Arapaho National Forest

Arapaho National Forest, named for the Arapaho Native Americans, is headquartered in Fort Collins, stretching out over north-central Colorado. The United States Forest Service oversees Arapaho as well as Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland, often lumping the three together as “ARP”. The closest major city, Denver, is only a beautiful 1.5-hour drive away.

Mountains in Arapaho National Forest
A panoramic view of Arapaho National Forest – Photo by Hannah Hancock on Unsplash

About Arapaho National Forest

The forest is made up of 723,744 acres of wetlands, grasslands, prairies, and thick pine woods. The upper elevations of Arapaho drift from subalpine, to alpine, all the way up to tundra, where the snowy peaks top out at almost 13,000 feet above sea level! While hikers and rock climbers recognize Arapaho for its challenging terrain, birders also know Arapaho for its famous wetlands that support hundreds of waterfowl species, as well as other riparian animals that rely on this unique habitat.

The Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge was established to help combat the absurd amount of habitat loss that waterbirds all across the midwest have been facing over the past couple of decades. As of today, Arapaho is the second biggest supporter of waterfowl life in the state of Colorado. Keeping the forest clean and preserved gives these graceful birds access to their ideal nesting grounds near the water, where bugs and amphibians are plentiful and nest-building materials are abundant. Without this important refuge, hundreds of migrating populations would have nowhere to stop and rest while traveling through Colorado. The fact that this area attracts so many species from miles around makes it an ideal place to see rare birds you won’t see elsewhere, so grab your sunhat, break out the binoculars, and settle in for one of nature’s most beautiful displays on the water.

History of the Forest

The history of the Arapaho people begins in what is today Manitoba (Canada) and Minnesota. These people were farming the land some 3,000 years ago alongside the ancestors of the Cheyanne people. Together, they eventually moved south, after acquiring horses for the first time in the 1700s. After becoming nomads, the tribe made its way farther south where it split in two: the Northern Arapaho and the Southern Arapaho. Though these tribes were separate, even speaking different dialects of the language, the land was a joint territory between the two united tribes. They lived in Montana, Wyoming, and the Nebraska Panhandle.

Relationships with surrounding tribes grew through trade and war, and eventual alliance. The Arapaho allied themselves with the Cheyanne people, a decision that brought great benefits and power to both nations. Today, the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyanne tribal nations exist as a single, unified tribe headed in Concho, Oklahoma. Most of the 12,185 members live in Oklahoma. In 2006, the tribe ratified a new constitution to replace the dated 1975 constitution.

Efforts are currently underway to save the northern and southern dialects of the Arapaho language, including offering the language as a course in some schools, although there is still a great concern for the survival of the language as there seems to be little interest in learning it. Are you perhaps interested in studying this beautiful tongue? Check out this free Youtube Course on reading and speaking the Arapaho basics! The course comes with great dictionary sources so you can continue to look up new vocabulary as you learn.

A road winds through the mountains - Arapaho National Forest
A scenic road in Arapaho National Forest – Photo by Julio Rivera on Unsplash

Recreation in Arapaho National Forest

Cabin rentals are available in Canyon Lakes Ranger District, west of Fort Collins, and Clear Creek Ranger District, near Idaho Springs. There are 53 campgrounds to choose from, as well as several group campsites. Looking for a place to park your RV? The park has plenty of RV sites to choose from. Last but not least, free dispersed camping throughout the forest is allowed, just make sure you call first to see if any areas are closed or if any special regulations are in effect.

Coming to Arapaho looking for your next big climb? Rock climbing sites are located in Boulder Canyon (contact Boulder Ranger District) and Chicago Lakes Trail #52 (contact Canyon Lakes Ranger District.)

Of course, the forest offers much more than camping and climbing, too much to name really! Between fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, biking, swimming, and skiing, we are confident every visitor will always find their calling in these woods. Would you rather visit just to take in the beauty? There are several scenic byways available to explore, and you can find them all listed here on the USDA’s official website for the ARP forests and grasslands.

Wilderness Areas

Arapaho protects five designated wilderness areas within its borders. These are pieces of land that the federal government has deemed protected from all human development. This means, in short, there is no logging, harvesting, or building. One particularly beautiful wilderness area you should visit is the Never Summer Wilderness Area. This wilderness is located due west of Rocky Mountain National Park in the Never Summer Mountains.

The seven of the mountains in this range are above 12,000 feet, including Mt. Howard who stands the tallest at 12,810 feet. As you may have guessed by the name, this area receives snow year-round. Even in the heat of summer, one can still see the icy white snow atop the peaks of Never Summer.

Silhouette of mountains and trees in front of a sunset - words don't do justice to the beauty of Arapaho National Forest
Come see the beauty of Arapaho National Forest for yourself – Photo by Alex Siale on Unsplash

 Visit Arapaho National Forest

The USDA recommends that anyone visiting the forest should look over these Alerts and Notices before going. This list of valuable updates can tell you about things like regulations going into effect, fire ordinances, and closures.

Keep pinned to your reading list so you’ll always have access to America’s national forests. How many of the forests on the list have you been to? Wherever you’re headed next, remember to have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-Heaven Morrow

%d bloggers like this: