The connection that Coloradans feel to the natural world can be measured each season by road miles ridden, vertical feet hiked, and sections of rivers fished. More than 35% of land area in Colorado is protected public land. That means wildlife is free to roam in natural habitats, native plant life is conserved, and we have an almost endless number of places in which to play and explore. The Colorado National Forests, one type of protected public land, make up more than 13 million acres of total public land acreage and are home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the Rocky Mountain region.
GALLERY: Colorado’s Public Lands
11. Grand Mesa National Forest — 346,555 acres.
Grand Mesa (500 sq. miles), the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, is located within this Western Slope National Forest.
10. Arapaho National Forest — 723,744 acres.
This iconic Front Range National Forest is located in Northern Colorado and falls on both sides of the Continental Divide.
9. Roosevelt National Forest — 813,799 acres.
8. Uncompahgre National Forest — 955,229 acres.
Buried in the heart of this Colorado National Forest, the town of Telluride is a Colorado treasure and a must-see—especially because the tallest free falling waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls, cascades over the end of the Telluride box canyon!
7. Pike National Forest — 1,106,604 acres.
Pikes Peak is located within this National Forest. Take the Cog Railway to the summit of the 14,000 foot peak to enjoy 360 degree views of the region.
6. San Isabel National Forest — 1,120,233 acres.
This National Forest contains 19 of Colorado’s 14ers, including Mt. Elbert, the highest point in the state.
5. Routt National Forest — 1,125,438 acres.
Be sure to try the leisurely hike from Steamboat Springs to 280-foot Fish Creek Falls, a popular in summer as a hiking destination and in winter for ice climbing.
4. Gunnison National Forest — 1,672,136 acres.
For unparalleled scenery, drive the Cottonwood Pass scenic route from Buena Vista to Altmont. The drive is appropriate for all skill levels and is accessible May through September.
RELATED: Colorado’s Strangest Rock Formations
3. Rio Grande National Forest — 1,860,000 acres.
Touted as one of Colorado’s undiscovered gems, this space is home to the mouth of the mighty Rio Grande River at its northern border and 236 miles of the Continental Divide to its west.
2. San Juan National Forest — 1,878,846 acres.
Take a trip back to the Old West on the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a breathtaking ride from Durango to the historic mining town of Silverton.
1. White River National Forest — 2,285,970 acres.
This special place is the most visited National Forest in Colorado for good reason. Take one look at the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, and you’ll understand why people come back season after season.