Author(s): Kim Potter
County Seat: Glenwood Springs
County Size: 2,952 square miles
Low Elevation: 4,918 ft. - East Salt Creek on the Mesa border
High Elevation : 12,354 ft. - Flat Top Mountain
Best Birds : Hepatic Tanager (1973), Black Phoebe (1994)
Checklist : Download pdf | View HTML
Introduction: Garfield County. This long thin West Slope county contains vast diversity. In the west are sagebrush and scrub deserts; in the middle, the eroded canyons of the Roan Plateau; and in the north and east, the high montane forests of the Flat Tops. The Colorado River slices through the county lengthwise, dragging Interstate 70 along with it through Glenwood Canyon. Although this corridor seems to be filling up rapidly with people, most of the rest of the county is pleasantly far from the beaten path.
Aliases - Glenwood Springs
Description - Cottonwood trees, telephone poles and other deciduous trees in this park along the banks of the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs are host to Garfield County's most reliable resident Lewis's Woodpeckers. American Dipper is also present year round. You can connect to the town's recreation trails from near here too.
Habitat - Lowland Riparian, Urban/Suburban
Directions - In Glenwood Springs, take exit 116 off of I-70 and head south on Grand Ave. Go across the river and take your first right onto 7th St. Follow this road across the river again to a "T" with Midland Ave. Turn left and drive south to the park entrance, on the left.
Delorme - 35 D7
Roads of Colorado - 68 A3
Aliases - Deadhorse Canyon
Description - Hanging Lake sits suspended in a 500-foot bowl on the steep east wall of Deadhorse Canyon, a side canyon of Glenwood Canyon. A series of three waterfalls spill down the canyon wall feeding the lake and hosting a dozen pairs of nesting Black Swifts. Mineral deposits in the water give the lake its tropical green color as viewed from the wooden boardwalk that rims the lake. The hike is a steep 1.5 miles along a very popular hiking trail.
Black Swifts nest under the waterfalls at the lake and near Spouting Rock above the lake. Dippers also are resident in the wet spray and near the falls. White–throated Swifts nest in the steep dry cliffs to the east and southeast of the lake. Watch also for Clark's Nutcracker, Tree and Violet-green Swallows, Steller's Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Canyon Wren and Golden Eagle.
Along the river bottom listen for Steller's Jay, Canyon Wren, Virginia's Warbler and Black-headed Grosbeak and watch the sky for Band-tailed Pigeon and Peregrine Falcon.
Habitat - Mixed-Conifer Forest, Lowland Riparian, Pond, Cliff Face
Directions - Hanging lake can only be accessed by vehicle from the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 at exit 125. Westbound travelers must exit at Grizzly Creek (Exit 121) and follow the signs east to exit 125. The trail is also accessed by the bike and recreation trial that runs through Glenwood Canyon.
Delorme - 36 D1
Roads of Colorado - 68 B2
Rifle Gap Reservoir and State Park to Three Forks
Description - The reservoir is surrounded by pinyon-juniper habitat. A short walk up into the PJ can yield Juniper Titmouse, Bewick's Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Gray Flycatcher, Pinyon Jay, Scrub Jay and Ash-throated Flycatcher. A short walk in the sagebrush can yield Brewer's and Vesper Sparrows and Bushtit.
The reservoir is host to a small number of a variety of ducks and shorebirds during migration. Barrow's Goldeneye can often be found on open water here during the winter months.
There are several small two-track pull-offs on the pinyon-juniper side of Highway 325 on route to Rifle Falls State Park. If you missed any PJ birds at the reservoir they can be found in here--especially Rock Wrens. Across the highway the habitat along Rifle Creek is full of Gambel Oak, Box Elder and a mixture of shrubs. Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, Warbling and Plumbeous Vireos and Dusky Flycatcher can be heard calling.
Habitat - Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Reservoir
Directions - Get off at the Rifle exit on I-70 (exit 90) and head 4 miles north on CO-13 to CO-325. Turn right onto CO-325 and follow this road north to the reservoir. The entrance will be on your left in about 5 miles.
Delorme - 34 C3-C4
Roads of Colorado - 67 D2
Rifle Falls State Park
Aliases - Squirrel Trail
Description - Narrowleaf Cottonwoods and Box Elders are found in this riparian strip within mountain shrub and pinyon juniper habitat. Black Swifts nest at the falls with Violet-green and Rough-winged swallows. The Squirrel Trail, falls, and caves all provide very enjoyable birding.
