If you think skiers and snowboarders are the only ones who can have fun in snow, think again. As long as you’re well prepared, winter hiking is a wonderful way to stay active and tune in to nature — especially in Colorado. From November to April, much of Colorado experiences snow, so you might as well get out and enjoy the winter wonderland. The following hikes are close to major cities or towns and are easy enough to tackle with a fresh blanket of snow. Before setting out, make sure to call ahead to the trail’s managing agency (such as the state park or U.S. Forest Service) to ask about trail conditions that day.
The Best Winter Hikes in Colorado
1. Alberta Falls
Round-trip Length: 1.6 miles Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 219 feet Difficulty: Easy Trailhead Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road As one of the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, Alberta Falls is best visited in winter if you want to avoid the crowds. During winter, the landscape is so hushed that you can’t even hear the typical roar of the 30-foot waterfall, since it tends to freeze over. The most you’ll hear is the rustling of the wind in the evergreens. This trail is short and sweet, and the minimal elevation gain makes it doable for all skill levels. Kids love this hike, but leave your dog at home — they aren’t allowed on trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
2. Emerald Lake
Round-trip Length: 3.2 miles Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 620 feet Difficulty: Moderate Trailhead Location: Bear Lake Trailhead at the end of Bear Lake Road Nestled within Rocky Mountain National Park is Emerald Lake, a glittering gem that’s the perfect destination for a hike. Emerald Lake backs up to the 12,361-foot Flattop Mountain, one of many impressive peaks in the park. Along the way, you’ll pass two more alpine lakes: Nymph and Dream. As the names suggest, this landscape full of pine forests, rugged mountains, and pristine pools is the stuff of fairy tales. Even with a blanket of snow, hiking this trail in the winter is easy with microspikes because most slopes are gradual. Depending on when you head out, don’t be surprised if the lakes look more like ice-skating rinks — temperatures are known to dip well below freezing at night. But just to be safe, stay on the trail!
3. Hanging Lake
Round-trip Length: 2.8 miles Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 1,204 feet Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult Trailhead Location: Hanging Lake exit off Interstate 70, 1/4 mile east of the rest area There are more than 249,787 acres of lakes in Colorado, and among those waters, Hanging Lake stands out. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Hanging Lake was formed by a geologic fault that caused the lake bed to drop away from the valley floor above.” Drawing visitors from around the world, Hanging Lake is a beautiful blue-green pool with accompanying waterfalls. The climb up Glenwood Canyon to the lake is steep and full of switchbacks, but always worth it. Hanging Lake is an incredibly popular trail in the White River National Forest near Glenwood Springs, about an hour from both Aspen and Vail. During winter, you’re more likely to avoid the bustle that summer brings — or at least find parking. Trekking poles and microspikes or crampons are recommended for this challenging hike.
4. Staunton Ranch
Round-trip Length: 6.6 miles Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 845 feet Difficulty: Moderate Trailhead Location: Staunton Ranch Trailhead near the entrance station Only a 45-minute drive from Denver, the Staunton Ranch Trail is a great choice for city dwellers who need a dose of nature. This hike in Staunton State Park connects with several other trails, so it’s easy to turn it into a loop hike or add on mileage. Take your pick of hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing the park’s trails — all popular options. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as you pass through grasslands and groves of pine and aspen trees. Mammals such as coyotes, elk, deer, Abert's squirrels, bobcats, and red foxes call the park home. In the distance you’ll see beautiful granite cliffs and snowcapped peaks. With views like these so close to the city, it’s easy to fall in love with Colorado’s newest state park.
5. Sallie Barber Mine
Round-trip Length: 2.8 miles Type of Trail: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 393 feet Difficulty: Easy Trailhead Location: Sallie Barber Mine Trailhead on French Gulch Road This fun hike leads to an historic mine and offers views of Breckenridge Ski Resort, which is only 6 miles away. Both locals and tourists enjoy this trail year-round, so expect lots of people along the way. If you’re looking for a family-friendly activity rather than solitude in nature, the popularity of this hike can be a benefit — it means that the snow-laden trail will be well defined. The Sallie Barber Mine, which operated from 1880 to 1906, sits on top of a hill with panoramic views of pine forests and snowcapped mountains. Feeling adventurous? Hike or snowshoe up the trail and cross-country ski back down.
6. Canyon Loop
Round-trip Length: 3.3 miles Type of Trail: Loop Elevation Gain: 429 feet (clockwise) Difficulty: Moderate Trailhead Location: Canyon Loop Trailhead on Betasso Road Wind your way through stands of Ponderosa pines and grasslands on this peaceful hike in Betasso Preserve, just 7 miles west of Boulder. Along the trail, you’ll be treated to mountain vistas and views of the city. The elevation change on this hike is fairly gradual, making it a fun hike for the whole family, including dogs on leashes. Be sure to travel in the direction opposite of mountain bikers (posted on trailhead), or visit on Wednesdays or Saturdays when bicycles are prohibited.
7. Zook Loop
Round-trip Length: 1.1 miles Type of Trail: Loop Elevation Gain: 98 feet Difficulty: Easy Trailhead Location: Zook Loop Trailhead near entrance station Zook Loop is a family-friendly (though not dog-friendly) trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Minutes away from Colorado Springs, this hike is virtually flat and includes interpretive signs that share information about the park’s larger residents: bears and mountain lions. This is the perfect place for a wintertime stroll among pine and juniper trees, especially when they’re freshly dusted with snow. If you want a longer journey, Zook Loop connects with several other trails in the park. Make sure to pick up a map at the visitor center to avoid getting lost.
Get Geared Up
During the winter, always dress in layers and bring more warm clothing than you think you’ll need. When choosing outer layers, including hiking boots, remember that GORE-TEX products will keep the snow and ice at bay throughout your hike. GORE-TEX membrane also helps block wind, which will keep you much warmer if a frigid breeze is blowing. If there is the possibility of ice or compacted snow on the trail, microspikes such as Yaktrax can slip on over your boots and give you added grip on slippery surfaces. Microspikes are best for flat terrain or gentle slopes. If you’re going on a steeper hike in wintry conditions, crampons will add even more traction. For fluffy, deep snow, snowshoes are ideal because they distribute your weight and therefore keep you from sinking deeply into the powder. Many winter hikers also use trekking poles for extra stabilization and increased peace of mind. Check out our winter hiking guide and ultimate hiking guide for more tips for hitting the trail in cold or snowy weather. These guides provide additional information about winter trail safety and dressing appropriately.