From the rugged Medicine Bow Mountains of State Forest State Park to the frothy rapids of the Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado has a state park system that makes other countries jealous. Funny thing is, many Coloradans don't know about these outdoor gems. Here, we introduce you to the best of the best.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
—Photo by Sarah Boyum
State Forest State Park
Covering 71,000 acres, State Forest State Park is nestled between bigger (and better known) areas like Rocky Mountain National Park, the Roosevelt and Routt national forests, and the Rawah Wilderness. Which means State Forest offers a little bit of everything, including views to the north of the jagged peaks of the Medicine Bows and vistas to the south of the striking Never Summer Range. Ninety miles of hiking trails (and 130 miles of mountain biking trails) wind through old lodgepole pine forests and past crystal-blue alpine lakes.
The Draw Epic skiing and snowshoeing. State Forest offers groomed and ungroomed loops of varying difficulties for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, as well as a cache of off-piste options for telemark and alpine-terrain skiing, ranging from easy (North Fork Canadian Area) to extreme (Diamond Peaks/Michigan Ditch area), with bowl and tree skiing in between. Beware of avalanches, and carry a beacon, probe, and shovel.
The Alternative Moose spotting. Since the Colorado Division of Wildlife released a bunch of the big-antlered animals into the park in 1978, the population has grown to more than 600, making State Forest the moose capital of Colorado. Stop by the Moose Visitor Center for the latest sighting information.
When to Go The park is open year-round, but if you want to ski, January and February will give you the best coverage. Moose spotting has no true "season," but be careful driving during fall mating—moose are on the prowl and don't yield for cars.
Stay the Night Never Summer Nordic operates eight secluded backcountry yurts and two huts for warmer winter camping (or cozier summer accommodations) in State Forest.
Get There From Fort Collins, take Highway 14 for 75 miles over Cameron Pass. The Moose Visitor Center is at 56750 Highway 14 in Walden. For more information, call 970-723-8366.