Author(s): Nathan Pieplow
County Seat: Hot Sulphur Springs
County Size: 1,854 square miles
Low Elevation: 6,840 ft. - Colorado River on the Eagle border
High Elevation : 13,553 ft. - Pettingell Peak
Best Birds : Blue-throated Hummingbird (1973), Black-billed Cuckoo (1973 & 2000)
Checklist : Download pdf | View HTML
Introduction: This county lives up to its name. It contains the headwaters of the Colorado River, the entire west slope of Rocky Mountain National Park, several large reservoirs, the largest natural lake in the state, a superb patch of road-accessible tundra, some beautiful and easily birded PJ habitats, and everything that one could reasonably expect to come in between. A large part of Grand County is comprised of the intermountain valley known as Middle Park (because of its strategic location between North Park and South Park), much of which sports high sage desert complete with Greater Sage-Grouse.
Rabbit Ears Pass and Muddy Pass
Aliases - Muddy Pass
Description - These two passes are both on the Continental Divide, which at this point is the boundary between Jackson and Grand Counties. Driving west on US 40, therefore, will take you over Muddy Pass and into Jackson County, then quickly over Rabbit Ears Pass and back into Grand County. Muddy Pass is lower and less vegetated than Rabbit Ears, being surrounded mostly by mountain meadows, with the trees well away from the road. Rabbit Ears Pass has some nice mountain meadows as well as some high-altitude forests; a couple of side roads lead off the highway into the habitat, which can be good for various montane birds, including Saw-whet Owl. Rabbit Ears is probably too low for a good shot at Boreal Owl.
Habitat - Mountain Meadow; Lodgepole Forest
Directions - From Kremmling, take US 40 west towards Steamboat Springs. Both passes are well-signed along this road.
Delorme - 27 A5
Roads of Colorado - 37 E4-F4
Description - This medium-sized private reservoir can be great for ducks and grebes and has some shorebird potential also.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - From Kremmling, follow directions to Gore Pass but turn off of CO 134 onto CR 17 about two miles west of US 40. Hinman Reservoir is directly adjacent to CR 17 approximately one mile north of CO 134.
Delorme - 27 C6
Roads of Colorado - 53 F2
Wolford Mountain Reservoir
Description - There is a fee for entry to the parking lots and boat docks, but the two inlets that pass beneath Highway 40 can be scanned (with caution) from the shoulder of the road. The main reservoir is steep-sided and often busy with boats, so these inlets often contain most of the birds. The best spot is often the reservoir's north end, the top shorebird spot in this admittedly shorebird-poor county, but water levels can make it hard to scan from the road. Road 25, which parallels the northeast side of the lake at great distance, may get you close enough if the water is very high. This road also heads through some of the better roadside sage-grouse habitat in the county.
The west side of US 40 near Wolford Mountain Reservoir has some wet meadows in season which might have rails, Yellow-headed Blackbird and possibly even Great-tailed Grackle.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir; Sagebrush; Wet Meadow
Directions - Wolford Mountain Reservoir is not shown on older maps. It lies (mostly) east of US Highway 40, about five miles north and west of Kremmling.
Delorme - 27 C6
Roads of Colorado - 54 A2
Description - A pretty pass—and pretty out-of-the-way, too. But it provides access to some nice patches of spruce-fir forest, although here, as elsewhere in Grand County, they can be smothered in lodgepole. A short stretch of FR 211 south of the pass has some of the best habitat. Other habitats along CO 134 include extensive mountain meadows and some high-elevation sagebrush of questionable grouse potential but possibly good for Brewer's Sparrow. Pass Creek northeast of the pass has breeding Veery.
Habitat - Mountain Meadow; Sagebrush; Aspen Grove; Spruce-Fir Forest
Directions - From Kremmling, drive US 40 west to CO 134 (about six miles). Take CO 134 west towards Gore Pass. From I-70, leave the interstate at Wolcott (exit 157) and follow CO 131 north to Toponas; then turn east on CO 134 towards Gore Pass.
Delorme - 27 D5
Roads of Colorado - 53 F3
City Reservoir (Grand County)
Description - This private reservoir is just close enough to the road to be scannable (scope recommended). It has potential for diving ducks, grebes and the like.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - From Kremmling, drive west on US 40. Just over a mile from the west edge of town, turn left (west) onto CR 14. City Reservoir is visible off to the left and below the road starting about three miles from US 40.
