Why we love it: Stunning views of the Front Range with a mix of forest and alpine meadow to provide respite when winds pick up.
When to go: After a snowstorm. Remember, deep drifts require larger snowshoes to more evenly distribute weight.
Dawson Butte—five miles south of Castle Rock—is a favorite hike during the summer months because the meadow is alive with chipmunks, rabbits, elk, bear, mule deer, and mountain lions. But in the winter, the meadow is especially magnificent—and quiet.
For a steady workout, strap on your snowshoes (or skis) and beeline toward the trailhead. Since it's a five-mile loop, it doesn't matter which direction you start. I usually go right; the trail immediately takes you into pine forest. About a quarter mile in, the trail opens up into a vast meadow. You'll continue this alternation—forest, meadow, forest, meadow—throughout the loop.
The great part about snowshoeing this trail is that the mix of meadow and forest is perfect protection when unpredictable winter winds arise. If you get caught in an open section, you'll be back in tree cover soon enough. You can't access the top of the butte, so there's no real climbing. This trail is all about gently rolling hills and impressive mountain views.
Bonus: After a five-mile snowshoe adventure, you'll have burned more than enough calories (about 1,000 for a 140-pound person) to enjoy an induglent cup of celebratory cocoa or a beer.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 South to the Plum Creek Parkway exit, and head south five miles on the frontage road. Turn right on Tomah Road. Drive one and a half miles; the Dawson Butte Open Space will be on the right.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock