From a distance, the Flat Tops could be mistaken for the setting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 classic The Lost World, in which dinosaurs roam cloud-penetrating mesas in a land that time forgot. These 10,000- to 12,354-foot-high tablelands seem to levitate above the surrounding valleys, altogether out of place in a state known for jagged summits.
By Rocky Mountain standards, where lung-busting ascents are commonplace, the 235,230-acre Flat Tops Wilderness is hiker-friendly. Once on top you’ll find moderate striding across rolling tundra. A 200-mile trail network creates a mind-boggling matrix connecting 80 lakes and geologic features like the Chinese Wall, a 1,000-foot rampart 5 curvy miles long.
A route that serves up storybook pageantry is the North Derby Trail to Hooper and Keener Lakes. You’ll earn the burn early, humping 1,000 vertical feet in 2 miles, then amble an easy mile to the side-by-side lakes teeming with trout. Camping restrictions are in effect around both lakes.
For a memorable 21-mile loop, stay on North Derby and head to Road Lake. There you’ll pick up Island Lake Trail and head west for a rendezvous with Deer Lake Trail. Chinese Wall and Bear River Trails drop you back at Stillwater Reservoir.
Where: 177 miles west of Denver. The Stillwater trailhead is 17 miles southwest of Yampa on County Road 7 (becoming Forest Road 900) at Stillwater Reservoir.
Maps: Flat Tops NE/Trappers Lake, #122 ($9.95, Trails Illustrated, 800-962-1643).
Trail Info: Routt National Forest, Yampa District, (970) 638-4516.