The 15 Best Winter Hikes Near Denver, Colorado

 In Colorado, Colorado 14ers, Hikes
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Want to explore Colorado’s natural wonders at the most beautiful (and least crowded) time of year? Well, you’re in luck. Many of Colorado’s best hiking trails can be enjoyed year-round. Here are 15 winter hikes near Denver that should keep you busy until the snow melts.

winter hiking near denver

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Winter hiking safety tips

If you’re new to Colorado, you may be surprised by just how cold and harsh the winters can be. Before you head out, please make sure you’re geared up and mentally prepared for what you might find out there. A few helpful safety tips:

Weather

  • Winter lasts a long time in Colorado’s high country. Expect most mountain trails to be snow covered from November to late June.
  • Weather.gov is the best source for mountain forecasts. You can even enter the name of a peak or lake for a point forecast.
  • Colorado’s wind chills regularly dip below zero, especially above tree line. It’s important to choose the right clothes (no cotton!) and layer them properly. For more info, check out my blog post on winter hiking clothes.
  • Be avalanche aware. Contrary to popular belief, hikers are killed by avalanches in Colorado. Colorado Avalanche Information Center is an excellent resource for forecasts and safety info. You can also check out my posts on avalanche safety and reading the avalanche forecast.
  • UV radiation is extremely strong at Colorado’s high elevations. Wear sunscreen with 30+ SPF and protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles.
  • Remember, days are short! Start your hike early and take a headlamp.
  • Keep in mind that lake ice may be thin, especially in the shoulder season (fall and spring).

Driving

  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions before you go. The website COtrip.org is an excellent resource for real-time info.

Gear

  • Many winter hikes near Denver require snowshoes, especially in the deep winter. You can rent shoes at REI and other mountain shops.
  • Some heavily trafficked trails, especially the ones near town, can get icy. For these, consider carrying foot traction. My favorite options are Kahtoola Microspikes. They’re not the cheapest, but they’re durable and good at keeping you upright!
  • Carry your 10 survival essentials, plus a few extras like chemical hand warmers. For more info, check out my 10 hiking essentials blog post.
  • A GPS or phone app can be extremely helpful when the trail is under snow. For more info on navigation skills and tools, check out my post, how to navigate the wilderness like a boss.
winter hikes near denver

A cold day at Rocky Mountain National Park

Foothills Winter Hikes

These hikes are very close to Denver and Boulder. This makes them a great for getting out when you’re short on time or weather is bad

Deep snow is rarely an issue in the foothills, but trails can get icy from frequent foot traffic. Kahtoola Microspikes or similar foot traction may come in handy.

1. Mount Falcon Castle and Summer White House

  • Trailhead: Mount Falcon East Trailhead (Morrison)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 7,600 ft. (Walker castle ruins)

Highlights

Much of Mount Falcon Park once belonged to John Brisben Walker, an entrepreneur and renaissance man who lived in Colorado during the early 20th Century. Among his many projects, Walker owned Cosmopolitan magazine and was an early architect of the Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Denver Mountain Park System.

This hike visits the ruins of Walker’s former home, a red sandstone castle that was struck by lightning and burned down in 1918.

Walker also set out to build a 22-room chalet-style summer retreat for the U.S. Presidents. Fundraising fizzled and the project was abandoned, but you can still see a bit of the foundation and a single cornerstone laid in 1914. The views from this spot are sublime.

Tips

From the East Trailhead, ascend the Castle Trail, enjoying views of downtown Denver and the Red Rocks Amphitheater. When you reach a picnic shelter, look for the Walker’s Dream Trail on your right. From here, it’s a 10-minute hike to the Summer White House ruins and viewpoint.

Return to the Castle Trail and hike for about 15 more minutes to reach the Walker Home ruins.

Alternatives

The Turkey Trot Trail adds 0.3 miles and takes in some lovely views of Mount Morrison and Bear Creek Canyon. Look for it on the right just after leaving the trailhead.

For a shorter hike, drive up to the much higher Mount Falcon West Trailhead (near Indian Hills). From here, you can hike about 1.5 miles and 500 feet downhill to the Castle and Summer White House. Save some juice for the return trip.

winter hikes near denver mt falcon

2. Guardians of the Flatirons

  • Trailhead: Chautauqua Trailhead (Boulder)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 12.5 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 5,200 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 8,549 ft. (South Boulder Peak)

Highlights

An excellent training hike that can be done year-round. Climb three of the massive peaks on the Boulder skyline: Green Mountain (8,144 ft.), Bear Peak (8,461 ft.), and South Boulder Peak (8,549 ft.). Enjoy great views of the Continental Divide to the west, the City of Boulder to the East, and the Flatirons.

