The United States Congress designated the Mount Zirkel Wilderness (map
) in 1964 and it now has a total of 160,308 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Colorado
and is managed by the Forest Service.
The Mount Zirkel Wilderness lies within the Routt National Forest in northwestern Colorado. It was one of the original areas protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act and has since been expanded twice to its present size of 160,648 acres. The wilderness straddles the Continental Divide in the Park Range and the Sierra Madre and offers a diversity of ecosystems from sagebrush meadows in the lower areas, through pine and spruce/fir forests and on up to alpine tundra. It contains the rugged peaks of the Sawtooth Range and the headwaters of the Elk, Encampment and North Platte rivers. There are over 70 lakes within the wilderness as well as 15 peaks over 12,000 feet, the highest being 12,180 foot Mount Zirkel, named in 1874 to honor Ferdinand Zirkel's contributions to the science of geology. Glaciation has left its distinctive mark of high valleys ending in precipitous cirques. Over 150 miles of trails provide access and the wilderness offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Some areas, notably several of the lakes and areas along the Continental Divide, are very popular and receive a high level of use but visitors looking for solitude can find it if they come during the week and/or visit less-popular areas.
Ample opportunity exists to view nature's dynamic cycle of disturbance and rebirth. The Routt Divide Blowdown in 1997 toppled millions of trees over a 150 square mile area, most of it within the wilderness, with beetle epidemics and wildfires following in its wake. These natural forces have temporarily altered the landscape without permanently eroding its wilderness character.