What is the Arapaho National Forest?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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The Arapaho National Forest was created by Theodore Roosevelt, a United States President, in 1908. The area was named after a Native American tribe, the Arapaho Indians, who used the area for hunting during the summer months. Managed by the United States National Forest Service, the Arapaho National Forest is located in central Colorado. It has countless hiking trails, numerous campgrounds, and several wilderness areas and scenic drives. Visitors to the area can backpack, mountain bike, raft, and even ski.

Camping at Arapaho National Forest is divided into two categories: organized camping and undeveloped camping. Organized camping typically means that campers will find designated camping spots, a picnic table, and possibly a vault toilet within the campground. Undeveloped camping offers none of those features and is only available in certain areas of the forest. Camping can rarely be done at trailheads or picnic areas. District rangers are available to direct campers to regions where primitive camping is permitted.


Some visitors to Arapaho National Forest may prefer to take one of the scenic drives and picnic along the way. There are several drives in the forest that have been designated scenic drives or byways, such as Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Guarnella Pass Scenic Byway, and Colorado River Headwaters Scenic Byway. Each offer unique views of the rugged landscape and opportunities to see native animals and plants. There are picnic areas at various spots along the drive. Most picnic areas include picnic tables, vault toilets, and fire rings or grates as well as trash receptacles.

People who enjoy outdoor activities will find there many different kinds of activities available within Arapaho National Forest. Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, rafting, and horseback riding are all available. In addition, some areas of the forest are open to four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles. For people who enjoy skiing, Winter Park and Loveland ski resorts are located on land owned by the National Forest Service and are both within the bounds of Arapaho’s forest.

The 36,000 acre (145.7 square km) Arapaho National Recreational Area is located within the Arapaho National Forest. Designated a recreational area by the U.S. Congress, it contains five main lakes and plenty of opportunities for fishing and boating. One of the lakes, Grand Lake, is Colorado’s largest natural lake. There are other wilderness areas, such as Byers Peak, Indian Peaks, James Peak, Mount Evans, Never Summer, and Vasquez Peak wilderness areas, within Arapaho National Forest as well. These wilderness areas are created to protect and preserve the forest land and keep it in its most primitive form.


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