Many articles from Newspapers and Magazines have been written about Trappers Lake Lodge and the surrounding area. We are reprinting a few here for your reading pleasure.
Trappers Lake, a relatively unknown Colorado jewel, reaps benefits of a 2002 fire
By Scott Willoughby
The Denver Post
Called the "Cradle of Wilderness," Trappers Lake is credited for inspiring the Wilderness Act of 1964. The lake has the highest concentration of Colorado River cutthroats on Earth. (Scott Willoughby, The Denver Post)
FLAT TOPS WILDERNESS AREA — It must have been a sight to behold.
Colorado undoubtedly had seen bigger wildfires, even bigger blazes during that very summer of 2002 alone. But the imposing Big Fish fire was all the more extraordinary, set against the dramatic backdrop of Trappers Lake and the striking Flat Tops Wilderness surrounding it. All told, 17,000 acres in the so-called "Cradle of Wilderness" were scorched by a lightning strike while firefighting crews watched the pristine valley go up in flames.
Such is the heart-tugging dilemma of Wilderness with a capital "W" — essentially a government mandate commanding nature to run its course even when it mars our perception of natural beauty. But given its eminent role in the genesis of the Wilderness Act of 1964, Trappers Lake demanded nothing less.
After the 2002 Big Fish fire,all that remained of the historic Trappers Lake Lodge was the original stone fireplace and an American flag that was unharmed amid the blaze. (Denver Post file)
"We consider the fire a blessing," said Holly King, owner with her sister Carol Steele of nearby Trappers Lake Lodge since 2005. "It put us 10 years ahead of the beetle kill and the big fires of 2012. It's just something different to look at."
Since it was first surveyed by Arthur Carhart for the fledgling U.S. Forest Service in 1919, Trappers Lake has always been regarded as something "different," or more accurately, "unique" to look at. These days, the 300-acre lake sitting at 9,600 feet remains renowned as the state's top breeding ground for native Colorado River cutthroat trout. But, abundance of feisty fish aside, it was the postcard-perfect setting of the natural lake, surrounded by soaring volcanic cliffs, that originally captured Carhart's attention.
After viewing the spectacular scene, Carhart completed the survey for a proposed private lakeside community, and then convinced his superiors in Denver that Trappers Lake was an irreplaceable resource that should be preserved in its natural state for all the public to appreciate. The unprecedented notion led to establishment of the Flat Tops Primitive Area in 1932, while Carhart went on to work with conservationist Aldo Leopold and lay the foundation of the modern Wilderness concept eventually adopted by Congress.
The 235,000-acre Flat Tops Wilderness Area was formally recognized in 1975 and is now the third-largest in Colorado. Yet, for many Coloradans, it remains relatively unknown.
"It's a little bit of a drive, but that's a good thing. It keeps the crowds away," said Don Reeves of Boulder, after he and paddling partner Mary Hall finished portaging his handmade kayaks.
"We spent the weekend up at Steamboat Lake, but that's not what I was looking for," he added. "I wanted more of a wilderness lake, not a bunch of campers. After hearing about Trappers, we looked at a map and said, 'I think we can make it happen.' "
Because the Trappers Lake shoreline falls just within Wilderness Area boundaries, launching any boat (other than those rented from the lodge) is done by hand after carrying it a short distance from the trailhead. Like all Wilderness, motorized use is forbidden.
As a result, there is typically plenty of elbow room for fishermen either wading from shore or paddling watercraft small enough to shoulder on the well-worn trail over open terrain. The lake's abundant insect life grows some bragging-size fish, although the average cutthroats fall into the 11- to 15-inch range. Special regulations mandating artificial flies and lures only, as well as the immediate return of all natives over 11 inches, help maintain the largest population of Colorado River cutthroats anywhere, serving as an important spawn-taking site for wildlife managers.
Good fishing can be found in shallow areas almost anywhere around the 180-foot-deep lake. Midges are the primary food source, but cutts are often willing to take classic flies such as an elk-hair caddis, gold-ribbed hare's ear or woolly bugger. At peak summer, keep an eye out for the callibaetis mayfly hatch.
