Ski season is underway, but not everyone is a skier. That means it’s snowshoeing season for others, and there are plenty of trails to explore within a short drive of metro areas along the Front Range.
When it comes to snowshoeing, the best trails are the ones that keep their snow and build up a good snowpack. It’s not much fun to try to drag those spiked, oversized “shoes” across rocky terrain sitting under a thin layer of snow or over slick ice. Here is a selection of trails a short drive from Denver that tend to be good for snowshoeing and exploring throughout the winter:
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Where: 92 Crawford Gulch Road, GoldenTrail length: 3-mile loop (Snowshoe Hare Trail) or 6.7-mile loop (Mountain Lion Trail)Gear rental: Stop by Mountainside Gear Rental in Golden the day before you set out so you can get an early start on the trail.
Check in at the visitor center to get the latest on trail conditions in this park, where there are 35 miles of trails. My favorites include Snowshoe Hare Trail and Mountain Lion Trail for the variety of terrain on each. On the Snowshoe Hare Trail, the trail is wide and elevation gain is around a mere 300 feet, where you end up at a small (probably frozen) lake; on the Mountain Lion Trail, if you choose to do the full loop, there are sections with steep ascents (360-degree views are worth it though!) as well as wide meadows, creek crossings and thick forests.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Where: Multiple entrances in Estes ParkTrail length: .05-mile loop (Sprague Lake); .08-mile loop (Bear Lake); 1.2 miles one-way out-and-back (Nymph Lake); 1.25 one-way out-and-back (Old Fall River Road); 3 miles out-and-back (Upper Beaver Meadows Road)Gear rental: Check out Estes Park Mountain Shop for snowshoe rentals for as little as $5.
There are many trails to choose from in Rocky Mountain National Park, and some even have access through winter. Bear Lake offers an easy .08-mile loop trail or a gentle ascent of just over a mile to Nymph Lake. It’s so pretty to see the frozen lakes and icicles hanging from the surrounding rocks as you snowshoe around. Consider adding to your distance by going on to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake.
Another easy option is Sprague Lake, which is also located off the road en route to Bear Lake. It’s just a half-mile loop around the lake. You get views of 12,713-foot Hallett Peak and the 12,324-foot Flattop Mountain. While some of these distances may sound too easy, remember the elevation is pretty high; for example, Sprague Lake sits at 8,688 feet above sea level.
Old Fall River Road closes to vehicles in the winter and becomes a wonderful snowshoe trail instead. Park near the gate marking the road as closed, and snowshoe on a relatively flat trail/road for about a mile. There’s a pretty good chance of seeing moose, elk and other wildlife up here. About a ¼ mile up the dirt road portion is Cascade Falls, a semi-frozen natural wonder at this time of year.
The Upper Beaver Meadows Road is also closed in the winter and gives beginning snowshoers a fairly flat, three-mile roundtrip opportunity to get used to stomping around in possibly deep snow.
The Rocky Mountain Conservancy, a non-profit association that supports Rocky Mountain National Park, leads family-friendly snowshoe treks monthly throughout the winter. Children 13 and under are free, all others are $10 and snowshoes are included for use during the winter ecology class.
Always contact the park ahead of time for the latest road and snow conditions.
Jenny Creek Trail
Where: Trailhead located outside the Eldora Ski Resort parking area, just east of the Eldora signTrail length: 5 miles one-way (out-and-back)Gear rental: Rent snowshoes from the Eldora Nordic Center if you didn’t bring your own.
The Eldora ski resort has a Nordic center and Nordic trails, but it is also the access point to the Jenny Creek Trail #808 on U.S. Forest Service land. Starting on the east side of the bunny slope (aka Tenderfoot), it’s a steep hike up the mountain which then curves to the right before you take a left and follow signs to the Jenny Creek Trail after another right turn. You’ll be at the top of roped-off green to blue slopes along portions of the trail, but soon are just in the trees. It’s surprisingly peaceful in here considering the busyness of the resort. The Arestua Hut is the destination of most on this trail (branch off to the Guinn Mountain Trail #820), but you can turn around anytime. There are no dogs allowed on this one.
Where: 1120 Hessie Road, NederlandTrail length: 3.5 miles roundtrip out-and-back (Lost Lake Trail via Devil’s Thumb Trail)Gear rental: Crystal Ski Shop in Boulder opens at 7 a.m. daily, so you can stop here on the way to the trail.
The trick with this trail is that you might be adding some distance if the access road is closed at the town of Eldora. If the road is open, you’ll drive about a mile down a dirt road to the junction of the Hessie and Fourth of July trailheads and park (there’s a port-a-potty in the vicinity). Take the fork to the left that dips down on a frozen creek/road (beware the potholes which might have a running creek underneath!) and continue west along the Devil’s Thumb Trail #902, always staying left as other trail options come up. When you reach the junction with the Lost Lake trail, take the Lost Lake Trail #813 uphill a short distance to the lake.
Lory State Park
Where: 708 Lodgepole Drive, BellvueTrail length: 2.2 miles one-way out-and-back to 2.7 miles one-way out-and-backGear rental: Head to Outpost Sunsport in Fort Collins for affordable snowshoe rentals.
For novice and intermediate snowshoers, the mostly flat East and West Valley trails that parallel the main road are a perfect option for getting the heart rate up while taking in the scenery. Red sandstone hogbacks, Horsetooth Reservoir coves and bridges are some of the highlights while snowshoeing here, while elevation stays at a pretty constant 5,500 feet or so above sea level. The South Valley Trail is a 2.7-mile easy trail that connects with the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space trail network. Check the park’s calendar for upcoming events when the Friends of Lory State Park offer hot drinks and snacks as a pre-activity social.
Spruce Mountain Open Space Trail
Where: 13415 S. Spruce Mountain Road, LarkspurTrail length: 5.5-mile loopGear rental: Whether you’re coming from Denver or Colorado Springs, you can rent snowshoes at an REI location. REI also offers Avalanche Awareness classes for all snow sports.
South of Denver and before Colorado Springs is Spruce Mountain Open Space, between the towns of Larkspur and Palmer Lake. If there has been recent snow, you can tromp around the meadows at the base of a mesa; if you want more of a challenge, hike to the top of the mesa where the trees keep the snow in place for much of the winter. This loop is 5.5 miles and gives you views to the east and west.