Boulder’s peaks are an excellent place to observe birds of prey, including eagles and falcons. On our hike on Nov. 8, 2018, we saw several bald eagles circling near Bear Peak. Many of these birds nest in the rocky cliffs along the trails, so please respect any closures and leash laws in effect.

Tips

This excellent blog post by Julie at The Trail Girl describes the route in detail. (Note that she starts at Gregory Canyon Trailhead, which is just up the road from Chautauqua and an alternate parking destination.)

Trail closures are common in Boulder’s parks and can potentially strand you far from your car. Check your route for closures before you hike.

The steep trails on these peaks can get extremely icy in winter. Microspikes and poles are highly recommended.

Alternatives

While we started this hike from Chautauqua, you can also start at any trailhead that connects to the Mesa Trail. Use Boulder’s interactive trail map to study alternatives.

For a shorter hike, climb any of the peaks alone. Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak are often climbed together via the Shadow Canyon Trail. Green Mountain can be climbed via Bear Canyon or the Saddle Rock and E.M. Greenman Trails.

 

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Evergreen Winter Hikes

Evergreen is a cute town about 15 minutes above Denver on I-70 that has a lot of great hiking options. After your hike, refuel at BeauJo’s Mountain Pies, a Colorado tradition.

3. Evergreen Mountain Loop

  • Trailhead: East Trailhead Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
  • Round-Trip Distance: 5.2 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 8,527 ft. (Evergreen Mountain)

Highlights

A pleasant loop hike on a gradual trail that’s suitable for beginners. Most of the route passes through mature evergreen forest that offers good sun protection (but do wear your sunscreen anyway). From the summit, enjoy some interesting rock formations and excellent views of Colorado 14er Mount Evans (14,265 ft.) in the distance.

Tips

5280.com has a detailed write-up of this hike, including trail directions and alternative parking options. Find additional park regulations and info on the Alderfer/Three Sisters Park website.

This hike rarely requires snowshoes. However, trails can get icy, so bring your foot traction.

Alternatives

This hike can also be done from the larger West Parking Lot just up the road. This may be a good bet if you arriving on a weekend or later in the day.

 

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4. Bergen Peak

  • Trailhead: Elk Meadow Park Stagecoach Trailhead
  • Round-Trip Distance: 9.4 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 9,708 ft. (Bergen Peak)

Highlights

This excellent training climb is used by mountaineers year-round. The trail is gradual, but the distance and gain are real. From the summit, enjoy views of Colorado 14er Mount Evans (14,265 ft.).

Tips

ProTrails.com has detailed trail directions and stats for the Bergen Peak hike. For rules and regulations, see the park website.

Many people stop on the outcrop near the weather station and never reach the true summit. To go the distance, continue off-trail past the weather station for about 5 minutes to a sign.

This hike rarely requires snowshoes. However, trails can get icy, so bring your foot traction.

Alternatives

Make this a loop hike by descending the much quieter Too-Long Trail and returning to the parking lot on the Meadow Trail.

You can also hike Bergen Peak from the Lewis Ridge Trailhead near Evergreen Parkway. This option adds about 0.5 miles. Look for elk herds, foxes, and coyotes in the meadow.

winter hikes near denver bergen peak

5. Chief Mountain

  • Trailhead: Chief Mountain Trailhead (Park on Squaw Pass Road near mile marker 19)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 3 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 11,709 ft. (Chief Mountain)

Highlights

A short but steep hike to a rocky ridge above tree line. Enjoy excellent views of the Continental Divide from the summit.

Tips

The trailhead can be tricky to find. There’s no actual parking lot there, so park in a pullout or along the road.

Trail #58, which leads to the summit, is across the street. The beginning of the trail crosses a road. Continue on the trail as it leaves the road and heads uphill.

After leaving the trees, follow rock cairns to the summit.

You may want snowshoes for this hike, especially for the lower section in the trees.

For more info and a map, check out this Chief Mountain fact sheet from the Outdoor Recreation Information Center.

 

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Rocky Mountain National Parks Winter Hikes

Winter is my favorite time to visit RMNP. The trails are (relatively) quiet, and the Rockies look even more beautiful in the snow. Be on the lookout for snowshoe hares and ptarmigans with white winter plumage.

Rocky Mountain National Park has entrance fees ($25 per car), which you can avoid by arriving early before the toll booth opens.

