Routt National Forest

You can’t talk about Routt National Forest without mentioning its constituents, Medicine Bow National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland, because the three lands were administratively joined in 1995. Altogether, the combined 2.9 million-acre land stretches from northern Colorado all the way up to central Wyoming.

Fun Fact: The forest is named for John Routt, Colorado’s first governor, appointed by President Grant on March 29th, 1875.  

A hiker looking at a lake in Routt National Forest
A hiker takes on the view at Routt National Forest – Photo by Glenn Claire on Unsplash

About Routt National Forest

Though Thunder Basin National Grassland may be flat, there is no shortage of mountainous views in Routt and Medicine Bow forests. These forests thrive under the towering peaks of the following mountain ranges: Gore Range, Parks Range, The Flat Tops, Medicine Bow Mountains, Sierra Madre, and Laramie Range.

The forest is 5,500 feet above sea level at its lowest point and 12,940 at its highest. Climate and habitat have great scope in this highly variable land due to the vast area it covers geographically as well as its elevational changes from the valleys to the mountains.

The lower regions can be dry and arid, while the upper elevations can be cold and even humid depending on where you are. Plants and animals adapted to living in the different ecosystems the forests provide flourish in their respective habitats, so keep an eye out! High alpine animals include the majestic bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and mountain goats while the woodlands harbor everything from juncos and jays to ground squirrels and garter snakes! (Rattlesnakes are also present, so watch your step!)

History of the Forest

Routt has a rich history of changes in name and territory over the years. The land is what it is today due to portions of other reserves being added (and sometimes, subtracted) over the years. Contributors to Routt are Medicine Bow Reserve include Sierra Madre Reserve, White River Plateau Reserve, Hayden National Forest, Colorado National Forest, Arapaho National Forest, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hey, have you been wondering why some of these places are called “reserves” and others are called “national forests”? They’re the same thing, but from different eras. Before 1907, all federally protected forest lands were called reserves, then congress changed the terminology to national forest.

Governor John Routt focused his first year as leader of a U.S territory on bringing Colorado into statehood, which he did in 1876, simultaneously joining the state to The Union. He was a popular political figure who talked down violence with peaceful negotiations rather than using military force. Routt was also an ardent feminist, being a loyal supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. He arranged for Susan B. Anthony to come and speak all across Colorado and acted as her personal escort during her stay. His wife, Eliza Routt, became the first woman registered to vote.

The story of John Routt has a happy ending, as after he was finished with his term, he went on to fill lesser civic duties and responsibilities he enjoyed whilst striking it rich in the silver mines. He even served as mayor of Denver for several years after his term as governor ended.

Recreation in Routt National Forest

What would you like to do during your stay? Routt offers hiking, fishing, biking, boating, and almost anything else you can think of! It is particularly popular with snowsports enthusiasts, containing too many snowshoe trails and cross-country ski routes to list here. However you can peruse them on the USDA’s Routt and Medicine Bow Winter Sports page.

Although most skiers travel to the area specifically for Steamboat Ski Resort, the forest has plenty more to offer if you’re looking for a more solitary experience. A popular winter campsite for snow-goers is Seedhouse Guard Station, a historic cabin built in 1933. The cabin is located 26 miles north of steamboat springs. It features two bunk beds, three single beds, and a futon.

Be warned that while you are sleeping indoors, this is still camping. There is no water available (however there is a vault toilet located outside). Why is this cabin popular with skiers? It lies close to Mount Zirkel Wilderness, a cross-country skier’s wonderland! Ready to make a reservation? Just call the National Recreation Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777.

Ski equipment lying on a wooden porch
Routt National Forest is a topnotch destination for skiers – Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas

America’s National Wilderness Preservation System began in 1964. A wilderness area, unlike the surrounding forest, is protected so that no building, logging, mining, or any other sort of alteration of the environment can take place. These spaces are completely natural.

Medicine Bow-Routt Forests contain 10 wilderness areas, some of which share borders with neighboring forests. These tend to be the places photographers, birders, and naturalists go to explore untainted woods. If you would like to explore Routt’s wilderness areas from the comfort of your chair, click here. By clicking on a wilderness area, you can access a description of the terrain as well as a list of trailheads and attractions for each.

Visit Routt National Forest

The USDA asks that all visitors practice “know before you go” by having a look at the Alerts and Notices page before traveling to the forest. This page is up to date on the latest bits of relevant news to visitors. This includes closures, permit requirements, and inclement weather conditions. The dry summer months often involve campfire restrictions and even area closures due to fire damage.

The National is your guide to America’s forests, so make sure to save it to your reading list! And as always, have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-by Heaven Morrow

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