With Fall just around the corner, you might be cramming in all your favorite hikes before Winter weather comes. Snowshoeing is a great way to continue enjoying your favorite (and new) trails around you through the dead of Winter.
Northern Colorado has adapted a love for snowshoeing. And it’s awesome. With snowshoes, hiking and backpacking lose all seasonal boundaries. Between the areas in the Poudre Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park, there is an abundance of hiking trails that stay open year-round for winter snowshoeing.
Unlike Backcountry or Cross-Country Skiing, the only gear required for snowshoeing is snowshoes, waterproof hiking boots, and warm Winter clothing. Trekking poles, waterproof backpacks, and gaiters are often used by snowshoers. Gaiters can definitely make the trip more comfortable, since they will keep snow and water out of your boots and legs.
Snowshoes vary widely in price, so as with any outdoor gear, do a little bit of research and read reviews to purchase wisely. You can even make your own snowshoes!
Popular Trails “Up the Poudre”
North of Rocky Mountain National Park, there is a lot of protected National Forest land that can easily be reached from Fort Collins via HWY 14. In most of these areas, dispersed or wilderness camping off the trails is permitted as long as you follow designated rules and Leave No Trace principles.
Little Beaver Creek Trail is a 12.9-mile out and back trail in Comanche Peak Wilderness. Rated as Moderate, this trail has a hefty total elevation gain of 1,948 feet. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash as mountain lions have been seen in this area for years.
Enjoy this trail as it takes you deep into the forest. There are a lot of trails that meet up with Little Beaver Creek Trail, and you can find more information on this trail system here.
Dispersed Wilderness camping is allowed in Comanche Peaks Wilderness. If you are planning on snowshoeing the entire trail, backpacking might be a great opportunity to enjoy the Winter wilderness.
Zimmerman Lake is a great trail for beginner snowshoers, since it is a moderately trafficked 2.7-mile loop trail. There is a low, 518-foot elevation gain. This trail features a lake, wildlife, and a wonderous alpine forest landscape. Dogs are allowed here but must be kept on leash.
The trailhead is right off HWY 14 and easy to find in Roosevelt National Forest. Fishing here is catch-and-release only and can only be done with a Colorado Fishing License.
There are spectacular views of the surrounding wilderness areas and high peaks from this Winter trail.
American Lakes Trail is in State Forest State Park near Walden, CO. This moderate trail is a 6.8-mile long out and back trail. Dogs are allowed on leash here. Camping is permitted in State Forest State Park, but no fires are allowed above timberline.
Walden is the “Moose Viewing Capitol of the World” as there is an abundance of moose in the area due to human involvement and incidental entrapment by highways. Here is more (fun-fact) information on the moose situation in the area.
State Forest State Park has so many other trails that can be accessed in the Winter that are worth checking out. There are even trails that link up to the American Lakes trail, so you can choose to continue to other trails if you’d like.
Deep into the Northern Colorado high country, State Forest State Park is one of the best, secluded spots to recreate. Its year-round accessibility makes it perfect for hiking and snowshoeing.
In Roosevelt National Forest, Blue Lake Trail is near Red Feather. This out and back trail is 10.3-miles long and heavily trafficked year-round. Dogs are allowed here as long as they are on leash.
No camping is allowed within .4 miles of the lake (ignore the fire rings near the lake’s shore) but is permitted along other parts of the trail. You can camp here, and then connect to Cameron Peak (typically suggested only in the Summer months).
Blue Lake Trail is rated as a moderate hike but will be pretty technical with snow on the ground as there are river and stream crossings. This isn’t a trail I would recommend for your first snowshoe hike. This would be a great trail for a first winter-backpacking trip though, since it is not a super long trail.
In 6.5 miles, this out and back trail has a strenuous 1,128-foot elevation gain. Near Glen Haven, this trail follows the Poudre River. Dogs are allowed (on leash) on this trail. Though not very technical, the elevation gain makes this trail moderate.
The higher you go up the trail, the more the forest begins to open up and unveil gorgeous views of the Winter tundra.
Popular Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado’s National Park offers some spectacular Winter recreation opportunities. One of the most popular Winter activities here is snowshoeing! Get lost in this Winter wonderland among deep valleys and high peaks.
*Dogs are not allowed on National Park trails and should not be left in cars. Backcountry camping is allowed after obtaining a permit.
Emerald Lake is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, but Winter here is absolutely stunning. These alpine lakes are always a great site to see, and even more pronounced in Winter.
In just 3.1 miles, you will see Flattop Mountain and the dramatic Hallett Peak. This trail is on the easy end of moderate and is a great beginner snowshoe adventure. Since Emerald Lake is heavily trafficked, it is best to avoid coming here on holiday weekends. Anytime in the early morning or on weekdays will be best.
Lumpy Ridge is not in the main Park area; it is on the Northeast edge of the park and there is no entrance fee over here. This trail is great for beginners or for a short half-day reason to get outside. This 1.6-mile beautiful loop trail will provide spectacular views of the rock features at Lumpy Ridge.
This would also be a great snowshoe trail if you are hiking with children or if you’re looking for a great rest day activity.
For a longer hike, you can follow signs from the same trailhead for the out and back Black Canyon Trail which will take you deep into the Lumpy Ridge area.
This is a hike to test your snowshoeing skills. In 8.4 miles, there is 2,260 feet of elevation gain. Toward the end of the trail (before turning back), you will be well over 11,000 feet above sea level.
Preparation and planning are key for any outdoor activity that pushes your limits but is even more necessary in Winter. Since this hike is difficult, it is one of the few hikes in RMNP that you will find solitude.
Backcountry camping is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park with a permit only.
Little Yellowstone Trail is closer to Grand Lake, CO, but still in Rocky Mountain National Park. This 12-mile out and back trail is barely trafficked and is a great trip for backpacking.
Following a rushing creek most of the way, Little Yellowstone is a beautiful rolling trail that offers spectacular views of the area’s mountains and wildlife. Since this far-West side of the park is less visited, wildlife such as moose, elk, and bighorn sheep roam freely here.
Near Grand Lake is where you will find Cascade Falls. Cascade Falls is a beginner-friendly trail for snowshoers as it offers an easy 7.4 miles. With less than 700 feet of elevation gain, this trail is a wonderful, easy-going way to spend the day.
The trailhead is for North Inlet Trail, but this will take you to the Cascade Falls. Along the trail, you will see a cabin and a couple trails that divert to campgrounds. These are private campgrounds maintained by Summerland park. You’ll pass a RMNP backcountry campsite called Twinberry and a backcountry camping zone – camping is not permitted at these sites anymore.
Once you reach the falls, the trail will split. One trail will take you to the base of the 50-foot cascading waterfall; the other will take you to the top. The trail going to the top is much more maintained which will be easiest for snowshoeing. The views from up here are well worth the extra trail elevation gain. The trail to the base is doable, but more technical and less traveled.
The Cascade Falls trailhead is just minutes away from the town of Grand Lake which makes it a great addition to a trip itinerary. Grand Lake is a beautiful mountain tucked away in a small valley right on the lake that gives it its name. There is a myriad of year-round activities to explore in this part of Colorado.
As Winter nears, us hikers can now be excited about continuing our adventures outside with the help of a pair of snowshoes. Snowshoeing is a great way to still get outside in the Winter without paying a leg and an arm for a ski pass, or as a rest-day activity between skiing or ice climbing.
Get out and enjoy the Winter this year with a pair of snowshoes!
Daniell is a certified outdoor climbing guide with professional experience climbing throughout Colorado’s Western Slope region. She is based out of Fort Collins, CO and enjoys trail running, desert climbing and overnight canoe trips.