for takeoffs and landings alongside areas for spectators.

For families and groups, the park contains playgrounds, a volleyball court, horseshoe pits, and pavilions that can accommodate events like reunions, weddings, and holiday parties. The park also holds cultural events like the annual Cherry Creek Arts Festival.

Local Flavor and Cultural Events

While outdoor recreation is the main activity at Cherry Creek State Park, visitors can also experience authentic local culture through cuisine, community events, and holiday celebrations.

Several pavilions around the reservoir create the perfect setting for enjoying a meal outdoors. The tables and grills available make it easy to cook up a classic summer barbecue with items from local Colorado producers. Picnic areas situated along the shoreline also provide front-row seats for reservoir activities.

In addition to self-guided picnics, Cherry Creek State Park hosts festivals that showcase local musicians, artists, and food. The annual Arts Festival draws over 300 artists and 150,000 visitors each June. Meanwhile, smaller cultural events like the annual Dragon Boat Festival and Chili Fest unite local community members.

Cherry Creek State Park also transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Each November and December, the park’s trees illuminate with over 140 animated light displays as part of the annual Trail of Lights. The two-mile drive-through experience delights visitors with the magic of the holidays.

Summer Recreation and Group Events

Summertime brings endless opportunities for recreation and group events amidst the natural beauty of Cherry Creek State Park. As the cornerstone of summer activities, the swimming and boating options at the Aurora Reservoir provide family-friendly options for visitors.

Aurora Reservoir Activities

The calm waters on the western edge of the reservoir create the perfect spot for swimming and floating leisurely. Meanwhile, thrill seekers flock to the tube chutes near the dam, sending riders plunging and splashing toward the lake below. Visitors can also traverse the entire lake by renting paddleboards, kayaks, pedal boats, or stand-up paddleboards from the marina.

Visitors can drop a line on the northern shoreline at one of Colorado’s premier fishing spots. The reservoir contains healthy walleye, wiper, trout, and catfish populations. Anglers can fish from the piers or rent a boat to reach the best areas of the lake.

Group Events and Family Fun

Cherry Creek State Park truly provides something for visitors of all ages and interests to enjoy. The park contains playgrounds, a model airplane area, and a dog off-leash area that keeps children entertained for hours. Groups and families can also reserve one of 47 picnic shelters and 8 event pavilions capable of hosting events for up to 300 people.

Another unique family experience is the park’s shooting range. Visitors can practice rifle, pistol, shotgun, and archery skills on the park’s state-of-the-art shooting range. With 25 shooting lanes and trained range safety officers, the Cherry Creek Shooting Center offers a safe introduction for beginners and new challenges for experienced shooters.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

While Cherry Creek State Park offers endless outdoor recreation, protecting the park’s prairie ecosystems and wildlife remains an equally important mission. As the park attracts over 2 million visitors annually, conservation initiatives help minimize human impact.

Preventing Invasive Species

To protect native species in the Aurora Reservoir, all motorized and sail-powered watercraft must display an Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) stamp. Annual ANS stamp fees fund inspection programs and decontamination efforts to prevent invasive species like zebra mussels from entering the lake through contaminated watercraft.

Habitat Protection

Many Cherry Creek State Park areas have been set aside specifically for wildlife preservation. Wetlands on the southeast side of the reservoir provide critical habitat for birds and small mammal species. The park also partners with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to monitor and protect wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, owls, shorebirds, waterfowl, deer, and raptors.

Donations Support Conservation

While entrance fees and passes provide some funding for the park, donations to the Cherry Creek State Park Foundation supplement many habitat restoration and conservation initiatives. Donations from park visitors help support shoreline stabilization projects, prairie restoration efforts, and environmental education programs for students. Even small donations can go a long way towards protecting the diverse species that call this state park home.

Camping and Lodging Options

One of the best ways to fully experience Cherry Creek State Park is by camping overnight within the park’s peaceful natural areas. With over 300 campsites, visitors can choose from RV sites with electric and water hookups to primitive tent sites.

RV Camping

The park has three Cherry Creek campground loops offering RV sites with full electric, water, and sewer hookups. Pull-through sites can accommodate large motorhomes, while back-in sites cater more to trailers and fifth-wheels. These campgrounds also have modern restrooms and free Wi-Fi access.

In addition to the loops, the park has a section of RV-only paved campsites situated along the lake. These prime sites directly overlook the reservoir.

Tent Camping

Tent camping sites are available in the Cottonwood and Prairie loops for visitors looking to rough it a bit more. While RV camping loops have paved roads and sites, the tent loops offer more grassy and shaded natural sites. Tent sites contain picnic tables, fire rings, and access to restrooms with running water. Certain sites also accommodate small pop-up campers.