Delorme - 27 D6
Roads of Colorado - 54 A3
Aliases - Junction Butte State Wildlife Area
Description - The "Sportsman's Paradise" of Colorado, this little town can provide access to some great birds. The town sits at the foot of a hundred-foot cliff, known affectionately (by some at least) as the Kremmlin' Wall. The Wall often attracts roosting flocks of Rosy-Finches in winter; birders with a good scope and some patience should be able to get (barely) identifiable views of all three species from the dead-end roads near the school. Sometimes the birds descend en masse to feeders in town, but their food forays are unpredictable. Keep an eye out for Common Redpoll, which has visited feeders here a few times in winters past.
If the finches are on the wall, but too distant for your liking, you can attempt to access the top of the cliff via a dirt road (CR 227) running east from Highway 40 just north and west of town. This road is not maintained in winter and may require four-wheel-drive, snow tires or chains depending on conditions. It is easy to get stuck up there, so please exercise caution.
Check the tiny sewage ponds on the south side of town along Highway 9 for Cinnamon Teal and other dabblers in summer. More ducks can be found at the oxbow pond just south of Spruce & Eagle in the southwest corner of town.
On the other side of the Colorado River, just southeast of town, Road 33 heads east through Junction Butte SWA on its way to Williams Fork Reservoir. The seasonally flooded fields below the road have good potential for the likes of snipe, Sandhill Crane, and various waterfowl and shorebirds. Great-tailed Grackle and Marsh Wren have bred in this area.
Just south of Rd 33, Trough Road (CR 1) heads west from the highway towards the Radium area. The upper part of the road passes through a little sparse sage which is reputed to harbor grouse. Otherwise the habitats are unremarkable, though as the road descends into the Colorado River canyon it passes some decent douglas-fir forest and some spectacular views.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban; Cliff Face; Sagebrush; Marsh; Wet Meadow; Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - Kremmling is at the junction of CO 9 and US 40, about 25 miles west of Granby and 35 miles northwest of Silverthorne.
Delorme - 27 D6
Roads of Colorado - 54 A3
Cabin Creek Road and CO 125
Description - There are several places to pull over along CO 125 between US 40 and Willow Creek Pass. It can be a good stretch for mountain finches, and dipper is a good bet along Willow Creek as long as there is open water.
Cabin Creek Road rises past some low willows and blue spruce among the lodgepoles. Despite the road obliteration projects taking place in the area, passenger vehicles can travel all the way west and south to US 40 west of Hot Sulphur Springs. Look for finches, solitaires, kinglets and other mountain birds along the way.
Habitat - Stream; Streamside Willow; Lodgepole Forest
Directions - CO 125 heads north from US 40 about two miles west of Granby. Cabin Creek Road heads west from CO 125 about ten miles north of US 40.
Delorme - 28 B2-D3
Roads of Colorado - 54 C1-C2
Willow Creek Reservoir
Description - This reservoir charges a fee for access. If you pay it, you will most likely be rewarded with little more than breeding Osprey. But you never know.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir; Lodgepole Forest; Mountain Meadow
Directions - CR 40 heads west to Willow Creek Reservoir from US 34 at the south end of Lake Granby, about six miles north and east of the town of Granby.
Delorme - 28 C3
Roads of Colorado - 55 D2
Williams Fork Reservoir
Description - I keep visiting this huge reservoir hoping that someday I will see some birds on it. I keep being disappointed.
Road 3, which follows the Williams Fork south from the Reservoir, is as of this writing (2004) not the most scenic route in the county. In addition to a large and rather unsightly industrial mine, it has recently endured an enormous beetle infestation which killed 50-90% of the trees across an immense area. The result is not pretty, but the huge tracts of standing dead timber can be as good as burns for Olive-sided Flycatcher and for woodpeckers, including Three-toed. Veery breeds in the streamside willows.
The grassy fields on the west side of the reservoir are probably the best spot in the county for things like Western Meadowlark and Eastern Kingbird.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir; Wet Meadow; Grassland/Prairie; Burn Area
Directions - Williams Fork Reservoir is a few miles south of US 40 near the town of Parshall. It can be accessed from CR 3, which heads south from Parshall, or from CR 33, which heads east from CO 9 just south of Kremmling and ends at CR 3 just southeast of the reservoir.
