For a classic backpacking loop that can be done in a weekend, look no farther than the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
But be prepared to run into a number of other hikers, as the area is popular, and also be prepared to wait out lightning storms.
The 22-mile loop takes hikers through forests of Aspen and pine trees, along a series of uniquely shaped lakes filled with fish and atop a ridge top that provides sweeping views of the Flat Tops and nearby Trappers Lake.
The loop can end with crossing Devils Causeway, a feat that is especially challenging with an unwieldy pack, so many backpackers choose to take a slightly longer but smoother route out.
To do the trail in a weekend, begin early on a Saturday morning and plan to hike 10 miles the first day and 12 miles the second. With an extra day, hiking can be spread out more easily.
This time of year, backpackers should keep a careful eye on weather because storms can move in quickly.
Begin the hike at Stillwater Reservoir, just outside of Yampa, at the Devils Causeway trailhead, and hike up Trail No. 1119.
The steady uphill becomes steep where the trail switchbacks to the top of a ridge. Once atop the ridge, don't go left to cross the rocky bridge of Devils Causeway, but instead go straight, staying on Trail No. 1119, called East Fork Trail.
If you have enough time and want to cross the causeway, but don't want to do it with your pack, this is your chance. Leave your pack and hike uphill left, crossing the causeway to the other side, then return down to your pack.
Take Trail No. 1119 downhill to Causeway Lake, the first of a number of lakes along the trail. Depending on your schedule, the lake can provide a good spot for lunch or a good place to camp. It is about five miles from the trailhead.
Continue hiking until the trail forks at a small lake, and head west on Trail No. 1116, the Lost Lakes Trail. Enjoy the level terrain as it winds around several more lakes.
Stay to the left at the next two forks. The last lake in the series is West Lost Lake and provides a number of established campsites. Be prepared to encounter other groups camping in the popular area.
When camping, U.S. Forest Service officials encourage practicing Leave No Trace techniques. They also encourage backcountry users to camp well away from lakes. In popular areas, you can use an established site; otherwise, choose a place where vegetation will bounce back quickly.
If you plan to do the hike in two days, start the second day very early, as it will be long and you will be traveling along almost 8 miles of trail that is exposed to lightning.
From West Lost Lake, continue along West Lost Lake Trail, No. 1103. Soon after the trail starts to climb, go southeast, or left, along the Chinese Wall Trail, No. 1803.
The trail will gain elevation quickly, going from 10,400 feet to about 12,000 feet several miles.
Once atop the ridge, enjoy stunning views in all directions and hiking through the smooth, alpine landscape.
In the distance, Trappers Lake and the marks left by past wildfires are visible.
The trail becomes hard to find in some parts, so don't hesitate to take out your map and compass and double-check your steps.
When the trail eventually forks, most backpackers should go right along Devils Causeway Trail, then left on Bear River Trail. Eventually, the trail leads around Stillwater Reservoir to the Devils Causeway trailhead. That is about 12 miles from West Lost Lake.
Another option is to head left, or northeast, along the Devils Causeway Trail. Once you reach the rocky bridge that is known to halt even the most fearless of dogs in their tracks, readjust your backpack and take your time crossing.
Crossing the causeway with a full backpack may not be a good choice for people who have not crossed the causeway before.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org