Tucked away northeast of Steamboat Springs is a region more rugged, remote and scenic than any you’ll find in the state: North Park. Those who venture here are rewarded with boundless outdoor recreation year-round, and wildlife so abundant it’s known as the Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado.
North Park encompasses Jackson County, and an enduring Western heritage is very much a part of modern life in quaint towns like Walden, Rand, Gould and Cowdrey.
Need more convincing? Here’s why North Park should be on your Colorado bucket list.
1. It’s home to some of Colorado’s wildest landscapes.
Around 65 percent of North Park is public land, and amid the abundant lakes, rivers, mountains and wide-open prairies, there’s only one thing missing: crowds.
Imagine having Rocky Mountain National Park all to yourself, but with more moose. That’s the vibe at State Forest State Park, which is separated from RMNP by a single mountain pass. Situated near Walden, the park offers 71,000 acres of untouched wilderness, from jagged peaks to gleaming alpine lakes.
In Cowdrey, North Sand Hills Recreation Area is Colorado’s only open sand dune area for OHV recreation, with undulating terrain tailor-made for dirt bikes and ATVs. Mt. Zirkel Wilderness, located within Routt National Forest, is a hiker’s heaven, with more than 150 miles of trails straddling the Continental Divide. And at the northern end of the Never Summer Range, glimpse two of Colorado’s most iconic mountain peaks, Rabbit Ears and Nokhu Crags.
2. It’s the perfect place to spot some of Colorado’s most famous wild residents, including the majestic moose.
With a year-round moose population exceeding 600, moose sightings are a common occurrence in North Park. The Moose Visitor Center at State Forest State Park is an excellent first stop, but ungulates roam throughout the region — from rivers to willow bottoms to the streets of downtown Walden (a favorite stomping ground).
Elusive and enchanting birds like the greater sage-grouse, boreal owls and fox sparrows frequent the Colorado Birding Trail, Walden Lake and Cowdrey Lake State Wildlife Area. Make more feathered friends at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, the highest refuge in the lower 48 states. These wetlands give sanctuary to hundreds of bird species and 37 types of mammals ranging from moose to pronghorn to prairie dogs.
3. From fly-fishing to backcountry hiking, nearly every outdoor pursuit in Colorado is possible here.
Whichever season you visit, adventure calls in North Park. Autumn brings stunning fall color amid dense evergreen forests, and winter transforms the hills and prairies into a powder-filled wonderland for snowmobiling, backcountry skiing and more. And in the warmer months? North Park is basically one giant playground.
Gold Medal waters abound in this angler’s paradise. The North Platte River, Delaney Buttes, Illinois River and Big Creek Lakes boast ample brown and rainbow trout, plus the solitude that every fisherman craves. North Park is also one of Colorado’s best-hidden hunting spots for small and large game species, including duck, geese, elk and deer.
When it comes to a headquarters for your expeditions, there are plenty of options for lodging in the area. Choose from hotels, motels, RV parks, remote cabins, vacation rentals and yurts — all of which allow guests to capture the essence of the glorious backcountry.
4. Colorado’s Western heritage shines in North Park.
Trappers, loggers, cattlemen, prospectors and railroad workers have all roamed the North Park region; some still do. Expect a friendly tip of the hat from the cowboys who work the farms and ranches around Jackson County, where the frontier spirit — and loads of historic charm — live on.
Step back in time at the North Park Pioneer Museum in Walden, housed in an 1883 cabin that’s packed to the rafters with Old West relics. Or, see remnants of North Park’s mining past at ghost towns like Teller City and Coalmont, once-booming communities that were abandoned when silver went bust.
Immerse yourself in Western heritage and hang with the locals at unique events like the North Park Never Summer Rodeo, which features a Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry and historical parade in addition to the rodeo action. Other events worth planning your trip around include Colorado Parks and Wildlife’sMoose Festival and North Park Yeti Fest, a quirky celebration of sasquatch.