Ever dreamt of basking in the splendor of a star-laden night sky, navigating August snowfields, or experiencing a thrilling wildlife encounter? If so, you’re likely an adventurer, thirsty for the wild side of the Colorado Rockies. Fear not, as the rugged terrain of Northern Colorado offers an abundance of such captivating wilderness experiences.

Contrary to popular belief, now is the perfect time to curate your Colorado backpacking bucket list for the upcoming warm season. Living on the cusp of Denver, Colorado, I’ve been fortunate to experience a plethora of wilderness areas.

Each of these sites offers a unique flavor of isolation, making me feel like the sole inhabitant of the world.

Securing a Front Row Seat to Nature’s Theater

Deciphering the map of the wilderness and spotting potential sites of adventure is an art and a game of chance. Veering off the trodden path, trailing behind animals, or crossing nameless passes may open the doors to unexplored territories and new perspectives.

Let’s explore three of my favorite spots: Indian Peaks, Vasquez Peak, and Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Areas. All of these venues promise an unforgettable multi-day backpacking experience, each infused with distinct character and beauty.

I’ll share snapshots from my journeys and rank them on my personal Wild Side (WS) scale. This scale considers usage, wildlife, and scenic views, ranging from six (mildly wild) to ten (the epitome of wild, akin to Antarctica, remote mountain ranges, and dense jungles).

Exploring Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Indian Peaks Wilderness, located west of Boulder, is a popular destination, particularly on its eastern side. Yet, hidden pockets rated eight to nine on the WS scale await the curious explorer.

Our voyage began near the St. Vrain trailhead, enveloped by a dense forest near Buchanan Pass. We ventured along the timberline, discovering an elevated viewpoint overlooking the St. Vrain Glaciers.

The ensuing day led us south up the Cony Creek Valley, revealing diverse landscapes. Over two miles, the path unfolded, revealing a bubbling creek below and a dense canopy overhead.

The journey’s end was the breathtaking Cony Lake, embraced by the towering 13,223-foot Mt. Audubon. A picturesque camp on a high ridge under the spectacularly starry night sky made this journey a solid eight on the WS scale.

Vasquez Peak Wilderness Area – A Wild Wonder

Further down the list is Vasquez Peak Wilderness Area, nestled west of Berthoud Pass and south of Winter Park. Our aim was a destination hike, starting at Berthoud Pass and ending at the St. Louis Creek trailhead.

This three-day journey was a roller coaster of peaks and valleys, offering panoramic views of vast mountain chains from atop two 12,000-foot peaks.

The thrill of sighting a golden eagle, snowshoe hare, marmots, pika, and elk intensified the adventure, earning this trip an eight on the WS scale.

Unveiling the Mysteries of Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area

The remote Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, 120 miles from Denver, offers an intense backcountry experience. The gradual elevation from the lower lodgepole forests to the subalpine zones along the South Fork Big Creek Trail reveals striking panoramas.

Our destination, Seven Lakes, is perched at the transition zone between the forest and the alpine meadows. A short hike unveils the spectacular Sawtooth Range, dominated by Mt. Zirkel, Big Agnes Mountain, and Little Agnes Mountain.

Our wildlife encounters included startling a mule deer buck and an up-close and personal meeting with an elk. These experiences, combined with awe-inspiring mountain views, earned Mt. Zirkel a nine on the WS scale.

Embrace the Wilderness of Northern Colorado

Finding the raw, untamed beauty of the wilderness is within your grasp. All it takes is a fresh perspective, a bit of bushwhacking, or venturing into less-explored areas. The Colorado Rockies’ wilderness rewards you with mesmerizing sunsets, diverse wildlife, and idyllic mountain landscapes – each a testament to nature’s undiluted beauty.

So, gear up, embrace the wild, and embark on an unforgettable journey in Northern Colorado’s majestic landscapes.