Delorme - 28 D1
Roads of Colorado - 54 B3
Hot Sulphur Springs
Aliases - Pioneer Park
Description - In addition to the resort built around its namesake, the county seat has a wonderful city park/State Wildlife Area known as Pioneer Park, with extensive mature cottonwood forests and riparian tangles that should be checked for passerines at all seasons. Just west of town is Byers Canyon, which should be checked for White-throated Swift and Canyon Wren, though neither is guaranteed. On the west side of the canyon is Hot Sulphur Springs SWA, which provides access to a few more cottonwoods and streamside willows.
Habitat - Urban/Suburban; Lowland Riparian; Stream; Cliff Face; Streamside Willow
Directions - Hot Sulphur Springs is on US Highway 40 between Kremmling and Granby. To get to Pioneer Park, follow the signs to the Hot Sulphur Springs resort; to get to the resort you must drive through the park.
Delorme - 28 D2
Roads of Colorado - 54 C3
Windy Gap Reservoir
Description - This roadside reservoir always has a lot of ducks. It is an excellent spot for Barrow's Goldeneye in the colder months, and one of the last places they leave in the spring. Keep an eye out for terns, small gulls, grebes and other goodies.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir
Directions - Windy Gap Reservoir is on the south side of US 40 at its junction with CO 125, about two miles west of Granby.
Delorme - 28 D3
Roads of Colorado - 54 C2, 55 D2
Radium State Wildlife Area
Aliases - Trough Road, Pumphouse Recreation Area
Description - The southwest corner of the county, near the miniscule town of Radium, provides access to some great PJ habitat and terrific riparian areas. The PJ can be productive for Pinyon Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rock Wren and Black-throated Gray Warbler, and may also support other PJ species. This corner of the county is probably the best area to search for lower-elevation species like Common Poorwill, Lewis's Woodpecker and Lesser Goldfinch. There are several areas worth exploring:
CR 107 heads a short distance west off Trough Road into some decent PJ habitat in and around the north end of the Hartman Unit of the Radium State Wildlife Area.
The Pumphouse Recreation Area, which charges an entrance fee, provides access to a beautiful hiking trail along the Colorado River with good riparian shrub, some Douglas-fir, and (in season) lots of fishermen and kayakers.
CR 102 & 103 depart Trough Road at the same point in opposite directions. Both quickly dead-end at the gates of private ranches, but before they do, they parallel some truly excellent riparian habitat which can be easily birded from the road. The upper part of CR 103 is in the State Wildlife Area and allows foot access to some of the woods. The rest of the area along both roads is private. Pay careful attention to the locations of signs and fences so as to avoid straying out-of-bounds.
A pullout on the east side of Trough Road provides walk-in access to some nice PJ slopes on the Hartman Unit.
The road to Radium (CR 11) runs along some decent riparian habitat on its way to the Colorado River. Radium itself may have hummingbird feeders in summer.
CR 111 through BLM land just southwest of Radium provides access to spectacular PJ. If you bird only one patch of PJ in the county, bird this one.
Habitat - Pinyon/Juniper; Lowland Riparian; Stream; Streamside Willow
Directions - From Kremmling, head south on CO 9 about one mile to the junction with Trough Road (CR 1). From the start of CR 1, it is 10.5 miles west to the Pumphouse Recreation Area on the right. The intersection with CR 102 and CR 103 is at 11.2 miles. The Hartman Area walk-in pullout is at 13.0 miles, and the road to Radium departs CR 1 at 14.6 miles from CR 9. Radium itself is 17.0 miles from CO 9.
Delorme - 37 A5
Roads of Colorado - 53 F3-F4
Grand Lake Area
Aliases - Shadow Mountain Reservoir, Lake Granby, Adams Falls
Description - Well known for its breeding Osprey, Grand Lake itself is the largest natural lake in Colorado, but it is dwarfed by nearby Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby. Granby, the largest lake, is usually the least productive for birds. Shadow Mountain and Grand Lake are much better for waterfowl, particularly Barrow's Goldeneye, which is reliable from about mid-October to late April, often in good numbers. Even in the dead of winter there is typically open water in the canal between the two lakes as well as in the part of Shadow Mountain Reservoir adjacent to the canal; the concentrations of waterfowl here can be quite impressive. If they have open water, the two ponds along FR 492 just west of the west entrance to the National Park can be productive for Barrow's Goldeneye, particularly early in the season (October). Feeders around the town of Grand Lake can be productive for hummingbirds in summer and finches at any time of year. The hike to Adams Falls (0.3 mi each way) can produce dipper in summer.
