Cache la Poudre River

Colorado's Hidden Wonder
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The river's name means "Hiding Place of Powder." According to legend, French fur trappers in the 1820's were caught by a tremendous snowstorm. To lighten their load, they buried large amounts of gunpowder (poudre) in a hiding place (cache) along the banks of the river. But forget the french lessons. The wild west way to pronounce Cache la Poudre is "cash luh pew-der." The "cash" part is appropriate: the river corridor is rich in paddling, hiking, and scenic driving opportunities.The Cache La Poudre River begins high in the peaks of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park along the Continental Divide. Flowing north and east through Roosevelt National Forest, it tumbles down the slopes of the Front Range and meanders through the city of Fort Collins. From its headwaters to the confluence with the South Platte River east of Greeley, the Cache La Poudre drops 7,000 feet. It's Colorado's first National Wild and Scenic River. Highway 14, which follows much of the river, is a scenic byway between the towns of Fort Collins and Walden.

Ecosystem: Rocky mountain riparian
Features: Rugged river corridor easily accessible by road, well served by national forest visitor centers and towns. Adjacent to wilderness areas.
Activities: Scenic Driving, Camping, Hiking, Winter Sports, Fishing,Whitewater Paddling

This river corridor has been an important travel route since prehistoric times. Evidence of Native American life in the canyon includes tipi rings, rock shelters, fire hearths. In the late 1800's, gold mining and cutting trees for railroad ties brought the first permanent settlement to this canyon. Although a railroad following the river was never completed, many of the original grades became the foundation for Highway 14. Early mining efforts had little success, leaving behind ghost towns like Manhattan to tell the story.Vegetation along the corridor is diverse. The lower canyon has open slopes of mountain mahogany, sagebrush and bitterbrush. Tree species include ponderosa and lodgepole pine, cottonwood, aspen and Rocky Mountain juniper. Douglas-fir, subalpine fir and spruce are found at higher elevations. Spruce budworm and pine bark beetle infestations have resulted in extensive areas of standing dead trees. The Cache La Poudre is intensively managed for importing, storing and conveying water. It provides domestic and agricultural water for a large area of northern Colorado. One of the earliest transmountain diversion structures in the state is the Grand Ditch built in the 1890's. It carries water from the headwaters of the Colorado River to the headwaters of the Cache La Poudre River. Flows in the Cache La Poudre are further supplemented in late summer by eight structures that import water from other river basins.Along the Cache la Poudre, 30 miles are classified Wild and 45 miles are classified Recreational. No new dams or diversions will be built within these designated corridors. Future water development can, however, be considered along any portion of the Cache La Poudre not designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Have Fun
The Cache La Poudre River corridor offers a variety of recreational opportunities. The most popular activities include scenic driving, camping and picnicking, hiking, winter sports, hunting, fishing and whitewater boating. Specific information is available year-round at the Redfeather Ranger District in Fort Collins.

Scenic Driving
The Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway is recognized as one of Colorado's premier scenic highways. Take time to stop along the corridor to enjoy the spectacular scenery and visit various interpretive exhibits. A network of Forest Service and county roads provides access to most areas of Roosevelt National Forest. Designated off-highway travel routes enable safe motorized travel and minimize conflicts with nonmotorized use. Check current Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest maps for travel regulations and be sure your vehicle is equipped to travel on roads that you select.

Whitewater Boating
Exciting whitewater activities occur on the Cache La Poudre from April through August. Convenient access, clear water, challenging rapids, and beautiful scenery make this a river-runner's paradise. Rafts, canoes and kayaks are suitable on various stretches of the river. If you are boating without a professional guide, be sure that you or someone in your group is familiar with the stretch of river that you have chosen to navigate. For those seeking a professionally guided river experience, commercial outfitters provide raft and kayak trips under special use permits from the Forest Service. Remember the character and difficulty of the rapids change drastically depending on water levels. Many stretches of the river require high levels of skill and experience. Be aware of low bridges and dams on the river and please, never boat alone.

Camping and Picnicking
Developed facilities within the Wild and Scenic River corridor include 13 National forest campgrounds with a total of 257 sites for overnight camping. The river corridor is also a great place to spend the day; there arc 9 picnic areas in scenic outdoor settings.

Numerous trails begin in the canyon and allow foot, horse or tricycle access into the backcountry. The following trails begin in the Recreational River corridor and lead into adjacent national forest lands: Grey Rock, Hewlett Gulch, Young Gulch, Mount McConnell, Dadd Gulch and Roaring Creek. Three trails begin in the Wild River corridor and enter wilderness areas: Big South, Emmaline Lake and Stormy Peaks. See information posted at the trailhead or consult an Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest recreation map.

Winter Sports
Wintertime fun is plentiful at higher elevations. Many Forest Service roads and trails receive heavy snow during winter months and are enjoyed by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Contact the Redfeather Ranger District for more information. Be prepared for cold weather emergencies and practice safe winter recreation procedures. For information contact the Colorado Avalanche Center: (303) 482-0457 November-April.

The Cache La Poudre provides some of the finest fishing in the entire state of Colorado. Near the town of Rustic, wild trout waters are managed with special regulations so that fly and lure enthusiasts have the opportunity to fish for wild trout. On the remaining 50 miles of river, anglers may catch and keep stocked rainbow and brown trout. Fishing licenses and brochures may be purchased at the Colorado Division of Wildlife and local sporting goods stores.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 27 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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