Colorado Hunter: Western Colorado an outdoorsman’s paradise

Set your crosshairs over western Colorado, and you’re sighting in one of the best elk and deer hunting regions in the country.

The Centennial State harbors some of the largest elk herds in the country as well as extensive public lands on which to hunt. While not guaranteeing success, all this spells a better chance than you’ll find nearly anywhere else in the country.

Last year, 21 percent of Colorado’s 211,392 elk hunters filled their tags for a total harvest of 43,480 animals. It’s estimated that there are about 280,000 elk in Colorado, the most of any state.

And you can set your sights on far more than elk. Hunters come from across the country to hunt mule deer, moose, pronghorn, bear, mountain lions and more.

From Grand Junction, you can head out onto Grand Mesa (Units 41, 42, 411, 421, 52 and 521 for over-the-counter elk) and the Uncompahgre Plateau (Units 61 and 62 for elk), as well as the Gunnison Basin (Units 76 and 77 for limited elk). After your hunt, take a tour through Grand Mesa or Colorado National Monument.

Up in the northwest corner of the state, the canyons and cliffs of Dinosaur National Monument offer a glimpse of the region’s prehistoric life amid nearby world-class pronghorn options. The region also is where the Yampa and Green rivers come together, providing a popular destination for anglers, especially in the A, B and C sections of the Green below Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

Rangely is another hunting hot spot just 20 miles off U.S. Highway 40, the main thoroughfare in the area traversing barren, hilly landscapes populated with deer, pronghorn, elk and small-game animals.

Craig, the seat of Moffat County, continues to be ranked as one of the top destinations in the country for outdoorsmen. It’s easy to see why. The city is surrounded by public lands and private ranches, all nestled into terrain perfect for hunting. Historic downtown offers boutique shopping and dining, but the city also has a Murdoch’s, Walmart and two large grocery stores to help equip your party for the backcountry.

From Craig, Colorado Highway 13 leads north toward Wyoming and south to hunter-friendly towns including Meeker. Game-rich hunting areas and open landscapes are everywhere you go.

Heading east from Craig on U.S. 40 takes you to Hayden, also rich in ranching and hunting heritage (and a great place to grab a bite to eat between destinations). Another 30 minutes east is Steamboat Springs, the seat of Routt County and one of the most beautiful resort towns in the Rocky Mountains.

Known for its world-class ski area, Steamboat also is home to fifth-generation ranches and some of the best trout fishing and hunting in the state. It’s also where visitors will notice a change in the topography and ecosystems, with sagebrush-covered hills giving way to dramatic mountains thick with groves of aspen and pine. Like Moffat County, Routt County is home to large elk and deer herds as well as a booming moose population that has spread south from North Park. Downtown Steamboat offers premier shopping and dining as well as an abundance of outdoor sporting goods stores for stocking your adventure.

South of Steamboat on Colorado Highway 131 is Oak Creek, a place to stop and eat and walk Main Street before heading off toward the Flat Tops Wilderness Area or other hunting destinations. Just south of Oak Creek are Phippsburg and Yampa, the “Gateway to the Flat Tops” and its prime hunting habitat.

No trip to western Colorado is complete without a stop in North Park, a series of small towns known for moose and fishing. Located an hour drive on Colorado Highway 14 from Steamboat and Laramie, Wyo., Walden is the largest city in North Park and the best place to load up on provisions. Its public lands are extensive, offering endless hunting opportunities.

Use our game management unit maps and descriptions to help plan your hunting visit. We hope you’re successful.