URL - Rifle Falls State Park
Habitat - Lowland Riparian, Foothill Shrub, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Scrub Oak Forest, Stream
Directions - Get off at the Rifle exit on I-70 (exit 90) and head 4 miles north on CO-13 to CO-325. Turn right onto CO-325 and follow this road north to the park in about 10 miles.
Delorme - 34 C4
Roads of Colorado - 67 D1-D2
Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery
Description - The gravel road that goes west from the fish hatchery visitor parking area is a very nice one-mile hike in Gambel Oak habitat. Northern Saw-whet Owls have been heard in here at night and Virginia's, MacGillivray's, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers all reside here. The parking area is at the foot of a very large cliff that hosts a large colony of White-throated Swifts. Across the canyon Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures nest in the cliffs.
Habitat - Foothill Shrub, Pond, Scrub Oak Forest
Directions - The fish hatchery is located adjacent to Rifle Falls State Park. Get off at the Rifle exit on I-70 (exit 90) and head 4 miles north on CO-13 to CO-325. Turn right onto CO-325 and follow this road north to the park in about 11 miles.
Delorme - 34 D3
Roads of Colorado - 67 D3
Rifle Mountain Park
Aliases - Three Forks
Description - A famous canyon for rock climbers around the world. This is a cool shady place in the hot summer for a picnic. Cordilleran Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Virginia Rail and American Dipper can be heard in this canyon.
As you leave the canyon the habitat opens up and becomes forested with Douglas-fir, Engelmann and Blue Spruce and Subalpine Fir. Hammond's Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Wild Turkey and Hermit Thrush are found all the way up to Three Forks.
Habitat - Rimrock/Mesa, Mixed-Conifer Forest
Directions - Rifle Mountain Park is just north of Rifle Falls State Park and the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery. Take the Newcastle exit off of I-70 (exit 105), and turn right off the freeway and come to a stop sign. Continue straight (north) on a four-lane road that then bends west through Castle Valley, a housing development just outside of town. After a couple of miles this road dead ends at Grass Valley Road. Follow Grass Valley Road west, passing the turn-offs for East Elk Canyon, Main Elk Canyon, West Elk Canyon, and Harvey Gap. After about 6-8 miles Grass Valley Road comes to a T-intersection. Turn right and follow this paved road up past the fish hatchery, where it turns to dirt. You're now in Rifle Mountain Park.
Delorme - 34 D3
Roads of Colorado - 67 D3
Description - US Forest Road 832 is a four-wheel drive road that takes you up onto the southwest end of the Flat Tops. When you reach the long open parks surrounded by large aspen trees 3 miles up you are in Purple Martin and Flammulated Owl habitat. Purple Martins and Violet-green and Tree Swallows all nest in the very large aspens on the north end of the long, narrow park. Use caution on this road as it may become impassable when wet.
Habitat - Aspen Grove, Mixed-Conifer Forest
Directions - Get off at the Rifle exit on I-70 (exit 90) and head 4 miles north on CO-13 to CO-325. Turn right onto CO-325 and follow this road north past Rifle Falls State Park, where it becomes CR 217, for 16 miles to the Coulter Mesa Road on the left.
Delorme - 34 B3-B4
Roads of Colorado - 67 D1
Description - The best place to find Sage Sparrows in Garfield County is in the sagebrush flats along Colorado Highway 139 north of Loma at the Mesa-Garfield County line. This habitat is good also for Lark Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Brewer Sparrow and Vesper Sparrow. For the adventurous 4-wheeler birders the juniper habitat to the west may host a few pairs of Garfield County Scott's Orioles.
The pinyon-juniper habitat along the route up to Douglas Pass hosts Northern Saw-whet Owls and Long-eared Owl. Near the summit where mountain shrub, Douglas-fir, and aspen habitats all come together, Common Poorwill and Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls may be found.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Pinyon-Juniper Forest, Mixed-Conifer Forest, Aspen Grove
Directions - CO-139 runs from Grand Junction to Rangely, and Douglas Pass is the high point on this road, 35 miles north of Loma. The County line is 13 miles north of Loma.
Delorme - 32 C2-D2, 42 A2
Roads of Colorado - 64 C2-C4, 65 D3
Description - (submitted by Andrew Spencer): Driving this remote road from Vernal, Utah to Loma can take a long time, but with a bit of luck can be well worth the effort. The lower portions of this road, near the Mesa County line, are probably the best place outside of Cameo to get Chukar, and possibly even better for just seeing them out in the open. The extensive pinyon-juniper woodland on this portion of the road is also reputed to be good for Scott's Oriole, and Gray Vireo is a possibility. Keep an eye out for other PJ birds, as well as foothill scrub birds higher up on the pass.
