Pingree Park Road, or County Road 63E, is a well-maintained gravel road which travels due south from Highway 14 to the northern flank of the Mummy Range. The valley in which the road follows was originally explored by the Arapaho, Mountain Ute, and Cheyenne Native Americans. Development in the valley took place in the mid-1860s, when George Pingree traveled up the South Fork of the Poudre River in search of trees to log for railroad ties for the transcontinental railroad. In 1868, Pingree established a tie camp in the valley now known as Pingree Park. The ties were floated down the Poudre River to Laporte, where they were then taken via wagon to Tie Siding, Wyoming. In the fall of 1870, the demand for railroad ties had been filled and Pingree’s camp closed. Today, the valley offers an abundance of recreational activities, and is the site of Colorado State University’s Mountain Campus.
Continued Development in the Valley
In 1897, brothers Hugh and Charles Ramsey homesteaded the northern end of the valley, and made a living ranching and operating a saw mill. Partnering with Frank Koenig in 1912, a road over Pennock Pass (now traversed by Larimer County Road 44H), was built. In 1913, the Ramseys, Koenig, and Tom Bennett built a road beside Twin Lakes. Koenig later married Hazel Ramsey, and the two received a portion of land from Hugh Ramsey. In 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was established, and Koenig was selected to be one of the initial three park rangers. He went on to name many of the area’s geographic features.
In 1997, the Colorado Historical Society named 80 acres of the Ramsey/Koenig Ranch as a State Historic District. Grant funding helped restore the log barn and the homestead.
A special act of Congress in 1910 allowed the Colorado Agricultural College (now Colorado State University) to select land in Roosevelt National Forest for the purposes of research and field study. In 1914, CAC President Charles E. Lory, and Colorado Governor E.M. Ammons, along with several other professors and state officials, selected the 1,600 acre parcel of land which would become the Colorado State University Mountain Campus. 80 acres of this land was adjacent to the Koenig Ranch. Hazel cooked for the construction workers during the construction of the lodge, and the first class was held in 1916 with one student. The first automobile to make it to Pingree Valley was a Stanley Steamer in 1919. The campus expanded slowly with a bunkhouse built in 1927 (currently a general store serving students, faculty, and visitors to the campus), with smaller buildings being constructed to support operations. Telephone lines were installed to the campus in 1928, and electrical lines in 1964. In 1976 a conference center was established, that currently hosts an average of 6,000 visitors per season. In 1972, the university purchased the remaining 163 acres of land from the Koenig/Ramsey ranch. Hazel Koenig died in Loveland, Colorado in 1975, followed by Frank Koenig in 1980.
Originally, the CSU Mountain Campus was simply called the Pingree Park Campus after the valley, but was renamed in 2015 after controversy arose regarding George Pingree’s self-proclaimed participation in the Sand Creek Massacre. The valley itself remains named Pingree Park, a USGS designation.
During the summer months, the CSU Mountain Campus hosts a variety of activities, from natural resources and forestry classes, to summer camps and retreats, ropes courses, and conference facilities are available for organizations to rent. CSU students studying forestry, natural resource management, rangeland ecology, watershed, ecosystem science and sustainability, and fish, wildlife, and conservation biology are required to attend classes at the Mountain Campus.
A Modern Recreational Playground
In addition to the Mountain Campus, Pingree Park road provides access to a plethora of recreational opportunities in the National Forest. There are over a hundred miles of hiking trails, access to the Comanche Peak and Cache La Poudre wilderness areas, several developed campgrounds and picnic sites, and an endless amount of dispersed sites along the many forest roads branching off of the main county road. All of this is often drastically backdropped by the peaks of the Mummy Range.
