Walden is a quaint town tucked into North Park, Colorado, conveniently located about an hour from Steamboat Springs, Granby, Kremmling and Wyoming and about two hours from Ft. Collins. The town of Walden measures an elevation of 8099 feet and can be found in the heart of Jackson County. While Walden sits in a bowl of protein rich grasses and abundant wildlife it is surrounded by 12,000 foot peaks that define the Rocky Mountains.
North Park is a confluence of rich valleys, cattle farming, and ranching and mining interests. The first settlers, the Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Utes used North Park to hunt and nicknamed it the “Bull Pen” because the park was surrounded by a circle of mountain ranges that held a rich variety of wildlife within, making for easy hunting. Four bowls of mountain ranges span Colorado. South of North Park is Middle Park, then South Park and towards the southern portion of Colorado is the Lower San Louis Valley. Because of the fertile valley, Grand County, Summit County and Larimer County all wanted to stake their claim on Jackson County. Jackson became it own county in 1890.
Jackson County once supplied dairy products, lettuce and potatoes to Denver by way of the railroad that came from Laramie, Wyoming through Cowdry, then south through Jackson and crossed through Little Creek, tying into Granby.
Today Walden and the surrounding areas still host ranchers, cattle, and is a destination for recreational activities including fishing, hiking, biking and more. Oil development is expanding, and is in itself a rich part of Colorado history. Just outside of Walden and the entrance into Northwestern Colorado at Cameron Pass is the moose viewing capitol of Colorado.
Within Walden there are five motels, five restaurants, a grocery store and general merchandise store. Two gas stations and a bulk gas station will let you fill up for whatever adventure you are about to undertake. At the bulk gas station there’s a pull-in for trailers and propane fill-ups.
One of the biggest draws for Walden is the state of the art North Park Pioneer Museum. This museum is one of the best in the state with three stories, 27 rooms and a new annex. Everything in the museum is tied to North Park pioneers, keeping the collection incredibly authentic.
Next to the museum is the courthouse, which is 102 years old and cut out of limestone. There is a historic walking tour available and buildings are identified with plaques.
If you want to find out the best places for your particular interests, make friends with the locals and they may divulge their favorite fishing hole or camping spot. Walden provides easy access into the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
Of note: The hay grown in the North Park Basin is some of the most expensive in the state. The high protein content makes it so valuable truckloads of hay are shipped to Alaska and Texas.
Entrance to Walden from the East:
Length of Journey: Approximately 1.45 to 2 hours from Fort Collins to Walden
Route: Follow the Cache La Poudre Canyon over Cameron Pass. The highest point along the Route is Cameron Pass at 10, 276 feet. The top of Cameron Pass marks the Jackson County line. Highway 14 winds down for views of the Nokhu Crags or Never Summer Mountains. Detour: Take the turnoff for Lake Agnes and American Lakes two miles west of the top of Cameron Pass. (see below for Lake Agnes Hiking information). Another five miles down Highway 14 and you enter Colorado State Forest State Park. Look for the Moose Viewing Center. Eight miles from there you’ll reach the unincorporated community of Gould. At Gould, pass the KOA and Michigan Reservoir with lots of trails and great fishing and head into ranch land. Between Gould and Walden several operating ranches as well as oil and gas development can be found. Keep your eyes open for original homesteader cabins scattered along the highway, including the Rathbun Pioneer Cabin. About half way between Walden and Gould (approximately 15 miles), you’ll start to see the Arapahoe National Wildlife Refuge.
Services: There is a gas station approximately 1.15 hours from Fort Collins named Archers, where you can fuel up and get a bite to eat. A seasonal restaurant is also available at Glen Echo along with an RV Park. At the Moose Visitor Center in Colorado State Forest State Park, a bathroom and vending machines are available.
In Gould, the Powderhorn Cabins are a great place for an overnight and is Colorado’s oldest, continually run resort.
Moose. In 1987 the Shiras’ moose was introduced to Jackson County. This species of moose is the largest cervid in the world. They generally stand 6.4 to 7.4 feet high while their bodies stretch out to 6.8 -9.2 feet. Males weigh anywhere up to 1,400 lbs while the females generally weight up to 1,100 lbs. Moose can be aggressive so be sure to give these animals lots of space!
