Commonly known as “North Park,” Jackson County is a high, isolated, intermountain basin that lies in the northernmost tier of Colorado counties. In geographic terms, a “park” is an open area surrounded by mountains. North Park is one of the four major “parks” in Colorado and these major inter-montane regions comprise some of the highest elevated, large areas of year-round agricultural settlement in North America. North Park encompasses approximately 1,600 square miles; more than one million acres, and the elevation ranges from 7,800 feet in the valley floor to nearly 13,000 feet on the surrounding peaks. The basin is rimmed on the west by the Continental Divide and Park Range, on the south by the Continental Divide and the Rabbit Ears Range, on the east by Rocky Mountain National Park and the Medicine Bow Range, and to the north where it more leisurely opens into Wyoming’s North Platte River Valley and the Snowy Range. As a result of the once abundant buffalo and the ring of mountains surrounding the bottom grasslands, the Native Americans who once hunted the area referred to North Park as “The Bull Pen.” Today, abundant elk, antelope, moose, deer, and cattle vie for the same area.
The valley floor is interspersed with many slow, meandering streams that come together to form the North Platte River. Main tributaries are the Illinois, Canadian, Michigan, North Fork, and the Roaring Fork Rivers as well as Grizzly Creek. Most of the bottom land along the streams is irrigated hay meadows, while the low rises between the streams are dry sagebrush and grasslands. On the edges of the basin the landscape quickly changes as the land pitches abruptly upward through slopes heavily clothed with aspen, pine, spruce and sub-alpine fir forests up to timberline (about 11,000) feet where the forests give way to tundra grasses, rock, and the snow-capped mountain summits.