Small Stream Solitude: The Poudre’s Lonely North Fork

A roadless river canyon near Colorado's Front Range that's almost devoid of people? Yes, it exists.
The North Fork of the. Photo by Ryan McSparran.
The North Fork of the Poudre. Photo by Ryan McSparran.

A roadless river canyon near Colorado’s Front Range that’s almost devoid of people? Yes, it exists. Perhaps it is the lack of any prominent peaks, landmarks or other attractions that allows this small stream to lie outside the radar of many outdoor enthusiasts. The effort required to reach this rugged canyon may also dissuade some. But for whatever reason, the North Fork of the Poudre River is a little gem that receives very little fishing pressure.

At little more than 6,000 feet in elevation, this location makes for an ideal spring jaunt. Try and catch it just before or just after runoff hits a peak. This little stream actually benefits from a little extra water. Later in the summer, hot temperatures and low water can make for difficult conditions. But again in the fall, this becomes an excellent fishing destination.

Photo by Ryan McSparran.

River Access

Access to the river requires a willingness to hike. But for adventurous anglers, getting there isn’t all that bad. The North Fork of the Poudre can be accessed from the middle unit of Cherokee State Wildlife Area. There is a well-marked parking area along Larimer County Road 80C and, typically between May 1 and Sept. 1, the gate is open to motor vehicles. However, please check current regulations for specific road closures. When this gate is open, head west along the two-track road (a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary) to the next parking area. From there, anglers can expect about a 2-mile hike downhill to the river. If the outer gate is closed, this will add another two miles each way.

For those willing to backpack to the river, this makes a beautiful place for an early season camping trip. Please pay attention to current fishing and camping regulations, and be aware that if you explore upstream or downstream from the state wildlife area, there are sections of private land. It is your responsibility to know where those boundaries are located.

Fish & Flies

When conditions are good, fishing along the Pourdre’s North Fork can be excellent. Anglers can expect to find mostly brook trout and brown trout in the 8- to 12-inch range, with an occasional rainbow. Early in the season, Copper Johns, baetis nymphs and caddis pupa patterns can be effective. During mayfly hatches, look to small Parachute Adams and blue wing olive patterns for great dry fly fishing.

Foam hoppers, Stimulators and Elk Hair Caddis flies work well on the Poudre. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW
Foam hoppers, Stimulators and Elk Hair Caddis flies work well on the Poudre. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW

As the weather warms, expect caddis hatches in the afternoons. Elk hair caddis, Missing Link Caddis and Mini Hots are all great patterns here. Additionally, terrestrials like beetles and grasshoppers will become effective as summer approaches. Be sure to bring a few stimulators, Hippie Stompers and other small terrestrial patterns.

Best of all, visitors to this stretch of water will find it totally isolated from the hustle and bustle of the nearby Front Range cities. Due to the hike-in access, it’s uncommon to see more than a few people fishing here at a time.

There’s something special about exploring remote waters with light tackle and dry flies. Fortunately, Colorado is full of them. In fact, no matter where you are in Colorado, chances are you can find one of these relatively undisturbed trout waters. If you haven’t visited one lately, we encourage you to grab your favorite 3-weight rod, and get out there and explore.

Written by Ryan McSparran. McSparran is a fly fishing guide and the in-house writer for Anglers All in Littleton, where he manages a weekly blog and newsletter. For more information visit:

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for writing that article about the North Fork! Now it will no longer be that secret little gem. Now it will no longer be a place to seek solitude and get away from other anglers. Now the spring and fall spawn runs will always be fished out. Thank you for publishing this information to the masses!
    Remember, tou tell one, you tell a hundred!! Damn cityslicker!

  2. Oh yeah you better watch out Hershall! I’m going to be up there all day every day. Get over it dude. The hike in will keep the crowds out.

  3. Thanks for your comments. It’s always a tough balance between sharing fishing locations with others and keeping that “secret” spot, well, secret. At the end of the day, I appreciate folks being willing to share information with others so we can all learn about new locations. And any location that requires hiking to access will manage fishing pressure. Thanks for taking the time to share this piece!

  4. I love this magazine and thank you for writing this Ryan! I’m returning to fly fishing now that my kids are teenagers and love to learn new places to hike into and enjoy some fishing solitude.
    I’m not sure I want to fish next to a ” city slicker hater ” like Hershall though and most of us have to work and live along the Front Range. Most of the Colorado fly fishing community is amazing : conservation minded, friendly and helpful. Like Jerry said it is a delicate balance but I got to respect my fellow Colorado angler and thanks for your insights Ryan. My husband and I will spend hours pouring over topo maps to find places like this.
    Best & straight lines to a summer & fall of great fishing 2015!

  5. While I enjoyed reading the article it is somewhat frustrating that you would post an article broadcasting what you yourself refer to as “small stream solitude.” With Colorado growing in population every day it is difficult to find that solitude and even more difficult with the different forums and publications like this.

    I don’t think Hershall was out of line at all in what he said, my guess is that this is not the authors “honey hole” so it is that much easier to post info on it. A big part of being an ambassador to fly fishing is supporting the community and being helpful to others so they can enjoy it as well; being helpful isn’t necessarily spoon feeding information on new spots etc. Make others do their own research and leg work and it will be that much sweeter when their effort comes to fruition.

  6. I have fished these streams, N Fork, Dale Creek, Fish Creek, Bull Creek, et al since I was a teenager and I am now 72 years old. Publicity may get a few people to drive into Halligan, but the other runs are a long walk in and remember it is always twice as far out. Mostly private water.

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