While the state of Washington is home to approximately 1,000 moose, Jackson County alone houses between 800 and 900 moose, making it the largest moose population in the state. In fact, Jackson County has been named the moose viewing capitol of Colorado.
If you pay attention at the top of Cameron Pass you may be able to see the herd of moose that lives up there year round. There’s a restroom in the area with a pullout to stretch your legs and view some wildlife.
Nokhu Crags or Never Summer Mountains: This range of mountains consists of jagged peaks formed by volcanic activity and borders Rocky Mountain National Park. The highest summit is Mount Richthofen at 12,940 feet. The Nokhu Crags are formed from Pierre Shale. Locals call this range the dead Indian because the shape of the mountain range looks like a dead Indian with a full headdress on. Pioneers passed along old wives’ tales and myths that reflected on this being a sacred Indian ground taken over by white settlers.
Lake Agnes Hike: The Lake Agnes hiking trail runs .8 miles one way, taking visitors up to the lake at an elevation of 10,250. The elevation gain for the entire hike is 413 feet. Fishers, hikers and dogs on leash are all welcome to enjoy Lake Agnes. This hike was featured in Sunset Magazine as a top hike in Colorado. The trail is well maintained and a great introduction to mountain hiking for kids over five. There is a cabin at the base of the trail, the Lake Agnes Cabin that is on the National Historic Registry.
Colorado State Forest State Park: Colorado State Forest State Park is the only State Forest that is also a State Park. With 70,838 acres, this is an amazing recreation area offering fishing, hiking, snowmobiling and more. There are over 200 campsites to chose from, picnic sites for day visitors, boat ramps for fishing excursions and 94 miles of hiking trails.
Moose Visitor Center: A marker board is updated daily with wildlife spottings, specifically moose, but other wildlife as well. It is said that over 600,000 people a year visit this center. There is also a 3-D topographical map that shows all of Jackson County. This is a great way to view the water resources that are so valuable to this area.
From the visitor center a trail connects to the Gould Community Center. In the summer nature walks are given along this trail and in the winter, there are two full-moon snowshoeing treks finishing with a big potluck at the Community Center.
Gould, Colorado: Wildlife in Gould includes moose, elk, deer, antelope, bear, beaver, coyotes, bobcat, fox, grouse, ducks and geese and about every species of trout in Colorado. There is a historic building on the east side of Gould that used to be a gas station and general merchandising store when it was a logging area. Timber camps can still be found throughout the area.
Rathbun Pioneer Cabin: Judson Rathbun and his wife Rosa Dey Rathbun and their children owned one of the first three houses in Walden. They later moved to Idaho.
Arapahoe Wildlife Refuge: The Arapaho National Wildlife refuge spans 23,464 acres and was established in 1967 in order to provide safe nesting and rearing habitat for migratory birds. This refuge is the highest in the United States, located in an intermountain glacial basin approximately 35 miles wide and 45 miles long. The refuge is the second largest producer of waterfowl in the state of Colorado and the second largest waterfowl migratory bird area in the nation. The refuge is a stopping point for migratory birds, making this area a popular place for birders with over 208 bird species recorded. Mammals found here include moose, elk, coyote and more. In the winter over 2,000 elk settle in this area. There is a boardwalk through the refuge, however give moose plenty of space especially in the spring when females become protective of their young and in the fall when the males are mating and tend to be more aggressive.
There are several overlooks in the refuge including a historical barn in the middle of the refuge. Educational programs are available to visitors. To access the refuge, drive through Walden to 125 south and go approximately 10 miles south.
The territory around the refuge was popular for sheep ranching. The sagebrush, rolling hills and pastures outside of the refuge once provided protein for sheep and cattle. To this day, operating ranches can be found around this area.
North Park Journey:
Length of Journey: Approximately 1.30 hour to Clark, Colorado
Route: From Walden take 125 North along the North Platte River. Detour: Lake John. Continuing along you will face Independence Mountain. Continue driving to a fork in the road at the town of Pearl. Take FS Road 80 to continue on the North Park Journey or Detour: by taking Jcr 6A to Big Creek Lake. On FS 80 there are plenty of creeks for fishing and camping. Pass through several open parks with a river running through and unmanaged campsites. Hiking trails shoot off most of those parks. This road connects through Ryan Park and Whisky Park and Creek. The road loops up into Wyoming and back down to Colorado until you reach the Hog Park Ranger Station.
