The snow is falling and the air is biting, which can only mean one thing: winter is here. With more and more people heading to already-crowded ski resorts and those main-vein highways piling up with caravans of eager folks in snow gear, you might be thinking it’s time to find another wintertime hobby.
And while you may think hiking season is over, don’t hang up your hiking boots in the storage closet just yet—we’ve got a list of our favorite winter hikes near the front range perfect for first-time winter trail aficionados.
Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park, CO
Lily Lake – 1.1 miles
During the summer, this heavily trafficked trail is flooded with strollers, tourists and families looking for an easy, low-altitude hike with great views. During winter, the crowds thin out, and the snow makes the trail a true winter wonderland. This is a great warm-up trail for a winter jaunt with your family or solo.
Dream Lake – 4 miles
This is one of the most popular hikes in Colorado in every season. It’s a breathtaking stroll with little elevation gain, making a great first-time winter hike or snowshoe trail for locals and visitors alike. Because the trail is so widely used, most of the snow is usually pretty packed down, making it suitable to hike in boots with traction. It’s also one of the most gorgeous hikes in the front range, offering so much “bang for buck” in terms of sprawling views and easily accessible alpine lakes that’ll truly make your jaw drop…unless of course it’s frozen shut from winter winds.
Idaho Springs, CO
St. Mary’s Glacier – 1.5 miles
This is an extremely popular hike in Colorado, and for good reason: it’s close, it’s short and it’s absolutely stunning. In the winter, the parking lot isn’t quite as crowded as those warm summer days, but given it’s an easy trek for some ski and snowboard runs on the glacier you likely won’t ever be the only person on the trail. Sharing the trail is a small price for this winter wonderland complete with sprawling panoramic views.
Tip: The trail is not well marked and a little snow on the ground makes it easy to lose your way. I recommend using an app like Garmin or All Trails that can help you stay on trail!
Royal Arch Trail – ~3 miles
Most of the trails in Boulder are great during the winter, and this one is no exception. Though the trail is pretty vertical with over 1,400 feet of elevation gain, it is easy to navigate and snow doesn’t stick around most of the winter months, so although you may find some patches of ice, you should be able to skirt around them.
Tip: Most of the trails in Boulder are great year round, but trails like Bear Peak or Sanitas are extra adventurous after a solid snowstorm.
Brainard Lake – 4.8 miles
To reach Brainard Lake during winter when the gate is closed, you have a couple of options on this one: either hike/ walk the road the whole way, or skin up.
Depending on the time of year and recent snowfall, there are usually notable tracks to follow, which is especially nice in deep snow. The area is usually pretty windy, but the wind and snow doesn’t stop the hoards of skiers, splitboarders, and snowshoers that flock in droves to the parking lot even in the dead of winter.
Tip: If you’re up for a challenge, head around 3 miles (6 round trip) past Brainard Lake to reach the breathtaking Lake Isabelle—I would recommend snowshoes or touring skis for this.
Left Hand Reservoir – 3.2 miles
From the same parking lot to reach Brainard Lake, you can opt to take a different road to Left Hand Reservoir for a shorter distance and less people. Follow the road to the left toward Left Hand Reservoir, which sees far less traffic than Brainard Lake. The road is wide, usually snow packed and easy to follow—a great first-time winter hike for beginners.
Tip: Get there before 8 am to avoid the crowds and nab one of the limited parking spots—pack a hot toddy to make it through the cold morning.
Maxwell Falls – 4.2 miles
This was one of my favorite hikes when I lived in Denver. It’s only a little over 30 minutes from the city, and offers views of thick evergreen forests. The trail can be a bit easy during the summer, but during the midst of winter and early spring, when the snow is still falling the trail sees less activity, making it a wonderful spot to find some solitude.
Wherever you roam this winter, know your limits, be smart about the terrain and pack extra layers, an emergency kit, and plenty of food and water. Snow also makes it difficult to see trail markings, so ensure you have a trail map on hand or an app that tracks your location, and be sure to let someone know where you’re going. Winter hiking can be a wonderful experience, but changes to the weather can create dangerous situations, so ensure you’re always prepared for the elements.