If you’re a hiking enthusiast like me, you know that hiking in the winter isn’t always easy and accessible. With little information on the internet about winter hikes in Colorado, I had to explore on my own.
Can You Hike In Denver In December?
If you’re wondering whether or not you can hike in Denver in December, the answer is absolutely yes!
In fact, not only can you find awesome winter hiking trails near Denver, but you can hike all over the state of Colorado in winter.
15 Winter Hikes In Colorado
Thankfully I’ve had some success with a few winter hiking trails. I’ve been able to compile a list that includes 15 of the best winter hikes in Colorado.
1. Chasm Lake – Estes Park
Distance: Approximately 9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, a hike to Chasm Lake during winter months is breathtaking, which is why it made the list of best winter hikes in Colorado.
Snuggled under the peak of one of Colorado’s most famous 14ers, Longs Peak, the views are spectacular. This winter wonderland cannot be missed.
If you’ve hiked Longs Peak in the summer, you’ll know how popular this trail can be.
The best part about hiking this trail in the winter is that there are far fewer hikers than in the summer, but still enough people to make you feel safe if something goes wrong.
One of the biggest concerns with hiking Longs Peak in the winter is post-holing. This seems to happen more often below the treeline where the snow isn’t well-packed.
To avoid post-holing, start your trek early in the morning when the weather is colder. You can also consider wearing snowshoes below the treeline as well.
Longs Peak Route
To get to Chasm Lake, start at the Longs Peak trailhead. Make your way up the switchbacks.
Soon you’ll reach the frozen river. Instead of staying on the trail, we opted to follow the frozen river all the way up to the treeline.
At this junction, you’ll have the option to continue toward the summit of Longs Peak or make your way to Chasm Lake. Hiking to the summit of Longs Peak in winter is deadly, therefore I highly suggest you only go to Chasm Lake.
From this junction, you must cross over a thin trail with daunting slopes on your left side.
Important: If you do not have the proper equipment (crampons or microspikes) you can stop before and still enjoy the fabulous views.
However, if you do plan to cross the narrow strip and continue to Chasm Lake, be aware that slides are likely. Be sure to assess the slope condition before attempting to cross.
Note: Although this is one of the best winter hikes in Colorado, it isn’t easy. I recommend this trail for hikers in good physical condition.
2. Mayflower Gulch – Frisco
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
Located just down the road from several popular ski resorts, the Mayflower Gulch trail is one of the best winter hikes in Colorado.
This out-and-back trail gives you unbelievable views of the highest peaks in the area.
Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing are popular on this trail, but I chose to hike. Thanks to the backcountry skiers, the trail was packed down and kept me from post-holing.
However, to be safe, I do recommend bringing a pair of snowshoes with you or plan to start your hike early enough in the day so that you don’t encounter a lot of deep post-holing.
3. Hanging Lake – Glenwood Springs
Distance: 3 miles (depending on where you park)
Elevation Gain: 1100 feet
One of the most popular summer hikes in Colorado, Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs is one of the best winter hikes, too.
I highly recommend planning your trip to Hanging Lake in winter because you’ll avoid the crowds of people.
The best part about exploring Hanging Lake in the winter is the frozen waterfall. The incredible blue-green hue of the water is still visible, but icicles hang down the sides of the falls, making it a winter wonderland.
Take caution during your winter hike up to Hanging Lake. In many places, the steps can be icy. Use the handrails when available.
4. Dream Lake – Estes Park
Distance: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Adding Dream Lake to the list of best winter hikes in Colorado was a no-brainer. In fact, this is my favorite winter hike in Colorado.
This hike made me feel like I was in the movie “Frozen”. The mountains are rigid and white with snow and the lake sturdy enough to stand on.
I have done this hike in the summer and the winter and although it is magnificent in the summer, nothing beats standing on the frozen lake gawking at these beautiful peaks in winter.
Due to its popularity, it’s unnecessary to wear snowshoes for this hike; hiking boots will suffice. The trail is very packed from other hikers.
Although you’re likely to run into a few other people on the trail, give yourself time at the base of the mountains. Soon you’ll find yourself in a completely desolate area.
