Spread over 14,800 acres in Moffat County, Colorado, Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area is an interesting place to be. This Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Area is dominated by Cross Mountain, a rectangular and long highpoint in the area with a flat top. At an elevation of 2,200 feet, this mountain is summitted by many adventurers who make their way to the wilderness.
Another point of interest in the wilderness area is the floodplains of the Yampa River and the Little Snake River. What really draws eyes to this wilderness region is a steep gorge, that has a depth of 1000 feet, left by the Yampa River. This gorge – known as Cross Mountain Canyon – cuts through the mountains, and allows climbers and explorers to get pretty spectacular views of the landscape from above.
Erosion from the river has also made this wilderness area a colorful landscape, revealing rock outcrops, side canyons, and rocky rims beneath. The unique landscape and the natural features of the wilderness area present several recreational opportunities to the masses. Rafting, kayaking, picnicking, photography, backpacking, rock climbing, boulder scrambling, and fishing are some of them.
Remember, there might be water here, but it is not for swimming. The river runs fast and without break-points which means that only the most experienced, skilled, and daring rafters should brave these waters.
Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area is located just 15 miles west of Maybell, CO, and 45 miles west of Craig, Colorado. The Wilderness Study Area shares its southern borders with the popular Dinosaur National Monument and hence reaching it is easy as you can find plenty of signs pointing towards the latter. In fact, there are several wilderness areas nearby including the popular Vale of Tears and Ant Hills.
Make sure to fill your tanks at Maybell and stock up on food and supplies before hitting the road. Once you get close to the wilderness study area, the roads are of dirt and your ride might get bumpier as you proceed further into the region.
The closest RV campground is an hour and a half away from the Wilderness Study Area and located at the Dinosaur National Monument.
Split Mountain Campground is situated along the banks of the Green River with the Split Mountain towering over it. The campground boasts four group sites for both RVs and tents. Each campsite can host up to 25 people and six RVs. Water and flush toilets are available at the campground. Facilities at the picnic tables, campfire rings, hiking trails, and riverboat launch.
Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area is pure wilderness and is an excellent opportunity for those who love primitive camping, without any facilities. The entire area surrounded by Cross Mountain belongs to the Bureau of Land Management and you can camp anywhere you wish. Backcountry camping is also an option here.
Be sure to leave no traces behind and do not cut live vegetation and wood for the fire. You can, however, use dead and down wood. Pets are welcome to accompany you in the wilderness area as long as they are leashed. Pick your campsites a good distance away from the river and from any marked trail. You can stay for 14 days at a single site.
Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area offers opportunities for high-risk whitewater float-boating. The fast-flowing Yampa River makes float-boating very technical and challenging, and extremely risky for unexperienced floaters. Only expert enthusiasts dare to try this extreme sport at Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area.
Every season, approximately 250 kayakers and rafters take a shot at the three and a half miles of whitewater runs. These class V rapids in the gorge are claimed to be the best in the nation, and bring adventurers from all over the world who are willing to take up the challenge.
Fishing is one of the most popular activities at Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area. Yampa and Little Snake Rivers allow anglers plenty of opportunities to capture catfish, as well as predatory fish like northern pike.
To find the best fishing spots, we suggest you climb into the canyon region. There aren’t any fishing docks so it can be difficult to access the river waters unless you are willing to risk a bit of a hike and a climb amidst the rocky canyon walls.
The best thing about Cross Mountain is that it is still largely unexplored. You can pick any direction to summit this mountain, but the south end is the best choice for day-hikes. It is also the only marked trail in the wilderness study area; a two and a half-mile round trip to the summit and back.
Despite the fact that the mountain has a low elevation, it still offers one of the best aerial views in Colorado. The second summit can be made from the north, from the other side of the gorge that has split the mountain into two. Once you reach the top, you can peer down and enjoy the view of the 1200-foot deep Cross Mountain Canyon.
Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area is home to numerous wildlife mainly due to the river and the hilly landscape. Elk, mule deer, and mountain lion are some of the most common ones found in the region. Cougars and black bears also inhabit the mountains in huge numbers. It is highly unlikely that you won’t see any wildlife when you are there.
There’s plenty to photograph here in the wilderness study area including various cultural and historic sites. Roaming the wilderness, you are most likely to come across lithic shelters and rock art sites that are worth capturing on film.
Once you summit Cross Mountain, you’ll also be gifted with the magnificent sights of the rampaging Yampa River flowing below in the gorge. A sight that, if captured right, is worthy of accolades.
If you are a rock climbing or bouldering enthusiast you will also love this region. Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area has plentiful side canyons and boulders, which allows inexperienced climbers to scramble and explore vast areas of rocky terrain and canyon landscapes.
Another fun activity is finding your way in the exposed rimrocks. There aren’t any marked trails in the area but finding your way through the rocks and scrambling from boulder to boulder can be quite entertaining and enjoyable to those who enjoy a bit of adventure and thrill.