The Flat Tops Wilderness


White River & Routt National Forests, North West Colorado.


Meeker, Yampa, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Buford, Toponas, Burns, New Castle, Craig, Hayden, Phippsburg, Oak Creek.

Size: 235,406 acres
Elevation: 7,600 to 12,994 feet

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. No wonder he found the area so entrancing: behind Trappers Lake loom majestic volcanic cliffs, and beyond them a vast subalpine terrain reluctantly yields to alpine tundra (part of the White River Plateau with an average elevation of about 10,000 feet). Approximately 110 lakes and ponds, often unnamed, dot the country above and below numerous flat-topped cliffs. Roughly 100 miles of fishable streams are in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

The relatively gentle land above the cliffs offers over 160 miles of easy trails. This is ideal country for horse-packers, and, off the trails, the hiking is inviting and limitless. As many as 20,000 summer elk also seem to find the area quite pleasant. A skeletal forest of dead spruce and fir stretches across the higher slopes below the tundra, the eerie legacy of a 1940s bark beetle epidemic. In 2002 more than 17,000 acres burned around Trappers Lake and over 5,500 in the vicinity of Lost Lakes in the East Fork of the Williams Fork drainage amounting to almost 10% of the area of the Flat Tops Wilderness. The Flat Tops is Colorado’s second largest Wilderness, a precious expanse of breathtakingly beautiful open land.


“The following acts are prohibited on National Forest System land within the Flat Tops Wilderness.”

1. Entering or being in the area with more than 15 people per group, and a maximum combination of 25 people and pack or saddle animals in any one group is prohibited.

2. There is no permit system in place in the Flat Tops Wilderness but we do ask that visitors sign in on provided trailhead registration forms.

3. Camping within one hundred feet of any lake, stream or trail, or any “No Camping” or “Wilderness Restoration Site” sign or within ¼ mile of Trappers, Hooper, Keener or Smith Lakes is prohibited.

4. Building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire within one hundred feet of any lake, stream, or trail or within ¼ miles of Trappers, Hooper, Keener or Smith Lakes is prohibited.

5. Storing equipment or personal property or supplies for longer than 10 days is prohibited.

6. Hitching, tethering or hobbling any pack or saddle animal within one hundred feet of any lake, stream or trail is prohibited.

7. Possessing any pack or saddle animal within ¼ mile of Trappers Lake except for watering or through travel is prohibited.

8. Possessing a dog or other animal that is harassing wildlife or people or damaging property is prohibited. There is no leash law in the Flat Tops, however dogs must be kept under verbal control at all times.

9. Possessing or using a wagon, cart or other vehicle including a wheelbarrow or game cart is prohibited.

10. Shortcutting a switchback in a trail is prohibited.