Flat Tops Wilderness Area

The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is the second largest U.S. Wilderness Area in Colorado. It is 235,214 acres (951.88 km2), with 38,870 acres (157.3 km2) in Routt National Forest and 196,344 acres (794.58 km2) in White River National Forest. It was designated a wilderness area in 1975. Trappers Lake, located in the north of the area, was the lake that inspired Arthur Carhart, a U.S. Forest service official, to plea for wilderness preservation.

Flat Tops Wilderness Near Rifle, Colorado

This wilderness is unique. It compares with no other mountain range in the state. Only the Columbia Plateau of the Pacific Northwest is similar. There are no tall spires, and no fourteeners are found in the Flat Tops. Rather, it is a massive block of rock pushed upward and planed level, its surface punctured here and there with rare peaks rising a thousand feet above the high plateau. (Quotation from A Hiking and Camping Guide to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area – Al Marlowe, Author)

You can see the unique splendor of the Flat Tops Wilderness in a 64 min. video -” href=”../video.html”>Island of the Rockies Sights and Sounds of the Flat Tops Wilderness. Beautiful scenery, elk and other wildlife filmed during the summer of 1997.

Arthur Carhart’s 1919 visit to Trappers Lake in the verdant embrace of the Flat Tops prompted him to be the first U.S. Forest Service official to initiate a plea for Wilderness preservation. Approximately 110 trout-laden lakes and ponds, often unnamed, dot the country below numerous flat-topped cliffs. With about half the 100 miles of streams crisscrossing the wilderness serving as other habitats for trout, this place is an angler’s paradise.

Flat Tops Wilderness Area

The Flat Tops Wilderness, Colorado’s second largest, is remarkable for many reasons. Sharp breaks in the basalt lava flows of the high White River Plateau define the edge of the Flat Tops escarpment. Above these cliffs, a great expanse of rolling sub-alpine meadows and alpine tundra beckons. The open and forgiving topography makes trail routing a breeze, and, consequently, no other area in the state offers such an abundance of loop routes for hikers and horsemen. Countless off-trail possibilities complement the official trail system. This breathtaking openness is not the only unusual feature of the Flat Tops. A ghost forest clings to slopes below the tundra, the result of a budworm epidemic that swept across the area in the 1940s, killing the spruce and fir trees and leaving in its wake a skeleton forest of silver-gray snags.

There is little cross-country skiing in Flat Tops in the winter because few access roads are plowed to the wilderness boundary. If you are hardy enough to break trail into the wilderness, a wonderland of gentle alpine skiing awaits.

Flat Tops Wilderness Near Rifle, Colorado

The Flat Tops are underlain by thick limestone formations in which water has carved a number of caves. The mouth of Spring Cave lies just outside the wilderness boundary in the lower South Fork valley, beckoning the curious to come and explore.

Size:235,035 acres

Elevation: 7,600 to 12,994 feet

Miles of trails: 160

Year designated: 1975

Hunting areas: 24, 25, 12, 26, 33, 34
>NOTE: Eloquent descriptions of our wilderness areas provided by Mark Pearson, author of “The Complete Guide to Colorado’s Wilderness Areas”, Westcliffe Publishers, Englewood, CO. The book also contains many beautiful pictures by renowned photographer and Colorado resident John Fielder.

For more information contact:
Routt National Forest, Supervisor’s Office, 2468 Jackson St., Laramie, WY 82070-6535  (307)745-2300  Fax:(307)745-2398
Hahns Peak – Bears Ears Ranger District, 925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487-9315  (970)879-1870  Fax:(970)870-2284
Parks Ranger District, PO Box 158, 100 Main St., Walden, CO 80480  (970)723-8204  Fax:(970)723-4610
Parks Ranger District, PO Box 1210, 210 S. 6th St., Kremmling, CO 80459  (970)724-9004  Fax:(970)724-3662
Craig Interagency Dispatch Center, 455 Emerson St., Craig, CO 81625  (970)826-5037  Fax:(970)824-6084
Yampa Ranger District, 300 Roselawn Ave., PO Box 7, Yampa, CO 80483  (970)638-4516  Fax:(970)638-4635

For more information contact:
White River National Forest, 900 Grand Ave., PO Box 948, Glenwood Spgs, CO 81602  (970)945-2521  Fax:(970)945-3266  Supervisor’s Office
Aspen District, 806 West Halam, Aspen, CO 81611  (970)925-3445  Fax:(970)925-5277  Aspen District
Blanco District, 317 East Market St., Meeker, CO 81641  (970)878-4039  Fax:(970)878-5173  Blanco District
Dillon District, 680 River Parkway, PO Box 620, Silverthorne, CO 80498  (970)468-5400  Fax:(970)468-7735  Dillon District
Eagle District, 125 West Fifth St., PO box 720, Eagle, CO 81631  (970)328-6388  Fax:(970)328-6448  Eagle District
Holy Cross District, 24747 US Hwy 24, PO Box 190, Minturn, CO 81645  (970)827-5715  Fax:(970)827-9343  Holy Cross District
Rifle District, 0094 County Rd 244, Rifle, CO 81650  (970)625-2371  Fax:(970)625-2532  Rifle District
Sopris District, 620 Main St., PO Box 309, Carbondale, CO 81623  (970)963-2266  Fax:(970)963-1012  Sopris District