While the higher reaches of Colorado get buried in massive heaps of snow and trying to travel on the great white blanket can be near impossible without snowshoes or skis, the lower elevations along the Front Range may only end up with a few inches to contend with. Snowshoes will often be overkill along these trails where the trampling of the masses converts those few soft white inches into a slippery and often icy mess. Fret not. Strap a set of spikes onto your favorite footwear and you’ll be hitting the trail sure-footed and without worry.
THE FRONT RANGE
The predominantly east-facing slopes here catch the morning and midday sun to begin the melting process on a microclimate level. Then, once the sun sneaks behind the mountains, the melting stops and the freezing starts. If there’s still any moisture left the trails can be slick. Not a problem when you are spking it. Here are some of our favorite spots.
Boulder is littered with trail options. Any of the trails near Chautauqua including Royal Arch and those to the base of the iconic Flatirons are going to be slick after snow falls. Further north, the trails around Sanitas where Mapleton Avenue moves into Sunshine Canyon run the gamut from the steep Sanitas Summit trail, the gentle Sanitas Valley trail, and the moderate Dakota Ridge Trail. The more ambitious can always make a winter attempt up Bear Peak. With less traffic to trample down the snow compared to the other trails, snowshoes might be a better idea.
Golden offers up incredible access to some unique hiking features like the trails on and around the mesas of North and South Table Mountain Parks. The trails can be steep in places to get up on the table tops but once up there, you’ll forget you’re in the middle of the city. Mt. Galbraith is just across the narrow valley cradling northern Golden from North Table Mountain and initially offers views of town until you slip around to the backside where again the proximity to civilization is easily forgotten. The trail starts steep but mellows out once over the hump. For more kid-friendly options, check out Lookout Mountain. You probably won’t need your spikes for the Nature Center but bring them for the adjacent 110-acre preserve providing habitat for mule deer, mountain lion, bobcat and elk. Look for their tracks in the snow.
Southern Denver offers a stunning contrast of snow on the red rocks in Roxborough State Park. It’s lesser known, though very similar to the famed Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The low cost of entry to the State Park is well worth it for the whole family. Jump in on the many geology talks, kids hours and other interpretive activities provided by the park rangers and volunteers.
Colorado Springs also offers some great winter hiking. Of course, there’s Garden of the Gods, but be sure to consider some other great options like the many trails of Red Rocks Open Space, Waldo Canyon, Mt. Cutler and Cheyenne Mountain State Park. cospringstrails.com
As you get away from the Front Range, there are plenty of prime winter hiking trails throughout the state. The specific weather conditions will determine if these trails are better with spikes or with more substantial winter gear like snowshoes and skis. For example, not far off of highway 285, Burning Bear Trail, near the town of Grant, gets surprisingly little use in the winter. Likewise the wonderful solitude of winter can be found in places like the trail to Chicago Lakes near Idaho Springs, North Ten Mile Creek out of Frisco, Grizzly Lake and the ghost town of St. Elmo near Buena Vista, as well as Treasure Falls in the southwest near Pagosa Springs.
Winter hiking is beautiful and peaceful, but the cold and snow brings a few extra hazards. Be sure to watch out for avalanche danger and dress appropriately for the weather. Don’t be afraid to bring a backpack to carry the Ten Essentials or to stuff that extra layer. Spikes come in a number of styles ranging in their aggressiveness of traction.
Here are a few options, all of which simply strap right onto whatever shoes or boots you like:
These traction devices are one of the less aggressive styles. A rubber cage wraps around the foot and a few rows of short spikes provide good grip on moderately icy surfaces. These don’t do well on wet snow which sticks to and buries the spikes. They run small so order a size up. $28,
Kahtoolas step up the traction substantially and feel like a miniature version of the chains that go on your car tires. Be sure to remove them, before going inside, they will easily damage a hardwood floor. Also check out the new Kahtoola NanoSpikes. They are lightweight and minimal, with carbide spikes instead of chains. $65; kahtoola.com
Hillsound Trail Crampon
Another very aggressive hiking crampon with an array of little stainless steel spikes, these provide excellent traction on most any icy surface. They slip on very easily and stay right in place; and they peel off easily when you’re done. $60; hillsound.com