Canoeing at Pit D, Boulder, CO


Each year I’ve done something outdoors with my daughter for Father’s Day. Now that I live near my own father, I thought it would be fun to do something with both my dad and my daughter. I’ve never done much canoeing but my dad has taken it up in recent years and it seems like fun. And it was.

T – 8 days

I send a text to Poppy (the assumed name my dad has taken in his grandfatherly role) asking him if he wants to go canoeing for Father’s Day. He has a canoe and heaps of white water rafting gear so all we’d need is some gumption to make it  happen. He loves the idea and is going to start checking out his gear to make sure he has everything we need.

T – 7 days

Turns out Poppy doesn’t have a small enough life jacket for my daughter – his old ones from the white water rafting days when I was a kid are trashed. So my mission for the next week is to find her one.

Poppy suggests we go canoeing at Pit D. I’ve never heard of that place. He says it is West of 63rd and North of Valmont, at the gravel pits East of the Boulder Airport. Gravel pits? Doesn’t sound scenic, I blurt out in a text. But apparently there are airplanes, eagles, herons, fish, snakes, beaver, and Boulder Creek. Ah – sounds great! And probably less than a 10 minutes drive.

T – 6 days

I swing by Boulder Sports Recycler to pick up a check from an old mountain bike I sold there. They don’t have any life jackets for someone who weights only 30 lbs. Hm…

T – 5 days

I bug a few of my adventuresome neighbors that have small children to see if we can borrow a life jacket. No luck. Dang this is proving harder than I imagined to find a little life jacket.

T – 4 days

I still don’t have a life jacket for my daughter. But, I’ve decided I don’t want to buy a new one for her. It doesn’t make sense if we’re only going to use it a few times before she outgrows it. So I end up renting one from Boulder Outdoor Center. The life jacket rental is $6 for one day. If you don’t have any of your own gear, it seems like Boulder Outdoor Center can rent you everything you need.

T – 1 day

I pick up the life jacket and coordinate with Poppy that we’ll start bright and early, around 6:15 to 6:45, depending when my daughter awakes.

The Adventure!


6:50 AM

We wake up. It’s late. Naturally, my night before an adventure my daughter slept poorly. So she’s woken up late. She’s the alarm clock for the house so we’re all moving slowly and a bit behind the planned schedule. A bit foggy, we get dressed, collect our things, and hit the road.

7:35 AM

We meet Poppy at Moe’s Bagels for breakfast. Once fed and with coffees in hand, we head out to Pit D.

To get to Pit D from North Boulder, we head down Valmont all the way to 61st street. We head North on 61st street, and make the first left into an easy-to-miss parking lot. (Directions via Google Maps). To get a general sense of the area you can also check out Open Space & Mountain Parks Trailsmap 2012 – Boulder – PDF).

9:00 AM

We are at the trail head for Pit D. We unload the vehicles, put on sunscreen, and put everything into the canoe. We end up leaving a lot of our warmer and backup gear, because it is a beautiful and warm sunny day. The next step is getting the canoe onto the canoe dolly. The canoe dolly is a non-essential piece of gear that makes getting from the parking lot to the water way, way, easier. A canoe dolly is a carriage with two wheels that you slide under and strap onto the canoe, making it possible for one person to “drive” a canoe down a dirt road with ease.


All loaded, we put on our life jackets and head to the water.

A quick stroll down the road and we’re at Pit D and canoeing!

It is a beautiful morning. The sky is clear blue. The only sounds are from waterfowl, the occasional propeller plane pulling a glider into the air, and the rhythm from our paddle strokes creating a wake that sloshes up against the side the canoe. We notice three silent fisherman sharing the same experience.

We gracefully paddle around Pit D. My daughter paddles some and doesn’t paddle some. A giant heron lifts off the bank and flaps across the horizon. A night heron, a rare sight I’m told, does the same in the opposite direction. Carp fish jump into the air and spill back through the surface, leaving ripples. We discover a turtle sunning on a log. We’re able to glide within feet of the turtle who barely blinks at the bow of our canoe.


On the far end of Pit D we cruise by a beaver home and sit patiently for a few minutes hoping to catch the maker – no luck. We continue around, seeing a gang of adolescent geese and their parents, along with a hawk, with a snake dangling from his mouth.

9:45 AM

After 45 minutes my daughter is thirsty. Of all the gear, that is the one thing both Poppy and I forgot in the vehicles. Ah well – 45 minutes is a pretty good run for a first time out with a 3-year old so we head back.




  1. Canoe
  2. Canoe dolly
  3. Ropes or straps to fasten canoe to roof rack
  4. Paddles
  5. Life jackets
  6. Water shoes
  7. Dry bags
  8. Zip lock bags for wallet, keys, phone (also then put into dry bags)
  9. Sunscreen
  10. Sun hats
  11. Towels
  12. Second set of emergency clothes for children
  13. Fleece or other warm jacket for emergencies (like falling into lake and getting really cold)
  14. Snacks
  15. Water bottles
  16. Camera
  17. Camera bag
  18. Toilet paper in zip lock bag

What you need to do

  1. Pick a date
  2. Pick a location
  3. Get the gear
  4. Gear check a couple days before
  5. Pack (ideally night before)
  6. Go have fun!

Places to go


Boulder Outdoor Center has an online guide to flatwater boating areas that includes notes on some of these places:

  • Boulder Reservoir
  • Gross Reservoir
  • Horsetooth Reservoir
  • Lake Dillon
  • Lake Granby
  • Boyd Lake in Loveland
  • Aurora Res

Note: cold water found in lakes at higher elevations is much more dangerous than warmer waters found at lower elevations. Besides being warmer, Pit D is also smaller and not as deep as larger lakes, making for a safer more controlled environment.