Habitat - Pond/Lake/Reservoir; Stream; Lodgepole Forest; Urban/Suburban; Streamside Willow; Wet Meadow; Mountain Meadow
Directions - The town of Grand Lake, the lake and the two reservoirs are all found along US 34 just outside the western boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park, about six miles north and east of the town of Granby. Adams Falls is accessed via the East Inlet Trail, which is at the eastern end of West Portal Road, on the east end of Grand Lake.
Delorme - 28 C4
Roads of Colorado - 55 D1-E2
Description - If you are prepared for a serious hike, the trail to Mount Ida is one of the best ptarmigan trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first mile or so winds steeply up through spruce-fir forest (detouring into Larimer County along the way), while the subsequent portion accesses many miles of prime Grand County tundra, with one of the highest densities of breeding ptarmigan in Rocky Mountain National Park--I have seen them on more than half of my several trips to the peak, and that was without actively looking. The area is also excellent for Bighorn Sheep. Brown-capped Rosy-Finches breed on the rocky cliffs on the east (Larimer County) side of the divide, but this is probably not the best place to come looking for them in Grand County. Keep in mind that the hike is strenuous and that the route is very exposed, and pay careful attention to the weather--if you have to dash to treeline to evade a lightning storm, you'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a whole lot of elevation to regain! Trust me on this one.
Habitat - Lodgepole Forest; Spruce-Fir Forest; Alpine Tundra; Cliff Face
Directions - The Mount Ida trail heads south from Milner Pass, on the Continental Divide along Trail Ridge Road (US 34) inside Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park charges an entrance fee, and Trail Ridge Road is seasonally closed.
Delorme - 28 A4
Roads of Colorado - 39 E4
Trail Ridge Road (Grand County section)
Aliases - Lulu City Trailhead, Milner Pass
Description - The area between the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Lulu City Trailhead provides access to lodgepole forest and some extensive willow habitats. This is one of the best places in Colorado to see Moose.
The several scenic overlooks below Milner Pass on Trail Ridge Road (US 34) can be relied upon to produce Steller's Jay, Gray Jay and Clark's Nutcracker, all of which hang around to beg handouts from tourists.
Milner Pass itself, though on the Continental Divide, is well below treeline and far lower than the section of Trail Ridge Road just east of it in Larimer County. Spruce-fir habitat can be accessed up some of the trails. The trail to the Crater, on the north side of the road, gets you to treeline quite fast (within half a mile), but it is closed from May through July when the Bighorn Sheep are calving. I have never seen ptarmigan around the Crater in six or eight trips. But American Pipit is easy and the views are unbelievable.
Habitat - Lodgepole Forest; Spruce-Fir Forest; Alpine Tundra
Directions - These sites are along Trail Ridge Road (US 34) inside Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park charges an entrance fee, and the upper parts of Trail Ridge Road are closed from fall (October or November) to spring (usually late May).
Delorme - 28 A4-B4
Roads of Colorado - 39 D4-E4, 55 D1
Rollins Pass (West Side)
Description - The old Moffat Road (FR 149) leads up the west side of Rollins Pass, also known as Corona Pass. It winds slowly up to breathtaking scenery far above treeline, including the only road-accessible tundra in the county—several miles of it. Ptarmigan are here, but you will need to traipse across the tundra to find them. Brown-capped Rosy-Finches can probably be found around some of the cliffs and persistent snowfields. Note that Grand County ends at the Rollins Pass parking lot, but the road ends a couple hundred yards farther east in Boulder County. The end of the road has the best rosy-finch habitat.
The habitat below treeline suffers from a severe case of lodgepole homogeny, but there are occasional patches of spruce-fir forest. The only really mature spruce-fir habitat is in one small spot just below the first ruined railroad bridge. Boreal Owls did not answer tapes here in September 2004.
Habitat - Lodgepole Forest; Spruce-Fir Forest; Alpine Tundra; Cliff Face
Directions - The Moffat Road (FR 149) heads east from US 40 about a mile north of the Winter Park Ski Resort, on the south end of the town of Winter Park. The road is not great, but is maintained in summer for passenger cars. There is no winter access.
Delorme - 39 A5
Roads of Colorado - 55 E4