Habitat - Sagebrush, Pinyon-Juniper, Foothill Shrub, Rimrock/Mesa
Directions - From the north, take US-40 into Utah and look for the Brown sign that says Baxter Pass and Bonanza (Hwy 2776) in the town of Jensen. From here it is 57 miles to the state line, and 64 to the Garfield County line. From the south, take the Mack exit off of I-70 (exit 11) and head north to the "T" just shy of town. Head west (left) on M.8 road for almost 3 miles to CR 8, and take a right. Head north on CR 8 for 3 miles to CR S and take a left (west). Follow this road for 3 miles, and follow it as it curves to the north and becomes CR 4 and the Baxter Pass Road. From this point it is 7 miles to the Garfield County line.
Delorme - 32 C1-D1, 42 A1-B1
Roads of Colorado - 64 B2-B4, C2
Four Mile Country
Aliases - Sunlight Ski Area
Description - One of the best places to see lots of Purple Martins is at the Sunlight Ski Area southwest of Glenwood Springs. Follow the directions below, and look for the closest Purple Martin nests in the first aspens just west of chair lift #2 at tower #8. There are at least a dozen nesting martins in the general area.
Go back down the road and turn onto Forest Road 300. Forest Road 300 is a good road that can be traveled with a sedan in good weather all the way to its end (about 20 miles) in Pitkin County. The majority of the route is in Garfield County. In wet weather, the farthest end of the road may not be suitable except for 4-wheel vehicles; the road is only open a few miles in winter but is a good snowshoe route. In summer along this route you may encounter Tree and Violet-green Swallows, Purple Martin, Western Wood Peewee, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Grosbeak, Red-naped Sapsucker and House Wren in the aspen stands. Northern Pygmy-Owls have been heard in this country. The open meadows host Lincoln's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Mountain Bluebird, American Kestrel, and Red-tailed Hawk. MacGillivray's Warblers are usually in the willows. All three accipiters nest in this area and you may be lucky enough to glimpse one. The conifer stands in this country have Engelmann spruce and Subalpine fir, Williamson's Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker and Three-toed Woodpecker. Western Tanager, Ruby and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creeper, Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill and Gray and Steller's Jays also haunt the conifers. This is good area for Boreal Owls. Dusky Grouse use the ridgelines between drainages. This is wonderful place for a day drive with many opportunities to stop and hike in the White River National Forest and look for your target birds.
Habitat - Aspen Grove, Mixed-Conifer Forest, Spruce-Fir Forest
Directions - Exit I-70 at Glenwood Springs. Take highway 82 southward thru town to 27th street. Go west on 27th street (this becomes Four Mile Road and County Road 117) to Sunlight Ski Area (about 10 miles from Glenwood Springs).
Delorme - 45 A6-A7
Roads of Colorado - 67 F4, 68 A4
Stillwater Reservoir and the Devil's Causeway
Aliases - Devil's Causeway
Description - (submitted by Tom Litteral): This area is in Garfield County, but access is by way of the town of Yampa in Routt County. There are three "lakes" and a few camping areas, but a big-time access to the eastern side of the Flattops Wilderness area. At the end of the road is a trailhead for the "Devil's Causeway" and top of the Flattops plateau. This route can lead to White-tailed Ptarmigan and Rock Wrens, both hard to find in Northwest Colorado.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Mixed-Conifer Forest, Alpine Tundra
Directions - From the town of Yampa along CO 131 south of Steamboat Springs, head southwest along Bear River Road (CR 7/FR 900) to the reservoir and trailhead at the end of the road.
Delorme - 26 D1
Roads of Colorado - 52 B3
Description - (submitted by Nathan Pieplow): This large mountain lake at the northern tip of Garfield County is a long drive from anywhere, but it's worth visiting to those who want to see some of the only accessible breeding Barrow's Goldeneyes in the state. The lake is about a quarter-mile hike beyond the end of the road, and a scope may be helpful to shorten the distance, but the goldeneyes should be easy to find on the lake throughout the summer. Much of the area around the lake and most of the entrance road is covered by an enormous burn area that is worth checking for woodpeckers of various species.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Burn Area, Mixed-Conifer Forest, Stream
Directions - From Buford, head north/east on North Fork Road (CR/FR 8) to the signed turnoff to Trappers Lake Lodge, down FR 205. The trailhead is past the lodge, at the very end of the road. You will need to hike about a half-mile down the trail to get good views of the lake.
Delorme - 35 A7
Roads of Colorado - 52 A3-B3