- The 235,230 acre Flat Tops Wilderness is the third largest Wilderness Area in Colorado. The Flat Tops comprise the northern extent of the White River Plateau. Glaciation occurred approximately 13,000 to 17,400 years ago. As the ice melted and pushed downward, it gouged deep U-shaped valleys and created small lakes in the folds of the mountains.
Copyright: USDA Forest Service
Looking over part of the Flat Tops Wilderness
Today, the geologic history of the Flat Tops remains in full view.
Sizable herds of deer and elk use this area as summer range. Other wildlife species include black bear, fox, coyote, bobcat, pine marten, mink, beaver, snowshoe hare, marmot and pika. On rare occasions, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain lions can be seen.
The Colorado River cutthroat trout, once abundant in the wilderness, are now reduced in numbers and distribution. Anglers are encouraged to use a catch and release approach with this sensitive species. Also found are brook trout, rainbow trout and brown trout.
The Flat Tops Wilderness contains a wide range of vegetation zones influenced by elevation and climate. At lower elevations, between 7,500 and 9,000 feet, south facing slopes are usually covered with sage, Gambel's oak and aspen. The moister north facing slopes are characterized by dense stands of conifers. Lodgepole pine is the conspicuous conifer at low to mid-elevations. Moving higher, Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir become the dominant forest cover. Tree line occurs at about 11,000 feet. In the harsh conditions at tree line, the spruce and fir trees become stunted and gnarled, taking on strange contorted shapes. This is the krummholtz (a German word meaning "twisted wood"). Above tree line, the high-elevation plateaus are occupied by fragile alpine tundra. The low ground-hugging plants in the tundra evolved in this severe climate over millions of years. They remain in delicate balance and can be destroyed if disturbed.
In the 1940's and 50's, the Flat Tops were infested by a spruce bark beetle. Standing dead trees or snags leftover from the bark beetle infestation continue to decay and fall, posing a safety hazard to the visitor. Please look around when you take your breaks and where you set up your camp.
For more information contact:
Blanco Ranger District
317 E. Market Street
Meeker, CO 81641
Eagle Ranger District
125 W. 5th Street, Box 720
Eagle, CO 81631
(970) 328- 6388
Yampa Ranger District
300 Roselawn Ave, Box 7
Yampa, CO 80483
Recreation - The Flat Tops Wilderness offers a variety of backcountry recreation opportunities. Some of these include hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, backcountry camping, fishing and hunting. Like all wilderness areas mechanized and motorized vehicles are not permitted within the Flat Tops boundaries. Please understand and use "No Trace" backcountry ethics when using this area for recreation purposes.
Climate - Elevations range from 8,700 to 12,347 feet in this region and weather can change rapidly. Temperatures below freezing and snowfall can occur any month of the year. Be prepared for all weather.
Afternoon thunderstorms often form in the summer. In case of lightning, move down from high ground. Avoid ridge tops and open meadows. Think ahead and get to safe areas before the storm hits.
The Flat Tops Wilderness lies in northwest Colorado, at the northern end of the White River Plateau. It exists in the White River and Routt National Forests. It is divided into three administrative sections: the Blanco District, the Eagle District and the Yampa District. The wilderness is generally accessed from either Meeker, Yampa or Eagle. The headwaters of the White River lie within the boundaries of the Flat Tops Wilderness.