Colorado is a hiking paradise, consistently listed among the top states for hitting the trails. The state has 5,257 hiking trails listed on alltrails.com, many of which are within a short drive from the cities along the Front Range. This makes the most popular hikes very crowded on weekends throughout the summer. For many, those trails lie dormant from the time the snow flies in the fall until it melts in late spring. Others, though, have found a way to enjoy the trails year-round.
My family and I were among the summer-only hikers until several years ago when we decided to try snowshoeing. On the first outing, our initial steps felt awkward. One of our daughters described it as “hiking with clown shoes.” But as we trudged on through the snow-laden pines and bare aspens, snow started to fall, and we began to relax and enjoy the magical environment. We had the trail to ourselves, and the solitude was unlike anything we’ve experienced in summer.
Returning in winter to trails that we had previously hiked in summer was a fascinating experience. As an example, the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is hands down our family’s favorite hiking destination. My wife’s grandfather owned a cabin nearby, so we have probably hiked that trail more than a dozen times in summer with numerous family members and friends over the years.
Winter in Wild Basin provides a completely different experience. In summer, the St. Vrain Creek gushes with full force over multiple waterfalls along the trail; in winter, everything is frozen and snow-covered. At Copeland Falls you can stand in the middle of the frozen St. Vrain Creek, something that would be unthinkable in summer. Calypso Cascades in summer creates a mighty sound as it flows over fallen logs and rocks; in winter all is quiet and calm. The summer sun brings out wildflowers along the trail; in winter the sun at noon just barely peeks over the ridges and through the trees. Ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, and birds of all kinds are common in summer; in winter they are either hibernating or have long since flown south. However, we did see a woodpecker whose red head stood out against the snowy backdrop, and snowshoe hares were still active as evidenced by their tracks.
Other snowshoe outings have taken us to sweeping views of the continental divide, abandoned mining camps, former ski areas, and huts first built by the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. Often though, we just enjoy walking through the trees and enjoying the winter stillness, interrupted only by the crunch on the snow of our “clown shoes.”
Many winter activities in Colorado require specialized skills, as well as expensive equipment and passes. Snowshoeing, on the other hand, is almost as easy as walking, the equipment is relatively inexpensive, and the trails are free, except maybe for entrance fees to our amazing state or national parks. Outdoor retailers such as REI and Christy Sports rent snowshoes if you want to try before you buy, or you may be able to find a used pair at secondhand sports resellers or online marketplaces. Often the best snowshoeing is at higher elevations, but the heavy snows and colder temperatures so far this year have made it possible to go snowshoeing almost anywhere. February 28th is U.S. Snowshoe Day, so why not try it out on your favorite trail?