5. Quandary Peak – Breckenridge
Distance: 8.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Gain: 3400 feet
Here’s something fun: summit a 14er in the middle of winter!
Summiting a 14er in proper conditions is one thing, but nothing makes you more badass than attempting one in winter. Quandary Peak easily makes the list of best winter hikes in Colorado.
Luckily, Quandary Peak is a relatively easy 14er compared to other tall peaks and is easily accessible in winter. The trails are well-marked.
Reaching the trailhead was also simple thanks to snow-plows. We used snowshoes on our journey but took them off once we reached the treeline.
Pro-tips: When hiking a 14er, always make sure to bring enough gear. You’ll want to pack enough water (at least 2 liters), warm clothes (hat, gloves, outer layer, pants, etc.), and food (chocolate and sandwiches are my go-to hiking snack).
Another important thing to consider before summiting Quandary Peak in the winter is timing. Since daylight is limited during the winter months, be sure to start your hike early. You NEVER want to be stuck on a 14er in the dark.
6. Emerald Mountain- Steamboat Springs
Distance: 4 miles
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
Steamboat Springs, Colorado is best known for its incredible world-class ski resort. But luckily for us, Steamboat is also home to one of the best winter hikes in Colorado.
Emerald Mountain is the peak that sits directly opposite the ski resort and is a short and easy winter hike.
Despite a large amount of snowfall during winter months in Steamboat, the trail is very well marked and packed down thanks to locals who frequent this trail daily.
The elevation isn’t harsh and the trail is approximately 4 miles roundtrip, making this a great trail for people of all fitness levels.
This is even a great hike to bring the family on. From the top, you’ll get an amazing panorama of Mount Werner and the quaint town of Steamboat Springs.
7. Saint Mary’s Glacier – Idaho Springs
Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Gain: 800 feet
A fantastic summer hike, Saint Mary’s Glacier is also a fun winter hike to add to your itinerary.
Thanks to its popularity, the trail to Saint Mary’s Glacier is typically packed down, preventing you from post-holing with every step (for those who have post holed up to a summit before, you know how much fun that is… not!).
You’ll share the trail with backcountry skiers, so keep an eye out and make room for everyone.
Note: Microspikes and/or snowshoes will help you on this trail if the snow is fresh.
8. Herman Gulch Trail – Dillon
Distance: 7 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1800 feet
A backcountry skiers paradise, Herman Gulch Trail located in Dillion, Colorado, is one of the best winter hikes to add to your to-do list.
From the trail, you’ll encounter rugged mountains that tower over you in every direction. If you’re looking for a mountainous winter wonderland, this is it!
Start this hike early to avoid warm snow and post-holing.
It’s best to bring snowshoes with you, but you probably won’t need them until you reach about 11,500 feet.
9. Maroon Bells Loop – Aspen
Distance: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
If you’re looking for an easy winter hike in Colorado, the Maroon Bells Loop is your answer.
The best part about visiting the Maroon Bells in the winter is that you’ll avoid big crowds and you can enjoy the scenery without bumping into the people around you.
Unlike the summer months, you don’t need to make reservations to visit Maroon Bells in the winter.
Dress warmly for this winter hike because you won’t be gaining much elevation, meaning that you won’t be able to warm yourself up.
10. Mount Sanitas – Boulder
Distance: 2.5 to 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1300 feet
The snow on Mount Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado is typically sparse, making this one of the best winter hikes in the state.
But, it’s important to know that even during winter months, this hiking trail is very popular.
So, if you’re looking for solitude, this isn’t it.
At the top of Mount Sanitas, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Boulder and the Flatirons. If you’re located in the Front Range, this is the perfect winter hike to add to your bucket list.
11. Fish Creek Falls – Steamboat Springs
Distance: .25 miles to over 12 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
Elevation Gain: Up to 2600 feet
One of my favorite winter hikes in Colorado is Fish Creek Falls located in Steamboat Springs.
I love this hike because you can choose how far you want to go; the first waterfall is only .25 miles from the parking lot. The second is approximately 2.5 miles out and Long Lake is 5-6 miles out.
