Flat Tops Wilderness
The Flat Tops Wilderness encompasses more than 235,000 acres on the Routt and White River National Forests, Colorado. The wilderness is located on the White River Plateau approximately 20 miles north of Glenwood Springs and 30 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs. It is accessible from U.S. Highways 40, 6, and 24 and State Highways 131 and 132.
The Flat Tops are a concentration of flat-topped headlands dominated by the White River Plateau, a flattened dome of geological strata capped with lava. The plateau is most prominent at the Chinese Wall and the "Devils Causeway " a narrow ridge between the drainage of the East Fork of the Williams Fork River and the North Fork of the White River.
Wide canyons, eroded by centuries of wind and water reach far into the plateau forming great amphitheaters ringed by rock escarpments. Above the cliffs is a gently rolling grassland dotted with islands of timber. Elevation-approximately 10,000 feet.
In the 1940's the spruce bark beetle infested the Engelmann spruce on the Flat Tops. Uncontrolled, the resulting epidemic left 68,000 Acres of spruce devastated. Today a silver sun bleached ''ghost" forest of dead snags stands in memory of the appetite of the bark beetle.
But the ravaged acres are beginning to come back to life. Saplings of spruce and alpine fir are beginning to cover the area, growing among the skeletons of the previous forest.
Travel in the silver forest can be difficult and dangerous. As increasing numbers of dead trees decay and fall, overland movement will become more difficult and may be impossible in some areas.
About 160 miles of trails cross the Wilderness. If you are experienced in backcountry travel you will use these merely as starting points from which you will venture into the untracked valleys and plateaus. A good compass, adequate topographic map coverage of intended routes and the skills necessary to survive as one with the wilderness should be part of your equipment.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication