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How to Visit Holzwarth Historic Site: One Hike to See Rocky Mountain’s History, Wildlife, and Views

Holzwarth Historic Site is more than just a scenic valley rife with wildlife, it’s also the remains of the first Rocky Mountain National Park resort, and the beginning of the mighty Colorado River. Holzwarth is the best place in the park to step back and time and see what life was like for homesteaders in the Rocky Mountains in the early 1900s. In addition to Holzwarth Historic Site’s human history, it’s also an ideal place to see moose, elk, and other Rocky Mountain National Park wildlife.

The short trail to Holzwarth Historic Site is one of the most unique hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The walk to the remains of the early 1900s homestead cabins is relatively short and flat, making Holzwarth Historic Site a must-do for all visitors in the western portion of RMNP near Grand Lake, Colorado.

This guide covers everything you need to know about Holzwarth’s history and how to visit the historic site on your RMNP trip. Keep reading if Holzwarth Historic Site is on your Rocky Mountain National Park bucket list!

Cabins at Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzwarth Historic Site’s History

If you were a bartender in cosmopolitan Denver in 1917 and suddenly lost your job due to prohibition, would you move to the rural Rocky Mountains as a homesteader? That’s exactly what John Holzwarth Sr. did with his family, settling at the foot of the Never Summer Mountains. Visitors began flocking to the newest national park in the United States: Rocky Mountain. The Holzwarths decided to open a guest ranch on their land, which they called the Holzwarth Trout Lodge. For $2 per day or $11 for a week, guests could stay at the Holzwarth’s dude ranch (eventually known as the Never Summer Ranch) with hot meals and hunting, fishing, and horseback riding included.

Cabins at Holzwarth Historic Site

How to Get to Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzwarth Historic Site is on the far west end of Trail Ridge Road, 8 miles north of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center and 11 miles from the town of Grand Lake. If you are staying in Estes Park, we recommend driving the scenic Trail Ridge Road which connects Estes Park and Grand Lake, making stops along the way to take in the breathtaking vistas.

Holzwarth Historic Site is a fascinating stop on Trail Ridge Road.

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance

Holzwarth Historic Site is inside the Rocky Mountain National Park boundaries, and as such, all visitors must pay for the park entrance. The cost is $30 for one day per vehicle or $35 for a week. If you plan on visiting 3 or more national parks in a 12-month period, we highly recommend getting an annual parks pass. We get America the Beautiful Pass every year so we don’t have to pay to visit any national parks.

Timed-Entry Permit Requirements

If you are visiting Holzwarth Historic Site between May and October, you’ll need a timed-entry permit from recreation.gov to enter Rocky Mountain National Park between 9 am and 3 pm. If you don’t plan on visiting Bear Lake Road, you just the general park access pass (Option 2). If you don’t get a timed-entry permit, you can also arrive before 9 am or after 2 pm without one.

Holzwarth Historic Site Trail Description

You’ll be able to see historic buildings as soon as you park at Holzwarth Historic Site. Just past the parking lot are an old miner’s cabin and a Rocky Mountain mystery. The cabin was built by Joseph Fleshuts in 1902, long before the Holzwarths arrived. Fleshuts abandoned his homestead in 1911 and was never heard from again. Nobody knows why Fleshuts left or what happened to him. All that remains is his small miner’s cabin that greets people when they visit Holzwarth Historic Site.

The trail continues to the Colorado River, which seems like a gentle stream until you remember that the Colorado River is what carved out the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River gets its start 9 miles north of Holzwarth Historic Site. It’s fascinating to see how this mighty river gets its start in the Rocky Mountains before traveling 1400 miles to the Gulf of California!

Holzwarth Historic Site is a fascinating stop on Trail Ridge Road.
The Colorado River at Holzwarth Historic Site

As you continue along the trail, be sure to look for moose or elk in the Kawuneeche Valley that surrounds you. They can often be spotted along the line where the trees meet the valley or near the marshes. In the summer you can also see an array of wildflowers in the valley!

Mom and Baby moose in Rocky Mountain National Park near Holzwarth Historic Site
We spotted this mom and baby moose near Holzwarth Historic Site
Bench at Holzwarth Historic Site Rocky Mountain National Park
Wildflowers are common in the summer

In a half mile, you will arrive at the Holzwarth Historic Site. There’s a short dirt trail that leads around the various buildings on the property. From mid-June through Labor Day, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, the buildings are usually open for tours led by volunteers at the site. It’s a great way to get a more immersive experience of what it would be like to homestead in the Rockies.

Holzwarth Historic Site is a fascinating stop on Trail Ridge Road.

Final Thoughts on Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzwarth Historic Site is the best place in Rocky Mountain National Park to get a hands-on experience of early homesteading life in Colorado. The historic cabins make for a fun living museum for kids and adults alike. Especially with it being just a mile round trip along a flat trail, the Holzwarth Historic Site trail is a perfect trail for getting a glimpse of history, wildlife, and sweeping mountain views with minimal effort.

Cabins at Holzwarth Historic Site

Don’t miss the other amazing stops, including hikes and viewpoints, on Trail Ridge Road if you have a day to explore. We also have some recommendations on how to plan the perfect Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, whether you are visiting for a day or for a week. Our RMNP Packing List has a printable checklist you can use to make sure you don’t forget a thing, too. You can check out all of our Rocky Mountain National Park guides here.

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