"The guys with fly rods were crushing it out there," Reeves said after losing his spinning tackle to a snag. "They were catching one after the other."
The acclaimed fishery that drains into the North Fork of the White River is surrounded by dozens of equally worthwhile destinations and a vast trail network accessing them. Hikes and horseback trips are a large part of Trappers' allure, ranging from hours to days across the Flat Tops to spots such as Little Trappers Lake, Upper Island Lake, Wall Lake or up the spectacular Chinese Wall for an adrenaline-fueled trek over the Devil's Causeway to Stillwater Reservoir near Yampa.
"We've got hikes galore," King said. "And really great fishing in both the rivers and the lakes."
While a gray ghost forest still surrounds much of the lake and lodge, regeneration is equally evident 10 years after the Big Fish blaze. And the burn area is relatively easy to hike above as pristine wilderness characteristics quickly reveal themselves. The native elk herd is considered the largest in North America, sharing the expanse with deer, moose, bears, cougars and local claims to a pack of wolves.
The lodge maintains six wilderness camps for rent through hunting season, either with or without guides. Several nearby Forest Service campgrounds offer easier lake access, while 15 rustic cabins and a restaurant serve as the social and sunset-scoping hub at Trappers Lake Lodge.
"I just love the Flat Tops," Reeves said after satisfying his nature itch. "I love the views."
Something to behold indeed.
Flat Tops Wilderness Area
Reprint from 5280 Magazine
BY: LINDSEY B. KOEHLER
- Nearby city: Meeker
- Ranger district: Blanco, 970-878-4039
- Trail length: You can park a quarter-mile from the lake and then walk up a short hill to reach the path that encircles the large lake.
- Elevation gain: Negligible; lake sits at 9,627 feet
- Skill level: Easy
- Along the way: Little Trappers Lake
- Camping: Trapline Campground has 12 first-come, first-served sites ($18 per night) near the lake.
- Lodging: Trappers Lake Lodge & Resort nestles into the wilderness just steps from the lake and offers small, spartan cabins as well as a restaurant. www.trapperslake.com
- Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Rifle. Take Highway 13 to Meeker. Take C.R. 8 out of Meeker. Follow C.R. 8 for 39 miles; then take a right onto the unpaved Trappers Lake Road 205. Drive 11 miles to the lake.
In the summer of 2002, the Big Fish and Lost Lakes fires cooked more than 22,000 acres of land in and around the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Even today, nine years later, the devastation is still evident: Forests of charred trees and bushes stretch to the horizon in every direction.
It’s a surreal yet hauntingly beautiful landscape—especially the life that has sprung from the destruction: new saplings, native grasses, and fireweed, a bright red wildflower that grows happily in burn areas. And we’re not the only ones here to appreciate it. We’re sharing the road with SUVs hauling canoes, kayaks, float tubes, pop-up campers, and horse trailers. Everyone, it seems, is on his or her way to enjoy the state’s second-largest wilderness area, known for its trout streams, soaring yet planed-level mountains, and one of Colorado’s largest naturally occurring lakes.
We pull into Trappers Lake Lodge & Resort, check into our tiny one-room cabin with a potbelly stove, and make haste for the lake. It’s a 10-minute walk to the parking lot and another 15-minute hike to the lake’s edge. The blown-open vistas we encounter envelope the vast lake, the ghostly remnants of burnt pines, and vertigo-inducing cliffs, including the jaw-dropping 1,650-foot Chinese Wall to the northeast.
The trail that wraps around the lake pitches and rolls but doesn’t ever really stress the lungs. If you’re game to stretch your legs, the undemanding trail to Little Trappers Lake is a must.
For another easy, don’t-miss activity, grab a flashlight (you’ll want one if you’re staying at Trappers Lake Lodge anyway) and make your way to the lake just before dusk. Pull up a patch of grass along the bank, and watch as a million stars appear and the moon sparkles on the lake’s surface. You’ll want to keep your ears open as well—the eerie howls of coyotes can sometimes be heard after sunset.