Length: The out-and-back trail can be altered in length between 1 and 16 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate, depending upon length
Why we love it: The choice of road or trail for the first 4.6 miles allows you to adjust your effort on the spot and makes for an excellent 9.2-mile-long loop.
When to go: Winter through early spring on cross-country skis or snowshoes
Pre-hike buzz: Stop in Boulder at Amante Coffee on Walnut Street before heading up the canyon.
Restrooms: None available
Dogs: Not allowed between December 1 and April 10. Must be leashed the rest of the year.

Located north of Nederland along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, the Middle St. Vrain trail offers a perfect landscape for novice and intermediate snowshoers, but it’s especially ideal for cross-country skiers of all skill levels. The lack of steep terrain along the lower valley lessens the risk of avalanches in this area, but it’s always important to check conditions and take appropriate precautions.

From the trailhead at 8,600 feet, begin by skiing west along the Middle St. Vrain Road, whose smooth, gentle surface is great for skating and for beginners. The road climbs very gradually but is frequented by snowmobiles, especially on weekends, so stay alert. After 0.1 mile, you can branch off onto a well-marked trail that winds through trees over rolling terrain along the south side of the valley. After one mile, the trail crosses the road and the river, then veers toward the valley’s north side. Here the trail closely follows the creek for another 2.5 miles, alternating between open glades and gorgeous stands of snow-dusted evergreens.

The trail ends at the next junction with the road, just above a bridge about 4.6 miles from the trailhead. At this point you can choose to retrace your tracks or complete a 9.2-mile loop by taking the road or trail, whichever way you didn’t go on the way up. Alternatively—if you’re feeling ambitious—you can continue west along the road. Even after the road ends in another 2.5 miles, the trail continues up increasingly steeper (and more avalanche-prone) terrain. Once you’re ready, turn around and enjoy the gentle glide back to the trailhead.

Getting there: From Denver follow I-25 north to US-36 W. In Boulder, turn left onto Canyon Blvd. (CO-119) and follow this to Nederland. At the roundabout, take the second exit onto CO-72. The turnoff, which is marked by a sign for the Middle St. Vrain campground, is on the west (left) side of the road at a hairpin about 5.7 miles north of Ward.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.