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Rocky Mountain National
Despite not having any nearby lifts, Estes Park ranks as one of Colorado’s best ski towns thanks to its proximity to Rocky. Vertically inclined backcountry skiers can bag the bragging-rights-worthy peaks around Bear Lake or head to Hidden Valley, the park’s long-abandoned 1,200-acre ski area. Meanwhile, the vista-strewn Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads provide steep but scenic challenges to Nordic skiers and snowshoers. If you don’t feel like exploring on your own, Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park has guided outings suitable for intermediate alpine shredders and novice snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
Steamboat Lake State Park
More than 300 inches of annual snowfall draw ice fishers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers from across Colorado to this state park, 25 miles due north of Steamboat Springs. But it’s the snowmobilers who get the run of the place: Although a small portion of the 2,820-acre tract is set aside for nonmotorized recreation, everything else is fair game for on- and off-trail riding. And if that weren’t enough, the park also provides access to adjacent Routt National Forest’s 146 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Don’t have a motor sled? Steamboat Lake Outpost, located just a mile south of the visitor center, offers rentals and guided tours.
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State Forest State Park
This 70,000-acre parcel of land two hours west of Fort Collins is Colorado’s largest (and most pragmatically named) state park. With so much space to explore, it’s best to book a basecamp through Never Summer Nordic, a family-run company that manages 11 yurts and huts scattered throughout State Forest. Accessing them requires a .25- to 2.8-mile ski or snowshoe, but you’ll need that gear anyway for dayhikes to iced-over Lake Agnes (less than a mile from the Nokhu and Agnes Creek huts) or low-angled backcountry skiing right outside the two yurts on the west side of 11,215-foot Montgomery Pass. From $120 per night
Great Sand Dunes National Park And Preserve
Freezing temperatures, often in the single digits, greatly curtail visitation during the winter—human visitation, that is. The quiet draws elk and pronghorns out onto the grasslands that surround the dunes in the mornings and evenings to graze, and in February, more than 20,000 migrating sandhill cranes stop by the region to feed and court one another with dancing, bowing, and chortling. Most nearby accommodations shutter during the offseason, but the new Mellow Moon Lodge, an hour away in Del Norte, has dog-friendly rooms, free coffee, and a fire pit to warm your feet. From $112 per night
Ruby Hill Park
Each winter since 2007, Denver Parks and Recreation and Winter Park Resort have teamed up to transform Ruby Hill Park in southwest Denver into one of the only urban ski and snowboard terrain parks in the United States. This season, the free, volunteer-run operation is offering complimentary on-site snowboard rentals and youth lessons. (Check denvergov.org for details.) Combine that with Ruby Hill’s beginner-friendly progression of rails and boxes, and your child’s X Games gold is but a jib, grind, and boardslide away.