Over six miles of the meandering Michigan River, stunning scenery, abundant wildlife and a magnificent home coalesce to make this a truly exceptional mountain ranch. The dramatic peaks of the Never Summer and Medicine Bow Mountains serve as the backdrop for this impressive 2,100± acre ranch, which offers miles of state forest boundary and a balance of irrigated meadow, riparian corridor, native forest and rangeland. As it winds through the ranch, the Michigan River gives an angler fishing that is on par with the spectacular scenery around it. The diverse and healthy habitat attracts a variety of wildlife, including large numbers of elk and moose. The tasteful, well-built 8,050 square foot custom home overlooks the ranch from a protected setting at the base of an aspen grove on Custer Mountain. Both private and convenient, the ranch is located on a paved public road near historic western towns and is an easy drive to Steamboat and Winter Park Ski Resorts. This outstanding ranch provides an opportunity to have a solid working ranch with diverse recreational attributes in a spectacular setting.
In a general sense, the ranch is a large block of private land situated adjacent to public lands at the base of the steep slopes of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The meandering Michigan River and one of its major tributaries bisect the ranch and provide water for its riparian areas and irrigated meadows. Custer Mountain and a few smaller hills endow the ranch with some topography and are home to most of the aspen and conifer forests. The ranch is three and one-quarter miles from north to south and nearly two miles across at the widest point. State Highway 14 forms the southern and part of the western boundary of the ranch, providing the primary access at the original headquarters area, about halfway along the north-south axis. From the gated entrance just north of the headquarters, a private road crosses the river and travels east to the location of the main house at the base of Custer Mountain. In addition to the main entrance, there are two secondary access points: to the north on County Road 30D and the south from County Road 41. There are a number of internal ranch roads which provide access to all parts of the property and also serve as excellent hiking and riding trails. A key attribute of Michigan River Ranch is the varied composition of the land, with a combination of river corridors, irrigated meadows, upland pasture and timbered hillsides all on the same property. The elevation of the ranch ranges from approximately 8,560 feet along the river to 9,250 feet near the top of Custer Mountain. There are numerous points around the top of Custer Mountain where one can enjoy panoramic views of the property and the surrounding landscapes. An equally notable asset is the diverse variety of natural plant communities: aspen forest, spruce, fir and pine forests, mesic sagebrush shrubland, lower montane willow carr, wet meadows and dry pastures. An array of irrigation ditches allow the hay meadows to be kept wet during irrigation season when the hay is growing, then allowed to dry out the remainder of the year. Collectively this variety of vegetation offers an attractive diversity that provides habitat and forage for abundant wildlife populations. The Colorado State Park’s State Forest forms nearly two miles of the eastern boundary of the ranch. This allows direct access from the ranch to the 71,000± acre state forest for hiking, riding, skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling. Wildlife moves freely back and forth between the state forest and the ranch throughout the year. Other neighbors include a number of very large private ranch holdings.
Michigan River Ranch represents a unique opportunity to acquire a legacy property with significant land and water resources. The ranch has been endowed with some of the most impressive natural assets found anywhere in the west, all of which have been enhanced and protected by the current owners’ stewardship practices. The tasteful and well-built improvements complete this offering into a very compelling turnkey ranch opportunity.
Learn about the locale
Michigan River Ranch is located in the northern Colorado headwaters region of the famous North Platte River, an area known as North Park or Jackson County. North Park is an anomaly in Colorado – it is still a pristine and relatively undeveloped ranching and recreational paradise, with good access and proximity to resort areas. Michigan River Ranch is conveniently located adjacent to paved State Highway 14, on the route between Walden and Ft. Collins. The ranch is approximately 16 miles southeast of the quaint western town of Walden and four miles northwest of the hamlet of Gould along State Highway 14. The ranch is about an hour and 15 minutes to Steamboat Springs and all services and amenities of this world-class resort ski resort area. Grandby is approximately an hour to the south and Winter Park Ski Resort is about 25 minutes further. From the ranch it is about two and a half hours to Denver, three hours to Denver International Airport and under two hours to Ft. Collins.The ranch is 20 minutes from the Walden-Jackson County Airport which has a 5,901 by 75-foot asphalt runway, GPS approach and jet fuel. In case of inclement weather, there are instrument approaches at five other airports within a 60-mile radius. Full commercial service is 90 miles away at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, which is just west of Steamboat Springs.
North Park is an area of breathtaking beauty, consisting of a large intermountain basin of rolling hills and the meandering meadow streams that constitute the headwaters of the North Platte River, virtually surrounded by the high peaks of the Rabbit Ears Park, Sierra Madre, Medicine Bow and Never Summer Ranges. Wildlife abounds, from numerous species of waterfowl and other birds to herds of elk, deer, antelope and the largest herd of moose in Colorado. North Park is one of the last frontiers of Colorado and is noted for its year-round recreational amenities, traditional working ranches, world-class fishing and hunting opportunities and lack of crowds.Jackson County consists of 1,620 square miles and has a population of about 1,500. Walden, the county seat and commerce center, offers most services and is one of the last historic ranching communities left in the entire state. Just to the west of North Park, Steamboat Springs is still a western town at heart, but has also embraced winter sports and has become a world-class community and year-round destination for guests from all over the world.
