Roosevelt National Forest

Roosevelt National Forest, located in north-central Colorado, is managed from Fort Collins in unison with Arapaho Forest and Pawnee National Grassland. Because the three territories are contiguous with one another, and management strategies tend to apply to all three at once, the forest service often refers to them simply as ARP. Roosevelt in particular has its own ranger districts in Fort Collins and Boulder.

A lake among mountains in Roosevelt National Forest.
The rugged beauty of Roosevelt National Forest is like no other – Photo by Hannah Hancock on Unsplash

History of the Forest

The land was deemed a reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, back when it was just a nameless portion of the greater Medicine Bow Forest Reserve. In 1910, the area that would become Roosevelt National Forest was named Colorado National Forest. It wasn’t until 1932 that President Hoover renamed the land to honor President Roosevelt.

The people who mined for gold and silver in Roosevelt Forest were unknowingly building the community that we call Boulder today. While most pop-up mining towns didn’t continue after the mines ran dry, the people of Boulder city began building, trading, and farming. These early settlers arrived around 1858, and Boulder City was born in 1859. The townsfolk then built Colorado’s first schoolhouse in 1860; talk about quick progress! All this was happening before Colorado was even an official territory.  

Recreation in Roosevelt National Forest

Thinking of camping in Roosevelt or one of its neighboring forests? You can see a list of Campgrounds at a Glance here. This handy table will help you quickly decipher which campsites require reservations, the different fees associated with different sites, and important notes the USDA has to offer about each one (including flood warnings, fire hazards, and closures). No matter which campsite you choose, you’re in for hours of hiking, swimming, rafting, horseback riding… anything you can think of actually!

If you haven’t already picked a preference out of the campgrounds list, we recommend Rainbow Lakes Campground for a start. The grounds are located at the trailhead of Rainbow Lakes Trail, which leads hikers into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. You will find thick, shady pinewoods surrounding the one-way trail that leads to The Rainbow Lakes, which is not one lake but a whole series of lakes and ponds alive with waterfowl and beavers. A truly beautiful hike, however the traffic on this trail is heavy, so if solitude is a must for you, we suggest one of the other trails available from the campsite. Keep an eye out for moose, coots, cranes, and golden eagles!

A moose wading in a lake - moose are one of the largest species in Roosevelt National Forest
When you visit Roosevelt National Forest, keep an eye out for moose – Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas

Roosevelt contains six designated wilderness areas. These carefully preserved, pristine outcroppings of pure nature in our ever-industrializing world are a true haven for wildlife and humans alike. The wilderness areas are:

Rawah Wilderness is particularly lively. Teeming with large mammals such as moose, deer, elk, bear, and bighorn sheep, the place is named for the Native American word for “wild place.” Dozens of lakes decorate this alpine forest filled with warblers, jays, hawks, and eagles. Interested in fishing those plentiful blue lakes? They are full of all manner of trout, including cutthroat, rainbow, and brown. Elevational changes in Rawah range from 8,400 to 13,000 feet.

Special Places Spotlight

Santiago Mill, located in Georgetown, is one of very few complete flotation mills still standing today. Built in 1935, the workers used this mill to extract gold, silver, and lead. Regular gravity-driven mills had been used up to this point in the late 1800s, but that method slowly became obsolete as a floatation mill could separate much smaller pieces of metal and mineral from waste rock. All those tiny pieces add up, as this mill produced pounds upon pounds of precious metals to be sent off to the smelter.

So, what is a “floatation mill”? Here’s how it works:

  1. Unrefined ore was crushed up.
  2. Add a special chemical reagent to water to make the minerals separate from the unwanted rock and stick to air bubbles. (It sounds crazy, but its true.)
  3. Create a current of rising air bubbles.
  4. Skim the minerals off the top of the water. Done!

The Santiago Mill ran on a 3,700 gallon water tower filled with snowmelt and water from the town of Waldorf. While most of the equipment at the mill was made during the depression era, the ore bin was made in 1911. Over 100 years old and still standing in the same place it was installed when it served the miners! I guess they really don’t make ‘em like they used to?

The U.S. Forest Service has worked through teh soil all around the historic mill in order to remove any remaining lead, mercury, and arsenic. Visitors are not allowed to explore the nearby mine shaft that served as the source of the mill’s ore, and sometimes the mill itself is closed, so make sure you call one of the ranger districts of Roosevelt and ask about it before you go.

A river winding through grasslands in Roosevelt National Forest
A river winds lazily through Roosevelt National Forest – Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

Visit Roosevelt National Forest

The USDA strongly recommends all visitors have a look at their Alerts and Notices page before traveling to the forest. This page is up to date on the latest bits of relevant news to campers and hikers, such as closures and inclement weather conditions. The dry summer months often involve campfire restrictions and even area closures due to fire damage.

Ready to learn more about the woods? The National is your guide to America’s forests! Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-by Heaven Morrow  

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