The Mount Zirkel Wilderness lies within the Routt National Forest in northwestern Colorado. It was one of the original areas protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act and has since been expanded twice to its present size of 160,648 acres. The wilderness straddles the Continental Divide in the Park Range and the Sierra Madre and offers a diversity of ecosystems from sagebrush meadows in the lower areas, through pine and spruce/fir forests and on up to alpine tundra. It contains the rugged peaks of the Sawtooth Range and the headwaters of the Elk, Encampment and North Platte rivers. There are over 70 lakes within the wilderness as well as 15 peaks over 12,000 feet, the highest being 12,180 foot Mount Zirkel, named in 1874 to honor Ferdinand Zirkel's contributions to the science of geology. Glaciation has left its distinctive mark of high valleys ending in precipitous cirques. Over 150 miles of trails provide access and the wilderness offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Some areas, notably several of the lakes and areas along the Continental Divide, are very popular and receive a high level of use but visitors looking for solitude can find it if they come during the week and/or visit less-popular areas. Ample opportunity exists to view nature's dynamic cycle of disturbance and rebirth. The Routt Divide Blowdown in 1997 toppled millions of trees over a 150 square mile area, most of it within the wilderness, with beetle epidemics and wildfires following in its wake. These natural forces have temporarily altered the landscape without permanently eroding its wilderness character.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Colorado Wilderness Act - Public Law 96-560 (12/22/1980) To designate certain National Forest System lands in the States of Colorado, South Dakota, Missouri, South Carolina, and Louisiana for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System