Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways: Flat Tops Trail

Our series travelling Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byways continues along the Flat Tops Trail! The Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway meanders through the Routt and White River National Forests, offering views of the distinctive flat-top mountains that give the Byway its name.

A man walks by an alpine lake with flat-top mountains dusted with snow in the background.
Photo from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Flat Tops Trail spans 82 miles in northwestern Colorado between the towns of Meeker and Yampa. The Byway’s Corridor Management Plan outlines the long history of the Flat Tops Trail area, which has been used by people for thousands of years. The current Byway follows the path of Ute trails that were used to access hunting and fishing grounds. After the Utes were forced to leave northern Colorado following the Meeker Incident, European-American settlers used the trail for hunting and fur trapping. This natural area has been federally protected since 1891 and was named the White River Forest Reserve by Teddy Roosevelt, who frequently visited the area. The modern Byway was developed in portions as more ranching, mining, and recreation prospects opened up, and is currently about half paved and half gravel.

There are many opportunities for outdoor recreation along the byway, but one of the most popular is snowmobiling. The Byway is a high-elevation road, topping out at 10,343 feet at Ripple Creek Pass. A portion of the Flat Tops Trail is closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter months, leaving miles of groomed trails snowmobilers can use to explore Colorado’s backcountry. The Byway connects with a larger trail system, allowing access to the wide open meadows, frozen lakes, and varying terrain found in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Before heading out into the winter landscape, be sure to review snowmobile safety tips from Colorado State Parks.

Beyond snowmobiling, the area served by the Flat Tops Trail offers year-round outdoor recreation. In the warmer months, hikers and campers can use the extensive trail system to immerse themselves in the wilderness. The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is renowned for its trout-filled lakes and streams, making it a favorite spot for anglers. Visitors often encounter wildlife like elk, deer, and a variety of bird species. The area’s campgrounds and picnic spots provide perfect settings for taking in the high-altitude surroundings.

For those looking for winter adventure or a connection to the past, the Flat Tops Trail Scenic and Historic Byway is a journey that will leave a lasting impression! For more information about the Byway, take a look at the resources available from the Colorado Department of Transportation.