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I was planning on a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch this August but it closed the back country for the rest of the summer.

My troop already has group tickets on a flight to Colorado with Delta. I was just wondering if anyone would know a good place to go in that area, that would be a passable replacement for Philmont?

  • A tough one given the fires and closures in southern Colorado and New Mexico. Not sure how the Wind Rivers are, fire danger wise, but definitely a great place to go... – Jon Custer Jul 5 '18 at 22:44
  • Would it still take the same amount of time to do the hike? – JIMMYPlay Jul 5 '18 at 23:46
  • The Wind Rivers are huge. NOLS is based in Lander WY for a reason! I’ve spent two weeks there and didn’t come close to seeing it all. Phineas Mitchell’s guidebook is the classic, there are newer ones. The Cirque of the Towers is classic, but really crowded these days. – Jon Custer Jul 5 '18 at 23:57
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    Further comment - I went to Philmont in 1978. In some ways, it was not a great experience - not because of Philmont, but because of other factors. In many ways, it was. But here's the thing - the memories. I remember our guide Beverly L. who packed in a cast-iron dutch oven to make peach cobbler the first night. I remember the wild horses that ran by our camp. Think about the lifelong memories, and think about what you can do to make those happen. – Don Branson Jul 6 '18 at 1:21
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    @JonCuster - It seems like you have the content to provide a proper answer. Whatdoya think? Sounds like you know some places. – Don Branson Jul 6 '18 at 1:43
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Our crew deviated to Lost Creek Wilderness SW of Denver and Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness near Aspen (bear canisters required, which they picked up at an REI on the way). The only issue they had was the Scouts had bags good enough for Philmont (40F) but not higher elevations, but the leader didn't discover this until they were already at Maroon Bells. Oops. Thus, they just base camped in West Maroon valley and did days hikes for a few days so they were close to "escape" if necessary. Still had a great time, but if they had known the equipment issue beforehand they would have just done a loop in Lost Creek, which is similar elevation to Philmont, instead of just an overnight to acclimate. This was mid June so nighttime temps were cooler on avg than in August but you can hit below freezing any night of the year above 10k in CO.

I would also suggest the Wind Rivers near Pinedale but that's a decent drive from Denver. It's my favorite spot so far. I went there yet again to watch the eclipse on the Continental Divide. :)

Anyway, if you want to hit something in CO/WY then make sure everyone is prepped for temps as low as 20. Also stay alert to Inciweb for wildfire info as you may need to deviate again! CO had a low snow year so things are pretty dry and there are fires all over the state. The Winds had pretty decent snow so they should be OK until Aug or so. I could offer some route suggestions if you want to go to any of these areas just let me know how tough you want and how many days.

FWIW, any backpacking in CO/WY will be superior to Philmont. What you miss is all the programs at the camps (and the extra expense LOL). You'll need to learn to do a proper bear hang without the advantage of having the cables in place for you already. One other skill you need is how to find good campsites for a group. In some places it's a challenge to find a nice spot for 1 tent let alone 4-6 so you need to know how to read topo maps well for clues and pick out tips from trip reports you can find.

Also, is your crew larger than 10? That will throw a wrench in things since most wilderness areas don't allow more than 10 without a permit. You could split up into two smaller crews if you have enough adults and hike a loop in opposite directions.

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You did not mention what you planned on doing. Was it strictly backpacking in the backcountry?

One option would be Whittington Center which is near Philmont. There is hiking and camping in basically the same sort of environment though I'm not sure it would be enough backcountry for you.

The other option is heading north from Denver. Just about all of Colorado is under fire restrictions but at least some of the northern part is only level 1 so camp stoves that can be turned off are okay. Your troop is probably more than 10 people so Wilderness Areas are no good. Check out the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest in the Hahns Peak/Steamboat area or Arapaho National Forest around Poudre Canyon. The last one you can hike to the remains of a couple different WWII era airplane wrecks. That would be memorable.

  • The nature of the experience at Philmont: Campers in groups of 10 with an adult travel from camp to camp within the ranch. Each camp has a program. Distances between camps are typically 3-5 hours walking time. I remember there are twenty some camps with programs, and a few camps without. – Sherwood Botsford Sep 10 '18 at 19:22
  • Thanks, I always wished I could go as a scout but I never really knew what it was like. – Restless Adventurer Sep 20 '18 at 20:31

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