If you are new to the area or looking for a new winter hiking or cross country skiing spot, read on for info on some of our favorite local trails.
We have organized these into two categories - Free Locations and Resorts and Groomed Trails. The ‘Free Locations’ are not machine-groomed but may still require a Forest Service or National Park day use fee.
Brainard Lake: The US Forest Service allows cross country skiing on their trails and roads in Brainard Lake. There is a well mapped trail system for winter use with designated multi-use and ski trails. For an extended trip, backcountry camping is allowed, though check ahead for any required permits. Additionally, Colorado Mountain Club has cabin access from Brainard Lake that is available for day use by donation and overnight use by reservation. Arrive early and carpool to Brainard Lake if skiing or snowshoeing on the weekends as parking fills quickly. Plan ahead and be aware of avalanche danger as the slopes of Mount Audubon pose a risk to avalanches.
Caribou Ranch: Caribou Ranch Open Space is just 2 miles outside of Nederland and offers a great 4.5 mile loop for beginner snowshoeing and cross country skiing. This skiing will be a bit different than skiing at one of the groomed areas listed here since the only tracks will be from previous skiers - you can leave your skate skis at home for this trip! This serene trail system passes by old homesteads and remnants of mining industries for a glimpse into the history of the area. For late season skiing you’ll have to look elsewhere - Caribou Ranch is closed April 1st - June 30th for elk calving and migratory birds.
Hessie Trailhead: Snowshoeing to Lost Lake is a popular activity from Hessie Trailhead just past the turnoff for Eldora Mountain. The frequent traffic here means that the trails are often well packed. There are no tracks here for skiing, but using wider backcountry skis could be possible and often people will use downhill skis with skins. This area typically has low avalanche danger and is great for group snowshoe or ski outings. The road to the main trailhead is not maintained in the winter, so there is a slightly longer approach.
North Boulder and CU South: Boulder Nordic Club is a non-profit association in Boulder that has permission from CU and the City of Boulder to groom trails at North Boulder park and CU South when conditions are right. The trails can be accessed for free, and you can support BNC by purchasing a membership. (A BNC membership also provides discounts for certain ski resorts!) You can check their website or Facebook page for conditions, a live trail cam, and to check if the trails are groomed. Groomed trails in town are hard to beat!
Rocky Mountain National Park: All of the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park are open to cross country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. For an easier outing visit Emerald Lake, and for a more challenging adventure you can check out Black Lake. Check with the ranger station for recommendations and there are options for rental equipment in Estes Park.
Resorts and Groomed Trails
Eldora Nordic Center: Eldora is the closest resort to Boulder and ski shuttles from downtown Boulder make it easy to access while leaving your car at home. Eldora has 40k of groomed trails for classic skiing and skate skiing, separate trails for snowshoeing, a small cozy lodge with snacks and rentals and they offer classes.
Snow Mountain Ranch: Operated by the YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch includes over 82K kilometers of trails for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Venture up to Columbine Point for a view of the surrounding mountains. Want to bring your pup along? You’re in luck! With leashes, dogs are allowed on designated trails.
Also try out the groomed trails at these locations:
- Devil’s Thumb Ranch - Tabernash
- Granby Ranch - Granby
- Vail Nordic Center - Vail
- Frisco Nordic Center - Frisco
Until next time!
Allison and Ken