Cache la Poudre-North Park Byway
Colorado’s National Wild and Scenic River
|Mileage||101 miles (163 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||2 hours, 14 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Colorado Highway 14|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Walden, CO▼, Red Feather Lakes, CO▼, Bellvue, CO▼, Fort Collins, CO▼, Wellington, CO▼, Windsor, CO▼, and Black Hollow Junction, CO▼|
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Traveling from Fort Collins to Walden along the Cache la Poudre-North Park Byway will make you feel like you’re driving through a postcard. Surrounded by jaw-dropping jagged mountains, vast meadows, lodgepole forest, and glistening lakes, take in the incredible views with ample opportunities to get out and explore. Whether you’re into hiking, fishing, white-water rafting, geocaching, wildlife watching, biking, OHV-driving, or just relaxing and enjoying the glacier-formed landscape cut by the Cache la Poudre River, this region has it all. In winter, revel in a white-draped wonderland while skiing, snow-shoeing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Although short enough for a day trip, you should plan on a few days to truly take in all this area has to offer.
Fort Collins is a big city and makes a great base with a wide range of lodging options, restaurants, and services. It is also the largest producer of craft beer in Colorado, with many breweries located in the historic downtown. Embark on a brewery tour, or attend the Colorado Brewers’ Festival in June. Looking for cultural and family offerings? The Fort Collins Museum of Art (M3) housed within an old Post Office building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features a rich and varied series of rotating exhibits. Kids will love the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (M2) as they learn and explore through hands-on exhibits and activities, including a First Peoples exhibit, a music and sound lab, face-to-face encounters with animals, the natural history of Fort Collins, a movie theater and more. Stop at the Colorado Welcome Center at Fort Collins (I2) for city and regional information. Fort Collins has many outfitters and tour operators to create your perfect adventure. If you’re spending more time in the area — don’t miss the Poudre River Trail Corridor just east of Fort Collins. The 21-mile paved recreation trail travels from Island Grove Park (H12) in Greeley, to the Frank State Wildlife Area Trailhead in Windsor, along the Cache la Poudre River. Enjoy biking or walking with multiple access points, parks, fishing and wildlife watching.
The byway begins heading west on CO-14. For much of the journey, the road parallels the Cache la Poudre River, Colorado’s only federally-designated National Wild and Scenic River. The river’s name translates from French to “hide the powder”. Legend tells that this is where fur trappers decided to bury their gunpowder for retrieval in spring to lighten their load while traveling during a snowstorm in the mid 1800’s.
Leaving Bellvue, the road enters the Roosevelt National Forest and heads up the Cache la Poudre Canyon. This area is popular with rock climbers drawn to the jagged crags of Greyrock Mountain, Crystal Wall, and Upper Narrows to name but a few. Not a rock climber? You can also hike the Greyrock National Recreation Trail (H11) which heads to the summit of 7,616-foot Greyrock Mountain. The trail, constructed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, is about a 7-mile round trip with an elevation gain of 2000-feet. Some sections require climbing over boulders, and beautiful views await, whether you make it to the top or not.
In nearby Laporte, wine grapes are growing. Visit Ten Bears Winery for wine tasting and a vineyard tour. Relax on the patio amid wonderful views. Open Tues.-Sat. or call ahead to schedule a visit.
Once a dance hall in the 1900’s, the Mishawaka Amphitheater (A8) is now host to an eclectic range of outdoor concerts and has a restaurant/café open to the general public.
There are over 15 campgrounds along the route. Near here are Narrow Dutch Campground and George Dutch Campground. Most are first-come, first-served, with no reservations.
In Rustic, consider a side trip on CO-69 to Red Feather Lakes, a popular vacation area for whitewater rafting, fly fishing, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. You’ll find many lodging options from cabin rentals, ranches, yurts, tent and RV camping, as well as outfitters and restaurants. Though the byway is open year-round, many restaurants and lodging are closed in the off-season. Confirm plans ahead of time. Interested in developing your spiritual journey? The Shambhala Mountain Center (A7) is a retreat offering Buddhist meditation retreats, yoga, Qigong, and other programs. Standing 108-feet tall, the striking and beautiful architecture of the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya promotes harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health and peace.
The road winds its way with many short stops for photo ops. The historic Poudre Canyon Chapel (A6) was built in the mid-1950’s using native stone. It is still open for regular church service.
The Poudre River State Fish Hatchery (A5) has been instrumental in reestablishing the greenback cutthroat, the only native trout to Colorado waters. Learn how the hatchery works, and feed the fish (dispenser takes quarters). The hatchery is free and open daily.