Group Camping

The park also offers four group camping areas available by reservation only. These sites allow gatherings of 40-100 people. Group camps contain picnic shelters, restrooms, and open areas for setting up tents.

The park’s campgrounds contain 309 electric sites, 12 basic tent sites, and 4 group camping areas. Reservations for specific campsites can be made up to six months in advance through the CPW Shop online or by phone.

Off-Peak Recreation

While summer brings bustling crowds drawn to the reservoir, Cherry Creek State Park transforms into a quiet, peaceful landscape during the off-peak fall, winter, and early spring months. Visitors can experience the park’s natural prairie environment as the crowds dissipate.

Seasonal Activities

From September through May, model airplane and drone enthusiasts take advantage of the open flying areas usually crowded with visitors in summer. Meanwhile, equestrians can saddle up and explore over 12 miles of trails open to leashed horseback riding in fall and winter.

Hikers and bikers can also take advantage of cooler temperatures on the extensive multi-use trail system. Wildlife like coyotes, deer, and a variety of birds are also more frequently spotted during this less busy season.

Experience the 24.6-mile out-and-back Cherry Creek Trail that extends from Confluence Park near Denver to Cherry Creek Reservoir. The trail is paved and mostly flat, and dogs are welcome.

For campers, off-peak nights mean more campsite availability and a quieter, more relaxing overnight experience. Campers can feel removed and immersed in nature without the constant buzz of summer crowds.

Holiday Traditions

The holiday season also brings new life to the park through annual traditions like the Trail of Lights. Families can drive through dazzling light displays set against a serene, snow-covered backdrop from November through December. The park also hosts annual holiday-themed events like wagon rides, s’more roasts, caroling, and visits from Santa.

Park Fees and Regulations

Cherry Creek State Park requires a valid park pass upon entry to maintain facilities and services. Day-use fees or annual park passes also fund vital conservation efforts. All visitors should be aware of boating, fishing, and pet regulations.

Passes and Permits

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages a daily and annual pass system that grants access to Cherry Creek State Park and all other Colorado state parks. Daily park passes are $9 per vehicle and $4 for individual walk-ins or cyclists. For frequent visitors, the $80 annual park pass offers unlimited entry and discounts on camping reservations statewide. This is the perfect option for guests making repeated day trips to enjoy all Cherry Creek State Park has to offer.

Alongside park passes, those looking to fish or boat on the Aurora Reservoir must carry the proper permits and inspections. All anglers age 16 and older must carry a valid Colorado fishing license. Motorized and sail-powered boats also need an ANS stamp to launch in the reservoir.

Rules and Regulations

All Cherry Creek State Park visitors must abide by rules and regulations to maintain safety and natural preservation. Outside of designated areas, pets must be kept on a 6-foot or shorter leash. Smoking and alcohol consumption are restricted to certain locations, like campsites. The park also enforces quiet hours from 10 pm to 6 am nightly.

On the reservoir, boats must obey no wake zones while passing other vessels or designated swim areas. Speed limits also apply in certain sections of the lake. Above all, the park asks visitors to practice the seven Leave No Trace principles to minimize human impact.

Supporting Colorado’s State Parks

Cherry Creek State Park represents just one of Colorado’s 42 stunning state parks. As an invaluable part of Colorado’s natural spaces, state parks rely on funding through visitor fees and private donations to maintain trails, facilities, and conservation efforts.

Donations Support State Parks

While entrance fees provide a portion of state park funding, donations to groups like the Cherry Creek State Park Foundation directly support projects and services at individual parks. At Cherry Creek, visitors’ donations help fund shoreline restoration, prairie revitalization, environmental education, and a summer concert series.

Volunteering Preserves Natural Spaces

State parks also depend on volunteers to help maintain trails, assist with visitor programs, and support conservation initiatives. Cherry Creek State Park volunteers may help with prairie restoration projects, facility maintenance, or answering visitor questions at the entrance stations. Even a few hours can make a meaningful difference.

Visitors can actively contribute to preserving Colorado’s natural spaces for future generations through donations and volunteerism. The state’s vibrant parks system protects essential wildlife habitat while connecting residents and tourists to unique outdoor experiences found only in Colorado.


How can I make camping reservations at Cherry Creek State Park?

Camping reservations can be made online at or by phone at 1-800-244-5613. Reservations are recommended up to six months in advance for popular weekends.

Where are the best areas for swimming and tubing?

The designated swim beach on the western shoreline offers calm waters for swimming. For tubing, visitors can rent tubes and traverse the tube chutes near the dam on the southern end of the reservoir.

Does my dog need a permit for the off-leash area?

The off-leash area requires the purchase of a daily off-leash pass, which allows up to 3 dogs per handler. The pass costs $3 and must be on hand for inspection by a ranger upon request.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.