Get out and enjoy Colorado’s only Wild and Scenic River this summer.

When French trappers first came upon the Cache la Poudre River, it was a remote and rugged place—rushing dramatically through a narrow canyon, and eventually flowing into the plains, where native tribes named it for its swift current. Today, a 30-mile stretch of the Poudre allows adventurers to step back in time and experience a river that is still unfettered by dams and untouched by development thanks to its designation as the only Wild and Scenic river in Colorado. This portion starts at the river’s headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and snakes into Roosevelt National Forest before splitting into the South Fork. The uppermost portions are still isolated, mountainous and accessible only on foot. Farther down, the river calls to hikers, fishermen, boaters, campers and climbers.

Fish

The Poudre is a popular fly-fishing destination, home to a healthy population of brown, rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. Standing in the clear water and staring up at the lovely copper-and-gray limestone and granite rock is a perfect way to spend a day.

“The Poudre is one of the few untouched rivers that fly fishers can get on. It has a natural flow because it’s not affected by dams, and the conditions just ebb and flow with the seasons,” says guide Xander Elliott. Contact his employer, St. Peter’s Fly Fishing (stpetes.com) to book a trip and get in on the action.

Paddle

Rafting companies are only allowed to take a set number of people on the protected river daily, so in doing so, you can escape the masses. “The steep-walled canyons on each side make the experience more dramatic. It’s a very exciting run, especially in high water,” says Pat Legel, owner of A Wanderlust Adventure (awanderlustadventure.com), a guide service that offers half-day raft trips, partially on the river’s wild portion, featuring Class III and IV rapids. While other rivers in Colorado may run low this summer due to poor snowpack, the Poudre is an exception, with levels expected to reach 90-95 percent of normal.

Hike

Lace up your boots up for local favorite the Greyrock Trail (bit.ly/2rLky39), a seven-mile loop that starts at the edge of the Poudre and climbs more than 2,000 feet in elevation up to a wide panorama of the river gorge. Afterwards, stop for lunch at the riverside concert venue and restaurant The Mishawaka (themishawaka.com), or head into town.

Relax

Some of Fort Collins’ craft beer success might come thanks to the clear, sweet water drawn straight from the Poudre. “We have the best tasting water here, and beer is about 95 percent water,” says Carol Cochran, who owns the bustling Horse & Dragon Brewing Company with her husband, Tim. “It’s readily apparent to most brewers and our customers that water is part of our industry’s success.” The river is so important to the industry that some 20 Fort Collins breweries formed a group, BreWater (brewater.com), to learn about river health and share water conservation practices.  

—Melanie Wong