Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway

Other than 20 miles on the Interstate, we drove quiet backroads from Lander, Wyoming to Hayden, Colorado. Since fall semester classes are starting, we spent a few days at the Yampa River Colorado State Park campground working.

Yampa River

Yampa River Colorado State Park

After catching up on email and grading, we spent a morning driving from Hayden to Oak Creek and the Stagecoach Colorado State Park. We found a great spot overlooking the lake and spent the next couple of days working.

This area would be great for kayaking!


Scenic Drive

One afternoon the wind came up, so our satellite was stowed. Other than the wind gusts, it was a beautiful day. We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the area. We took a drive along the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway to Trapper's Lake. The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is at the heart of Colorado. Our tour began with a drive south from our campground to Yampa where we caught Highway 17. We used the Falcon Guide to National Forest Scenic Byways: Rocky Mountains by Beverly Magley as a guide.


Once we turned west on County Road 132 we could tell we'd like this drive. The mesas reminded us of Utah and the fall colors of yellow, orange, and red, were already emerging.

flat tops drive

We saw a few people camping on the side of the road in the National Forest, but there was very little traffic overall. We stopped at Dunckley Pass for a great view into the Wilderness area. After a 1919 visit to the area, Arthur Carhart become the first U.S. Forest Service official to call for Wilderness preservation. The Flat Tops were designated a Wilderness area in 1975.

As a Wilderness area, no cars are allowed inside. We LOVE the idea of allowing some space in the United States to remain totally wild... no roads, no cars, no ATVs, no snowmobiles, no grazing, no timber or oil harvesting. Since the Wilderness Act of 1964, areas like Flat Tops have been set aside for this purpose. Unfortunately the current administration is messing with the Wilderness Act as well as the mission of the National Park Service.

Flat Tops

Road to Trapper's Lake

flat tops driveHighway 205 takes visitors into an old hunting area with great views of the mountains. The stream running beside the road was crystal clear.


Trapper's Lake

Our destination for this drive was Trapper's Lake. This area first became popular with tourists and hunters in the mid 1800s. In 1898, 80,000 acres of the area caught fire and dramatically changed the appearance of the area. Fire is critical to a healthy forest.

A recent (July 19, 2002) forest fire has again changed the scenery, but it's still beautiful. The "Big Fish" fire was caused by lightning and destroyed 17,000 acres near Trapper's Lake. We can already see new growth including many small aspens. Lodgepole and aspen trees both require fire for new growth, so this area will be exciting to come back to in 20 or 30 years.

flat tops driveflat tops fire

Trapper's Lake is the second largest natural lake in Colorado and is known for its large population of cutthroat trout. No motorized boats are allowed on the lake. It would be a great place to canoe!

flat tops drive


At the turn of the 20th century, this area was at the center of the sheep and cattle wars. Cattleman didn't like the idea of sheep grazing on "their" open ranges and massacred thousands of sheep. One of these incidents is known as the Yampa Sheep Massacre. Today, the cattle and sheep seems to graze together within the National Forest.

flat tops drive

Cache La Poudre-North Park Scenic and Historic Byway

The drive from Oak Creek to Estes Park took all day, but it was one of the most beautiful in memory. Unlike the busy Big Thompson Canyon area, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests are quieter this time of year.

The trip began with a drive back toward Steamboat Springs and across Highway 40 to Highway 14 into the mountains.

Scenic Byway

The Cache La Poudre-North Park Scenic and Historic Byway begins in the open area of Walden known for moose and pronghorns. Soon the drive enters the State Forest Colorado State Park where we found a great campground for future trips.

The Poudre River is Colorado's only federally designated National Wild and Scenic River. Next time, we'll have to do some whitewater rafting.

As we got closer to Fort Collins, the road became more crowded. Traffic was thick all the way through Loveland and finally thinned out in Big Thompson Canyon. We arrived at one of our favorite places... Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park for a beautiful sunset.

Created by Annette Lamb, 8/05.