Top Recreation Forest in the United States
“Wilderness is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Excerpt from the 1964 Wilderness Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
The White River National Forest is located in northwest Colorado and is named after the beautiful White River which passes through it. It is spread over 2,285,970 acres and is in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The White River National Forest is the place where the concept of protecting “wilderness” areas in the United States was first begun with the establishment of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
There are a total of eight wilderness areas that exist within the White River National Forest. These are the Collegiate Peaks, Eagles Nest, Holy Cross, Hunter/Frying Pan, Maroon Bells/Snowmass and, as mentioned above, the Flat Tops.
These wilderness areas are truly wild places, where people can visit, but not leave a mark on the land.
The great variety of recreation choices in the White River National Forest provide something to do for everyone.
If you would like to climb one of Colorado’s numerous Fourteeners, peaks higher than 14,000 ft. in elevation, the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a great place to start.
Here you will find Mt. Yale, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard, which is Colorado’s third highest mountain. There are also four more Fourteeners in this Wilderness, including Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt. Belford and La Plata Peak, which is the fifth-highest mountain in Colorado.
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a very accessible area for climbers because none of the trailheads are very far from a road. Because it so accessible, the climbing of these peaks has become very popular.
As a result, you probably won’t find peace and solitude on these trails, as you might imagine you would. This is especially true on weekends. So, if you can arrange it, I recommend that you climb any of these peaks on a weekday when it is less crowded.
Eagle’s Nest Wilderness is the home of the Gore Range, which supplies much of the water for the Colorado River. When you climb Eagle’s Nest, you will see spectacular views including high ridges, deep valleys, rocky peaks and dense forests. These trails, which total about 180 miles in length, end at a beautiful crystal-clear mountain lake.
Because of its topography, climbing Eagle’s Nest is a strenuous climb. Also, off-trail hiking can be difficult, but there several worn-in paths that you can take to climb to the steep passes.
The Flat Tops Wilderness consists mainly of very tall cliffs that are topped by a large, alpine tundra plateau containing over 110 lakes and ponds and about 160 miles of trails. For the most part, this plateau consists of gently sloping land which makes the possibilities for hiking and fishing almost limitless.There are also over 100 miles of great fishing streams. In the summer, you’re very likely to see deer, elk and moose also enjoying the beautiful weather.
Holy Cross Wilderness is known for being a beautiful, water-filled alpine wonderland with many gorgeous lakes and swiftly tumbling streams. Above it all rises Mount of the Holy Cross, which is 14,005 ft. high. Below this peak, there are also about 25 mountains which are up to 13,000 ft. high.Holy Cross Wilderness is filled with aspen groves, wildlife and streams that are terrific for fishing trout.
One of the highlights of this Wilderness is hiking the Cross Creek Trail, which runs up a spectacular glacial valley past Fancy Pass. Along the way, the scenery is spectacular as it passes high mountain lakes and then descends down into the valley. This trail, about 28 miles long, is one of the “don’t miss” hiking trails in Colorado. You won’t forget the experience!
If you’re looking for solitude, you will find it in the Hunter/Frying Pan Wilderness. Here are the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Frying Pan River, which provide excellent trout fishing. You will also find the many unnamed peaks of the Williams Mountains and huge expanses of alpine tundra.
While there, you will see many varieties of wildlife, including the small, furry creatures that were the target of the early trappers who came to Colorado in the 1800s to make their fortune. In the winter, if you stand quietly and take in the silent surroundings, you can almost see one of the old trappers across the way. This is truly an unchanged wilderness.
The Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness epitomizes the Rocky Mountains that many people imagine when they think of Colorado.
There are over 100 miles of trails which wind over nine mountain passes with large expanses above the tree line.
The Snowmass Creek Trail runs 16 miles to Maroon Lake and provides incredible views of the surrounding wilderness.
It also has six mountains that are higher than 14,000 ft, making this a mecca for mountain climbing. Even though these peaks are technically difficult climbs, this wilderness can become very crowded in the summer.
And, of course, there is the spectacular Maroon Lake and the hot springs by Conundrum Creek. Imagine settling into a hot spring after a climb to this altitude!
The Maroon Bells has become such a popular destination that in order to protect the Wilderness as much as possible, there are now shuttle buses that take visitors to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Portal in the summer.
Don’t despair if you’re not a hiker or mountain climber, within the White River National Forest you can also drive the Flat Tops Trail which runs between Meeker and Yampa. It is about 40 miles long and, although it is not paved, a regular car will be just fine. Also, because the road is closed to cars in the winter, this is a great trail for snowmobiles and cross-country skiing.The White River National Forest is the top national recreation forest in the United States. It is definitely worth your time if you are in Colorado for outdoor recreation.