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Poudre Canyon Adventures: Hidden Gems Along the River

Stretching 40 miles through a rocky, flora-filled mountain landscape, and up over the Continental Divide, Highway 14, better known as the Poudre Canyon, is one of the best areas to do some serious adventuring. Connecting the towns of Fort Collins and Walden, this scenic byway has a lot to offer - from hiking, mountain biking, and camping, to good food and even live music. Spend a day or a weekend exploring this area and you will be amazed at what you find.


Trails


Lower Dadd Gulch

This trail follows a nice lush stream and an old stock trail up through a gulch for about two miles before leaving the stream and passing through dense forest and a couple small meadows. It eventually meets up with Salt Cabin Road, a forest road in the Pingree Park area. The trail is only 3.6 miles (one-way), though you can keep going on the forest road once at the top. It is great for both hiking and mountain biking.


Blue Lake Trail

A great trail if you are looking to be amongst giant trees and get some good vistas at the top. Plus, the trail allows dogs (though on leash) and is never too steep (yay) - making it great for trail running as well as hiking. It is an out and back hike, though there are other trail options at the end to make it longer (it is 10.3 miles round trip on its own). Truly great scenery and a stunning blue (of course) alpine lake await at the end.

Let's go for a hike! PC Austin Ban on Unsplash.

Thunder Pass

Located in State Forest State Park, this trail is 9.8 miles in total and takes you high above treeline for some great views of the surrounding area, including the nearby Never Summer Mountain Range. The trail winds through lush landscapes and a long a couple of alpine lakes. Plus, like Blue Lake Trail, dogs are allowed to use it as well.


Michigan Ditch

A personal favorite, for both mountain biking and trail running, this nice dirt “road” follows a stream the whole way, before reaching Lake Agnes and the unique, and stunning, Nokhu Crags. The trail itself gives you fantastic views of the area, including Cameron Pass. In late spring you will likely see wildflowers and maybe even a moose (or two). Great for a longer ride with your dog or a (relatively) easy hike since it is road grade aka not very steep.


Food


The Mishawaka

Great location, great food, and great live music. This icon of Northern Colorado is an excellent spot to hang out during the summer. Located right on the Pourdre River, you can sit outside and eat your meal and listen to the water rush by (and maybe see a kayaker or two). The Mishawaka is located about 40 minutes from Fort Collins.

A slice of pie for the road. PC Sheri Silver on Unsplash.

Howling Cow Cafe

Before heading up the Poudre Canyon make sure to stop by this cafe for some delicious coffee, a bagel sandwich, and maybe some noosa yogurt - the dairy that the coffee shop sits on is where the yummy yogurt is made. A personal recommendation is the mocha (the chocolate milk they make there is AMAZING) or a root beer milk latte (yes root beer milk is a thing).


Me Oh My Pie

Another must-stop shop, this time in the small town of Laporte, Me Oh My Pie not only serves the namesake dessert, but also all kinds of baked goods, quiches, sandwiches, and if going later in the day (and of course not driving) some alcoholic beverages. Fuel up on a nice sugary treat before heading up the canyon.


Camping


Chambers Lake

Situated right along beautiful Chambers Lake, this campground is perfect for people looking to camp and fish in practically the same spot. It is also close to the aforementioned Blue Lake Trail and State Forest State Park. Learn about reservations and pricing here.


Long Draw Campground

Another good option for camping in the area, this campground has 25 sites and is also perfect for fishing, hiking, and exploring. The main difference with the Chambers Lake Campground is that this spot is much farther off the main highway, meaning it is a bit quieter and feels more “woodsy.” Each site has a fire grate and picnic table, and bathrooms and drinking water are also available. Learn more about the campground here.

Camping along a beautiful mountain lake. PC Brooks Rice on Unsplash.

State Forest State Park Yurts

One of the coolest lodging options in Northern Colorado, the Never Summer Nordic Yurts - located within the State Forest State Park boundary - are an explorers dream. Offering medium-sized yurts, larger yurts, a couple of small one-room cabins, and a big, family-style cabin, there are lots of options to fit your needs. Plus, the location - and outdoor adventures available - is top-notch.


Good Things to Know

There is only one gas station between Fort Collins and Walden and it can be quite expensive. The same goes for food (besides a couple of restaurants) there is not much to speak of, so stock up in Fort Collins if going west on Highway 14 (the Poudre Canyon).


The State Forest State Park Moose Visitor Center is a great place to stop for a picnic and to learn more about the area. Including, the fact that the North Park area (that the state park sits in) has the highest concentration of moose in Colorado, making it the Moose Capital of the State.


Once you reach the town of Walden, you have a lot of options in terms of driving destinations and adventures to be had. If you take Hwy 125 it will eventually lead you to the town of Grandby, which is close to the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (aka loooots of hiking trails), a cool hot spring and a brewery. If you keep going west to Hwy 40 you will eventually land in Steamboat Springs - an awesome town full of hiking, mountain biking, and skiing (plus food and beer).

The Poudre Canyon is truly a hidden gem in the vibrant and exciting Colorado landscape. Because of that, you can still find yourself alone out in nature, exploring lodgepole pine forests in solitude. Similarly, the area has so much to offer that everyone can find something to enjoy. From hiking and biking, to fly fishing (some of the best is found on the Cache la Poudre River) and kayaking. To staying in a cute rustic yurt to camping beneath the stars. The Poudre Canyon is sure to amaze you with its natural beauty and awesome adventures.


Learn more about the area here and also make sure to check out why we believe Northern Colorado should be on everyone’s summer bucket list.