The Routt National Forest of the Medicine Bow-Routt National
Forests, located in northern Colorado, consists of 1,125,564
acres. There are 26 developed campgrounds of which 13 meet the
With no Interstate highways or major metropolitan areas within its boundaries, the Routt National Forest offers a unique forest experience for the state of Colorado - a forest without large numbers of people. The lack of crowds does not limit the number nor variety of recreational opportunities found in this often overlooked National Forest. Delightful camping locations, challenging hikes, fishing, photography, exploring wildlife habitat and boating, are just some of the activities enjoyed by visitors to the Routt National Forest. With three Wilderness areas surrounded by rolling mountainsides covered with lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce separated by wide prairies of sage and grass, the Routt has something for just about anyone, no matter the season.
Although the majestic Elk is closely associated with images of Colorado, the sight of the largest member of the deer family, the moose, is just as exciting. The Wyoming moose, transplanted to Colorado and the Routt National Forest in 1987, have grown up to an estimated population of 1,000 statewide. It is claimed by the folks in and around Walden, Colorado, that it is the very best place to spot a gangly moose in the Routt National Forest. A number of small lily-covered ponds along Forest Route 615 on the way to Teal Lake campground provide a good opportunity to see one of these 800 to 1,200-pound browsers. Moose, the Algonquin Indian word for "eater of twigs," may appear to be gentle giants but remember a cow (mother) moose is very protective of her young. Keep your distance.
While the forest lands around Walden are excellent for catching sight of a moose or two, Steamboat Springs, on the other side of the Zirkel Wilderness, provides wonderful opportunities for people watching. Campgrounds like Hahns Peak Lake and Hinman are close enough for a day trip into town but are far enough out to offer the quiet and seclusion of a National Forest campground. Plus there are some super car, tent, recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping sites at these locations.
Then, there are the campgrounds near or adjacent to Mount Zirkel Wilderness that have a wilderness feel to them without the need for the camper to backpack in. Of course, the hiking from these campgrounds is excellent and the fishing isn't bad either. One of the nearby campgrounds is Seedhouse. With its Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) built log cabin type vault, it has a very primitive feel and offers outstanding car and tent camping. Summit Lake campground, at the top of Buffalo Pass and at 10,400 feet, is the last to open each year. Next to the popular Forest Route 60 and right on the Mount Zirkel Wilderness boundary, this campground attracts 4X4 enthusiasts wanting to explore rugged forest roadways, anglers wanting to try the numerous wilderness lakes, and hikers interested in discovering the wilderness. At the northeastern corner of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness is Big Creek Lakes campground. Here canoeists enjoy exploring both Upper and Lower Big Creek Lakes. The removal of numerous hazard trees has opened the campground to magnificent vistas of the Lakes and surrounding Mount Zirkel Wilderness. A more family focused campground with nice RV and motorhome camping sites, Big Creek Lakes has several easy to moderate difficulty trails to explore.
Perhaps the most spectacular vista within the Routt National Forest is of the Flat Tops Wilderness. Formed by volcanic activity and uplift then carved by glaciers, the black volcanic wall that identifies the eastern boundary of the Flat Tops Wilderness, appears to rise straight up on three sides of Bear Lake campground. A dense and healthy population of Engelmann spruce and Subalpine fir provide privacy between sites but also obscure some awesome vistas. While hikers may find Bear Lake campground is not the best place for a base camp to explore the Flat Tops Wilderness, young anglers will find the campground's lake very much to their liking. The trout in Bear Lake seem to have a definite preference for the younger anglers.
Atop Rabbit Ears Pass, the Routt National Forest has two developed campgrounds with easy on-and-off access to U.S. Rt. 40. Meadows campground is better suited for campers in tent or soft-sided trailers and those who would like to try their luck at fishing in a nearby stream. Dumont Lake campground sits at the edge of a high meadow overlooking the wide expanse of the gentle rolling meadow lands well away from the traffic noise of U.S. Rt. 40. A number of large pull-through sites should be able to accommodate even the largest of rigs. With few trees, privacy could be a problem except the sites are so widely spaced neighbors are rarely seen.
A caution to "lowland" visitors to the Routt National Forest - most of its campgrounds are at or above 8,000 feet. If you are not used to the altitude you may experience some form of High Altitude Sickness. Symptoms vary from nausea, insomnia and diarrhea to headaches, coughing, and fatigue. Remember, at 8,000 to 10,000 feet there are fewer oxygen molecules, about 40% less than at sea level. So, rest, eat lightly, and drink plenty of liquids but avoid alcohol for the first couple of days. If symptoms worsen or do not improve, contact a doctor for assistance.
With hundreds of miles of trails for all modes of travel, robust wildlife populations, spacious campgrounds with lots of elbow space, a variety of fishing opportunities, and three wildernesses to explore, the Routt National Forest is one of the best kept secrets in Colorado. Visit and see for yourself.
2468 Jackson St.
Laramie, Wyoming 82070-6535
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
Hahns Peak/Bears Ears
925 Weiss Dr.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado 80487-9315
PO Box 158
100 Main St.
Walden, Colorado 80480
PO Box 7
300 Roselawn St.
Yampa, Colorado 80483