Northwest Colorado reveals its beauty


With rolling hills, rocky cliffs, thick forests, flowing streams and trout-filled lakes, one might say Northwest Colorado offers a bit of everything for outdoor enthusiasts.

Whether one prefers hiking through an Aspen forest, or biking miles and miles of sagebrush in almost desert like conditions, Northwest Colorado can satisfy about any taste.

What follows is a brief overview of what the area has to offer, but the list only scratches the surface of trails to hike and land formations to see in Moffat and neighboring counties.

Irish Canyon

With its steep walls featuring stunning layers of red, green and gray, it's no wonder outlaws like Butch Cassidy and Matt Warner took a liking to Irish Canyon and used it as a hideout more than a century ago.

The outlaws are gone, but the stunning canyon featuring 12 geological formations remains. The canyon is about 40 miles north of Maybell on Highway 318. The canyon can be accessed by following Moffat County Road 10 about 4 miles off of Highway 318. At the entrance of the canyon is an interpretative exhibit of ancient petroglyphs. A campground is at the north end of the canyon with tables and fire pits.

There are no developed trails, but hiking is available to the west to Limestone Ridge and Cold Spring Mountain and to the east to Vermillion Canyon.

Flat Tops

Featuring more than 235,230 acres, the Flat Tops Wilderness is the third largest wilderness area in Colorado.

Located in the northeastern corner of Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, the Flat Tops Wilderness contains a wide range of wildlife including deer and elk, black bear, fox, coyote, bobcat, pine martin, mink and beaver. On rare occasions, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain lions can also be seen in the forest.

Brook, rainbow and brown trout can also be caught in the White River running through the forest.

A scenic byway provides a unique tour of the Flat Tops Wilderness. Drivers should allow two and a half hours for the 82-mile trip through the forest.

More than 300 miles of trail also weave through the heart of the Flat Tops.

Trappers Lake

At 9,627 feet nestled in the dense forest of the Flat Tops Wilderness, Trappers Lake is a hidden jewel of Northwest Colorado.

With a depth of 180 feet, and a surface area of 320 acres, Trappers is one of the largest lakes in the state.

Rock walls tower 1,500 feet provide a scenic backdrop to the lake.

A popular fishing hole for the avid fly fisherman, the lake is home to the Colorado River cutthroat trout.

To get to Trappers Lake, take Rio Blanco County Road 8 41 miles east to Trappers Lake Road. There are numerous maintained Forest Service campsites available within two miles of the lake.

Cedar Mountain

Located five miles north of Craig on County Road 7, Cedar Mountain is a quick, easy escape to a Northwest Colorado outdoor experience.

The mountain, which rises 1,000 feet above the Yampa Valley, contains 880 acres of Bureau of Land Management land.

A round-trip hike takes about an hour.

One trail leads to the peak of the mountain, which provides a stunning view of Craig and the Yampa Valley.

In addition to hiking, Cedar Mountain provides an array of outdoor opportunities, including mountain biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing.

Gates of Lodore

The Gates of Lodore, which tower above the Green River at the east end of the Dinosaur National Monument, can be best accessed by floating down the river in Dinosaur National Monument, or by hiking a short 1.5 mile trail that provides a close-up look of the towering canyons.

Black Mountain

Just north of Craig about 15 miles on Highway 13, a driving tour of Black Mountain offers incredible Rocky Mountain scenery and an opportunity to view more than 300 species of wildlife.

The tour is about 100 miles long, and can be driven in less than five hours.

A popular hunting spot in the fall, Black Mountain has numerous camping areas that provide ideal base camps for hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and outdoor photography trips.

Black Mountain also offers a 3.5-mile hiking trail to the summit of Black Mountain. The easy climb offers views of the Yampa Valley, Utah and Wyoming.

Freeman Reservoir, a 17-acre lake in the area, offers 17 camping sites, hiking, picnicking and trout fishing opportunities.

Sandwash Basin

This basin covers 160,000 acres of public lands between Vermillion Bluffs and Seven Mile Ridge in northwestern Moffat County.

Recreation activities in the area include horseback riding, camping, motorcycle riding and all-terrain vehicle riding.

The landscape is full of streambeds, gullies and washes, and the sandwash ravine cuts through the western side of the basin like a miniature Grand Canyon.

To get to Sandwash Basin, drive 30 miles west of Craig to Maybell and continue northwest of Maybell 17 miles on Highway 318.

Morgan Bottoms

The scenic Morgan Bottoms are a section of the Yampa River available to the public just East of Hayden in Routt County.

Visitors can enjoy a two-mile hike through a cottonwood forest nestled in a canyon along the banks of the Yampa River.

Wildlife that can be viewed in the area includes beaver, elk, bald eagles, mink, deer, river otters and grey cat birds.

Cross Mountain

Jutting 2,200 feet above the flood plain of the Yampa River, Cross Mountain is about nine miles long and four miles wide.

Easily accessible west of Maybell on Highway 40, the Cross Mountain area offers moderate to difficult hiking opportunities, horseback riding, fishing and expert rafting and kayaking.

Although there are no developed trails, one- and two-day hikes are available in the area.

Wildlife that could be seen in the area include bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes, black bears, foxes and mountain lions. Golden eagles and turkeys can also be seen in the area.

Visitors are warned that another common animal species in the area

are rattlesnakes.


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