9 snowshoe trails in Colorado with the best views this winter


Barb Boyer Buck and Michelle Taylor make new tracks as they snowshoe across Sprague Lake late in the afternoon in Rocky Mountain National Park in January 2015 (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Snowshoeing is just a hike on snow using shoes that look like clown feet, if clowns lived Mad Max’s version of the apocalypse.

Right?

Well, yes and no. It’s true that you can snowshoe any trail. But some trails make for better snowshoeing than others.

Snowshoeing is tough. Most think it takes 1½ times the effort because you aren’t used to walking in snowshoes, it takes work to fight through the thick snow, and cold winter conditions mean bringing and wearing a lot more stuff than you would in the summer.

The following trails are popular summer trails that we believe translate well to snowshoeing. We tried to look at difficulty, scenery and the ease of getting to the start. Many of these trails are relatively popular even in the winter, so try to go on a snowy day, as trails that receive a lot of footfalls can get icy without a fresh coat of powder.

Mills Lake

Snow, water and ice on Mills Lake on April 9, 2014. (Walt Hester, Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

Where: Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike length: 4-5 miles (round trip)

Yes, the trails around Bear Lake are always fantastic, and the snowshoe trails to Dream and Emerald lakes are enjoyable and beautiful. The problem is, about 75 million agree with us, and many of them like to go on a nice winter day. Since this is Rocky Mountain National Park, Mills isn’t exactly remote, but you may find this trail a little less crowded simply because it’s a little longer, at 5 miles, than those others. It’s also more rewarding, and the view of the lake surrounded by the back side of Longs Peak and Pagoda Peak is one of the best in the park.

Sprague Lake

Where: Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike length: About a mile

The best introduction to snowshoeing outside of hiking around your backyard. An easy, flat and short trail in the national park, with beautiful views and an excuse to eat some of the fudge downtown once you’re done.

Brainard Lake

Where: Brainard Lake Recreation Area
Hike length: 2 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is one of the best-kept secrets in Colorado, although it seems funny to say that, given that it draws big crowds every summer. But it’s one of the most beautiful spots in all of the state, and the fact that you have to park a couple miles below the lake because of the winter closure gate seems to discourage winter hikers from flooding the trail. This is a good area to see moose as well. The lake does lead to other trails if you’re feeling especially adventurous. Isabelle Lake is a good one and would add another 4 miles to your hike.

Echo Lake in the Mount Evans area

Hiker Rich Boyan of the Evergreen Newcomers Club uses snowshoes as he rounds Echo Lake during a weekly outing with the group on Dec. 12, 2003. (Denver Post file)

Where: Off the Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Hike length: Less than a mile

Park at Echo Lake Park off the byway and walk to the lodge. This is a good beginner’s hike, but it’s also a true alpine experience, with some beautiful views above treeline. The lake is usually still in the morning, which gives you a good reason to get out of bed, as it can get windy later in the day, especially in the winter. This hike does offer access to other trails if you’re feeling adventurous.

Mule Deer Loop Trail and Panoramic Point

Where: Golden Gate State Park
Hike length: 5 to 7½ miles

A nice, gradual climb takes you to one of the better views of the Front Range. (And it’s even better in the winter.)

Clear Creek Trail in Golden

Where: Lions Park in downtown Golden, although it has many access points
Hike length: Up to you

This trail, like many near a park with a concrete trail, needs a good snowfall before it’s fun to snowshoe,  but this is one of most beautiful urban trails in the Front Range. A great place to start is at Lions Park. (Plus, it’s a wonderful spot to play Pokemon Go, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Quandary Peak

A group with Soldiers to the Summit hit the snow-covered Quandary Peak along the East Ridge trail (14,265 feet) in May 2011. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Where: Near Breckenridge
Hike length: 7 miles with significant elevation gain at 3,500 feet

Quandary offers the perfect peak for your first winter fourteener. It minimizes the risk of climbing in the winter, as the avalanche danger is low; there’s usually a well-established winter trail; and there should be other people on the peak in case you run into trouble. It’s still a mountain, so prepare for windy, cold conditions, and keep in mind the reduced daylight in winter means you will have to hustle, as temperatures tend to plummet at sundown.

Zimmerman Lake

Where: Cameron Pass up the Poudre Canyon
Hike length: 2 miles

Cameron Pass seems to attract more snow, and the trails seems to stay fresher, than those in Rocky Mountain National Park, and you can go without paying the national park’s entry fee. It’s just a gentle mile up to the lake, and once you’re there, you can probably walk on the lake and check out the view of some of the peaks in the Never Summer range. Another good trip is to continue up Colorado 14 and head to State Forest State Park, where there are many trails, several of them long but flat.

Snow Mountain Ranch

Where: Frasier
Hike length: Up to you

The Nordic Center and the ranch, operated by YMCA of the Rockies, offers more than 75 miles of terrain for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and even fat biking. This is a great place for beginners, families or those who have snowshoed a few times and want to stretch their limits before trying, say, Quandary Peak. But the flexibility will allow for a safe long day on the trails if you are capable of that sort of thing. The rates are expensive, $25 for adults for a day pass, but drop significantly for kids, and rentals are available as well.



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