Colorado Snowshoe Trails

Colorado snowshoe trails can be found throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado State Parks, and many wilderness areas. Come see the possibilities...

If you've hiked Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer, you're in for a treat. In winter, the park turns into a winter wonderland.

You'll find snow covered peaks, chirping chickadees, and peace and quiet. Although you'll probably see other people on these Colorado snowshoe trails, the park is much quieter during the winter.

So, are you ready? Then let's explore the possibilities:

Rocky Mountain National Park

1) Bear Lake trailhead: if you'd like to have an easy day of it on your first day out, I'd suggest snowshoeing around Bear Lake or going up to Nymph Lake. These are short and easy Colorado snowshoe trails that let you get used to your snowshoes while still offering beautiful scenery. The snowshoe hike around Bear Lake is relatively flat while the trail up to Nymph Lake is more of a climb.

Bear Lake trail, R.M.N.P.

Here's a portion of the Bear Lake trail. It had just snowed the night before, so there was new snow on the trees.

To see it though, you have to get there pretty fast since the wind blows it off so quickly.

We were there around mid morning and even then, some of the snow had already fallen off. Still very beautiful though!

Bear Lake winter, R.M.N.P.

Here's a look at Bear Lake in the winter. As you can see, it looks much different. What you can't see, is the wind.

It was very windy and cold on this day but if you have enough layers on, and keep moving, it's not so bad, especially once you get in the trees. And of course, it's not always windy.

Nymph Lake trail, R.M.N.P.

This Colorado snowshoe trail takes you up to Nymph Lake. The distance to the lake is only 0.5 miles so it doesn't take long to get there. The trail itself climbs gently, and once you reach the lake, you can choose to continue on, or you can go back the way you came.

The snowshoe trails that go to Dream Lake and beyond, become a little more difficult to follow shortly after Nymph Lake. This is mainly because people like to make their own trails through the snow. If you want to snowshoe these Colorado trails, I'd recommend going as far as you're comfortable with, then turning back. You'll still have great scenery.

If you'd like to go further, my favorite snowshoe trail here is the trail going to Bierstadt Lake. This trail is well marked and easy to follow, so you don't have to wonder where you are!

Bierstadt Lake trail in winter
Bierstadt Lake in winter, R.M.N.P.

Speaking of Bierstadt Lake, another great place to snowshoe from the Bear Lake trailhead is to follow the Odessa Lake trail. First, follow the Bierstadt Lake trail, and shortly thereafter, you’ll see the sign for Odessa Lake on your left.

This Colorado snowshoe trail gives you beautiful views of Longs Peak, then takes you into a thick forest. If it has snowed recently (as when I was there), it’s like snowshoeing in a winter wonderland! (Below.)

Odessa Lake trail in winter, R.M.N.P.
Alberta Falls trail in winter, R.M.N.P.

2) Glacier Gorge Junction: the Colorado snowshoe trail that starts here takes you on a short and easy snowshoe hike to Alberta Falls.

It's a pretty falls but it disappears in the winter, so if you want to see it, you'll have to return in the warmer months.

For a longer snowshoe hike on this Colorado trail, continue past Alberta Falls to Mills Lake and beyond. The trail is easy to follow and well marked for a good portion of it.

Eventually, you'll reach a steep uphill section and if you don't mind the hill, you can continue on. Otherwise, turn around and go back the way you came. 

3) Wild Basin: the best thing about Wild Basin is that it's free during the winter. How's that for incentive to go snowshoeing there? It's because the pay station isn't manned during the winter. That means you get to go for a good snowshoe hike through beautiful winter scenery without having to pay for it.

During the winter, the park service closes the dirt road to the trailhead approximately one mile before the actual trailhead and the summer parking area. So, all you need to do is follow the road until you see the road closed sign, then park in the small parking area.

The road itself, (beyond the road closed sign), makes for good snowshoeing if it's your first day out or you're looking for something easy. It's flat all the way to the trailhead and you'll be surrounded by the forest. You might also see or hear some chickadees, or other birds. Keep an eye out for them!

