South Routt: Flat Tops Wilderness

For sheer, natural scenery there are few trips that can top a visit to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Covering 235,214 acres, the Flat Tops is Colorado's second-largest wilderness area. Part of the White River National Forest, it's also the state's oldest wilderness area, designated as wilderness in 1964.

More than 160 miles of trails cover the sub-Alpine meadows and Alpine tundra of the Flat Tops. Many of the trails loop and interconnect, so hikers can design a trip of whatever length they desire.

The terrain ranges in elevation from 7,600 to more than 12,000 feet. Many of the trails are above tree line. Get an early start so you're headed to lower ground by the time afternoon thunderstorms roll in.

Devils Causeway is one of the more popular sights in the Flat Tops. Easily accessible from the East Fork Trailhead by Stillwater Reservoir, the causeway is a rocky section of trail, about one yard wide, bordered by huge cliffs.

The causeway provides astounding views of the surrounding forests and fields, from east towards Yampa, north toward Steamboat Springs, and west toward Meeker.

More than 100 miles of trout streams wind through the wilderness, and lakes and ponds dot the landscape, making the Flat Tops an ideal fishing destination.

Trappers Lake is another highlight of the area. Steep cliffs provide a backdrop to the lake, parts of which are bordered by an eerie forest of dead trees, killed by a bark beetle epidemic in the 1940s.

Known as the "Gateway to the Flat Tops," Yampa is a great stopover for hikers, campers, and hunters headed to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. The main avenue through downtown is still unpaved and gives a glimpse of the past century. The Yampa Egeria Museum lets visitors get a better look at the past, with a variety of displays that detail life a hundred years ago. Penny's Diner offers 24-hour service -- the only spot in the county that's open all day and night -- and nearby Montgomery's General Merchandise gives visitors a chance to load up on supplies they need. Events include the Fourth of July, a big celebration for a small town. This traditional event usually starts with a pancake breakfast, followed by a parade and a barbecue lunch, games for all ages, horse polo in the afternoon and fireworks at dark. n

Many great campsites can be found around the lake, just be sure to pitch camp 300 feet from the water, as signs direct.

For those who want to enjoy the wilderness but aren't into a primitive camping experience, reserve a cabin at Trappers Lodge. Open year round and featuring a restaurant and bar, the lodge provides permanent camps in the wilderness, and snowshoe and snowmobile tours in the winter.

"If it has to do with hunting or fishing, we have it," said Terry Ethington, general manager at the lodge.

The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is at the northern end of the White River Plateau. Visitors can access the wilderness from Meeker, Yampa or the Eagle area. From Meeker, the wilderness is accessed from the Buford Road, County Road 8, east of Meeker. This road is a section of the Flat Tops Scenic and Historic Byway. n

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