It’s a shame that Boulder rarely holds enough winter snow to break out the snowshoes on a regular basis. On those occasions when we get significant snowfall, Boulder’s forested trails are a wonderful place to spend a powder day tromping through the woods.
Much like the ephemeral town of Brigadoon, Boulder’s snow is far too fleeting. Some of the best local trails to visit when we are lucky enough to get a big snowfall include Heil Ranch, the Annie White Trail, the Ceran St. Vrain Trail just west of Jamestown and Walker Ranch/Myers Homestead. The open space mountain trails are always fun as well, and they tend to hold their snow better thanks to their higher elevations and shady cover. Green Mountain, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak are excellent snowshoe outings in fresh powder.
The more consistent and worthy snow can be found over 8,000 feet. There are plenty of great places to explore within an hour or so of Boulder that will hold their snow until late spring.
The obvious starting point for snowshoe fun in Nederland is the network of trails just behind Eldora Ski Area.
Eldora has specially groomed nordic trails (and rentals) within their boundaries, but if you bring your own gear, you can get onto the national forest land trails without a fee. Park just before the ski area if you plan to explore these trails to save parking room for those on the slopes.
Just past the town of Eldora is the popular Hessie Trailhead, whose premier destination is Lost Lake, which is a good day out for snowshoers of all levels. Heart Lake, accessed from Moffat Tunnel’s East Portal, is a gorgeous winter destination, featuring a wide-open, frozen landscape just below the Continental Divide.
Daring souls can venture from the same trailhead to Crater Lakes, which are challenging destinations that often require some solid off-trail navigation. The Brainard Lake trail network is well known, with snowshoe-specific trails and a variety of destinations, including the CMC Cabin and the frozen alpine basins at Long Lake and Lake Isabelle.
Sometimes overlooked are the trails out of Peaceful Valley, about seven miles north of the turn-off for Brainard Lake from the Peak-to-Peak Highway. These trails follow a winter creek system, and if you’re lucky, you may see one of the resident moose in the area.
Rocky Mountain National Park has dozens of well-documented snowshoe trails, such as Emerald Lake, Glacier Gorge and Cub Lake. Be warned, however, that the park can be crowded on weekends, especially when the sun is shining.
A nice alternative is the Meadow Mountain Trail out of Allenspark, a modest trail that leads to the summits of Meadow Mountain and St. Vrain Mountain. Be aware that once you climb past treeline there is an avalanche risk even though the terrain looks benign.
If you want to make it to a relatively safe winter summit, try Twin Sisters Peaks just outside the town of Estes Park. The trail up is primarily in treeline, popping out just long enough to reach the spacious summits.
If you’re looking for a long day, start from the Longs Peak Trailhead and work your way up to the famous Boulder Field or Chasm Lake. And if you’ve gone that far, a summit of Lady Mount Washington is a good way to snag an elusive winter peak.
One of the best places to get quality snowshoeing is the Herman Gulch trailhead just off of I-70, located at exit 218. Herman Gulch splits to two fine destinations: Herman Lake Basin to the west and Watrous Gulch to the east. Watrous Gulch is far less traveled and is ideal for those seeking a day away from the crowds.
The trails at James Peak start at a trailhead eight miles off I-70 exit 238. Here you can play on the receding St. Mary’s Glacier or detour just before the trailhead to visit Chinns Lake.
Finally, if you don’t mind driving just a bit farther, the snowshoeing off of Berthoud Pass is a feast for the senses on both the east and west sides.
On the east, take the old Berthoud Ski Area road to Colorado Mines Peak, where you can follow the ridgeline north to Mount Flora (just be careful of the heavy cornices that form on the east-facing ridges).
On the west, start up the steep slopes that eventually level off and make for a nice traverse to Stanley Mountain. The views from Stanley are spectacular, though the area can get bitterly cold if the wind is howling.
There are many more snowshoeing hot spots waiting to be discovered, but this overview should give you a solid idea of what’s waiting within an hour or so of Boulder. So fill up your thermos, strap on your snowshoes and get out there — the mountains await your company.