Roosevelt National Forest Overview

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Believe it or not, real honest-to-goodness solitude can be found in Roosevelt National Forest, despite its proximity to the outdoor sports-crazed masses residing in Fort Collins, Boulder, and Denver.

To be sure, some areas of the forest get hit hard with heavy visitation, but others remain virtually unexplored. We'll point out the more remote regions of the forest so that you can experience nature far from the madding crowd.

The forest's ridge system, dominated by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, lures climbers to explore its sheer rock walls and crenellated crags. Hikers can wander through thick stands of lodgepole, aspen, spruce, and fir as they ascend toward glaciers and windswept tundra caressed by misty white clouds.

Some of the strongest winds ever recorded in North America (160 mph) rip across Niwot Ridge. And yet just beneath this extreme weather one can find solitude in the quiet cirque basins that cradle delicate glacial lakes. And it's not just wind that continues to shape these cathedrals of rock and ice—water also plays a crucial role.

Consider the sheer power of the wild and scenic Cache la Poudre as it rips through a narrow cleft in the rock wall known as "The Narrows" before plummeting down a deep chasm at Poudre Falls. Kayakers, rafters, and trout fishermen ply their trades in these waters.

Legend has it that the Cache la Poudre got its name when Hudson Bay Company fur trappers were forced to lighten their loads beside the river after being caught in a snowstorm in 1836. The order was given to "cache la poudre" or "hide the powder" so that it could be retrieved the following spring.

The forest began as a portion of the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve established back in 1897. In 1910, this forest became the Colorado National Forest. In 1932, it was renamed again to honor President Theodore Roosevelt, the person most responsible for its creation.

Hike the Bright Trail
The Bright Trail (#921) is a steep 2.5-mile descent into the North Saint Vrain Creek Canyon and sees far fewer hiking boots than most of the trails in the Boulder Ranger District. Expect an elevation drop of 1,400 feet as you travel from trailhead to creek bed. At this point, you can turn back or you can continue along the Bright Trail Extension (#827) for another 2.7 miles to FDR 118, which ascends the south-face through a dry drainage—either way, some serious uphill hiking awaits you.

Explore Cache la Poudre
Seldom traveled, the wilderness is named for the river that rips through here and features deep canyons and waterfalls. There is only one maintained trail, the Mt. McConnell National Recreation Trail—the rest is left utterly wild. How do you get around? Intrepid explorers of this wilderness take trails blazed by wild game, follow the banks of streams, and scramble along mountain ridges. Other wilderness areas in the forest to explore include Comanche, Neota, Rawah, and Indian Peaks.

Cruise the Views
Get on Highway 14, north of Fort Collins, and prepare yourself for a 101-mile asphalt adventure that snakes its way along the Cache la Poudre—Colorado's only designated Wild and Scenic River. Watch for bighorn sheep in the Poudre Canyon as well as kayakers and rafters floating down the river. At North Park, the valley opens up, giving you an opportunity to spot antelope, deer, and moose. At Cameron Pass, elevation 10,276 feet, you can ponder the austere beauty of snowy peaks.

Listen to Whistle Pigs
The yellow-bellied marmot, or whistle pig, lets out an alarming shrill when threatened; the whistle is also used to keep track of fellow marmots. Also called rockchucks, these cute critters feed on alpine grass and build dens in rocky outcrops or scree slopes. Yellow-bellied marmots are related to ground squirrels. Tassel-eared and pine squirrels, pocket gophers, and pine martins also make their home in the forest.

Wander through Wildflowers
In the montane zone, between 6,000 and 9,500 feet, you'll find sulphur flower, wild rose, penstemon, and wild geranium. Higher up, in the sub-alpine zone between 9,500 and 11,200 feet, expect kinnikinnik, huckleberry, blue gentian, columbine, and bluebells. Above 11,200 feet, in the alpine and tundra zones, you should come across alpine avens, forget-me-not, king's crown, and moss campion.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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