Flat Top Mountains Jaunt

A Labor Day weekend jaunt in the Flat Tops Wilderness

The last weekend of summer? Or the first weekend of fall?

If you are less inclined to enjoy cooler temps and shorter days, Labor Day weekend is the end of summer. The long days of leisure are coming to a close.

However, if you are like me, and celebrate the season that is autumn, Labor Day weekend heralds in the start of  fall in the high country.  The tundra is turning red and gold. The aspens are starting to show their brilliant fall blanket of gold leaves and the elks are bugling in the crisp air.

It is not a time to lament the end of something. It is time to rejoice in the new season ahead.

And how did I choose to celebrate the start of the fall season?

By hiking in a place I have not hiked before: the Flat Tops Wilderness

The Flat Tops Wilderness is the second largest wilderness area in Colorado. Perhaps because the peaks are gentle, the wilderness has a good network of trails, and the cross-country travel is easy, the wilderness area  does not seem remote.

What it did seem was beautiful and pleasant. The San Juans or the Sangres are perhaps more dramatic. And the Indians Peaks near my Boulder home are perhaps “bigger bang for the buck” in terms of miles hiked to view ratio (and have the corresponding crowds to go with them).

But the Flat Tops? As I look over my photos while seated at my kitchen table, I already want to return. There was something about the scenery of these mountains. Mountains that aren’t made for knocking off a bucket list of high peaks or collecting miles hiked.

They are mountains for strolling along the plateau. Or sitting by a rock on a quiet lake shore. Or being out in the cold air of morning and having a herd of elk run by you.

They are mountains that reminded me more than a bit of Maine. Large lakes and thick forests. A place where I don’t fish, but still had me wishing for a rod. Where a campfire just seems appropriate. And where Horace Kephart would seem right at home.

These mountains aren’t the Colorado adrenaline-athlete mountains that seem to be in vogue. I can’t picture a banner with an outdoors company logo on them and aid stations at trailheads. Nor can I picture goal-oriented thru-hikers coming through on their way from Point A to Point B. The mountains are made for ambling. And lollygagging. And sauntering. They are made for simply taking a walk.

I lost track of the mileage I hiked this weekend. The lure of above tree-line and off-trail was too strong. Did I hike 40? 30? Something in between? I don’t know.

What I do know is that sipping my coffee at the edge of the meadow while hearing the rain pattering on my shelter was a civilized way to spend the morning.

What I do know is that I am a New England native, but the Colorado fall can be as brilliant with colors in its own dramatic way.

My someone was not feeling well this weekend, so I went solo. But if there were ever mountains to share with her, it would be these mountains. Gentle, open, beautiful.

Mileage is secondary here.

I ambled.

I walked.

I sauntered.

And I’ll be back again.

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Randy Martin
Randy Martin
9 years ago

I have several loops mapped out to hike in that wilderness. Can you share roughly the highlights of the route you took? I always love to get a little taste of an area before I go so thanks for sharing. Also did you have any issues with mosquito’s?