For Relaxation, Drive the Flat Tops Wilderness

Ever pack up your car and hit the road, only to find out that your chosen destination is unexpectedly teeming with fellow tourists? The disappointment feels like being stood up on a first date.

During high tourist season, you might unintentionally end up in a convoy of RVs, Harleys or drivers who risk life and limb in order to photograph a marmot by the side of the road. Some of the most well-known and stunning byways, such as Trail Ridge Road and the Million Dollar Highway, fall victim to this sardine effect every July and August.

But Colorado is a biggish state with many hidden folds in its mountains. The Flat Tops Wilderness byway, tucked away between Meeker and Yampa, traverses one of these lesser-traveled pockets.


If you need a weekend away from everything, including fellow people and cars, this is your road trip. A four-hour drive from Denver will get you to Meeker or Yampa, with an option to detour to Glenwood Hot Springs or Strawberry Hot Springs, respectively. The byway makes for a good romantic getaway, dude-ranch escape or nature immersion trip. Hunting, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, riding an ATV, disappearing into the woods solo for a month, building a cabin, raising sheep, cutting off ties to society–the Flat Tops Wilderness provides an excellent setting for all of the above.

What is the Flat Tops Wilderness Area? A gigantic swath of nature in northeastern Colorado, located many hours from any kind of city, where you can see unusual flat-topped mountains. The fastest-paced thing you will see on this byway is a tractor.

How do I get there? Drive to Meeker or Yampa. Sound remote? It is.

How long does the drive on the byway take? About three hours point-to-point. But you’ll want to stop at Trappers Lake, one of the sites that inspired the National Forest system.

What can I do in the area? Look, this is one of the most relaxing drives in the country, so don’t plan anything Type-A. You’ll see farms, ranches and forests, and the scenery will sedate you into a pleasant kind of rural stupor. If you fish, ride horses, hike/backpack, mountain bike, ride ATVs or hunt, this an ideal area to set up camp for a few days. If you like wearing Prada and drinking fancy Prohibition-era cocktails at 11 a.m. in the morning, not so much.

What should I bring? If you’re just driving the byway, bring a solid pair of walking shoes, a fishing rod, food and drink. Make sure your tank is full of gas when you start the byway, otherwise you may find yourself pulled over on the side of the road and flagging down passing ranchers. Also note that half of the byway is unpaved gravel.

Why should I drive this byway? Unless you live in a rural setting, it’s pretty unusual to take a drive that is largely devoid of traffic, relaxing and entirely scenic from start to finish. If you want to get away from it all, this is your drive.

Happy road tripping! Up next: The Colorado River Headwaters Byway.

You can find detailed, mile-by-mile information about this byway and 11 more in the Backroads and Byways of Colorado—Second Edition. This spankin’ new edition features color photos, maps at every byway and extensive updated listings.