Holzwarth Historic Site
Date Hiked: August 15, 2012
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer
Check Trail Conditions: Rocky Mountain National Park 970-586-1206
Notes: Open 10:30am - 4:30pm.
- Distance: 1 mile round-trip
- Elevation Gain: 55 feet min-max gain
- Route Type: Out and back
- Trail Type: Dirt road
- Difficulty: Easy
Holzwarth Historic Site is an easy family-friendly hike through time in the Kawuneeche Valley area of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The guest ranching and homesteading eras of RMNP are preserved in a dozen or so historic buildings on the site of Never Summer Ranch, about 7-1/2 miles from the Grand Lake entrance to RMNP on scenic Trail Ridge Road.
This is a great little hike to tie in with a nearby longer hike to the Colorado River Headwaters, a horseback ride around Grand Lake, a boat ride on Grand Lake, a scenic drive across Trail Ridge Road, or just a stroll through the scenic town of Grand Lake.
Bavarian immigrant and Denver saloon owner John Holzwarth Sr. (“Papa)” and his wife German immigrant Sophia (“Mama”) moved to the valley — already within the boundaries of the new national park — in 1917 to homestead after Prohibition ended the saloon business, and opened a guest ranch on the site in 1919, which straddled the Colorado River. The Holzwarth Trout Ranch, later known as the Never Summer Ranch due to its vicinity at the foothills of the Never Summer Mountain, remained in operation until 1974 under the direction of son John (“Johnnie”), when it was sold to The Nature Conservancy.
Joe Fleshuts homesteaded north of Grand Lake in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. The cabin he built has been restored and is in its original location at the Holzwarth Historic Site. The majority of the logs are original. The roof and floor were probably added by the Holzwarths when they used it as part of their guest ranch to house either visitors or ranch hands. Joe Fleshut received the deed to the property in 1907 so it is assumed he had filed there about 1902. — Grand Lake Area Historical Society.
According to the historical society, the Fleshuts cabin was sold to the Holzwarths in 1920 and became part of the ranch.
Part of what made the ranch so popular — other than the gorgeous scenery, great fishing, and incredible home cooking — was Papa Holzwarth’s whiskey still. During Prohibition, it was legal to make alcohol for home consumption if the still was registered. Son Johnnie recounts that his father made two quarts of whiskey every week, which he served to his guests (who, according to our docent, paid for lodging, food, and use of the guest ranch…not whiskey, getting around Prohibition restrictions).
Although Papa and Mama Holzwarth are buried in Denver (where he died on Christmas Day 1932, and she died in 1954), Johnnie’s family has a burial plot in the historic Grand Lake Cemetery located in the town of Grand Lake. The cemetery, which has grave sites dating back to 1889, is one of only a few active cemeteries within a national park. It is run by the town, under a national park permit, and prior approval is required for any new burials there. The cemetery is beautiful and full of history. Definitely worth a short drive or walk to explore!