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Flat Tops Adventure Trail

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

While lesser known than the San Juan Mountains to the south, the Flat Tops certainly aren't lacking in impressiveness or grandeur. The area gets its name from a series of table-top mountains that dominate the region. These unique geological formations were created by ancient volcanic activity and erosion over millions of years.



Route Overview


Trip Length & Season

Adventure Rating: Epic Trip Length: 4-8 days, 298 miles miles (95% dirt) Season: Recommended mid-June to October. Given the elevation of this route, always check the weather and snow levels in advance. This track may be accessible earlier/later in the season depending on snow.

Technical Ratings & Terrain

Recommended Vehicle / Moto / Adventure Vans

Fuel, Provisions, and Recommended Gear

Alternative Routes

Camping Recommendations

Discovery Points

Land Managers & Other Resources

Permits & Papers


 

Route Details

While lesser known than the San Juan Mountains to the south, the Flat Tops certainly aren't lacking in impressiveness or grandeur. The area gets its name from a series of table-top mountains that dominate the region. These unique geological formations were created by ancient volcanic activity and erosion over millions of years. Around 65 million years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions occurred in the region. These eruptions created massive lava flows that covered much of the area, including the sedimentary rock layers. As the lava cooled and solidified, it formed a layer of basalt, which now makes up the flat-topped mountains that give the wilderness area its name.

Over time, erosion wore away at the softer sedimentary rock layers, leaving behind the hard basalt layer that now forms the Flat Tops. The tops of these mountains are characterized by broad, flat plateaus that are hundreds of feet thick, and are often covered in grasses and alpine meadows.

Glaciers also played a role in shaping the landscape of the Flat Tops. During the last ice age, which ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers covered much of the area. As these glaciers moved, they carved out valleys and cirques, leaving behind U-shaped valleys and high-altitude lakes that are now popular hiking and fishing destinations.


The route forms a near-perfect loop that can be driven in either direction. For the sake of this guide, we'll start in Oak Creek and travel in a clockwise direction. Oak Creek is a quaint village with just under 1,000 people in the Yampa Valley, that was originally established as a coal mining town in the early 1900s. The first several miles of the route begin on well manicured county gravel roads until reaching your first discovery point, the scenic and popular Sheriff Reservoir (DP1). When you're a couple miles north of the lake, be on the lookout for Sand Point, which is a the north tip of one of massive flat top mountain. If you're up for a bit of exploring on foot, consider taking the trail up to Sand Lake.


Retrace your tracks until you're back on the main track and follow the gravel road up and over Dunkley Pass (DP2). To your right sits the Dunkley Flat Tops (DP3), which rise to over 10,085 feet in elevation. Not long after summiting Ripple Creek pass (DP5), get ready to make the turn Trapper Lake. Trapper Lake (DP7) is exemplary of the Flat Tops stunning beauty. Surrounded on three sides by massive Flat Top mountains, the lake also serves as the gateway to several foot trails within the Flat Tops Wilderness. Trapper Lake is one of the most popular locations within the Flat Tops. If you'd like to stay at the lake , we recommend making reservations ahead of time with one of the many campgrounds managed by White River National Forest. By now you've become accustomed to the graded dirt and gravel roads that most two wheel drive sedans can easily manage, but that's about to change! FR290 is narrow, bumpy, and rutted any many places, but a stock 4x4 should be able to manage the trail quite easily. If you're looking for some camping, check out the spur road to the north with a dispersed camping pin in the GPX file. Follow the track back down to the White River where the pavement awaits. From the pavement jump onto the gravel of New Castle-Buford Road, which climbs up Burro Mountain. The track up Burro Mountain is a bumpy two track. Being a flat top, there are numerous opportunities to camp, and the wide opens meadows provide fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. As you make your way back down the mountain, the last stretch of manicured trail is ahead of you. Turning off of New Castle-Bedford Road, the trail senses your 4-wheel drive vehicle hasn't really been tested thus far. While many sections of the road can still be easily managed by a 2-wheel drive vehicle, there are numerous sections that are rutted, rocky, steep and off camber as you make your way up and over Blair Mountain. This is by far the most technical section of the main track (outside of the alternative routes). Big ADV bikes and Sprinters are recommended to exit via CR-217 to avoid the Blair Mountain section. Just south of Blair Mountain (DP12) sits perhaps the best camping location in all of the Flat Tops-- which is definitely up for debate, because there are literally hundreds of dispersed campsites that will blow your mind with the awe inspiring scenery. The area around Heart Lake is definitely one of the more popular areas for dispersed camping within the Flat Tops, but if you head up towards the South Fork Meadows (DP15), you'll get away from the most of the crowds, and of course you can expect wide open views of the Rocky Mountains.


Upon reaching Coffee Pot Road (DP16), things definitely tame down a bit. As make make your way down the mountain, be sure to check out the Deep Creek Trail Overlook (DP17). At the bottom of the mountain you'll find the Colorado River (DP18)-- it's crazy to think this thing keeps going up into the mountains, and snakes its way all the way down to the Gulf of California. Once you reach the Colorado, the main track follows a series of primarily dirty county roads except for the Derby Meadows Loop, which is still a well manicured dirt road. For those with substantially built out 4x4s, we definitely recommend taking the alternative track up to Crescent Lake. After Crescent Lake, the route makes one final out-and-back trip to the scenic Stillwater Reservoir area, and concludes in the historic mountain town of Yampa.


 

Maps + Navigation


Download Digital Mapping Files



 

Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by OverlandTrailGuides.com, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

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Just finished this great route in about 6 days. I guess there was a late snow season in Colorado this year, so a few of the spots I was trying to get to were inaccessible. I tried getting to Sleepy Cat to camp via FR290, but had to turn around about three quarters of the way up (got stuck in snow for a bit). Also had to turn around trying to get over Blair Mountain due to snow and took the alternate route via CR217. Came back up through Dotsero and tried to make it to South Fork Meadows to camp, but got turned around again. Even with all that, had a great time in this beautiful area.

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