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Just an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver or Colorado Springs, Park County is an easy getaway that feels a world away. The county spans over 2,200 square miles with a varying terrain that has it all: From stoic mountains to grassy prairies, peacefully flowing streams to canyons that have been carved out by rivers over time.

Within its borders are portions of three wilderness areas, two state parks, 12 state wildlife areas and more territory above 9,000 feet than any other Colorado county. It’s located in the geographic center of the state, so it’s appropriate that it also offers activities that are all at the very heart of the Colorado lifestyle.

The county was established in 1861, and named after the geographic region known as South Park which was frequented by early trappers and traders in the area. Indeed the natural areas are still quite pristine, like a throwback to those early times — expansive, wild, and scattered with winding creeks and ghostly time-worn homesteads. And although it’s a less-traveled part of the state, that’s not because it’s lacking in natural beauty. It’s only lacking crowds, which means that in Park County, it’s just you and the wide-open spaces.

Here’s a helpful map to locate lodging in the parts of the county you’ll be visiting, and below are four activities you should check off during your trip.

1) Hoof It in the High Country

Hiking in Park County
There’s a variety of trails for hikers of all skill levels in Park County. Photo Courtesy: Explore Park County

Choosing a path, and then absorbing the environment that surrounds you along the way… Hiking is more than walking; it’s walking with the intention to commune with nature, and Park County could not be a better setting for that experience. With hikes that range from simple riverside strolls to challenging high-country treks, it’s easy to find a route that delivers the natural connection you’re seeking. There are an abundance of trails for all skill levels located near the county’s 11 communities.

The Hilltop Mine Trail is a 2-and-a-half mile, out-and-back trail located near Fairplay that’s surrounded by beautiful wild flowers, and is rated for all skill levels. Also good for hikers of all skill levels is Rock Creek Hills Trail, a nearly 7-mile, point-to-point trail located near Jefferson that offers epic views. Mosquito Pass Trail is a moderate-level, 12-and-half-mile, point-to-point trail located near Alma that is also known for idyllic wildflowers. Staunton Ranch and Bugling Elk Loop Trail is a nearly 9-mile loop trail located near Pine that features a lake among its natural features, and is also rated as moderate. The nearly 12-mile Ben Tyler Trail is an out-and-back trail located near Shawnee, featuring a creek and aspen groves. It is rated as difficult.

Learn more about prime hiking locations in Park County.

2) Reel ‘Em in from the Gold-Medal Waters

Fly fishing in Park County
A prime fly fishing destination, Park County is known as the “Trout Capital of Colorado.” Photo Courtesy: Explore Park County

Location is often the difference between successful and unsuccessful fishermen, and Park County is famous for well-stocked bodies of water that, more often than not, send fishermen home satisfied. With many lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers to choose from, the area is known as the Trout Capital of Colorado. And with the odds of making a catch so much higher here, it may even be a good place to introduce the whole family to angling. There’s a mix of all types of fishing, and if you get out and explore a little, you’ll likely find your own favorite spot.

Badger Basin State Wildlife Area is located along County Road 439 north of Hartsel and offers 22 total miles of fishing access, with public access to the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, an area known to yield Brown and Rainbow Trout up to 15 inches long. Boxwood Gulch located on U.S. Route 285 just west of Shawnee, has some of the best Colorado fly fishing available, where you’ll cast for trophy-sized Trout on nearly 3 miles of private water on the North Fork of the South Platte River. There’s a reason that Eleven Mile Reservoir hosts fishing tournaments year-round; this Colorado State Park offers great shore and boat fishing for Trout and Pike. Montgomery Reservoir is a scenic mountain reservoir that provides good shore fishing and is heavily stocked with Rainbow Trout.

Get more information about places to fish in Park County.

3) Take a Day to Play in the Water

Stand-up paddleboarding in Park County
Park County reservoirs accommodate stand-up paddleboarding, motorboating, kayaking and more. Photo Courtesy: Explore Park County

Although Colorado is not usually known as a destination for large bodies of water, Park County has several of them, which also makes it a great place for water sports. Need to cool off on a hot summer day? The county’s open waters not only provide a perfect place for boats, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing, but they also offer postcard views to enjoy while you play.

Canoe, motorboat or kayak the day away around the shores of the backcountry at Eleven Mile Reservoir, where ideal wind conditions also make it a popular, but not crowded destination for sailing and windsurfing. West of Hartsel, and set beneath an extinct volcano called Buffalo Peaks, Antero Reservoir is a premier recreation area that permits motorboating, canoeing and kayaking. Sixteen miles southeast from Jefferson on County Road 77, Tarryall Reservoir is surrounded by a wildlife refuge, making wildlife viewing a major draw here, and the 175 water acres are also popular for boating and other water sports. Spinney Mountain Reservoir is an isolated retreat, ideal for visitors seeking beautiful views of the Collegiate Peaks, and for water sport enthusiasts who’ll enjoy the 2,500 surface-acre reservoir.

More details about Park County places to enjoy water sports.

4) Giddy up for the Western Experience

Horseback riding in Park County
Some Park County trails allow horseback riding, and guided rides are available from local ranches. Photo Courtesy: Explore Park County

In Colorado’s early frontier days, the main mode of transportation was on horseback. It’s such a quintessential and iconic part of the state’s history, and horseback riding through the prairie and mountain settings here is a way you can experience it much like Old West frontiersmen did. Horses are allowed on some trails throughout Park County, and you can go on guided rides through various ranches. Connect with this integral part of Colorado history while taking in many of the same views the early settlers saw.

Mount a magnificent steed at the 8,000-plus-acre Platte Ranch Riding Stables in Fairplay, and travel over the South Platte River before winding your way up a mountainside, where you’ll enjoy a spectacular panoramic view of six mountain ranges. The American Safari Ranch is an authentic Western ranch located 29 miles south of Breckenridge and 6 miles from Fairplay, where you can saddle up, forget your hectic work week and enjoy the mind-clearing mountain air. The Hilltop Mine Trail located near Fairplay is a 2-and-a-half-mile trail that’s open to horseback riding, where you’ll find old mining facilities and bunkhouses, and even a couple remaining telegraph poles.

Learn more about Park County horseback riding opportunities.

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