The Geography of Arvada, Colorado

Arvada is a city located in Jefferson and Adams counties in the U.S. state of Colorado, part of the Denver metropolitan area. With a population of around 120,000 residents, Arvada offers a unique geographic setting and history.

This article will provide an in-depth look at the geography of Arvada, examining its location, topography, climate, hydrology, flora and fauna. We’ll also explore some key events and industries that have shaped the city over time. Keep reading to learn all about the diverse and dynamic geography of this Front Range community.

Location and Regional Setting

Arvada is situated northwest of downtown Denver, approximately 7 miles from the Colorado State Capitol building. It spans 33.6 square miles of land. The city lies in both Jefferson County to the west and Adams County to the east.

To the north of Arvada is the city of Wheat Ridge. Further north lie the Rocky Mountain foothills and mountain parks. The city of Golden borders Arvada to the south. On the eastern side, Arvada is bordered by unincorporated Adams County and the city of Westminster. To the southwest is Lakewood.

Arvada is part of the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metropolitan statistical area and the wider Front Range Urban Corridor. The Front Range region extends along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Arvada sits at the junction of several important transportation corridors that connect it to the greater metro area.

Some key highways serving Arvada include:

  • Interstate 70 – Runs east-west through the southern part of the city, connecting it to Denver and mountain resorts to the west.
  • State Highway 93 – Called Sheridan Boulevard in Arvada, this route runs north-south along the western side.
  • State Highway 72 – Named Wadsworth Boulevard, this highway forms part of Arvada’s eastern border.
  • State Highway 121 – Called Wadsworth Parkway north of I-70, this route crosses through the eastern side of the city.

Topography and Geology

Arvada spans an area where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The topography consists of rolling hills dotted with rock formations. Elevations range from around 5,300 feet in the lower plains areas to over 5,800 feet closer to the foothills.

The higher western section of Arvada extends into the Rocky Flats area. Here you’ll find more rugged, rocky terrain as the mountains begin rising to the west. The eastern plains areas have more gentle rolling hills and open spaces.

Clear Creek flows from the mountains southwest through Arvada, carving out a wide valley. Ralston Creek also winds through the city from the foothills through the populated areas. Leyden Creek and Van Bibber Creek are two other important streams.

Geologically, the Arvada area sits atop a large syncline or downward fold in the earth’s crust. Sedimentary rock layers dip down on either side, with the oldest rocks being precambrian schists, gneisses and granites. Younger sandstone and shale layers formed as ancient seas covered the region. Mineral deposits have been mined in the area.

Climate and Weather

Arvada has a semi-arid climate, with hot summers and cold winters. Its location on the eastern side of the Rockies means it lies in the rain shadow, making it drier than the western slope.

Summers are warm, with average highs around 87°F in July and August. The area gets plenty of sun, with more than 300 days of sun per year on average. Winters are cold but generally dry, with average January highs around 43°F. Lows can dip well below freezing.

Snowfall averages around 55 inches per year, with heavier snow in the foothills. Precipitation is low, averaging only 15 inches annually. Rain is most common in spring and early summer, while snow falls between November and April. Hail and thunderstorms frequently roll off the mountains during the summer.

Temperature variations can be high due to the dry air and high elevation. The area gets abundant sunshine year-round, averaging over 260 sunny days annually.


As a semi-arid climate, water resources are scarce in Arvada and valued highly. The city’s major waterways are Clear Creek and Ralston Creek, along with Leyden Creek, Van Bibber Creek, and several small tributaries. Clear Creek flows from the mountains through the heart of Arvada, while Ralston Creek comes from the western foothills.

Most of the native vegetation and wildlife depends on these waterways for survival. The creeks swell with snowmelt each spring but become low trickles during dry summer months. Flash flooding can occur after heavy rainfall.

For municipal water supply, Arvada relies on surface water from Clear Creek along with groundwater wells near Leyden and Ralston Creeks. The city carefully maintains its water rights and infrastructure.

Arvada has worked to protect and enhance its watersheds in recent years. Riparian areas along creeks are being restored to filter runoff and improve wildlife habitat. Wetland parks like Pioneer Park and Majestic View Nature Center protect wildlife areas. Stormwater programs aim to improve drainage and water quality.

Flora and Fauna

Arvada’s vegetation and wildlife vary across the different ecosystems found at lower and higher elevations. Plants and animals have adapted to the dry, windy climate.

