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.
The Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area stretches for 70 miles, beginning south of Salida and terminating near Blanca Peak.
Sangre de Cristo is Spanish for "Blood of Christ." Four fourteeners lie close together in the middle. Three more fourteeners are just south of the boundary. There are over 60 alpine lakes.
The Sangre de Cristo Range is home to aspen, spruce and oak forests. Approaches are normally long and strenuous to reach alpine lakes. Great Sand Dunes National Park lies west of the southern boundary.
Size: 228,044 acres
Elevation: 8,000 to 14,294 feet
Trails: 180 miles
National Forests: Rio Grande, San Isabel
Nearest Towns: Crestone, Westcliffe
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 3 to 4.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 160 to 240 miles
Fly Fishing: Comanche Lake, North & South Colony Lakes
What makes Sarvis Creek unusual among Colorado's wild areas is its lack of tundra. This area of rolling forests in the northern Gore Range was designated wilderness in 1993. The forests consist of lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Two creeks, Service and Silver, exit into the Yampa River Valley below Steamboat Springs.
Size: 47,190 acres
Elevation: 7,000 to 10,700 feet
Trails: 20 miles
National Forests: Routt
Nearest Towns: Steamboat Springs
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 2.5 to 3.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 145 to 165 miles
Fly Fishing: Sarvis Creek, Silver Creek, Solomon Creek
The South San Juan is reputed to be Colorado's wildest area. State wildlife biologists rate the wilderness the best suited for grizzly bears and wolverines. A grizzly was killed here in 1979, the last known in the state.
The South San Juans harbor thick forests and rugged terrain. Many sections are seldom visited. The Continental Divide extends for 42 miles here. The South Fork of the Conejos River Trail leads to Conejos Peak Trail, a popular route.
Size: 158,790 acres
Elevation: 8,200 to 13,300 feet
Trails: 180 miles
National Forests: Rio Grande, San Juan
Nearest Towns: Los Pinos, Pagosa Springs, Platoro
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 5.5 to 6.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 260 to 300 miles
Fly Fishing: Blue Lake, Middle & North Forks of Conejos River
Congress designated the Spanish Peaks Wilderness in 2000. Unique to the Spanish Peaks are large
"dikes", vertical fins that fan out from the mountains like bicycle spokes.
These rock walls can be over 100' tall.
The Spanish Peaks Wilderness does not have the large streams or alpine lakes of other areas. The enormous slopes of East and West Spanish Peaks dominate the interior. The area's small size and vertical nature makes extended backpack trips unusual.
Size: 17,855 acres
Elevation: 8,400 to 13,626 feet
Trails: 22 miles
National Forests: San Isabel
Nearest Towns: Cuchara, La Veta, Walsenburg
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 3 to 4 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 180 to 200 miles
Fly Fishing: Apishapa River, Chaparral Creek, Echo Creek
The Uncompahgre Wilderness contains two fourteeners, Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre. They sit atop long glacier-shaped valleys with dense aspen groves. Turret, Coxcomb and Precipice peaks are visible from Highway 550 near Ridgway in the San Juan Mountains.
The central portion of the area includes the forks of the Cimarron River and are connected by an extensive trail network. The Uncompahgre Wilderness contains few lakes. The streams are more popular with fly fishers.
Size: 102,721 acres
Elevation: 8,400 to 14,300 feet
Trails: 110 miles
National Forests: Uncompaghre
Nearest Towns: Lake City, Ouray, Ridgway
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 5 to 6 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 250 to 335 miles
Fly Fishing: Cow Creek, Henson Creek, Forks of Cimarron River
Vasquez Peak is part of the section that includes Byers Peak Wilderness, the Fraser Experimental Forest and the Williams Fork - Ptarmigan Peak roadless area. Seven miles of the Continental Divide Trail crosses here. Almost two-thirds of the wilderness lies above timberline.
Vasquez Peak Wilderness consists of the Vasquez Mountains, located west of Berthoud Pass and south of the Winter Park Ski Area. Below timberline, tress consists of krummholz, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir and lodgepole pine.
Size: 12,986 acres
Elevation: 8,600 to 12,700 feet
Trails: 17 miles
National Forests: Arapaho
Nearest Towns: Winter Park
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 1 to 1.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 60 to 70 miles
Fly Fishing: McQueary Creek, St Louis Creek, Vasquez Creek
The Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado's largest. The area contains the headwaters of many streams and rivers. Weminuche's great size encompasses broad and diverse landscapes.
The Animas River Gorge runs through the western edge of the wilderness. Close by, the Needle Mountains contain three 14,000 foot peaks. To the east lie ragged ridges and high cliffs. More than sixty lakes are situated here.
Many trails crisscross the Weminuche. The Continental Divide Trail crosses for 80 miles and the Colorado Trail runs for 21 miles. Travelers should take precautions against the "monsoon" weather that occurs in late-summer.
Size: 492,418 acres
Elevation: 8,000 to 14,083 feet
Trails: 475 miles
National Forests: Rio Grande, San Juan
Nearest Towns: Creede, Durango, Pagosa Springs, Silverton
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 5 to 7 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 255 to 360 miles
Fly Fishing: Animas River, Los Pinos River, Moon Lake
The West Elk, the fifth largest wilderness in Colorado, lies west of Crested Butte. The area is comprised of volcanic ridges with long valley approaches. Aspen groves line the valleys. Many of the ridges hold spires and buttresses.
The West Elk receives few visitors outside of hunting season. It lacks the numerous alpine lakes and fourteeners popular with tourists. Many trails follow creeks and ridge tops, offering opportunities for extended loop hikes. There are a variety of creeks and beaver ponds.
Size: 176,172 acres
Elevation: 7,500 to 13,035 feet
Trails: 200 miles
National Forests: Gunnison
Nearest Towns: Baldwin, Crested Butte, Gunnison
Estimated Drive Time from Denver: 4.5 to 5.5 hrs
Estimated Driving Distance from Denver: 235 to 265 miles
Fly Fishing: Beaver Creek, Dollar Lake, Rainbow Lake
* Many descriptions are derived from The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas
by John Fielder & Mark Pearson.