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The Off-Season

October in the high country is notoriously fickle—there’s often too much snow for hiking or biking, but not enough for snowshoeing or skiing. Skip the uncertainty and extend the summer trail season with these six reliable adventures.
October 2012

• Buffalo Peaks, Fairplay

Less visited than the massive Collegiate Peaks to the west, the Buffalo Peaks provide solitude at much lower elevations—perfect for a more relaxed weekend backpacking excursion. Spot elk and bighorn sheep as you traverse the moderate 11-mile Buffalo Peaks Loop—start from the Rich Creek Trailhead—around beaver ponds, through vast open meadows, and along tumbling creeks.

• Pawnee Buttes, Briggsdale

Hike alongside pronghorn antelope (well, they’ll be grazing nearby) and through sandstone bluffs on the way to a pair of white-cliff monoliths 1.5 miles from the trailhead. At 300 feet tall, these buttes are home to nesting falcons and hawks, two of several species that make this an internationally recognized birding destination. 

• Picketwire Canyonlands, La Junta

Starting at the Withers Canyon trailhead, this mountain bike ride takes fat-tire fans on an 18-mile route that traces the Purgatoire River to historical attractions, like 2,000-year-old petroglyphs from American Indians. Riders will also encounter one of the continent’s largest documented sets of dinosaur tracks—including brontosaurus and allosaurus prints.

• Grand Mesa National Forest, Grand Junction

The 10-mile round-trip Crag Crest Trail hike cuts across a wilderness dimpled with some 300 lakes. From the top of the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flattop mountain, unblemished views of towering summits stretch 360 degrees from the West Elk Wilderness and the San Juan Mountains all the way to Utah’s La Sal range.

• Hartman Rocks, Gunnison

Most mountain bikers beeline for Crested Butte’s famed singletrack, but Gunnison is a worthy stop as well. Navigate sandy trails and exposed rock formations in the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, a garden of granite and sagebrush with 40 miles of interconnecting routes.

• Lost Creek Wilderness, Lake George

Backpack in an area that’s typically one of the high country’s last holdouts for winter weather. The Goose Creek Trail cuts through a landscape of exposed crags, knobs, and twisted rock. Set up camp four miles in and explore several nearby buildings from the 1890s—leftovers from an attempt to dam the area’s namesake creek.