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Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area

Government information and links are at the bottom of this page.

Located in Gunnison National Forest

Neighboring towns: Gunnison, Salida, Crested Butte, Pitkin, Ohio, Tincup, Taylor Park, Almont, Parlin

Fossil Ridge is classic Rocky Mountain wilderness: rough-hewn granite peaks tower behind glittering alpine lakes resting at the head of long, timbered glacial-cut valleys. On the surface, this properly describes the area, but looking deeper within Fossil Ridge, we find one of the Rockies' wildest and most inaccessible stream drainages - Crystal Creek - an uncommon juxtaposition of limestone and granite ridges.

Fossil Ridge takes its name from a high limestone ridge rich in fossils. Ancient seas laid down thousands of feet of limestone and dolomite between 600 and 275 million years ago, creating the Leadville Formation, which yields fossils of varied sea life, from sharks to invertebrates. How odd it seems to find fossils far above timberline, 13,000 feet above sea level, and to consider the monstrous tectonic forces it took to so drastically alter the earth's surface.

Above Lamphier Lake, accessible on a well-developed, three mile long trail, a slim cut in the bare rock called Gunsight Pass (barely shoulder-width!) opens the ridge for foot travel from South Lottis Creek's drainage to Crystal Creek's drainage. Searching for gold, miners dug at several sites still scarred by their efforts but, these pieces of history somehow may enhance the area's overall attractiveness. Square Top Mountain, approximately 12,500 feet high and about an hour's worth of climbing above Lamphier Lake, allows a virtually unparalleled view of almost half of Colorado's fourteeners.

Though small in size, Fossil Ridge's compact shape protects two long parallel drainages. Glaciers left South Lottis Creek's valley wide and deep, and a trail easily negotiates it. Crystal Creek flows between high, narrow cliffs which create obstacles to trail construction and easy travel. Consequently, Crystal Creek offers refuge to resident elk herds seeking to avoid humans and to the odd human wishing a pristine wilderness experience. Deer and elk are found throughout Fossil Ridge, along with a dozen or more mountain goats that roam Henry Mountain and its environs, refugees from a larger group in the nearby Collegiates. Bighorn sheep occasionally wander into Fossil Ridge as well. The area's half-dozen lakes support a number of introduced trout species, including brown, brook and Yellowstone cutthroat. The Taylor River Canyon on the area's northern boundary is renowned among anglers for its cold-water trout fishery.

Size: 31,534 acres

Elevation: 9,000 to 13,254 feet

Miles of trails: 22

Year designated: 1993

Hunting areas: 55

For more information contact:

Gunnison & Uncompahgre National Forests, 2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416  (970)874-6600 Forest Headquarters
This e-mail will be distributed to the correct Ranger District.
Grand Valley Ranger District, PO Box 330, 218 High Street, Collbran, CO 81624  (970)487-3534
Gunnison Ranger District, 216 N. Colorado, Gunnison, CO 81230  (970)641-0471
Ouray Ranger District, 2505 S. Townsend, Montrose, CO 81401  (970)240-5400
Paonia Ranger District, PO box 1030, North Rio Grande Ave., Paonia, CO 81428  (970)527-4131
Gunnison Ranger District, PO Box 89, Lake City, CO 81235  (970)641-0471 or (970)944-2500
Grand Valley Ranger District, 2777 Crossroads Blvd., Grand Junction, CO 81506  (970)242-8211
Norwood Ranger District, PO Box 388, 1760 Grand Ave., Norwood, CO 81423  (970)327-42261

Wilderness sunset

NOTE: Eloquent descriptions of our wilderness areas provided by Mark Pearson, author of "The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas", Westcliffe Publishers, Englewood, CO. The book also contains many beautiful pictures by renowned photographer and Colorado resident John Fielder.


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