For inexpensive winter gear rentals ($5 snowshoes!), check out the Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Hungry after your hike? After 4 p.m., head to The Rock Inn near Estes Park for hearty food and brews.

For additional tips and suggestions, check out my blog post, The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes for All Seasons.

6. Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake
  • Round-Trip Distance: 3.5 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 650 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,110 ft. (Emerald Lake)

Highlights

A short but spectacular hike that makes a great beginner snowshoe. The view of Hallett Peak from the near end of Dream Lake is one of my favorite views in the park. Emerald Lake is located in a spectacular natural amphitheater with views of the Dragon’s Tail and Dead Elk couloirs.

Tips

The route is well-signed from Bear Lake all the way to Emerald Lake. This trail is heavily trafficked all winter and tends to be packed down, but snowshoes are a good idea in deep winter and after a storm.

There’s some avalanche terrain around Emerald Lake. Unless you have avalanche training, it’s safest to stay on the east side of the lake near the trail.

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

My mom walking on water at Nymph Lake

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

Snow climbing practice at Emerald Lake (Note: you don’t need a helmet for this hike!)

7. Lake Helene

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6.5 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,350 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,697 ft. (Lake Helene)

Highlights

A moderate snowshoe with awesome views of Notchtop Mountain and Little Matterhorn.

Tips

To reach Lake Helene, you’ll need to leave the established trail and follow a social trail that can be difficult to see in winter. A GPS device or phone app will be helpful for this hike.

From Bear Lake, follow the trail signs toward Flattop Mountain. When you reach the Flattop Mountain trail junction after a mile, continue straight. At about 2.8 miles, the trail begins a gradual descent. Watch for an unmarked side trail to the left, which splits off around 3.2 miles and leads to Lake Helene.

The best views of Notchtop Mountain are from the east side of the lake. Note that there’s avalanche terrain in the area. Stay near the lake and don’t venture into the amphitheater above.

This hike often requires snowshoes. Parts of the trail may be packed down, especially near Bear Lake.

winter hikes near denver, lake helene, rocky mountain national park

Notchtop Mountain towers over a frozen Lake Helene

8. The Loch

  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge (use Bear Lake as a backup if the parking lot is full)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 5.4 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,192 ft. (The Loch)

Highlights

A moderate hike or showshoe to a large alpine lake. From the south side of the Loch, enjoy views of Taylor Peak (13,153 ft.), Taylor Glacier, Thatchtop Mountain (12,667 ft.), and the Sharkstooth (12,630 ft.). You can also make a stop at Alberta Falls, which is twice as spectacular when frozen.

Tips

From Glacier Gorge, follow the signs toward Alberta Falls at 0.8 miles. After Alberta Falls, continue to the North Longs Peak trail junction at 1.6 miles and Glacier Junction at 2.1 miles. From here, follow signs toward Loch Vale.

Alternatives

There is an unmarked winter trail to Glacier Junction that shaves a bit of time and distance off your hike but also bypasses Alberta Falls. Look for it 5–10 minutes after the Bear Lake trail junction near the beginning of the hike. The trail is on the right after a creek crossing. It’s only used in deep winter when there’s plenty of snowpack.

If the small Glacier Gorge lot is full when you arrive, continue to the Bear Lake parking area. Hike downhill on a 0.5-mile connector to join the Glacier Gorge Trail.

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

The Loch in summer

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

Blowing snow at The Loch

9. Mills Lake and Black Lake

  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge (use Bear Lake as a backup if the parking lot is full)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 9.6 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,660 ft.

Highlights

A challenging showshoe to a large alpine lake and a smaller lake in a deep natural amphitheater. This route offers stunning views of the back side of Longs Peak (14,259 ft.), Keyboard of the Winds, Chief’s Head Peak (13,579 ft.), Thatchtop Mountain (12,667 ft.), and Pagoda Mountain (13,497 ft.). From Black Lake, you’ll be looking up McHenry’s Peak (13,327 ft.) and the Spearhead (12,575 ft.). You can also make a stop at Alberta Falls, which is spectacular when frozen.

Tips

Follow the directions for the Loch Hike to reach Glacier Junction. From Glacier Junction, follow signs for Mills Lake. From Mills Lake, continue on the trail to Black Lake.

This hike usually requires snowshoes in the winter.

Alternatives

There is an unmarked winter trail to Glacier Junction that shaves a bit of time and distance off your hike but also bypasses Alberta Falls. Look for it 5–10 minutes after the Bear Lake trail junction near the beginning of the hike. The trail is on the right after a creek crossing. It’s only used in deep winter when there’s plenty of snowpack.