If you want to go further, or have more of a challenge, then just snowshoe your way to where the trails start. From there, just follow the trail that leads to Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and beyond. Snowshoe the trail for as long as you want, then turn around and go back. You'll have beautiful scenery wherever you go.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Directions: from Boulder, follow Canyon Blvd. up Boulder Canyon to the town of Nederland. Once there, turn right onto Colorado Highway 72, (Peak-to-Peak Highway), and follow it for approximately 15 miles to the town of Ward. Just beyond Ward you’ll see the big sign for the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Turn left onto Forest Road 102 and follow it for about 2.5 miles to where the road is closed during the winter and blocked by a gate. Parking is adequate on weekdays but if you’ll be here on a weekend or holiday, plan on arriving early so you’ll get a parking spot near the trails.

Brainard Lake trail at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Colorado snowshoe trails at the Brainard Lake area are very popular. In fact, they are often described as the most popular place to snowshoe in Colorado’s Front Range. One of the great things about this area is that though it’s a fee area during the summer, it becomes free during the winter.

Since this area is popular both for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, you’ll find that some of these Colorado snowshoe trails are snowshoe only, and some are cross-country ski only. They are well marked so you’ll have no problem knowing which is which. Also, the trails themselves are marked with little pictures of snowshoers, (or cross-country skiers), so you can find your way through the woods. Without this, you could easily get lost since people like to make their own trails through the snow.

Scenery along the Brainard Lake trail

The Colorado snowshoe trails that you’ll find here have a very definite backcountry feel to them. So if that’s what you’re looking for, this is the place you want to be.

We were here on a weekday and though there were a good number of cars in the parking area, we only encountered other people twice on the trail and that was in the space of about three hours. I hear it’s a little different on weekends though!

As can often be the case in the mountains during the winter, you will most likely encounter wind here, at one time or another. But if you have the right clothes and enough food and water, you will probably be just fine.

Also, these trails tend to meander through the woods. So if you stay in the trees and remember to keep moving, you will likely be warm enough.

There are a variety of Colorado snowshoe trails here, some of which lead to Brainard Lake. Just pick one that looks to your liking and start hiking. Have fun and remember to bring your camera.

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs, Colorado picture

Directions: From the Denver area, take I-70 west to the Silverthorne exit 205. (Sign also says Steamboat Springs.) Turn right, (north), on Colorado Highway 9 to Kremmling. In Kremmling, turn left on U.S. 40 west and follow it over Rabbit Ears Pass and down into Steamboat Springs.

West Summit Loop 1A trail on Rabbit Ears Pass

Colorado snowshoe trails in Steamboat Springs make for a great snowshoeing experience; not only is the scenery superb, but there is always plenty of snow here. In fact, the 2005-2006 season was the third snowiest on record in the past 27 years.

On this trip to a different Colorado snowshoe trail, we chose Rabbit Ears Pass. There are a variety of snowshoeing trails here but the better ones start from the first four parking areas on the Steamboat Springs side of Rabbit Ears Pass. Why do I think they’re better? Because these snowshoe trails are for non-motorized recreation only. If you venture to the other side of Rabbit Ears pass, you may have to share the area with snowmobiles, where they are permitted.

Anyway, on this day we chose a snowshoe trail called West Summit Loop 1A. To get there from Steamboat, drive back up Rabbit Ears Pass for approximately 13 miles and look for the West Summit parking area on your left. The sign may be a little tricky to see if there’s a lot of snow, so you can also look for the first parking area you see on your left. This will be the West Summit parking area.

Another portion of the West Summit Loop 1A trail; Rabbit Ears Pass

Before I tell you about this Colorado snowshoe trail, I should tell you that this particular trail (and others in the area) are groomed cross-country ski trails. So, it is asked that you snowshoe to the side of these trails, where possible. (You will be able to see where the two groups have been.) By the way, the trail is marked with blue diamonds to help you find your way around.

So, for starters, this snowshoe trail is a 4-mile loop, (according to the sign at the trailhead), and it has a moderate rating. From the parking area, you have to scramble up onto the snowbank to access the trail.

Once you’ve managed that, it’s up to you as to which direction you want to snowshoe. I’ve heard that it’s easier to go in a clockwise direction but either way is fine.

Whichever way you go, you will encounter wooded areas, open meadows, and mountain vistas. So you can’t help but have a great experience on this popular Colorado snowshoe trail.

Enjoy these Colorado snowshoe trails and check back every now and then, since I'll be adding more trails as I get to them. Have fun!

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