Winter may look a little different this year at the resorts, but Colorado’s public lands don’t require reservations for hiking, snowshoeing, and ski touring. We give you these four options for all ability levels to get after it instead of sitting at home.
Bergen Peak, Evergreen
Challenge yourself by tackling this 9.5-mile trail up and down 9,870-foot Bergen Peak near Evergreen. Nestled at the back of Elk Meadow Park, its 2,200 feet of climbing wind through meadows, high-country prairie, thick fir, and pine forest, and across a mellow ridge to earn views of mountains to the west, plains to the east, and the exceptional features of the foothill canyons. Just a short drive from Denver, Bergen Peak offers the chance to gain experience in snowy conditions without avalanche risk, and solid training for those aspiring to climb a fourteener.
Two Rivers Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Nestled in a shallow basin below the Continental Divide, Two Rivers Lake couples the opportunity for solitude with stunning views of jagged 12,129-foot Notchtop Mountain. Beginning along the Bear Lake Trail, this 6.4-mile roundtrip adventure weaves through forests and meadows to reach Lake Helene, a more-visited destination at the headwaters of Fern Creek. From here, the journey continues cross country to reach Two Rivers Lake, the headwaters of Mill Creek and a spectacular subalpine sanctuary. Plan to spend some time soaking up the quiet power of nature and enjoying Notchtop’s reflection in the ice.
XC Ski Tour
Peru Creek Road, White River National Forest, Near Keystone
Ideal for an early season shakedown or for a newbie Nordic-lover, this 10-mile roundtrip cross-country ski adventure begins on the gentle, forested Peru Creek Road between Keystone and Montezuma. Ramble in and out of the woods, with only moderate avalanche danger in spots, on this exploration with phenomenal vistas of the Continental Divide.
Gaining only 1,000 feet total, the mellow route has huge rewards: Find peace passing through expansive valleys where wide swaths of alpine tundra and craggy peaks tower above. Step back in time while exploring open basins harboring remnants of the Pennsylvania Mine and the small town of Decatur. The gate just before Horseshoe Basin marks a logical stopping point (beyond here avalanche danger increases exponentially). Turn around and enjoy the sweet, mellow ski back to the trailhead.
Chalk Creek Pass, Garfield, Colorado
Winter may be here, but it’s not quite time to send it (aka couloir season) yet. However, if you’re like us—itching to get turns in a safe way that won’t end your season before it has even begun—check out this lovely, chill 12.4-mile roundtrip tour up the Middle Fork of the South Arkansas River to reach Chalk Creek Pass, a 12,000-plus -foot saddle offering stellar views of Hancock Lakes.
By beginning a bit below Monarch Pass, you’ll enjoy a gradual forested climb along a jeep road to reach the Lost Wonder Hut, a cozy backcountry lodge perched at 10,878 feet with prime access to some terrific alpine backcountry (definitely worth a stay if you can snag a night). From here, follow the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through a lush valley flanked by impressive ridgelines and multiple peaks. After 6.2 miles and 2,220 feet of ascending, top out on Chalk Creek Pass (12,128 feet), sandwiched between Van Wirt Mountain (12,024 feet) and Sewanee Peak (13,132 feet). If you have more time and energy (or have shuttled a car), drop down to the ghost town of St. Elmo and beyond. If not, head back the way you came, pausing periodically to check out all the opportunities for some fresh turns.
Glades and bowls in the surrounding valley and trees, especially in the burn area across from the Lost Wonder Hut, offer plenty of fun ski lines. Avalanche dangers exist here, so consider making some turns in these lower-angle areas. Plus, you’ll pass right below bigger objectives that beg you to come back, including 13,745-foot Mount Aetna (and its iconic Grand Couloir), 12,972-foot Clover, and 13,369-foot Monumental Peak. Scope these lines and start building your list for spring.
Cover Photo: Months of quarantine, political insanity, and zoom fatigue got you feeling cooped up? Skin up to Chalk Creek Pass. Cover photo by Chris Kassar