The ranch exhibits the attractive characteristics of the Colorado mountain climate – warm sunny days with low humidity and cool nights. Average summer temperatures are in the upper 70s, with lows in the 40s. Winter typically means temperatures ranging from the teens at night to 20s during the day. Snow will accumulate during the winter months, though the valley traditionally receives quite a bit less than the surrounding mountain ranges. Annual precipitation for the main ranch is estimated to be around 20 inches – the closest historical records are for Rand (14.99 inches) which is 10 miles to the southwest. The ranch is somewhat wetter than Rand due to its location at the base of the mountains.
Michigan River Ranch has long been considered one of the landmark properties of the area. It’s no wonder that travelers on the highway will often pull over and take pictures of the sprawling elk herd or the trout stream meandering through verdant meadows in the shadow of snow-capped mountain peaks. From the ranch, there are a few prominent sites that attract the eye. The dramatically rugged peaks in the Rawah Wilderness Area to the northeast of the ranch are North and South Rawah and Clark Peaks. These are all over 12,000 feet and form the spine of the Medicine Bow Range.To the southeast is famous Nokhu Crags, a mountain peak and rock formation located within the Colorado State Forest just northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park. The 12,485-foot peak is a part of the Never Summer Mountains on the northwest side of the continental divide.On a clear day, the 12,000-foot peaks of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness are visible to the west across North Park. On the other side of these mountains are the Yampa and Elk River valleys and Steamboat Springs.
This ranch is one of the oldest in North Park and served as the headquarters for the Stelbar ranches which controlled over 120,000 acres at one time. The stage coach which came over Ute Pass historically stopped across the highway from the headquarters, where a cluster of cabins welcomed visitors until the 1990s. The current owners purchased the ranch from Stelbar in 1998.
Learn more about the property
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
Michigan River Ranch consists of approximately 2,080± deeded acres. Of the total, approximately 750± acres are irrigated.
Deeded Acres: 2,080±
Total Acres: 2,080±
Acres of Irrigated Crop: 750±
Acres AG Total: 750±
* All acreages are approximations.
Conservation EasementOver decades, the stewards of Michigan River Ranch have been good to this land. The property has been well-managed and thoughtfully maintained with an eye towards preservation. The current owners of the ranch recognized the exceptional scenic and wildlife values of the property and entered into a conservation easement to protect it in perpetuity.The land is still privately owned and no public access has been granted. Certain development rights have been erased and others retained. The easement protects and preserves the wildlife and wildlife habitat, natural plant communities, open space condition and scenic values of this landmark property. The easement, which was granted to Colorado Open Lands, reserves two homesites which can be sold separately. A parcel of 38± acres along the highway is excluded from the easement and the owners can build a small cabin in a picturesque spot on Custer Mountain. In addition to the current improvements, the easement allows an additional guest or caretaker house and accessory structures.
The original headquarters improvements for the ranch are conveniently located along the highway, while the newer main house is a short drive away in a very private and quiet setting. The headquarters area includes the original house, cabins, barns, sheds, corrals and shop, plus a helipad and hangar.From its location at the base of Custer Mountain, the main house commands panoramic views from the rivers and meadows of the ranch up into the high country of the adjacent state forest. The showcase custom home is 8,074 square feet of superb craftsmanship with European character. The warm and inviting four bedroom, five bath home was completed in 2003 and features an efficient floorplan for entertaining. There are two floors plus a partial lower level and the upper floors feature enhanced fenestration to accentuate the beautiful views. The upper floor of the home is thoughtfully designed into two wings - one for the owners with a large master suite and his and hers offices and the other for guests including a kitchenette/living area and separate entrance. Other features include custom cabinetry, multiple dining areas, oversized mudroom and pantry areas, and three wood-burning fireplaces. Outside there is a beautifully built stone patio surrounding a large fire pit which is perfect for outdoor dining or late night star gazing.Both the main house and ranch headquarters buildings are supplied by Mountain Parks Electric and there are several buried propane tanks. Domestic water is sourced from two good wells and waste water treatment is provided by septic and leach fields.
Water plays a key role in agricultural production, recreation, wildlife and aesthetics and Michigan River Ranch is blessed with an abundance of water. The Michigan River runs through the ranch from southeast to northwest for approximately six miles. The North Fork joins the main stem of the river about half-way through the ranch. The Michigan and the North Fork rise in the Medicine Bow and Never Summer Mountains to the east and south of the ranch. The Michigan River and its tributaries provide particularly rich trout and wildlife habitat as well as benefits to regional water quality and storage. A considerable portion of the water produced by the upper North Platte River watershed flows through the Michigan River. Since it is located high up near the sources of the river and its tributaries, this part of the Michigan will not get de-watered like some downstream areas may when lower ranches are irrigating.
