Encompassing a number of different regions including the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. There are plenty of recreational activities to enjoy throughout the state, including hiking, fishing, winter sports, and wildlife viewing. But where might the largest forest in Colorado be located, and what can you expect out of visiting this location?
In this article, we’ll introduce the largest forest in Colorado and give a brief overview of its history. We’ll even discuss the available recreational activities of this region as well as the different types of wildlife you might see while visiting this area. Let’s get started and explore the largest forest in Colorado now!
The Largest Forest in Colorado: White River National Forest
At over 2.2 million acres, the White River National Forest is the largest forest in all of Colorado. While this area encapsulates so much more than trees, the White River National Forest is in fact the most visited National Forest in the entire United States! This is mostly due to the fact that this National Forest houses some of the most popular mountains and ski resorts in the nation. However, this isn’t all that this region has to offer.
Located west of Denver, the White River National Forest is the perfect combination of untamed wilderness and manicured resorts. Boasting roughly a dozen different ski resorts, the White River National Forest is much more than a tamed tourist trap. In fact, it houses many different rare wildlife species as well as fragile ecosystems, such as alpine tundras.
There are nearly 3,000 miles of hiking trails in this forest as well as 10 mountain peaks that stretch over 14,000 feet into the air. There are reservoirs and natural lakes as well as 8 wilderness areas. Besides the ski resorts, White River National Forest is dotted with campgrounds, including remote options for the more adventurous out there!
History of the White River National Forest
It’s important to note that the majority of our beautiful National Parks and Forests once belonged to indigenous people. Before the White River National Forest was designated as the White River Plateau Timber Reserve in 1891, it was a region that belonged to the Ute Indian tribe. The National Forest Service works hand in hand with Ute tribes throughout the state to this day. They ensure the protection of Ute history and provide education to locals and tourists alike.
In 1905, the White River Plateau Timber Reserve became the White River National Forest after the Forest Service was created. Since then, many different destinations and wilderness areas have been defined within the White River National Forest. All of these areas hold unique geological or natural features as well as historical significance.
The Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, for example, was recently established by President Biden. It highlights the 10th Mountain Division, the one and only army infantry division located in mountains. This infantry was not only integral to winning World War II, but the members of it also helped establish much of the skiing recreation found in this area.
This monument as well as other areas of the White River National Forest are key to the history and culture of the indigenous Ute people. It is a region rich in diverse ecosystems, unique natural wonders, and our history as a nation!
Recreation in the White River National Forest
Besides skiing, there are plenty of recreational activities to enjoy within the White River National Forest. The possibilities are truly endless, though you will have to time your adventures with the seasons. Unless you plan on enjoying the snow, the White River National Forest is best visited in the summertime to take advantage of most hikes. You can also fish or bring boats along on your trip, and rafting is also a common activity in certain locations.
If you are hoping to camp in the White River National Forest, you can do so throughout the region. Make sure to pay attention to seasonal closures, as not all campgrounds can accommodate winter camping. However, fall and winter activities are extremely popular in this region. You can hunt with appropriate permits as well as go four-wheeling or snowmobiling. If more than a dozen ski resorts don’t capture your attention, perhaps dispersed wilderness camping will!
Wildlife in the Largest Forest in Colorado
One of the main things that make the White River National Forest special is the presence of rare wildlife. There are countless species found throughout these 2 million acres, including the Colorado River cutthroat trout and the boreal toad, a rare species of an alpine amphibian! Be sure to stay aware if you choose to hike or camp in this National Forest- bears are common and cougars also live here, though you’re unlikely to see one!
Some of the other types of animals that call the largest forest in Colorado home include:
- Canada lynx
- White-tailed ptarmigan
- Mountain goat
- Bighorn sheep
- Hoary bat
- Multiple deer species
- Bald eagle
- Pacific marten
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