Flat Tops Wilderness- White River

near the edge of Trapper's Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness

The United States Congress designated the Flat Tops Wilderness in 1975 and it now has a total of 235,214 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the White River and Routt National Forests. Flat Tops is Colorado's second largest Wilderness, a precious expanse of open land.

The White River National Forest has a longstanding tradition of promoting wilderness stewardship.  In 1919, Arthur Carhart, a Forest Service landscape architect, realized the uniqueness of the location when he stood on the shoreline of Trappers Lake. Carhart’s task was to survey the area to build a recreational housing development of summer cottages. However, what Carhart saw and experienced at Trappers Lake compelled him to strongly recommend to his supervisors that the area remain undeveloped. Flat Tops, also known as the “Cradle of Wilderness,” is where the idea of wilderness was first applied to public land. 

It’s no wonder Carhart found the area so entrancing: behind Trappers Lake loom steep volcanic cliffs and beyond them a vast subalpine terrain yields to alpine tundra.  The Flat Tops are 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 Wilderness.

The valleys and relatively gentle land above the cliffs offers over 160 miles of trails. Thousands of recreationists in search of hiking, camping, horseback, hunting and fishing visit each year. The land is ideal for stock-users and traveling cross-country. Elk, deer and moose visit the area in the summer.

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 acres in the vicinity of Lost Lakes in the East Fork of the Williams Fork drainage amounting to almost 10% of the Flat Tops Wilderness. 

Wilderness provides a range benefits and sanctuary for us all- clean air and water, carbon sequestration, habitat and refuge for native fish and wildlife, erosion control and soil renewal, opportunities for outdoor recreation, solitude and adventure.

Protect this special place for the future by always using Leave No Trace techniques and following all special Wilderness restrictions.

At a Glance

Restrictions: Wilderness restrictions apply
Water: Filter and treat all water
Restroom: No restrooms in Wilderness
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center:

General Information


Most popular trails:

Complete trail listing by area:

See also:

  • Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest Wilderness information (area is unavailable)

General Notes:

Colorado’s Fourteeners

For more information about climbing Colorado’s peaks please visit the Rocky Mountain Region 14ers page.

Topo maps

Forest Service Topography Maps: These maps overlay Forest Service assets, such as roads, trails, and campgrounds, on USGS's topographic maps. They are available for download by quadrangle.

Buy maps online

National Forest Store:  Offers a full, nationwide selection of National Forest, Ranger District, Wilderness, and Specialty Maps for purchase online or by phone, fax, and mail.


Go to Wilderness.net for additional maps and information about Wilderness.


Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Day Hiking


Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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