17,500 acres (27.3 square miles)
Castle Peak is a prominent peak with steep rugged slopes, and rolling hills, basins, and meadows. It is an outlier of volcanic rock similar in age and origin to expanses of volcanic strata underlying the Flat Tops. Nestled between the Flat Tops, Gore Range and Sawatch Range, Castle Peak provides sweeping vistas of dramatic mountain landscape. Many springs, small lakes and perennial streams are found in the area; some streams provide aquatic habitat and support trout.
In parts of the proposed Castle Peak Wilderness, a network of trails wind through the often chest-high grasses and downed timber. Castle Peak itself is not only a visual reference point for the whole area, but interesting in its own right, as an outlier of volcanic rock similar in age and origin to that covering the Flat Tops. Elevations range from 8,400 feet to 11,275 feet on Castle Peak The expanded boundaries of the proposed wilderness add additional biodiversity by reaching down the hillside to include the lower elevation sagebrush/grasslands habitats. Castle Peak’s location four miles from I-70 at the Wolcott exit, places it within easy driving distance of the Front Range, an added bonus for tourism and recreation.
What’s special about it
Ecology: Due to its mid level elevation and plentiful precipitation, Castle Peak supports a wide variety of plants and wildlife. In addition to beaver ponds, the area offers superb summer range for 400 elk and 1,000 deer. The area also has outstanding geologic, natural, scenic and recreational characteristics, including low elevation habitat for a variety of species.
Recreation: In parts of Castle Peak, a network of hiking trails wind through the often chest-high grasses and downed timber. Jeep touring on the roadways surrounding the area is also popular as it affords a virtually unencumbered view of 5 surrounding Wilderness Areas. The area’s qualities — numerous pack trails, creeks, beaver ponds, unusual rock formation, diverse plant and animal life — offers outstanding opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation opportunities for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, photography, sightseeing, birdwatching and hunting.
Geology: Castle Peak itself is not only a visual reference point for the whole area, but interesting in its own right. It is a basalt dike, a column of volcanic rock left as the surrounding softer material has eroded away and is an outlier of volcanic rock similar in age and origin to that covering the Flat Tops.
Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Suitability Analysis excerpt:
The diversity of ecosystems provides for a large variety of primitive and unconfined recreational activities including hiking, backpacking, hunting, horseback riding, photography, fishing, nature study and sightseeing.
Special Features: The unusual basalt geological formation of Castle Peak (11,275 ft) is the most prominent geologic feature within the WSA and in the Eagle River Valley, being visible for a 10 mile radius.
The diversity of topography and vegetation provides the WSA with outstanding scenic and ecological values. Most of the WSA has been rated as high quality (Class A) scenery in the Visual Resource Management analysis. The relatively unaltered ecosystems and scenery of the WSA contrast with the surroundings where man’s influence is more noticeable and thus highlights the primeval character of the WSA. The vegetation also provides excellent habitat for deer and elk.
Several changes have been made to this proposal area’s boundaries to accommodate continued access for backcountry outfitting businesses and agricultural operations, and to add new wilderness quality lands. The expanded boundaries of the proposed wilderness add additional biodiversity by reaching down the hillside to include the lower elevation sagebrush/grasslands habitats.
The Colorado Army National Guard High Altitude Aerial Training Site (HAATS) located at the Eagle County Airport conducts combat helicopter training excercises throughout the region. Though landings in the Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area are currently prohibited, overflights of the WSA and landings on lands adjacent to the WSA that also proposed wilderness are ongoing. These operations are an important element in preparing our troops for overseas duty but take a heavy toll on the wild and quiet character of this unit.
How to get there
The proposed Castle Peak Wilderness Area is located about 10 miles north of Eagle, southeast of the Flat Tops Wilderness. Many trails cross through the area.
- From Wolcott to on Colorado 131 north about 3 miles and turn left (west) on CR54 which eventually turns into BLM road 8500. Take 8500 to BLM road 8511 and begin you hike at the end of 8511.
- From the Colorado River Road (CR 301) take CR 41 at Blue Hill. CR 41 becomes 8530 and take it until you reach BLM 8532. Take BLM 8532 south until it ends at the area boundary.