Take a trip back in time by hiking to the Holzwarth Historic Site in Colorado’s stunning Rocky Mountain National Park! Catch a glimpse into the past life of homesteaders in the area by taking part in the hands-on activities that are fun for all ages! Enjoy a fun history lesson by touring the old buildings of a dude ranch, wearing an incredibly heavy buffalo coat, washing clothes the old-fashioned way, and ropin’ a steer.
John Holzwarth and his family left Denver in 1917 to settle in the Kawuneeche Valley near the newly formed Rocky Mountain National Park. John was a saloon-keeper and he lost his job abruptly as a result of prohibition in Colorado, prompting a move to the area to homestead and start a cattle ranch. Because of the world-renowned beauty of these mountains, tourism boomed. The Holzwarth family decided to build a dude ranch, which offered guests a nice place to stay, warm meals, and all of the fishing, hunting, and horseback riding they desired for $2 a day or $11 a week!
A trip to the Holzwarth Historic Site provides a unique way to more fully appreciate Rocky Mountain National Park! Not only is the scenery spectacular, but the guided tours offered through the rustic cabins provide a fascinating learning experience for travelers of every age.
What You Need to Know
Be sure to stop by the old and abandoned homesteader cabin located near the parking area. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of the area and seeing the old pictures displayed in this tiny one room home. From here, you can access the trail that leads to the dude ranch cabins that are located on the other side of the river.
The trail from the cabin to the site of dude ranch is wide, flat, and in direct sunlight. You can easily bring your stroller on this trail, and shuttles are available for those with disabilities.
The humble beginnings of the mighty Colorado River meander through the meadow, providing a peaceful backdrop to enjoy along the way.
As you approach the trees where the ranch is nestled, be sure to stop by the Mama Cabin. This cabin was the primary residence of the Holzwarth family and was used by Sophia Holzwarth to cook meals for her guests.
You can pretend to be a true mountain man by trying on this coat made from a buffalo hide! To stay warm in the frigid Rocky Mountain winters, the early settlers would wear these incredibly heavy coats while continuing on with their never-ending work.
It doesn’t take long to find out that a buffalo coat would keep you nice and toasty out in the snowy fields, just ask my brother!
Next, try your hand at washing the clothes the old-fashioned way. It took us a while to get just one sock clean and sure made us grateful for our modern day washers and dryers.
Now it’s time to rope and ride. Try your hand at lassoing the steer …it’s harder than it looks!
The Taxidermy Cabin showcases the various tools used to preserve a prized animal after a day of hunting. I get a little squeamish around guts and blood, so I didn’t particularly spend a lot of time learning about the process or looking too closely at the tools. I did, however, enjoy examining the antlers and horns from a variety of big game animals, including this surprisingly heavy horn from a big horn sheep.
The Holzwarth Historic Site features a variety of cabins, most of which can be toured. This experience helps to paint a clearer picture of what a real dude ranch was like in the early 1900’s and provides a glimpse into the past hardships and simplicity of life during that time.
As you hike along the path back to civilization, take time to reflect on the experiences of these early settlers in Rocky Mountain National Park. Gaze north to the gorgeous Never Summer Mountains and dream of the simple yet challenging life faced by the Holzwarth family in the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley.
The Holzwarth Historic Site provides a fantastic outdoor classroom for students of all ages as we look into (and experience) the past.
The trail to the Holzwarth Historic Site is 1 mile roundtrip. Although the Holzwarth Historic Site is open year round, the building tours and activities are only available from about mid-June to Labor Day, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
I just want to say a special thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers at the site that made our experience very enjoyable, enlightening, and engaging. Thank you for all that you do!
The Holzwarth Historic Site is on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, 8 miles north of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near the Grand Lake Entrance.