Secret Trails to Hike, Bike & Snowshoe
There are a lot of misconceptions about Winter in Colorado.
For many, winter here brings forth visions of snow piled high on the streets by Halloween, every Christmas is white, and if you’re not a skier, you run the risk of becoming a house-bound hermit until the snow melts, usually around July.
But, this isn’t the case. In many parts of the state, snow doesn’t really pile up at all, and other than in the high country, snow that does fall typically melts off in a matter of days. Snowmaking equipment in most of Colorado’s legendary resorts gets the skiing season started until Mother Nature makes her pre-requisite contributions. And believe or not, there are plenty of Coloradoans who don’t ski. Really. It’s true.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, such as a hiker or cyclist, you don’t have to hang up your hiking boots or stow your bike in the shed for the winter. It’s easy to keep doing in winter what you like to do the other three seasons of the year.
As with anything else, as winter approaches, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your equipment and planning when engaging in outdoor recreation. As the weather gets colder, even if there is little or no snow on the ground, you may find that your old reliable summer hiking boots aren’t cutting it in terms of keeping your feet warm (and there’s nothing worse than frozen feet). Switch your summer boots for insulated, waterproof hiking boots. We’re not talking about big, bulky “snow boots” but beefed up hikers, designed for cold-weather use. They have the same comfort, tread and look as summer hikers, but will allow you to comfortably hike in cold weather, even when hitting a trail with several inches of snow on the ground. Add in a pair of bulky wool socks and you’re ready to go.
Once the snow falls and begins to pile up more than just a few inches, winter hiking boots or even snow boots won’t cut it anymore. “Post-holing” through deep snow is difficult and tiring, and really not any fun, and that’s when it’s time to try snowshoeing. More difficult than hiking on good old dirt, but a lot easier than punching through deep powder, snowshoeing allows you to keep hitting the trails during the winter. Although it can take a few tries to get used to snowshoes, most people find them pretty easy to use and hit the trails with little difficulty. There are a number of styles of snowshoes; some are for mountaineering, some for rolling hills and some for running (yes, running). Snowshoes come in various lengths, and the length you’ll need depends on the weight they’re going to support. It’s important to consider not only your weight but the weight of everything you’ll be wearing or carrying. The weight of your outerwear, layered clothing, boots (insulated hiking boots are perfect for snowshoeing, too), and backpacks need to be factored into determining what size snowshoes you’ll need. Your best bet is to consult a good outdoor recreation equipment store to get the right snowshoe for your needs.
There is no shortage of places to go for great snowshoeing. Near Colorado Springs, Gold Camp Road, and the 7 Bridges Trail in North Cheyenne Canyon are both easily accessible and easy for the beginning snowshoer. Red Rocks Canyon Open Space, on Highway 24 on the western edge of Colorado Springs is another good location, but you need to do it shortly after a heavy snowfall. The Sundance Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, just south of Colorado Springs, is popular for snowshoeing due to its three-mile length and relative ease.
Farther west, Mueller State Park, on Highway 67 between the towns of Divide and Cripple Creek has many trails that are great for snowshoeing, and the nearby popular Crags Trail in the Pike National Forest takes a little work to get to (think four-wheel-drive vehicle) but is well worth the effort. About 30 miles west of Colorado Springs, almost every trail in the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is good for snowshoeing. My favorites are the Shootin’ Star and Twin Rocks Trails, which when done as one hike makes for a nice, easy 6-mile snowshoeing experience.
Further west, between Salida and Buena Vista, the Chalk Creek Canyon, wedged between Mt’s Princeton and Antero offers a wide variety of trails, where the snow comes early and lasts well into the spring. The ghost towns of Hancock and St. Elmo near the foot of Tin Cup Pass serve as entries to great snowshoeing trails, along with many trails along County Road 162 that courses its way through the canyon.
If cycling is more your style, there’s still no reason to hang up your bike in the winter. Much as with your car, changing the tires on your bike can be almost all you need to be able to ride your bike all winter.
For slushy, wet winter conditions, bike tires that mimic tread designs in car tires that draw water away from under the tires maybe all you need for borderline wet conditions. When things get more severe and ice starts to form, bikes can be equipped with studded tires to grip into ice and snow. As opposed to studded car tires which only have studs on the tread, bike tires also have studs along the edge of the tread, so you don’t lose traction when leaning into turns. Fenders not only keep the snow and slush off of you but also keep your brakes, shifters, and other mechanisms clean and keep your ride enjoyable and safe.
The footwear you use when riding in warm weather isn’t suitable for winter cycling. You’ll want footwear that is at least ankle high, insulated and waterproof. Clothing needs to be much like what you’d wear if hiking or snowshoeing: Layered, insulated and moisture wicking. You’ll want to be dressed or have extra clothing in case you experience mechanical problems and have to walk out. There eventually comes a time when the powder will be too deep for your bike, but by keeping on packed or groomed trails, you can keep on cycling for most of the winter. Almost any cycling trail you use during warmer weather will still be suitable in the winter, especially those in popular city and county parks. Some ski resorts are also grooming trails and ski runs for winter cycling. You’ll want to call around to check on which ski areas are catering to the cycling community.
Winter is a magical time in Colorado. For hikers, snowshoers and cyclists, there are few things more enjoyable than being the first person to set off on to fresh, virgin snow.