Ditch the crowded lifts to explore these trails.
Skiers enjoying Snow Mountain Ranch's 120 kilometers of Nordic trails. Photo by Terri Cook
Tired of I-70 traffic and long lift lines? Instead of heading back to the resorts this weekend, try exploring some of Colorado’s beautiful backcountry the old-fashioned way: by strapping on snowshoes or clipping into cross-country skis. Before you head out, be sure to check the current avalanche conditions and pack plenty of water, food, and warm clothes. Here, six of our favorite close-to-Denver trails to check out, while the powder is still fresh.
Emerald Lake Trail: This Rocky Mountain National Park gem offers a moderate, 3.5-mile round-trip jaunt through the forest with nice views of Longs and Hallett peaks. From its start at the Bear Lake trailhead at the end of the Bear Lake Road, the route climbs about 650 feet, passing Nymph and Dream Lakes, as well as shimmering, frozen waterfalls, along the way. This impressive route tops out at about 10,110 feet at Emerald Lake.
Lost Lake Trail: From its start near Eldora Mountain Resort, this 5.4-mile excursion winds through a tall evergreen forest to Lost Lake, where you can catch gorgeous views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. From the route’s winter start, head up the road about 1.3 miles to the Hessie Trailhead. From here, follow the Devil’s Thumb Trail, which climbs for half a mile before intersecting the Devil’s Bypass Trail. Stay left to continue on the Devil’s Thumb Trail. About 1.1 miles from the start, turn left onto the Lost Lake Trail, which climbs another half mile to the lake. The total elevation gain is about 1,100 feet. (Note: This trail is also a great escape from the summer heat.)
Mount Evans Road: With its easy access to high-elevation snow, Mount Evans Road in Pike National Forest is a great place to cross-country ski or snowshoe, especially in spring when the lower-elevation snow is turning to mush. After parking at either the Echo Lake picnic area or the shuttered Echo Lake Lodge, you can choose between several great options, including a short (0.5-mile) jaunt around Echo Lake (a great choice for kids), the challenging, 8-mile trek on Chicago Lakes Trail, which begins at the campground, or you can simply travel as far as you want up the peaceful Mount Evans Road, which doesn’t open to vehicle traffic until Memorial Day.
Raccoon Trail Loop: When there’s enough snow in the foothills, head to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for a fun and family-friendly outing along the 2.5-mile Raccoon Trail Loop, which is most easily accessed from the park's Reverend’s Ridge Campground, located off a short spur from Gilpin Road 2 (a.k.a. Gap Road). The moderate loop is great in either direction and passes a historic cabin and a beautiful lookout (complete with wood deck and seating), Panorama Point, along the way.
If you’re with a group that needs a variety of difficulty levels or you prefer to explore the backcountry on groomed trails close to amenities, both Eldora Mountain Resort near Nederland and Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park offer many kilometers of dedicated snowshoeing, Nordic, and skate-skiing trails through sun-dappled glades and open meadows with beautiful mountain views, as well as lessons and onsite rentals. Although the trip to Eldora avoids I-70, you still have to contend with parking at the often-packed resort. Snow Mountain Ranch also allows fat biking on some trails. Passes cost $20-25 per person, per day.
BONUS: Seven of our favorite I-70 pitstops, for when you—and your car-companions—need a break from traffic.