The dogs thrust against their harnesses, their delighted yowling creating a crystalline fog above their furry backs. The cold seeps through their human’s high-tech parka, but the dogs feel only excitement and the call of the open tract in front of them.
The brake is pulled. Their musher yells: “HIKE! HIKE! HIKE!”
The exhilaration of running a group of dogs on a brisk morning is better than any caffeinated product on the market and is a unique way to experience the ethereal world created by fresh Colorado snowfall. If you don’t have a team of your own, you can sometimes catch these dogs living their best lives, their musher guiding their way (but mostly just along for the ride), on the trails in Yampa River State Park or Steamboat Lake State Park in Northwestern Colorado.
The northwestern section of Colorado is full of magical experiences like this for any person who seeks to explore this rugged country. Playing host to some of the most spectacular views, diverse wildlife, and restorative solitude in the state, this region offers unique encounters no matter where one wanders.
Visitors finding themselves in North Park can spend the night at State Forest State Park, where moose are likely to be their closest neighbors. Just down the road from the park are the North Sand Hills Recreation Area, the only formation of cold-climate sand dunes in the state, and a playground for recreational vehicles and hikers. Closer to the Wyoming border, outcrops of Sherman granite form hoodoos similar to those in Vedauwoo.
Adventurous souls coming from Rock Springs, Wyoming to Craig, Colorado will find their paved highway turn to dirt at the border as they travel through time to the old west in Browns Park. Sitting at the edge of the Uinta Mountains, soaring monument rock formations and Irish Canyon – a hideout for famous bandit Butch Cassidy – bring visitors back to the time of the Pony Express and cattle barons. Going even further back in history, the Fremont people carved beautiful petroglyphs into the rocks along several canyons in the area, many of which are still preserved today. Browns Park also plays home to Vermillion Falls, a natural waterfall spilling over red rocks into an impossibly turquoise pool, a welcome respite from the dust and prairie.
In Steamboat Springs, a walk along the Yampa River reveals the story behind the town’s name as hot springs speckled throughout the landscape “chug” like steamboats. Float trips down the Yampa during the summer yield massive rainbow trout for the patient angler. After snowshoeing the groomed trails at Steamboat Lake, a yurt at nearby Pearl Lake State Park offers a cozy place to curl up with a warm mug of tea to do some winter stargazing.
While the northwestern part of the state may be best known as a skiing, hunting, and paleontological destination, its varied landscape and abundance of hidden natural treasures are open invitations to anyone who wishes to experience Colorado at its most wild – including those being propelled by paws.
Written by Devon Adams. Based out of Denver, Devon is the Integrated Parks and Wildlife System administrator, as well as statewide reservation and pass administrator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She is also an Advanced Cicerone and enjoys traveling the state with her brewer boyfriend and two dogs in search of wonderful beers, grand adventures, and wild places.