Bureau of Land Management National Park Service US Fish and Wildlife Service US Forest Service

Cache la Poudre River, Colorado

Managing Agency:

U.S. Forest Service, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests

Designated Reach:

October 30, 1986. From Poudre Lake downstream to where the river intersects the easterly north-south line of the west 1/2 SW 1/4 of section 1, T8N, R71W of the sixth principal meridian. The South Fork from its source to section 1, T7N, R73W of the sixth principal meridian; from its intersection with the easterly section line of section 30, T8N, R72W of the sixth principal meridian to the confluence with the main stem.


Wild — 30.0 miles; Recreational — 46.0 miles; Total — 76.0 miles.

Cache la Poudre River


Cache la Poudre River Management Plan (1.5 MB PDF)

Photo Credit: Martha Moran

Cache la Poudre River

The Cache la Poudre River is located east of the Continental Divide, in the northern Front Range of Colorado. The main and south forks of the Poudre originate in Rocky Mountain National Park, then flow north and east through the Roosevelt National Forest. The river eventually passes through the city of Fort Collins, then joins the south Platte River east of Greeley. From its headwaters to the confluence with the South Platte River east of Greeley, the Cache la Poudre drops 7,000 feet.

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) near the mouth of the river along the banks of the river. The river is affectionately known as "the Poudre" by local residents and long-time visitors to the area.

This river corridor has been an important travel route since prehistoric times. Evidence of Native American occupation in the canyon includes tipi rings, rock shelters, fire hearths and a burial site with artifacts. 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 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.

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 U.S. 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 non-motorized use.

Camping and Picnicking: Developed facilities within the Wild and Scenic River corridor include 13 national forest campgrounds. The river corridor is also a great place to spend the day; there are numerous picnic areas in scenic outdoor settings.

Trails: Numerous trails begin in the canyon and allow foot, horse or bicycle access into the backcountry. These 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.

Winter Sports: Wintertime fun is plentiful at higher elevations. Many U.S. Forest Service roads and trails receive heavy snow during winter months and are enjoyed by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.

Hunting: Big game hunting on national forest lands is a popular activity during the fall. Several campgrounds with limited facilities are open during hunting season.

Fishing: 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.

Whitewater Boating: The Poudre River has attracted rafters and kayakers since the 1950's. 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. Rapids on the river are classified from Class I to VI under the international Whitewater Rating System and vary greatly according to water levels. The rafting season generally occurs from May through August.