Many of the area’s recreational destinations and geographic features are named after the pioneers of the valley. Emmaline Lake, named after Frank Koenig’s mother, is a scenic 12 mile hike to a subalpine lake. Mummy Pass is traversed by a hiking trail, and is a backcountry route into Rocky Mountain National Park, which is located on the south side of the Mummy Range. Students at CSU’s Mountain Campus often make it a goal to summit the five most prominent peaks of the Mummy Range in a season, per tradition. These peaks are: Signal Mountain (11,262ft), Stormy Peaks (12,148ft), Fall Mountain (12,258ft), Comanche Peak (12,702ft), and Hagues Peak (13,560ft). It is possible to summit all five in 24 hours.
Pingree Park Road has numerous forest roads branching off throughout its entire route. The most significant side roads are Crown Point Road (Forest Road 139), Old Flowers Road (Forest Road 152), and Pennock Pass Road (County Road 44H). Crown Point Road is the first major intersection along Pingree Park Rd., heading west for 18 miles and providing access to trailheads for Browns Lake, Zimmerman, and Dadd Gulch. There are also plenty of dispersed camping sites along the way. Crown Point is an 11,463ft peak, in relative geographic isolation to the surrounding high mountain ranges. It is a good landmark to be aware of.
There are hundreds of dispersed campsites in the Pingree Park area. In fact, camping is the most popular recreational activity here. Immediately after turning on to Pingree Park Rd. from the Poudre Canyon Highway you see several dispersed campsites, not even at the top of the hill yet.
The Bennett Creek Day Use area is the first developed site that is encountered on Pingree Park Rd.
Another day use area, a little further in, is the Fish Creek Day Use Area. This one also has good river access to the South Fork of the Poudre River, hence the icon indicating fishing opportunities.
Fish Creek Day Use Area is located along a part of Pingree Park Rd. which follows the South Fork of the Poudre River in a relatively narrow valley. There are unfortunately no dispersed sites immediately close to this day use area, but it is still a great place to stop. There is a bathroom, some picnic tables and grills, and good river access.
Pingree Park Rd. is over 16 miles long. There’s a lot to do. It’s also maintained during the summer months. The road, when heavily used, develops deep washboarding that is very unpleasant to drive on. In addition, muddy and rutted spots can form and pose an issue to anything low clearance without four-wheel drive. In early spring, grading operations take place and sometimes flaggers actually close one direction of traffic so crews can work on the road. Of all the places to work construction, this probably isn’t that bad.
There is also private property along Pingree Park Road. There are a few ranches, but mostly regular ol’ mountain homes and cabins. Some parts of the road go through private property. It’s important to respect property boundaries and avoid trespassing. Private property will almost always be fenced and signed.
There are two roads to access Pingree Park other than the Poudre Canyon. One of these is East Old Flowers Road (Forest Road 152), an offroad trail which requires high clearance and 4wd, and the other is Pennock Pass (County Road 44H), a maintained county road that’s only open during the summer and impassable in the winter. Pingree Park Rd. intersects with Pennock Pass Rd. about 3/4 of the way to the CSU Mountain Campus. It’s a great route to take in the summer from Fort Collins, as you’re effectively in the backcountry sooner and off pavement faster.
Pingree Park is a great go-to for weekend adventures from Fort Collins. It is about an hour to an hour-and-a-half drive from Fort Collins. Taking Buckhorn Canyon/County Road 44H to Pennock Pass, from Stove Prairie Rd., is a good alternate way to get to Pingree Park that gets you into the backcountry sooner and off the pavement faster. Buckhorn Canyon/Pennock Pass also provide plenty of recreational opportunities. In the warm season, you can expect plenty of opportunities for camping, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, shooting, and offroading. In the winter, snowshoeing and hunting become the primary activities, with a lot of forest roads impassable. Pingree Park Rd. is sometimes passable in the winter, and it’s usually possible to reach the (closed) Mountain Campus, but be prepared with snow chains and shovels or to turn around if too much snow is encountered. Regardless of the season, Pingree Park is a recreational playground which offers great access to the National Forest and endless opportunities for recreation.