CMC's Denver Fly Fishing Section
Colorado Wilderness Areas

Page Three (L - M)


Click here for the Colorado Wilderness Map.

Below is a list of Colorado wilderness areas. General locations and descriptive summaries* are included. Locations correspond to a 3x3 "tic-tac-toe" partition of the state. Colorado has over 3.2 million acres of designated wilderness with another 170,000+ under similar protection.

La Garita
The La Garita Wilderness was one of the state's original five designated in 1964 by Congress. La garita means "the lookout" in Spanish. About 35 miles of the Continental Divide lie above timberline here.

Large expanses of forests blanket La Garita's lower elevations. The old spruce and fir forests of Wason and Silver Parks on the south slopes are relatively pristine. There are many opportunities for loop trips to alpine lakes and streams.

128,858 acres
Elevation: 9,000 to 14,014 feet
Trails: 175 miles
National Forests: Gunnison, Rio Grande
Nearest Towns: Creede, Lake City
Estimated Drive Time from Denver:
5 to 6 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 265 miles
Fly Fishing: Cochetopa Creek, Machin Lake, Willow Creek
Lizard Head
Lizard Head Wilderness is a rugged land of ragged mountains and cirque lakes. The area contains the westernmost 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. Three fourteeners are surrounded by aspens, which occur in vast unbroken stretches.

The Lizard Head formation is a free-standing spire that collapsed into its present form.

Size: 41,193 acres
Elevation: 9,000 to 14,246 feet
Trails: 37 miles
National Forests: San Juan, Uncompahgre
Nearest Towns: Ouray, Placerville, Telluride
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 6.5 to 7.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 375 to 395 miles
Fly Fishing: Navajo Lake, West Dolores River, Woods Lake
Lost Creek
Lost Creek's domes and spires make it a unique wilderness area. Granite rock piles consume Lost Creek nine times during its course, thus the name. This area includes most of three mountain ranges - the Platte River, Kenosha, and Tarryall mountains.

The Colorado Trail passes through Lost Creek Wilderness. The character, however, remains one of parks, forests and streams rather than tundra and alpine lakes. Much of the terrain lies below 9000' and thaws quicker than other wilderness areas.

119,790 acres
Elevation: 8,000 to 12,431 feet
100 miles
National Forests: Pike
Nearest Towns: Buffalo Creek, Deckers, Jefferson
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 1 to 2.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 50 to 125 miles
Fly Fishing: Goose Creek, Lost Creek, Wigwam Creek
Maroon Bells - Snowmass
Maroon Bells-Snowmass was one of the areas designated by the 1964 Wilderness Act. The twin peaks of Maroon Bells are perhaps Colorado's most recognized mountains.

Valleys in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness offer a mix of aspens and meadows interspersed with forests of spruce and fir. Above timberline, krummholz occurs. There are numerous trout-filled lakes.

A road to Maroon Lake creates traffic jams in summer. The number of people are impacting this area, especially on the more popular northern trails.

Size: 181,117 acres
Elevation: 7,500 to 14,265 feet
Trails: 100 miles
National Forests: Gunnison, White River
Nearest Towns: Aspen, Snowmass Village
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 3.5 to 5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 180 to 215 miles
Fly Fishing: East Creek, Pierre Lakes, Snowmass Lakes
Mesa Verde National Park
Congress designated the Mesa Verde Wilderness Area in 1976. Within the park, three separate sections on the north and east boundaries are designated wilderness. These arid areas, a total of 8,105 acres, contain pinion and juniper.

Unlike most wildernesses, humans are not allowed due to extensive Native American ruins. You can explore the ruins when they're open and travel to other designated backcountry trails. Mesa Verde is reputed to harbor the largest population of mountain lions in the state.

The warm-water Mancos River lies just east of MVNP.

Size: 52,085 acres
Elevation: 6,000 to 8,571 feet
Trails: 15 miles
National Forests: San Juan
Nearest Towns: Cortez, Mancos, Morfield Village
Estimated Drive Time from Denver:
7.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 385 miles
Fly Fishing: None
Mount Evans
Mount Evans dominates the skyline west of Denver. A paved road runs to the top, the highest paved road in the United States. Much of the wilderness lies above timberline. Place names such as Sawtooth and Abyss Lake offer a hint of the rugged terrain that occurs above timberline.

The Mount Goliath Natural Area hosts an ancient grove of bristlecone pine. Bristlecones live 1,500 to 2,000 years. Mount Evan's 14,000 foot peaks and proximity to Denver draws large crowds.

74,401 acres
Elevation: 8,400 to 14,264 feet
67 miles
National Forests: Arapaho, Pike
Nearest Towns: Idaho Springs
Estimated Drive Time from Denver:
1 to 1.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 40 to 70 miles
Fly Fishing: Abyss Lake, Chicago Lakes, Summit Lake
Mount Massive
Mount Massive is Colorado's second highest peak at 14,421 feet and the outline dominates the Sawatch Range. Mount Massive's east face spreads broadly along the Continental Divide and forms a line that includes four of Colorado's five highest peaks.

Approximately 2,500 acres are managed by the Leadville National Fish Hatchery in the wilderness' eastern section. A dozen or so glacial lakes dot the wilderness. Lodgepole pines populate the area's lowest slopes.

30,540 acres
Elevation: 10,000 to 14,421 feet
20 miles
National Forests: San Isabel
Nearest Towns: Leadville, Twin Lakes
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2 to 3 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 110 to 140 miles
Fly Fishing: Fryingpan Lakes, Halfmoon Creek, Rainbow Lake
Mount Sneffels
The Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area is characterized by jagged mountains and sharp, sheer ridges. The namesake peak and its neighbors began a golden era of mountaineering during the '20s and '30s. Popular Blue Lakes lie below the western flank of Mount Sneffels.

Many Coloradans know Mount Sneffels from photographs taken at Dallas Divide. The central region of this wilderness is rugged and lightly traveled. Loose volcanic rock mark many of the climbs. Golden groves of aspen cover the area in early fall.

16,565 acres
Elevation: 9,600 to 14,150 feet
National Forests: Uncompahgre
Nearest Towns: Telluride
Estimated Drive Time from Denver:
6 to 7 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 340 to 370 miles
Fly Fishing: Blue Lakes, Canyon Creek. Dallas Creek
Mount Zirkel
Mount Zirkel was one of five Colorado wilderness areas designated by the historic 1964 Wilderness Act. Mount Zirkel and the numerous lakes arose from glaciation 15,000 years ago. There are many opportunities for loop trips.

The Mount Zirkel Wilderness contains 36 miles of the Continental Divide. Major rivers flow from glacial lakes along this stretch. The Elk and the Encampment Rivers have been nominated as Wild and Scenic streams.

159,935 acres
Elevation: 7,000 to 12,180 feet
155 miles
National Forests: Routt
Nearest Towns: Cowdrey, Steamboat Springs, Walden
Estimated Drive Time from Denver:
3.5 to 4.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 160 to 235 miles
Fly Fishing: Bear Lakes, Blue Lake, Rainbow Lake, Twin Lakes

* Many descriptions are derived from The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas
by John Fielder & Mark Pearson.

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