Scenic Drive: Colorado – Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway

Trappers Lake

This byway cuts through the heart of the original White River Plateau Timberland Reserve, set aside in the late 19th century as the second unit of what eventually became the National Forest system. Two decades later, in a foreshadowing of the 1964 Wilderness Act, development of any kind was banned around Trapper’s Lake (the “Cradle of Wilderness”). The area’s long-standing history of preservation and multiple-use land management makes for pristine scenery and superlative wildlife viewing. Yet this remains very much a “working” byway, dotted with active mines, ranches, and timber-producing woodlands. Meeker and Yampa, the route’s two endpoints, embody the rugged individualism that lies at the heart of western lore.

For 82 scenic miles, Colorado’s Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway winds its way through lush river valleys, skirts the bountiful Flat Tops Wilderness and climbs over two of Colorado’s least-traveled passes. At the end of the journey in Meeker, you’re greeted by a town filled with pastoral charm and a gritty history. Make these pit stops along the way.

Begin your journey in the town of Yampa. The nearby Yampa River is the longest free-flowing, dam-free river in the state.

Pull over on the 10,343-foot Ripple Creek Pass for a striking vantage point of the White River Valley and the forested Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Make a detour off the byway at Forest Road 205. Eight miles later, you’ll arrive at the wondrous Trappers Lake, the birthplace of the wilderness movement. In 1919, a man named Arthur Carhart was surveying a site for a cabin resort development. Inspired by the lake’s placid beauty, Carhart decided to fight for the area’s preservation instead. His idea caught on, and the modern movement to preserve land as wilderness was born.

Ultimately, you’ll arrive at the modest ranching town of Meeker. This town holds one of Colorado’s most unique events: the Meeker Classic Sheep Dog Championship Trials, usually held the first Wednesday through Sunday after Labor Day.

Extend your tour beyond the byway to visit a famous battle site at Milk Creek, where an intense battle between the Utes and the U.S. Army marked the beginning of the end for the Utes’ residency on this land. Take Hwy. 13 northeast out of town and turn right on County Road 15, which leads almost 20 miles over Yellow Jacket Pass to the site.

Personal Experience: We traveled in dry conditions in mid July 2018 in a mini-van with no issues
Distance: 82 miles
Suggested time: 7 hours with side trips