Where to go for winter recreation

click to enlarge BOB FALCONE

  • Bob Falcone

Winter has paid Colorado a visit a few times this season, and more snow and cold weather is yet to come. For many of us, that means trading in the hiking boots for snowshoes or cross-country skis when the snow falls, so we can stay active.

In last week’s column, I wrote about how to dress and equip yourself for comfortable winter recreation, so this week will be about where to go when you strap on the snowshoes or skis.  These are some of my favorite places to go – your list will probably include some trails I don’t have here.

You can snowshoe right in Colorado Springs – or very close by – but you usually have to act pretty quickly since it’s mostly wide open spaces. And once it stops snowing and the sun comes out, the snow melts pretty quickly. So, hit these next two places either while it’s snowing, or very soon after it stops. You’ll want at least 6 or so inches of snow before you transition from boots to snowshoes or skis.

In Red Rock Canyon Open Space, I like the trails on the west side of the park, especially the Sand Canyon, Contemplative and Round-up Trails, followed by the Mesa Trail for the return to the parking lot.

At Cheyenne Mountain State Park, the Sundance Trail is great for snowshoeing, especially for the beginner. The loop trail, with a few gentle hills is, at about 3.5 miles, just the right distance for most people. I like to do this trail, either hiking or snowshoeing, in the clockwise direction. When you get to where the Talon Trail crosses the Sundance Trail, you can choose to turn down the Talon to take a shorter return to the Limekiln Trailhead, or continue on the Sundance to close the loop, or turn up the Talon Trail and take your trek further towards Cheyenne Mountain. This trail is completely exposed to the sun, so don’t waste time doing it after the snow falls.

A little further out, Gold Camp Road from the “Four-Corners” lot above North Cheyenne Canon Parks Helen Hunt Falls is another nice snowshoeing trail, as is the ever popular Seven Bridges Trail. The first 3/4 mile of Gold Camp Road to where the Seven Bridges Trail starts gets worn in pretty quickly due to its popularity. If you stay on Gold Camp Road and head towards tunnel #3 and the St Mary’s Falls trail, you’ll likely find plenty of deep, undisturbed powder to snowshoe or ski on. It’s been my experience that Gold Camp Road usually gets several inches more snow than what falls in Colorado Springs itself.

North of Colorado Springs, Black Forest Section 16 is a nice, easy 4 mile loop for snowshoeing. The tall stands of trees help shade the snow, keeping it from melting too quickly.

West of Woodland Park, the Catamount Ranch Resource Protection Area is another personal favorite for winter recreation. Located at the end of Edlowe Road, off of Highway 24 between Woodland Park and Divide, the Elder-Fehn Trail features rolling hills, heavy shade and great views of the north face of Pikes Peak. At a little under 6 miles round-trip, it’s just the right length for a peaceful winter experience.

A bit further west, Mueller State Park typically tops my list of places to visit in the winter. While almost any trail there is prime for snowshoeing, the Rock Pond and Preachers Hollow Trails, both accessible from the visitors center parking lot, are very convenient. The staff at the visitors center are excellent at knowing which trails are best for snowshoeing or skiing on any given day, so stop in and ask. As a bonus, the park also has some great sledding hills, so ask the staff about those, too. Entrance fees do apply at Mueller State Park.

Down the road from Mueller State Park, the Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks Trails are prime for snowshoeing. A bit more strenuous than some of the others I’ve listed, they give a nice experience while also giving you a great workout. The trail starts uphill right from the trailhead, located immediately on the south end of the old tunnel.

The Shootin’ Star and Twin Rocks Trails at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument are a couple more favorites of mine. Accessed from the Barksdale Picnic area, east of the main part of the park, these trails see much less traffic than other trails in the monument, making them ideal for a nice, quiet winter experience. At around 6 miles roundtrip and with nothing more strenuous than a couple of gentle hills, these two trails are great for a day outside. Other trails in the monument, such as the Sawmill and Boulder Trails, are also good for snowshoeing and skiing. Check with the staff at the visitors center, or better yet, call ahead, to find out where the best conditions are.  Entrance fees do apply at Florissant Fossil Beds.

Be Good. Do Good Things.

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob’s Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.