If the small Glacier Gorge lot is full when you arrive, continue to the Bear Lake parking area. Hike downhill on a 0.5-mile connector to join the Glacier Gorge Trail.

winter hikes near denver, mills lake, rocky mountain national park

Mills Lake in late November, Longs Peak in the background

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

Approaching Black Lake by snowshoe

The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes for All Seasons

Black Lake in winter

I-70 corridor winter hikes

There are many worthwhile winter hikes along I-70. This interstate can be very dicey in bad weather, so check conditions before you head out. Expect long delays due to ski traffic on weekends, especially Sunday afternoons. For excellent post-hike noshing, stop at Westbound & Down Brewing Co. in Idaho Springs.

10. Saint Mary’s Lake and Saint Mary’s Glacier

  • Trailhead: St. Mary’s Glacier Trailhead (Fall River Road, I-70 exit #238, $5 parking fee)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 1 mi. (longer if you climb the glacier)
  • Elevation Gain: 470 ft. (more if you climb the glacier)
  • Highest Elevation: 10,848 ft.

Highlights

Saint Mary’s Glacier isn’t a true glacier (no permanent ice or crevasses), but it’s still fun to check out. Many groups headed for Mount Rainier, Alaska, South America, and the Himalayas train here to practice their snow skills. You’ll also see skiers, sledders, and and mountaineers headed up to climb James Peak (13,301 ft.) on the Continental Divide. Saint Mary’s Lake is a pretty spot and worth the hike alone.

Tips

To reach the parking lot, drive up I-70 and take the Fall River Rd. exit (#238) above Idaho Springs. Follow the winding road for about 9 miles and look for two parking areas on the left. Fill out your self-serve permit and pay $5. The trail starts between the two lots.

The hike to the lake is rocky but easy to follow. The trail crosses private property, so stay on it and pack out all trash with you.

There’s avalanche terrain on the north and west sides of Saint Mary’s Lake and also along both sides of the glacier. Stay well back from steep slopes, especially when the avalanche danger is high. Some hikers and skiers will ignore these cautions. Don’t follow their bad example.

The trail to the lake is usually packed down, but snowshoes may be helpful if you’re continuing to the glacier. This area is famously windy, so dress for low wind chill.

Hiking for Beginners: How to Get Started

Colorado Mountain Club class at St. Mary’s Glacier

st marys lake colorado winter

[CC Image courtesy of Glenn Harper via Flickr]

11. Herman Lake

  • Trailhead: Herman Gulch Trailhead (I-70 exit #218)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6.5 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 11,987 ft. (Herman Lake)

Highlights

A challenging snowshoe to a high alpine lake with great views of the Continental Divide. Massive Pettingell Peak (13,553′) guards the lake’s west side. Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Tips

From the trailhead, turn left at the first split (0.2 mi.) and follow the Herman Lake Trail. At 2.8 miles, continue straight at the Jones Pass trail junction. Continue west to reach Herman Lake at 3.2 miles.

This hike usually requires snowshoes in the winter. A GPS may also be helpful in locating the lake, which is in a flat, open valley.

Beware of avalanche terrain, especially to the north and west of the lake. Stay far back from steep slopes, especially when avalanche danger is elevated.

 

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12. Mount Sniktau

  • Trailhead: Loveland Pass (I-70 exit #216)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 3.5 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,532 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 13,240 ft. (Mount Sniktau)

Highlights

Standing on top of a 13er on the Continental Divide in the dead of winter is quite a feeling! This moderate hike avoids avalanche danger by following a ridge to the summit. From the top, you’ll have great views of the Colorado 14ers Grays Peak (14,278 ft.) and Torreys Peak (14,275 ft.) blanketed in snow.

Tips

From the parking area at Loveland Pass, follow social trails east to the top of the first hill. From here, turn northeast and continue following the ridge. Climb several false summits before reaching the true summit.

Loveland Pass and the surrounding peaks can be extremely windy. Prepare for extreme wind chill. I highly recommend bringing a balaclava and goggles. Turn back if the wind is knocking you down or making it difficult to walk.

The wind tends to blast snow right off the ridge, so snowshoes are rarely worthwhile on this route. However, foot traction and gaiters are a good idea.

