By the time this article goes to print, the streets of Boulder will likely be buried in a wet slurry of dirty snow, and the high country will be harvesting its snowpack foundation for the winter ahead. For those seeking outdoors adventures, the time between late October and January can feel like something of a dead zone. The combination of seasonal access road closures, late sunrises and early sunsets and the general psychological effects of colder, fluctuating weather all contribute to more time on the couch and less time in the wilderness. There’s not quite enough snow for skiing and snowshoeing, but at the same time, there’s too much ice and frozen earth to enjoy high-altitude hiking and biking.
The conditions may not be ideal, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for those willing to bundle up a bit — or take a drive to some of the warmer parts of our state.
Here are some of the great places waiting to be explored both locally and farther down the road in regions of Colorado.
Technically, there’s no reason to stop hiking just because the seasons are changing. Of course the challenges and difficulties of high peaks, especially those over 13,000 feet, become more daunting in harsher weather. Add to that the onset of avalanche danger, and many people are content to put away their boots until spring. But consider these destinations.
Bison Peak, located in the Tarryall Mountains in Jefferson (about a three-hour drive from the metro area), is a 12,431-foot peak that is a magical climb year-round, thanks to the incredible rock formations that adorn its broad summit. Trailhead access is maintained year round. A well-marked trail and unique scenery make the 11.2-mile, non-technical round trip a great six- or seven-hour outing. Likewise, a trip south to the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa is a spectacular late autumn destination. Framed by the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range, these 750-foot-high dunes take on a mystical aura in the chilly night. Camping under an endless field of stars during the new moon is especially inviting. Closer to home, the Twin Sisters Peaks (11,428 feet) and Estes Cone (11,002 feet) out of Estes Park are great moderate summit hikes that poke just enough through treeline to feel rugged but never bear the full brunt of the windy, wild exposed conditions of the alpine tundra. And, of course, in our own backyard, don’t forget the trio of Green Mountain, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak lurking behind the Flatirons.
Some climbers relish the colder weather, as it means less traffic at the local crags (but watch out for those Indian Summer weekends when the rock hounds come out in droves). Many prefer to take the short drive to Table Mountain in Golden where the south- and west-facing cliffs get a healthy dose of sunshine year round. There are plenty of great routes of all levels, mostly sport and top ropes. If you want to expand your horizons, a drive out to Rifle is worth the time, especially for sport climbers who want to push harder grades. And, of course, there are always the western desert areas of Fruita and which leads nicely into our biking adventures.
The one part of the state that hits its sweet spot in late autumn is the Fruita/ Moab area, especially for mountain bikers. The blast furnace that makes summer desert riding so miserable lets up, transitioning to mild temperatures in the day and chilly, campfire-friendly nights. This is a great time to explore areas like White Rim and Rabbit Valley, among dozens of others in the region. Locally, the Golden area trails, especially White Ranch, get a lot of sun exposure and stay rideable most of the year. And don’t forget that Colorado Springs has some fantastic rides and is far enough south to get slightly warmer conditions than the rest of the Front Range, despite its higher elevation.
Finally, disciples of the skinny tire will find warmer rides waiting for them in the same Fruita/Moab area that climbers and bikers flock to. The desert roads are long, warm and perfect for epic days, with great post-ride breweries to boot.
The western migration is the most logical escape, but why not consider some of the bucolic roads and far off farmlands of southeastern Colorado, an area few seldom have an adventurous reason to visit? There is a great collection of rides in Colorado at crazyguyonabike.com. Check out the rides in Kiowa and Washington counties for some eye-opening adventures.
Soon enough, it’ll be time to break out the skis/snowshoes/ice axes/thermal underwear, but until the winter hits in earnest, there’s still plenty of adventure waiting to be had.