Colorado contains over 3.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness contained within 41 separate wilderness areas.
Long’s Peak as seen from Bear Lake
One of the deepest canyons of the west, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is located between Montrose, and Gunnison, Colorado. A portion of the national park is also wilderness and managed by the National Park Service. The area is popular with anglers, but offers spectacular canyon scenery in a wild river setting.
Black Ridge Canyons
Just outside the town of Fruita is the Black Ridge Canyons wilderness area. This special area contains canyons and number of arches carved out over eons of time. The wilderness is immediately adjacent to the Colorado River and portions of the wilderness extend into the state of Utah.
Buffalo Peaks Wilderness
Located south of Fairplay, Buffalo Peaks Wilderness is a fairly unknown wild area because of its smaller size and the stature of its twin peaks.. The twin Buffalo Peaks form the centerpiece of the wilderness area and can be seen for miles. Several trails offer opportunities for exploring the wilderness or for climbing the peaks.
Byers Peak is a small alpine wilderness area located in north-central Colorado near Winterpark. Thick lodgepole forests, several small alpine lakes, and twelve thousand foot peaks engage the senses in this gem hidden north of I-70 and near to the town of Silverthorne, Colorado.
Cache la Poudre
For excellent fishing, visit the Cache la Poudre wilderness in northern Colorado. The wilderness area encompasses a wild stretch of the Cache la Poudre river offering a prisitine montane environment for hikers and anglers.
The Collegiate Peaks wilderness could be called the rooftop of America. With eight peaks reaching over fourteen thousand feet, the Collegiate Peaks wilderness protects some of the highest peaks in North America. These peaks form the backbone of the Rocky Mountains and also part of the Continental Divide.
Comanche Peak Wilderness
Located north of and contiguous with the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Comanche Peak wilderness consists of the gray granite of the Mummy Range along with alpine lakes and dark spruce forests.
Dominguez Canyon is a special area containing a series of slick rock canyons carved out of the Uncompahgre Plateau south-east of Grand Junction. The area has unique character similar to the canyon lands area to the west in Utah.
Consider by some to be the most rugged looking mountain range in Colorado, the southern end of the Gore Range is encompassed by the Eagles Nest wilderness. Although no fourteen thousand foot peaks are found here, several thirteen thousand foot peaks, the tallest of which is Mt. Powell are found within the wilderness area. Alpine lakes are found mostly on the east side of the range, and for this reason this side is more frequently visited. The area is located north of Silverthorne, and Vail, CO.
Flat Tops Wilderness
The Flat Top wilderness is located north of the town of Glenwood Springs in northern Colorado. The wilderness preserves a large flat mesa dotted with lakes and thick forests and home to large herds of elk. Trappers Lake is the most well known part of the wilderness, and offers a scenic alpine lake setting for campers.
Fossil Ridge Wilderness
The Fossil Ridge wilderness protects a wild and scenic high mountain valley in the mountains north of the town of Gunnison.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park contains the a tallest sand dunes in North America. In a unique place not found anywhere else, the Medano Creek creates a sandy beach as it flows around the east and south-east edge of the dune field during spring and early summer. The wilderness area encompasses the dunes as well as a portion of the Sangre de Cristo mountains immediately to the east.
Gunnison Gorge Wilderness
Adjacent to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness. Thirteen miles of the Gunnison River and it’s river gorge are contained within this preserve.
Once popularized by the cross shaped colouir on the face of Mount of the Holy Cross, the wilderness here is a relatively short drive from the Denver metro area. Rugged glacially carved peaks snag moisture from the wet winter storms which melt into bogs and alpine lakes surrounded by granite peaks.
Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness
Located just west of the city of Aspen, the Hunter-Fryingpan wilderness contains a rich forest and the peaks of the Williams mountains. Remote, and lacking visitors, this wilderness offers more solitude than most.
A favorite of locals, the Indian Peaks Wilderness is conveniently located in the Front Range, not far from Denver and Boulder. Located immediately adjacent to the southern border of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks have much of the same charm of the park. Glacially sculpted peaks and valleys teeming with spruce forests are what characterize this gem.
Located immediately south of the Indian Peaks Wilderness (separated only by Rollins Pass), James Peak wilderness is the southern most wilderness area in a chain stretching across northern half of the Colorado Continental Divide ending nearly at the Wyoming border. The wilderness contains several high altitude lakes and six over twelve thousand foot peaks. The wilderness is located near the towns of Nederland and Winterpark, CO.
La Garita Wilderness
The La Garita wilderness is one of Colorado’s larger wilderness parcels. Located far from populated areas, and containing only one fourteen thousand foot peak (San Luis peak), this area receives relatively little attention. The wilderness is located in the La Garita range, a range in the north-eastern portion of the San Juan Mountains. Twelve thousand foot peaks along with the high slopes of San Luis peak and several deep gorges, the La Garita wilderness does not lack in rocky mountain character.
The rugged slopes of Mt. Wilson and it’s nearby peaks standout against stands of aspen and rolling meadows on a clear summer day. Named after an unusually shaped rocky peak, the Lizard Head Wilderness in southwest Colorado contains some of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado. The wilderness is found near the town of Telluride, CO.