Snow often forms cornices in this area. Hike in the center of the ridge and stay back from overhanging snow shelves.

winter hikes near denver sniktau

Mt. Sniktau summit with Torreys Peak in the background

winter hikes near denver sniktau

Summit of Mt. Sniktau

Nederland winter hikes

Nederland is crunchy mountain town located about an hour from Denver. It’s most famous (former) resident is a Norwegian mountain man whose family preserved him in cabin with DIY cryogenics. The  Frozen Dead Guy Days festival honors “grandpa” with coffin races and polar plunges every March.

Check out the Crosscut Pizzeria and Tap House for post-hike libations. For healthy hiking snacks, make a stop at the excellent Mountain People’s Co-op.

13. Lost Lake

  • Trailhead: Hessie Trailhead (Eldora, see website for parking restrictions)
  • Round-Trip Distance: about 4 mi. from the winter road closure
  • Elevation Gain: 900 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 9,786 ft. (Lost Lake)

Highlights

A short hike or snowshoe through the gorgeous Indian Peaks to a pretty subalpine lake. Suitable for beginners.

Tips

To park, follow Eldora Road to the winter closure and park along the side. Read the signs carefully, as parking is restricted in some spots.

Follow the road to an intersection and head left and downward toward the Hessie Trailhead. At the bottom of the hill pass the old Hessie Town Site. Follow a trail left into the woods to avoid an icy, rutted section of road.

From the Hessie Trailhead (about 0.5 miles from the road closure), cross the bridge and follow the trail to the Lost Lake trial junction at 1.1 miles. From here, it’s a short but somewhat steep climb to the lake.

 

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14. Rogers Peak Lake and Heart Lake

  • Trailhead: East Portal Trailhead (Rollinsville)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 8.7 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 11,310 ft. (Heart Lake)

Highlights

A challenging snowshoe to a beautiful alpine lake above tree line. Heart Lake lies at the foot of James Peak(13,301 ft.) and the Continental Divide.

Tips

The trailhead is located near the town of Rollinsville on Rollins Pass Rd. As you are coming into Rollinsville on CO-119, look for the road on your right. It’s unpaved but generally well-maintained and passable to 2WD vehicles. Mud and ice can both be issues, depending on the season.

The hike follows the South Boulder Creek Trail all the way to Rogers Peak Lake. Continue straight/left at junctions for Forest Lakes (1.3 miles) and Crater Lakes (1.8 miles). Persevere to reach Rogers Peak Lake at 4 miles. From here, climb a short but steep bench to reach Heart Lake. The bench is steep enough to slide in bad avalanche conditions, so evaluate carefully before climbing.

This hike almost always requires snowshoes, especially for the last few miles. Relatively few people make it all the way to the lakes, so don’t count on bootpack. A GPS or phone app may be helpful for navigation.

 

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Colorado 14er winter hikes

Can you climb Colorado 14ers in the winter? The short answer is yes. However, it’s important to choose your peak carefully. Before you go, check CalTopo for avalanche terrain near your route, and check the avalanche forecast for the area.

Winter weather can be extreme above tree line. For any summit climb, check the point forecast at weather.gov and bring extra layers, a face mask, and goggles.

Keep in mind that road closures will make many Colorado 14er hikes much longer in the winter.

15. Quandary Peak

  • Trailhead: Quandary Peak Trailhead (south of Breckinridge)
  • Round-Trip Distance: 6.75 mi.
  • Elevation Gain: 3,450 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 14,265 ft. (Quandary Peak)

Highlights

A winter Colorado 14er climb with incredible views of the snow-covered Rockies all the way to the summit. Quandary is home to a herd of well-habituated mountain goats that are fun to watch. The trailhead is right off CO-9 and accessible (almost) all winter.

Tips

Park in the Quandary Peak (McCullough Gulch) lot just off CO-9, located about 8 miles south of Breckenridge. Avoid parking in front of any nearby homes.

14ers.com has a helpful step-by-step description of the route, complete with pictures. If you download their app, you can save this information to your phone. Heed the warning to avoid avalanche terrain. Stick to the ridge, even if the boot pack tries to take you elsewhere.

Theoretically, there are a few spots on the ridge that are steep enough to slide in bad avalanche conditions. Check the forecast before you go, and don’t attempt this one when avalanche conditions are elevated.

Quandary’s resident mountain goats are habituated to hikers and will let you get quite close. (They may even approach you.) For safety’s sake, try to keep some distance between yourself and the animals.

 

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And you have ’em. My 15 favorite winter hikes near Denver.

Got a favorite I didn’t mention? Comment below to share.

miss adventure pants, how to train for high altitude hiking at sea level

Originally published Nov. 13, 2018.

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