Hours of precious sunlight grow shorter as plumes of snow and sheets ice arrive on the scene of your favorite summer trails, but is a little cold weather and loss of traction reason enough to forgo your woodland jaunts this winter? We didn’t think so. In the words of my man Vanilla, get ready for some Ice, Ice, Baby. Seriously though, we don’t just love our winter hikes because we’re descended from Wild Things (GOT anyone?)–in addition to the beautiful gift of solitude on the trail, a light dusting of snow on the cliffs, snowflakes fluttering among the pines or a frozen alpine lake can completely change the experience of your favorite hike.
Beat the crowds and catch a different perspective on winter this season with our guide to Colorado’s best winter hikes or snowshoe trails. Before you head out, revisit our 8 Winter Hiking Basics for tips on staying safe while hiking and always check the weather before heading out–a sudden blizzard could put a real (cold) damper on your winter hike!
Hanging Lake – Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake Trailhead
3.2 miles, 1214-ft elevation gain
During the summer, the famous Hanging Lake hike feels like you’re walking through a crowded shopping mall, not hiking through a canyon. With hoards of tourists, trash on the ground, digging elbows and people hurriedly pushing past one another, there’s little in the way of nature’s calm and quiet. Revisit during winter and those crowds have dissipated, a mantle of snow dusts the craggy rock faces and the chiseled rock steps transform into a snowy bobsled route. At the top, the Hanging Lake’s famous falls are frozen, perfectly suspended in time. The poignant green water shimmers even more brightly against the contrast of the snow. Follow up your hike with a relaxing a dip in the Glenwood Springs hot springs–a must for sore muscles! Read more about our wintery Hanging Lake hike here.
Ice and Island Lakes – Silverton, Ice Lake Basin Trailhead
7.0 miles (8.4 miles to Island Lake), 2,552-ft elevation gain
One of my all-time favorite summer, fall or winter hikes, Ice Lake near Silverton, CO is unbeatable. The lake is an otherworldly cerulean blue, a color I previously believed was reserved for crayons. Nearby sediment and glacial deposits naturally create this incredible hue. During summer, this hike is packed with people all vying to see this place straight out of a fantasy world. But after ice cakes the trail, these same people aren’t as gung-ho on getting their Instagram photo, which only benefits people willing to take the steep, 8-mile climb to the top in snowy weather. Make the extra 1.5-mile curve to Island Lake and prepare for further amazement at the glory of nature.
Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes – Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake Trailhead
3.6 miles, 615-ft elevation gain
Good luck even finding a spot in the parking lot after 9 am for this hike during summer and fall. Arguably the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, this trek is walled with tourists from all over the world during the summer and leaf peepers during the fall. Mostly due to its short duration, easy climb and stunning vistas, this hike is a tourist staple. During winter, you might need to snag a pair of snowshoes or microspikes, but the hike is relatively flat, so it’s an easy start to winter hiking. You might even see an ice skater trying out their triple salchow on the frozen lake.
St Mary’s Glacier – Idaho Springs
1.5 miles, 420-ft elevation gain
This is one of my favorite hikes to take visitors to when they come out to Colorado. It’s close to the front range, easy and we can make snowballs in July. The downside of the accessibility of this hike is the amount of other people also unabashedly throwing snowballs at their friends. Even in summer, you’ll see skiers and snowboarders hiking up to carve some ice on the glacier. There is the occasional climber, skier, snowboarder and hiker during winter, but there numbers slash immensely during November through March.
Arapaho Glacier Trail – Nederland, Fourth of July Trailhead
7.9 miles, 2,533-ft elevation gain
A snowshoeing favorite, this hike is just west of Boulder in Nederland at the Fourth of July Trailhead, where the popular Lost Lake hike is found. During the summer, you’d be hard-pressed to find a spot in the parking lot up the lumpy, winding 4×4 road. The road grows even more treacherous with a layer of snow and ice, so ensure you have chains or snow tires, preferably on a 4×4 vehicle with higher clearance. The hike itself is challenging with a manageable elevation change and expansive views throughout.
Willow Falls – Silverhtorne, Mesa Cortina Trailhead
8.4 miles, 783-ft. elevation gain
This hike is a perfect snowshoe opportunity for those strapping awkward spiked tennis rackets onto their shoes for the first time. The trail is relatively flat, offering wide open areas of pristine snow and stunning views of nearby Buffalo Mountain as well as far-off sights of Keystone Ski Resort’s winding runs. Located just west of Silverthorne, the hike traverses between Eccles Pass and Red Buffalo Pass. Though the falls will likely be little more than an icy mass clung to a cliff, you can find pure seclusion. Listen to the soft trickling of South Willow Creek beneath mounds of snow and ice and fill your lungs with the clean, cold air.
Mayflower Gulch Trail – Between Copper Ski Resort and Leadville, Mayflower Gulch Trailhead
6.1 miles; shorter duration just to the old town, 1,591-ft elevation gain
Don’t be surprised to see a fairly busy parking lot for this hike, even during the winter. This spot is a prime cross-country and skinning spot for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. But don’t let that deter you from lacing up your boots and pulling on your microspikes. Up a wide, snow-covered wagon road, take in panoramic views of the natural amphitheater and the occasional log structure from old mining days. 2 miles in you will reach a few old buildings at the foot of the mountain. These dilapidated ruins speak of the area’s rich (pun-intended) history in mining and the struggle that followed the boom.
Winter hikes offer a beautifully stoic, calming experience, often not afforded by their summer counterparts. You don’t have to ski or snowboard to get outside during winter. Expand your winter routine this year with a hike or snowshoe adventure you won’t soon forget!