Hidden treasure. Diamond in the rough. Local’s secret. As an adventurer, you know that these phrases mean it’s got to be good. And with this area, it is!
Bordering the northeast side of Rocky Mountain National Park lies a gem–Cameron Pass–home to a breathtaking, rugged landscape similar to RMNP but without the crowds. It’s an area where jagged peaks overlook pristine alpine lakes surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of forested landscape. Where wildlife is abundant (it is Colorado’s moose capital after all) and the opportunities to play outside are endless.
Cameron Pass divides the Medicine Bow Mountains to the north and the Never Summer Range to the south. There is no shortage of views and areas to play. State Forest State Park is a popular destination, consisting of 71,000 acres of terrain and must-sees like Lake Agnes, a beautiful alpine lake just under a mile hike from the trailhead. For the adventurous mountain lover seeking to get off the beaten path, this zone is about to become your go-to destination.
In the winter, it’s truly sublime. Stormfronts sweeping down from Wyoming blanket the pass with cold snow, making this a paradise for backcountry skiers, splitboarders and snowshoers. Those new to the area often first head to Montgomery Pass. Visible right above the road, South Diamond Peak is the hollywood line and a well-known epicenter of winter backcountry skiing and riding. Seven Utes mountain is a premier backcountry zone with bowls, chutes and tree skiing.
But don’t be caught unaware; the snowpack can be fickle and dangerous. While much of the landscape is steep and fun, the other side of the coin means it is classified as avalanche terrain. Proper decision-making is key in this region. If you don’t know how to manage your risk in avalanche terrain, we recommend participating in an AIARE 1 avalanche training course on Cameron Pass before going out on your own, or seeking a qualified mentor, such as a professional mountain guide.
Come spring, as the snowpack starts to consolidate, the jagged peaks make a fantastic display of chutes and couloirs. For those loving steep and technical terrain, it’s hard to beat this concentration of ski descents. Choose from the renowned Nokhu Crags or the chutes on Mount Mahler above Lake Agnes or many other nearby options. Read our latest blog on the Nokhu Crags where Ian Fowler and Eryka Thorley visited last Spring!
Big face skiing more your thing? Check out “The Z” on the north face of Braddock Peak. Want to learn the skills to start riding these classics? Check out our ski mountaineering courses.
As summer rolls around and the snow eventually melts (it takes a bit longer up here, being in the Never Summer range), we turn our eyes to camping, hiking, biking, and four-wheeling. Water people–get excited to stand up paddleboard or kayaking on the North Michigan Reservoir. For wildlife lovers, there’s an abundance of fishing, hunting, birding, and wildlife viewing. Due to minimal light pollution, this is a popular destination for stargazers and night photographers! The fun continues into the fall as temperatures cool and leaves start to change.
Getting there is easy. The top of the pass is located roughly 65 miles west of Fort Collins. Those coming from the northern Denver metro area will likely drive through scenic Poudre Canyon Road (State Highway 14). This road is paved, accessible all year, and is well maintained. In the summer, don’t be surprised if you see rock climbers scaling walls and waders in the creek fly fishing. Drive times from Fort Collins are typically two hours and Boulder/Denver is three hours.
Past the summit, continue on to the Moose Visitor Center in State Forest State Park for information or further to the town of Walden for amenities. If coming from Denver, you may choose to approach from the west, driving through Winter Park and Granby along the way. Either direction provides beautiful scenery and an enjoyable drive.
Where to Stay
While many outdoor lovers from Fort Collins come here for day trips, many choose to make this a multi-day destination due to the secluded and remote nature, and the fact that there is so much to see and do! Most people consider three options when looking for a place to stay: camping, cabins/yurts and short term vacation rentals.
Cabins, Huts & Yurts
Colorado Mountain School will be building a large yurt at the Seven Utes Mountain pull off; scheduled to be complete Summer of 2021. Lodging will be available for guests booking private backcountry experiences and/or participating in scheduled courses and adventures.
The Never Summer Nordic hut and yurt system contains a mix of front country and backcountry lodging within State Forest State Park. Accommodations are simple and rustic, but provide great access to outdoor activities. Like all huts and yurts in Colorado, you should book far in advance to ensure availability. It’s not unheard of for popular weekends and holidays to book out two years in advance in this system!
State Forest State Park operates a number of rustic cabins at the North Michigan Reservoir and the North Park Campground. For more information, please visit the State Forest State Park website.
State Forest State Park features five developed campsites: The Crags, Ranger Lakes, North Michigan, Bockman, and North Park. Additionally, there are over 40 primitive campsites available for reservation. Backcountry camping is allowed in certain areas of the park. More information on camping.
A quick search on Airbnb or VRBO will turn up a variety of affordable short-term rentals in Walden or Gould.