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Trappers Lake - Flat Tops Wilderness

February 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


Trappers Lake SunriseTrappers Lake SunriseTrappers Lake was the inspiration for America's Wilderness Act. The Big Fish Fire burned 17,000 acres in 2002. Northern Colorado

When Arthur Carhart was sent to survey the Trappers Lake area for summer homes in 1919, he reported, “There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they… should be preserved for all time for the people of the nation and the world. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.” It was Carhart’s recommendation that Trappers Lake be left undeveloped, and it was his effort that laid the foundation for America’s Wilderness Act.

Famous for spectacular fall color, Colorado’s mountain roads are clogged with leaf-peepers in autumn.  Every year I join them somewhere in the state, never tiring of the murmur of quaking aspen and the opportunity to photograph crazy-quilt patterns on the mountainsides. In the fall of 2014 I discovered a lesser known jewel, the Flat Tops Scenic Byway, an 82 mile stretch through the Flat Tops Wilderness. We often drove for miles without seeing another vehicle on the road. But this is ranch country - cattle were an entirely different story - plenty of cattle on the road.

Trappers Lake Lodge was a new experience for me. Used to having a bathroom inside my lodgings, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy the rustic cabin that required a walk to the bathhouse when the need arose. As it turned out, I enjoyed my stay. Several steps above tent camping, (the cozy log cabins offer heat and electricity), the 15 cabin settlement with restaurant and bar in the lodge, has been a favorite of hunters, fishermen and wilderness lovers since the original lodge and cabins were built in 1918.

Only 1/8th of a mile from the lodge, Trappers Lake, the third largest natural lake and home to the highest concentration of native cutthroat trout in the state, is about a mile and a half long, and a half a mile wide.

I knew that lightning sparked the 17,056 acre Big Fish Fire of 2002 that permanently altered the landscape, but I was unprepared for the stark beauty the scene presented 12 years after the fire. Up early to photograph the sun rising over the misty lake, my eyes roamed over patches of golden aspen growing amid the ghostly grey remains of the forest on the mountainsides. I found myself agreeing with Holly King, owner of Trappers Lake Lodge, who said, “It’s different now, but still very beautiful.”


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