To complement its vast live water resources, Michigan River Ranch benefits from a significant amount of adjudicated irrigation water. The ranch maintains a total of 92.9± cfs of irrigation water rights and 4.5 cfs of stockwater rights from the Michigan River plus shares equating to 200 acre-feet in Meadow Creek Reservoir. These water rights date back to 1888 and irrigate approximately 750± acres of the ranch. In addition, there are five wells, two for domestic use and three for stock watering.
Seller’s ownership of appurtenant mineral rights will be transferred to buyer at closing. We understand the seller owns the vast majority of the mineral rights.
The 2012 property taxes for the entire ranch were $11,927.
Learn about the recreational amenities
As they meander through the ranch, both the Michigan River and the North Fork give an angler private fishing that is on par with the spectacular scenery around it. The rivers are classic high-country meadow streams with countless corner pools, plenty of riffles and even some beaver ponds. Six miles of gently flowing water offer quality habitat and natural structures to produce remarkably hefty fish. The river averages 15 to 25 feet in width below the confluence of the Michigan and North Fork, and 10 to 20 feet in the forks above the confluence.The banks of the river have been maintained in their natural condition, with streamside willows present throughout, protecting against erosion and providing shade and shelter that are highly beneficial to trout. The willow carr shades the river thereby keeping the water cool and provides organic material that serves as food for macro invertebrate populations which in turn provide ample food for the fish. The waters on the ranch are generally meandering meadow streams, with a high degree of sinuosity. They are low gradient steams that are easily fished from the bank or by wading. Bank vegetation is characterized by grass interspersed by willows. Fish can be found nearly anywhere, but the bigger ones tend to congregate in the deeper water and corner pools. These trout have not been fished over much and will attack a dry fly or streamer aggressively. The Michigan and North Fork Rivers support healthy, self-sustaining populations of brown trout, in addition to rainbow and brook trout. Although two-thirds of Jackson County is public land, the majority of the land along the Michigan River is privately owned and inaccessible but for owners and their guests. This creates a fishery that benefits from relatively low impact compared to public access areas.
North Park is well-known for its abundant wildlife and Michigan River Ranch is an excellent example. A wide variety of wildlife flourishes in the extraordinarily healthy ecosystem of the ranch and migrates freely from the neighboring state forest to the property. The ranch’s miles and miles of river, together with the associated riparian areas, irrigated meadows, sagebrush grasslands and timbered hillsides provide excellent forage, cover and habitat for fish, waterfowl and animals. Wide-ranging wildlife species including moose, elk, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, eagles, ducks and geese are found on the ranch. North Park is home to the largest herd of Shiras moose in the state. Moose love willowed river bottoms, so naturally are attracted to Michigan River Ranch. The moose spend most of their time in the willows, but will sometimes venture into the timbered areas of the ranch or even pass by the main house. The hillsides of Custer Mountain can be excellent locations to observe moose, as the increased elevations make it easier to spot them in the willows. The ranch is also home to large numbers of Rocky Mountain elk. In the spring, the cows will calve in the protected willows of the riparian areas. During the summer months, hundreds of elk are often seen grazing in the lush meadows of the ranch. They also like the timber on the north side of Custer Mountain and will frequently move back and forth between these areas. As summer progresses into fall and the rut begins, the sounds of bugling elk and sparring bulls resonate through the hills. The biggest and strongest bulls will carve the herd up into individual harems, often rather large, with 20 to 30 cows in each. It is an amazing experience to be in the middle of this ritual, especially as there are 5 to 7 different groups of mature bulls with their respective harems, being closely watched by a multitude of dejected satellite bulls, all sounding off at the same time.Michigan River Ranch is located in Colorado big game Game Management Unit #6, which offers an unlimited either-sex elk archery license and unlimited bull tags for two of the four rifle seasons. This means that an elk hunter can purchase an over-the-counter license for either of the 9-day rifle seasons or the month long archery season. It does not matter whether the hunter is a resident of Colorado or a non-resident. Waterfowl licenses are available over the counter as well. Moose, mule deer, antelope, black bear and mountain lion hunting licenses are available for Unit #6 through the regular Colorado Parks and Wildlife draw process.
Due to its location near the intersection of several mountain ranges, Michigan River Ranch lies in the heart of an amazing recreational paradise. Within a 10-mile radius of the ranch are the Colorado State Forest, Roosevelt National Forest, Rawah Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park, Never Summer Wilderness, Arapaho National Forest, Neota Wilderness, Owl Mountain State Wildlife Area, Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Routt National Forest and various other state and BLM lands. It would take a lifetime to explore all the recreational opportunities that this area has to offer.
Learn about the general operations
The aesthetic and recreational strengths of the ranch are nicely complimented by its production. Excellent water rights allow the irrigation of approximately 750± acres of quality hay meadow. The ranch was historically utilized as the headquarters for a large cattle operation and is owner-rated at 150 animal units. It is currently optimized for horses and high-quality weed-free hay production and typically harvests approximately 900 tons without fertilizer. The ranch boundary is fenced and there are nine fenced pastures ranging in size from approximately 10 to 100 acres. The timber on the ranch has been selectively harvested throughout its history and now has a variety of age classes. In addition, the owners have remediated the impacts of the mountain pine beetles that have infested most pine forests of the western US and Canada.