This is part of 5280's weekly Outdoors column, where on Tuesdays we explore a part of the state for you.
Why we love it: You get Steamboat’s “champagne” powder without the pricey lift ticket.
When to go: I prefer to pack a lunch and set out around noon. When I get hungry, I’ll plop down in some powder, nosh on a sandwich, and revel as the sun warms up my face.
When I travel, my schedule is most often dictated by a hotel’s check-in time. After all, who wants to lug around luggage and gear (or leave it unattended in a closet) for a few hours while you wait for a room to be cleaned? There are some exceptions: Most often, if there is a must-try hike or snowshoe en route to a destination, I’ll change my travel plans and leave early. Rabbit Ears Pass—located about 13 miles from Steamboat Springs—is one such diversion.
The area gets its name from the two towering slabs of rocks that, you guessed it, look like a rabbit’s ears. (During the summer, the hike to these landmarks is well worth a trip.) The pass, which is more than 9,400 feet above sea level, feels as if it has been squashed instead of a jagged peak. That means there is so much snow-terrain to play in that the area has been divided: snowmobiles are on the east side and the rest of us are on the west. You can strap on a set of cross-country skies (there are ample hills to cruise down—you just need to trek up them, too), but I’m partial to using snowshoes at Rabbit Ears. As long as you play nice with others (read: hike to the side and don’t tear up ski tracks with your shoes), you’ll relish a slower trek through the woods.
So, where should you start? As many times as I’ve snowshoed at Rabbit Ears, I have trouble remembering which trails I’ve done. This does not mean that the treks are boring. Quite the opposite: I like them all. In particular, you won’t be disappointed with the nearly four-mile West Summit Loop A. Plenty of skiers agree with me, so hike counter-clockwise to have a better visibility of them (skiers tend to do the loop clockwise). Beetles hit this area hard, and there are plenty of dead pine trees to dodge, which will make you thankful you’re in shoes, not skis. By the time you get back to your car, it’ll be close to check-in time at Steamboat Springs—and happy hour, too.
Getting there: Take I-70 west to exit 205 and merge with CO-9. Travel north for about 38 miles and turn left on US-40 to head west again. Drive for about 30 miles until you reach Rabbit Ears Pass. There are several parking lots on the east side, but skip those and look for the West Summit parking lot (located on the north side of US-40).