In the plains areas, shortgrass prairie dominates. Grasses include blue grama, buffalo grass, western wheatgrass, and prickly pear cactus. Wildflowers like sunflowers, daisies, and Indian paintbrush bloom during spring and summer. Cottonwood trees, willows, and shrubbery grow along creek banks.

Moving west toward the foothills, vegetation shifts to mixed woodlands and shrublands. Here you’ll find Gambel oak, mountain mahogany, skunkbush sumac, chokecherry, snowberry, and other woody shrubs. Ponderosa pine woodlands take over at higher elevations.

Wildlife includes prairie species like the black-tailed jackrabbit, swift fox, horned lark, western meadowlark, and raptors like the red-tailed hawk. Mule deer and coyotes range through the plains and foothills. Clear Creek provides habitat for brown trout. Raptors, chickadees, jays, and other mountain birds live in the woodlands.

Parks and open spaces provide refuges for wildlife to survive in the urban environment. Animals like foxes, coyotes, deer, skunks, raccoons, and rabbits can often be spotted. Various birds flock to riparian corridors, lakes, and wetlands.

Geologic and Human History

Arvada’s location along Clear Creek made it attractive for early human settlement. Native Americans like the Arapahoe tribe lived in the area and traded with settlers starting in the mid-1800s. The discovery of gold nearby sparked Colorado’s gold rush, bringing many prospectors to Clear Creek.

In 1870, the town of Arvada was founded by Benjamin F. Wadsworth and named for his daughter Aravilla. It grew as a farming and mining hub for the region. By 1904, Arvada was incorporated as a city. Its location near Denver and the mountains along a key wagon route fueled expansion.

For a time in the early 1900s, Arvada had the distinction of being the “celery capital” of the world for producing and shipping the crop around the country. Other important early industries included clay mining and production of bricks and tiles.

The Rocky Flats Plant was built northwest of Arvada in 1952 to create nuclear weapon components. Its closure in 1992 and subsequent clean-up reshaped the nearby landscape. Arvada steadily transitioned into a suburban residential community as part of the expanding Denver metro area in the late 20th century.

Today, Arvada retains much of its historic small-town charm and identity, even as it has become a vibrant Front Range suburb. The city celebrates its heritage with sites like the Arvada Flour Mill and Olde Town Arvada historic district. Its location and natural resources continue shaping development.

Neighborhoods and Districts

Arvada contains many distinct neighborhoods and areas:

Olde Town Arvada

Historic downtown district with antique shops, restaurants, and community events. Home to the Arvada Flour Mill and other heritage sites.

Ralston Valley

Largest neighborhood spanning the western section. Includes schools, parks, trails, and suburban subdivisions.

Lake Arbor

Master-planned community surrounding a large private lake, with golf course and recreation amenities.

Wheat Ridge

Unincorporated community bordering Arvada to the north. Contains residential areas, retail, and light industry.


City bordering eastern Arvada with a mix of housing, shopping, and business parks.

Rocky Flats

Former nuclear weapons site northwest of Arvada, now an open space wildlife refuge.

Leyden Rock

Small mountain community nestled in the foothills with suburban housing.

Parks and Open Spaces

Arvada has an extensive parks system that protects open spaces and provides recreation opportunities. Major parks include:

  • Majestic View Nature Center – Large nature preserve with hiking trails, wildlife viewing areas, and nature education programs.
  • Lake Arbor – This private lake has a swimming beach, walking path, fishing access, and boating. Surrounded by golf courses and homes.
  • Ralston Central Park – Active neighborhood park with playgrounds, sports fields, skate park, disk golf course, and recreation center.
  • Stenger Sports Complex – Large sports complex with baseball/softball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts, and an aquatic center.
  • Vanderbeek Park – Popular community park with a lake, trail, skate park, and preservation area.

Arvada also manages multiple open space sites along creeks and in the foothills to protect native vegetation and wildlife. The city has over 40 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Notable trail corridors include Clear Creek, Ralston Creek, Van Bibber Creek, Union Pacific, Apex Gulch, and Faith. Most neighborhoods and parks connect into this robust trail network.

Industry and Development

Key industries that have shaped Arvada’s growth include:

  • Mining – Gold and clay mining fueled early settlement. Sand and gravel quarries still operate.
  • Agriculture – Farming and crops like celery once dominated. Urban growth has displaced most agriculture.
  • Manufacturing – From brickworks to aerospace parts, manufacturing has provided local jobs.
  • Energy – Nearby coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy supported economic growth.
  • Technology – New tech companies are expanding with offices in Arvada.
  • Retail – Shopping areas and malls line major highways like I-70 and Wadsworth.
  • Services – Healthcare, education, finance, and professional services are top employers today.

Arvada has grown rapidly in recent decades as part of metro Denver’s sprawl. New neighborhoods with suburban housing, schools, parks and shopping centers continue developing, especially in the western half of the city.

Central Arvada and Olde Town maintain the historic small-town character. The eastern plains areas have increased commercial and industrial development. Population is projected to grow steadily in coming years.

Sustainable growth that balances development with preserving the natural landscape remains a priority for Arvada. The city strives to enhance quality of life through thoughtful planning and community design. Citizens take pride in Arvada’s heritage and unique identity despite ongoing urban expansion.

Transportation Infrastructure

Key transportation infrastructure serving Arvada includes:

  • Interstate 70 – Major east-west highway connecting to Denver and the mountains. Exits at Wadsworth, Kipling, and Sheridan.
  • Highway 93 (Sheridan Blvd) – North-south thoroughfare on the western side.
  • Highway 72 (Wadsworth Blvd) – Major arterial roads crossing east Arvada.
  • Highway 121 (Wadsworth Pkwy) – Crosses northeast sections.
  • Grandview Ave – Primary east-west route through central Arvada.
  • RTD Bus Routes – Local and express buses providing public transit throughout Arvada and metro Denver.
  • RTD G Line – Commuter rail with a stop in Olde Town, opening in 2023. Part of metro-wide FasTracks expansion.
  • Union Pacific Railroad – Freight rail line passes through eastern Arvada.
  • US 36 Bikeway – Bike path adjacent to Hwy 36 corridor from Denver through Westminster.

Arvada strives to improve mobility options and connections throughout the city and metro region. Expanding public transit, enhancing pedestrian/bike infrastructure, and upgrading roadways are priorities to manage ongoing growth.

Environmental Issues and Hazards

Some environmental considerations in Arvada’s geography include:

  • Water scarcity – Limited water supplies must be carefully managed, especially during droughts.
  • Flooding – Flash floods sometimes occur along creeks after heavy rainfall.
  • Wildfire – Foothills areas facing moderate wildfire risk that may increase.
  • Hazardous waste – Some lingering contamination from Rocky Flats nuclear site.
  • Air quality – Increased ozone levels along urban corridor during hot summer months.
  • Climate change – Rising temperatures may worsen drought, wildfires, and poor air quality.

Arvada partners with state and federal agencies to monitor these issues and implement preventative measures. Sustainable development practices help mitigate potential impacts. Ongoing environmental awareness and stewardship are important for the community.


In summary, Arvada has a diverse geographic setting spanning the transition zone between the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. Its creeks and topography supported early settlement, while its location fueled growth as part of the Denver metro area. Ranching, farming, mining, manufacturing, technology, retail, and service industries have all contributed to shaping Arvada over time.

Careful planning and development aim to preserve Arvada’s identity and quality of life as the population expands. Respect for the natural landscape and resources continue being important values for the community. This overview of the key geographic elements of Arvada provides deeper insight into this dynamic Front Range city

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  • Upon leaving the airport, get on Peña Boulevard heading west. Take I-70 west towards the mountains for approximately 10 miles before taking exit 269 for Kipling Street. Turn left onto Kipling Street and continue north for 3 miles. Turn right onto 58th Avenue and continue east for 1⁄2 mile before turning left onto Harlan Street. The destination will be on your right after passing 52nd Avenue.
  • Start by getting on I-25 north from downtown and continue for approximately 10 miles. Take exit 215 onto 58th Avenue. Turn left off the exit and go west on 58th Avenue for around 4 miles before turning right onto Harlan Street. Drive north on Harlan Street by passing 52nd Avenue and look for #5460 on your right after about 1⁄2 mile.
  • Get on US-36 east heading towards Denver. Take this freeway for around 20 miles before merging onto I-25 south towards Denver. Drive approximately 5 miles before taking exit 215 for 58th Avenue. Turn right off the exit onto 58th Avenue heading west for 4 miles before turning right onto Harlan Street. Look for #5460 half a mile down Harlan Street on your right just after passing 52nd Avenue.