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Hayden, Colorado

Community Legacy

The community is named for geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden who, while leading a US Geographical Survey expedition in the early 1870s, camped near the present day site of the Town of Hayden.

First settled in 1874, Hayden was slow to grow but due to large ranches like the Cary Ranch, and open ranch lands for homesteaders, it eventually grew into a regional agricultural center. The arrival of the train in 1913 was met with a local celebration in which the entire town showed up and spurred the organization of the county fair. The subsequent development of the grain elevator in 1917 along with the railroad enabled Hayden to export quality cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, and oats to markets all over the nation. By the 1930s, Hayden had grown to the largest shipping center for sheep in the United States. Rail passenger and livestock service ended in 1968. Today, the town remains relatively unchanged since the early 1900s.

Did you know that the best quarter horses in the West are descendants of horses from a ranch in Hayden?

In the early 1900’s Hayden was home to quarter horse breeders Si Dawson and Coke Roberds. The top quarter horse bloodlines in the American West can be traced to their stallions, Old Fred and Peter McCue. Si owned a ranch east of Hayden, (now Carpenter Ranch) and Coke had a ranch nearby where he raised Steel Dust mares.

Coke found Old Fred pulling a freight wagon in Northwest Colorado and often stated, “you could breed Old Fred to a draft mare and get the best work horse you ever hitched, and you could breed him to a race mare and get yourself a race horse.” The finest quarter horse palominos in the American West are Old Fred’s descendants.

Peter McCue was brought to Hayden after Si and Coke saw him run a record quarter mile in 21 seconds—the fastest anyone had seen a horse run at that time. Of the 5.3 million registered quarter horses today, 5.1 million trace back to Peter McCue.

Did you know that the Hayden Valley is a designated Important Bird Area?

Si Dawson’s ranch, now Carpenter Ranch, is a working cattle operation, run by The Nature Conservancy. As a research and education center, the ranch features interactive exhibits about conservation and agriculture. The original barn and ranch buildings provide an authentic glimpse into the area’s agricultural past. And today, the land is a birder’s paradise. Designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society, the ranch provides guided bird walks through a rare cottonwood riparian forest where over 100 bird species nest.

Did you know that the Hayden Heritage Center is set in a historic Denver and Rio Grande Western Depot?

The Denver and Rio Grande Western Depot was built in 1918, five years after the rail line or Moffat Road pushed through Hayden on its way to Salt Lake City, Utah. Now the Hayden Heritage Center, it serves the community as a museum and houses an extensive collection of photographs, which record the pioneering, mining, and ranching heritage in Hayden and the Yampa Valley. Many of the exhibits capture the heart of the area’s lively western past—from cowboy-ing to coal mining.

A self-guided walking tour begins at this impressive brick depot and takes you around town and to the historic Hayden grain elevator. Established in 1917 this landmark now serves as a feed store and community gathering place.

Did you know that Hayden grew some of the largest grain, sheep, and cattle herds in Colorado?

The completion of rail lines to Hayden in 1913 made the town, already an important agricultural and ranching region, a significant center for export. The entire town celebrated the arrival of the first railcar in 1914 and the occasion inspired the Routt County Fair, which is still held every August. Cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, and oats were shipped throughout the country from Hayden in those prolific early years. In the 1930s, Hayden was the largest sheep shipping center in the United States. Unfortunately, the rail line continued on only another 17 miles west to Craig, Colorado before it was discontinued. The rail line is now primarily used to deliver coal to power plants in Hayden and Craig and to export some of the highest grade coal out of the Yampa Valley.


  • Carpenter Ranch: Offering tours and exhibits, the working ranch is part of the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to conserve the Yampa Valley’s natural, historical and agricultural heritage.
  • Hayden Heritage Museum: Located in the 1913 Hayden Depot, the museum interprets the town’s ranching heritage, historic architecture and the area’s legacy in developing the Quarter Horse breed.




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