We originally tried to visit the Holzwarth Historic Site on our first day in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were headed from Dinosaur National Monument through Grand Lake, Colorado to Estes Park and after hiking the Adams Falls trail and visiting the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, it was the very next stop on Trail Ridge Road. But it was mid-afternoon, a big storm was rolling in, and it wasn’t safe to walk the 0.5 mile trail across an open meadow to the Holzwarth Ranch buildings.
Luckily, the next day was sunny and gorgeous. Because the entire day was supposed to be clear, we decided to drive Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake and back again so we could visit all the scenic viewpoints and the Holzwarth Historic Site under blue skies.
After stopping at Many Parks Curve Overlook, Rainbow Curve Overlook, Forest Canyon Overlook, Rock Cut Overlook, Lava Cliffs Overlook, Gore Range Overlook, the Alpine Visitor Center, Medicine Bow Curve Overlook, Milner Pass, and Farview Curve Overlook, we pulled into the Holzwarth Historic Site parking lot for a picnic lunch before our hike at one of the six picnic tables nearby.
Holzwarth Historic Site, also called Holzwarth Ranch and Holzwarth Trout Lodge, is a group of buildings and cabins that made up a 1920s dude ranch in the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sitting at 8,944 feet elevation just 7.0 miles north of Grand Lake, Colorado, Holzwarth Historic Site offers visitors a glimpse into early homesteading and tourism. While you can go inside and tour the buildings in the summer months, during the winter, the buildings are closed and you can only wander the grounds.
Visiting Holzwarth Ranch
After finishing up our picnic lunch, we headed over to the Holzwarth Historic Site trailhead and a lone cabin. The old miner’s cabin was built by Joseph Fleshut in 1902 on a 160 acre homestead, but in 1911 he abandoned the property and was never heard from again! Today Fleshut Cabin houses historic photographs of the Holzwarth Trout Lodge and Never Summer Ranch.
After checking out the photos, we set out on the 0.5 mile, flat, dirt trail meandering through the lush green meadow of Kawuneeche Valley, across the babbling Colorado River, to the remaining homestead and lodge buildings.
Soon we left the trail in the blazing sun and traveled into the shade of tall trees, following a walking path that connects the buildings that make up the Holzwarth Historic District.
The Mama House (1917-1921) that you can tour today was the original Holzwarth homestead. The rest of the buildings you can tour and see — the Rose Cabin, ice house, taxidermy shop, tent house, and other service buildings and guest cabins — were built as part of the Holzwarth Trout Lodge.
The Holzwarth family also ran the Never Summer Ranch, a dude ranch for tourists, on the east side of the Colorado River along Trail Ridge Road, but there is no trace of the ranch left today. When the property was transferred to the National Park, all buildings were removed to return the site to its natural state.
We had fun poking around in the old buildings, seeing how homesteaders lived nearly a century ago, chatting with the rangers about Holzwarth’s taxidermy work, and even visiting an old out house!
Once we had walked the loop trail through the lodge complex, we walked the 0.5 mile trail back to the parking area in the blazing sun and it was so hot… Thank goodness our Hydro Flasks were full of ice water.
Holzwarth Historic Site History
John Holzwarth Sr. ran a successful saloon and boarding house in Denver, but in 1916 Colorado enacted prohibition and Holzwarth had to start over. He claimed a 160 acre homestead on the west side of the Colorado River in the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley and built a small cabin in 1917. His wife Sophia and their son John Jr. soon joined him.
In 1918, the Holzwarths purchased the adjoining homestead on the other side of the Colorado River for $2,000. The additional property would eventually be called the Never Summer Ranch. While the Never Summer Ranch buildings have been removed, Fleshut Cabin, named after the original homesteader Joseph Fleshut, is now used by summer volunteers to greet visitors.
Their property was right on the western edge of the newly established Rocky Mountain National Park and when Fall River Road opened, it brought visitors from the east side to the west side of the Continental Divide, increasing tourism in the area.
Throughout the 1920s the Holzwarths built additional cabins, sheds, and a barn. After many friends stayed at the ranch for free, they soon opened the Holzwarth Trout Lodge, charging $2.00 a day or $11.00 a week. The ranch attracted both park visitors and old guests from Holzwarth’s saloon days, for whom Mama cooked three meals a day at $1.50 per meal.
Over the years, Johnnie Holzwarth acquired more than 800 acres of land in the Kawuneeche Valley and the Holzwarths built a lodge, dining hall, guest rooms, and barn for the Never Summer Ranch. By the mid-1950s, the dude ranch offered excursions for visitors to see the magnificence of the mountain country in Rocky Mountain National Park.
In 1974, the successful homestead and business was purchased by The Nature Conservancy and in 1975, the property was transferred to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Know Before You Go
- Holzwarth Historic Site is located in the Kawuneeche Valley near Grand Lake, Colorado 80447, Grand County on the west side of US Highway 34/Trail Ridge Road, about 7.0 miles north of the visitor centers spread throughout the national park.
- Holzwarth Ranch is a US Historic District and it was added to the National Register Of Historic Places in 1977.
- Download the Kawuneeche Valley Trail Guide.
- Food, drinks, and pets are not allowed. The National Park Service welcomes service animals that have been individually trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of persons with disabilities.
- There are accessible vault restrooms near the parking lot and electric golf cart provides accessible access to the ranch.
- Six picnic tables are located near the parking lot.
- Keep an eye out in the Kawuneeche Valley for deer, elk, moose, and even antelope who like to graze in the valley meadows. We saw moose and elk in this area during our visit!