Lost Creek Wilderness
The Lost Creek wilderness is found in the mountains west of Evergreen, Colorado. Lost Creek is treasured for the pink-orange hued granite domes, and spires that form unusual geographical features. Elsewhere narrow granite walled canyons and ponderosa pine forested peaks offer solitude in this special wilderness area not far from populated Colorado cities.
Located south of Aspen in the Elk Mountains, the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness preserves some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the continental United States. Popularly known as the most photographed mountain(s) in the U.S., the Maroon Bells are located here. The area is quite rugged, with many granite peaks and popular high altitude lakes. This wilderness area is extremely popular with backpackers and dayhikers.
Located in the Front Range near the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Littleton, Colorado, this wilderness area is situated in an easy to access location for the citizens of Colorado’s cities. The wilderness contains two fourteen thousand peaks, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt, as well as high altitude tundra, and rugged glacially sculpted terrain.
Mt. Zirkel Wilderness
Famous for rugged, rocky cliffs, and jagged ridge lines, the Mt. Zirkel wilderness contains much of the northern portion of the Park Range north east of Steamboat Springs. A fun fact: the Park Range is considered in most years to have the highest average snow-fall in the state.
Never Summer Wilderness
Wilderness protects the Never Summer Mountains just west of Rocky Mountain National Park. Descriptively named, these mountain peaks catch the cold-wet winds and squeeze precipitation out of them in the form of heavy snow that lasts well into summer.
With no lofty peaks, rather, the Powderhorn Wilderness contains the Calf Creek and Cannibal Plateaus and an amazing expanse of high altitude tundra and forested ravines. The wilderness is located near the cities of Gunnison, and Lake City, CO.
Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness
By relative size, Ptarmigan Peak is a smaller wilderness area. It is located immediately to the north of interstate 70 between Silverthorne and the Eisenhower tunnel. It contains the Williams Fork Mountains as they extend northward toward Ute Pass.
The wild and remote Raggeds wilderness is located northwest of Crested Butte, Colorado. Here the reddish Ruby Range and the rugged Raggeds rise as jagged peaks and snag the wet wintry winds laden with snow. Here summer plant life explodes with lush green slopes, and verdant valleys like nowhere else. Fall in the Raggeds is a spectacular season with crimson and yellow aspens blanketing the Ruby Range.
The Rawah wilderness located in the northern portion of the Front Range. Here the Front Range makes its last hurrah before its gnarled peaks gradually drop in elevation as they merge into the Wyoming plains. The wilderness contains spruce-fir and lodgepole pine forests, and many lakes nestled beneath sheer cliff rock walls.
The roadless areas of Rocky Mountain park are managed by the National Park Service as public wilderness. The 450 acre park contains a large expanse of alpine and arctic tundra along with scenic granite peaks set above glittering lakes. Trail Ridge Road is the only road that traverses the entire park and offers scenic views of the Rockies as it passes above the tree-line and attains 12,183 ft. in elevation at its highest point.
Rising above the broad San Luis valley, visitors can’t miss the snow capped Sangre de Cristo peaks as they march across the horizon. Located in south central Colorado, the Sangre de Cristo wilderness preserves the wild and rugged portion of this classic Rocky Mountain landscape.
Spectacular Mt. Sneffels and the Blue Lakes are a popular destination for hikers from nearby Ridgeway, Colorado. Located in a very rugged portion of the Rockies, the Sneffels wilderness (although small) contains jaw dropping mountain scenery.
Situated in the southern San Juan mountains, the appropriately named South San Juan Wilderness preserves some of the wildest and untamed portions of the rocky mountain chain. The area is known for heavy winter snowfall that produces thick forests teeming with elk, and deep gorges cut by rivers fed by snow from peaks above.
Spanish Peaks Wilderness
The twin Spanish Peaks situated in the eastern Rocky Mountains of Colorado are visible for miles. The two peaks are volcanic in origin, along with the many dikes (lava that cooled in cracks in the earths crust that are now exposed and appear as miles long stone walls) that radiate out from the peaks. The unique geology along with the high summits are the main attractions of the Spanish Peaks wilderness.
Also known as the ‘Big Blue’ wilderness, the Uncompahgre is situated in the northern San Juan mountains. The area is rugged and contains two fourteeners, Uncompahgre Peak and Wetterhorn along with vast areas of treeless alpine tundra on the southern end.
Vasquez Peak Wilderness
Located in the Front Range mountains north of I-70 and immediately west of Berthoud Pass, the Vasquez Peak wilderness protects twelve thousand foot summits and subalpine forests.
The Weminuche wilderness preserves a large portion of the San Juan mountains south of the Colorado towns of Silverton and Creede. It also is the largest and likely the most popular wilderness area in Colorado. The western portion is extremely rugged and contains the famous Needle Mountains and the rugged Grenadier Range. The eastern end contains gentler terrain and is more remote.
The southern and western most portion of the Elk Mountains earned wilderness protection in 1964 and contains 176,412 acres. The area is most well known for spectacular spires and volcanic formations reminiscent of castles. The West Elk wilderness is located north of the town of Gunnison.