Services: After Lake John, no services are available until Hahns Peak (lodging and food), In Clark (food, lodging), Steamboat Springs (gas, food, lodging)
North Platte River Basin: The North Platte River Basin is an extremely important waterway as it supplies water to Nebraska and Iowa. The Platte River watershed begins in Wyoming and flows into Colorado and Nebraska. The headwaters flow from the mountains surrounding North Park, Colorado as well as the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre ranges in Wyoming. The North Platte River is a major tributary of the Platte River and runs 716 miles.
Along the North Platte River find the Big Horn Ranch where an historical red barn still sits. At one time 10,000 sheep would winter in the upper story of this barn and cows took up the lower level. Dairy and wool products were shipped out from here.
Lake John Resort: Offers cabins and RV sites year round and has a General Store with tackle and bait. This is a great fishing area with several lakes that are part of the Gold Medal Waters for fishing. Gold Medal Waters are defined as being able to produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, and at least twelve 14″ or larger trout per acre.
Independence Mountain: Independence Mountain today is spotted with placer mining camps. In the late 1800’s mining was a huge draw to Colorado. At that time placer mines could be found all over Independence Mountain. The only problem was the Arapahoe, Ute and Cheyenne Indians still used North Park as a hunting ground. At this time tensions between Native Americans and White Settlers were reaching a peak. The Colorado Governor was declaring the Indians had to go, while at the same time Nathan Meeker, in what is now Meeker Colorado, was attempting to force the Ute Indians into an agricultural lifestyle. Meeker was their appointed Indian Agent and had no sympathy to the lifestyle of the Utes. As a result of lack of communication and misunderstandings, the army was called in; the Utes murdered Meeker and several others and took his wife and daughter hostage. Tensions throughout Colorado mounted. According to the book North Park by Hazel Gresham, “In the summer of 1870, the Utes’ Chief Piah and Chief John told the miners to get out (of Independence Mountain) because “North Park was Ute land and the gold was Ute gold.” They paid a visit to one of the miners where they took gold dust from him and warned him he had twenty days to leave, in order for the miner to care for another miner whose leg was broken. Most miners left immediately. A letter from the miners was written and sent to the attention of Governor Campbell, asking the Indians be allowed to hunt but not be allowed to interfere with the Whites in any way. On July 4, 1870, the Cheyenne’s and Utes engaged in a fierce battle in North Park. That same day the miners remaining on Independence Mountain were massacred.
Today there are several forks you can take to drive or hike over Independence Mountain. There’s a barren spot on the top of the mountain, at about 9,000 feet that offers views of all of Jackson County. Teepee rings can still be found where the Indians camped. Panning for gold continues to this day in the drainages and creeks of Independence Mountain.
Pearl: At one time Pearl was the largest settlement in Jackson County with a population of 2,500 people. There was a stockyard for cattle ranchers and a supply store for miners and loggers. Today, Pearl still stands, but with only a few buildings. The rest of Pearl has become family ranches and private cabins for pioneering families.
Big Creek Lake: Big Creek Lake is the second largest natural lake in the state of Colorado. There is speculation the lake is so deep the bottom has never been found. Big Creek is a recreational area with a boat ramp and camping. The Forest Service manages this area.
From Big Creek Lake, a maintained hiking trail of approximately one mile will take you to the upper lake. There is no camping available here, but there are plenty of osprey nests. The Division of Wildlife conducts bird counts up here and there are even platforms for bird nesting. Another mile hike will take you to Big Creek Falls where the trailhead ends. The total hiking time takes about an hour from the parking lot at the lower lake. Children as young as 3-4 can manage this hike if they are active, however the median age to start with would be 9-10 years old. There are no water services or restrooms.
Much of the area has been logged, however after two years of sunlight, wildflowers and grasses are reclaiming the land. Llamas and horses share the trail.
The Big Creek Lake connects along the Continental Divide with the Grizzly/Helena trail that traverses the Divide and will take you back to the bottom part of Jackson County to Grand County.
Hog Park Ranger Station: The Hog Park Ranger Station is one of only two buildings in Jackson County to be found on the National Historic Register.