Adjacent to the Big Bend Campground is the Big Bend Sheep Viewing Area (H9). Visit in the morning or late afternoon for the best chance of seeing the bighorn sheep.
Don’t miss snapping a pic or taking a selfie with Profile Rock (H10), a photogenic granite rock formation that resembles a face.
In Kinikinik, stock up on supplies at the General Store, or just be amazed that you’re driving through one of the longest palindromic places in the world.
North of Kinikinik is the Comanche Peak Wilderness. Consider a side trip to explore this section of the Roosevelt National Forest. Unspoiled nature with little development makes this a particularly scenic area, home to antelope, beaver, bighorn sheep and moose. You’ll find bird-watching opportunities, trout fishing, and hiking trails.
Back on CO-14, you will see the iconic Sleeping Elephant Mountain (H8). A short, but steep and challenging hike will take you to the summit. Stay overnight in the Sleeping Elephant Campground. Note this campground does not accommodate larger RVs.
Poudre Falls (H7) churns through a rocky chasm with a roar much of the year, but if you happen to be here in the spring, snowmelt creates a particularly powerful flow.
Poudre Canyon Road crosses the Cache la Poudre River, and here the road continues along Joe Wright Creek. This area is home to many lakes and is a draw for fisherman. Note, a fishing license is required for those 16 and older. There are many other trails that traverse the stunning scenery, including the Big South Trail near the Big South Campground.
Surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, the no-wake Chambers Lake (W5) is popular for swimming, boating, fishing and camping at Chambers Lake Campground. Nearby, the 7.2-mile Blue Lake Trail heads into the Rawah Wilderness.
At Barnes Meadow Reservoir (W4), anglers can while away the day catching rainbows, cutthroat, and cutbows, Lost Lake and Joe Wright Reservoir (W2) are known for fishing cutthroat trout and arctic grayling.
Cameron Pass sits at 10,276 feet between the south end of the Medicine Bow Mountains and the north end of the Never Summer Mountains. Views are simply breathtaking.
From the Zimmerman Lake (W3) parking area you can access the moderate 3-mile Zimmerman Lake Trail, the easy 2-mile Cameron Pass Connection, or the challenging Montgomery Pass Trail.
Along with over 71,000 acres of stunning terrain, State Forest State Park (H1) offers a gamut of recreation opportunities, including hiking, biking, geocaching, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, and OHV/ATV riding. Take part in the many ranger-led activities, walks, and educational programs. Make it an overnight with cabin and yurt rentals, or RV and tent camping. In winter, enjoy snowshoeing, tubing, well-groomed cross-country ski trails, and even winter camping. North Park is considered the moose viewing capital of Colorado with more than 600 moose that can be observed year-round. At Moose Visitor Center learn more about these magnificent animals, and the early timber industry and camps that were located in nearby Gould.
In Walden, visit the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge (A2) which sits at 8,200 feet, the highest altitude of any refuge in the continental U.S. Over 23,000-acres of diverse habitat are rich in wildlife. Neotropical migratory birds, nesting waterfowl, as well as large mammals such as Shira’s moose, wintering elk, northern river otter thrive in the willow riparian habitat, wetlands are home to waterfowl, grassland meadows support the greater sage-grouse, now off the endangered list, mule and white-tailed deer, and the sage sparrow, cottontail rabbit, and pronghorn bask on the sagebrush steppe uplands. Explore the habitats along the 6-mile auto tour route, and learn more from the wayside exhibits. There are three overlooks and an ADA compliant blind for observation, photography and hunting. Take the short, accessible half mile Mother Goose Nature Trail. Note, there is hunting in the refuge — wear orange or other bright clothing during hunting season. The Visitor Center features interpretive displays and has staff on hand for questions.
Step back in time at the North Park Pioneer Museum (M1) which features three floors and 27 rooms packed with artifacts and memorabilia from the early days in Walden, the Ute Indians, and the homesteaders in 1800s. Admission is free, donations appreciated.
The drive officially ends here in Walden, but there’s a lot more to do. Explore the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park along Trail Ridge Road. Or 10 miles northeast of Walden, thrill seeking off-roaders will love the 1,400-acre North Sand Hills Recreation Management Area (H6), which includes 300-acres of sand dunes. There is primitive camping, but no water or firewood available on-site, so come prepared. This area is free, donations appreciated. Or discover the region’s historically significant oil and gas fields on the BLM McCallum Field Auto Tour (A1). This 11-mile interpretive drive winds by oil wells, a reclaimed coal mine and ranch land. The sage brush habitat is home to over 300 wildlife species, including pronghorn antelope and prairie falcon.