In the winter, this is especially helpful because you can assess how maintained the trail is and turn back when it seems unmanageable.
Note: This is a great trail to bring the entire family on! When the kiddos get cold or tired, you can turn around without feeling disappointed.
12. Belcher Hill – Golden
A fun winter hike in Colorado is located just outside of Denver in the quaint town of Golden. Belcher Hill Trail is a great way to get outside during the cold winter months.
This trail is typically occupied by bikers even in the winter, so watch the path as you ascend.
Microspikes are typically unnecessary on this trail unless it has recently snowed, but keep an eye out for patches of ice.
The view from the top is breathtaking and it’s well-worth getting outside during the winter.
13. Lily Lake – Estes Park
Distance: 1 mile
Elevation Gain: None
If you aren’t up for trekking the 9 miles to Chasm Lake, opt to hike to Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park instead.
Similar to Chasm Lake, you’ll be treated to a beautiful view of Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in the park.
To really enjoy your hike to Lily Lake in the winter, start before the sunrises and watch it pop up behind the mountains.
The way the sun hits the snow is a true spectacle.
14. Iron Mountain – Manitou Springs
Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Another great winter hike close to Denver is Iron Mountain located in Manitou Springs.
This gradual hike is perfect for people of any age, so pack up the kids and bring them out to enjoy the beauty of Colorado in the winter.
It’s unlikely that there will be a lot of snow on the trail (or any snow at all), which means that snowshoes and microspikes are not needed.
One thing you must be careful about though is that this trail lines private property. Be sure to stay on the trail and don’t go past any private property signs.
15. Columbine Lake – Silverton
Distance: 9 miles (depending on where you park)
Elevation Gain: 3000 feet
Columbine Lake is one of the more difficult hikes in the San Juan Mountain Range, but it is also one of the most rewarding.
For an epic Colorado winter adventure, strap on your snowshoes and hike up to Columbine Lake. But remember, this isn’t for the faint of heart.
If you aren’t an experienced winter hiker, you might want to choose another trail.
If you can handle the elevation gain, you’ll be treated to some of the most sweeping views of the San Juan Range.
What Gear Do You Need for Winter Hiking
Although you need to adequately prepare for a summer hiking excursion, it’s even more important to prepare for a Colorado hike in the winter.
Here are a few items that you should consider packing for your winter hiking adventure:
Microspikes are small chains with spikes that you can strap onto the bottom of your hiking boots.
These spikes will help you from slipping if you encounter ice or slick snow.
The best microspikes on the market are Kahtoola Microspikes Footware Traction. You can get them at REI for $70 or you can check prices on Amazon here.
Note: Microspikes can even be attached to your running shoes if you ever want to go for a jog during icy conditions.
Snowshoes will help you immensely in deep or fresh snow.
If at first it appears that the trail you’re going to hike is clear of snow, I still recommend strapping a pair of snowshoes to your backpack for use further up the trail.
I recommend the Sawtooth Snowshoes because they are high quality and reasonably priced.
You can check prices on Amazon here: Sawtooth Snowshoes.
Note: You can always rent snowshoes from a local shop (there are plenty in Colorado) instead of buying them, which can be expensive.
Crampons are more durable and sturdy than microspikes, but the concept is the same.
Crampons attach to the bottom of your boots and provide a frame with large spikes that help you stay on your feet in snowy or icy conditions.
The confusing part is that many people think microspikes and crampons are the same thing. They are not.
Searching on Amazon for crampons will likely turn up a lot of results for microspikes, so be sure you’re doing your research before purchasing.
Here is a quality pair of crampons to consider: Black Diamond Cyborg Pro Crampon.
REI also has a great selection of crampons.
Note: You would likely use crampons instead of microspikes for more difficult and steep hiking trails.
A Warm Thermal Layer
The most important gear you need to prepare for a winter hike in Colorado is clothing.
Speaking from experience, having the proper clothing could be the determining factor between life and death in some situations.
In order to stay warm during your winter hike, you’ll need to first put on a warm base layer.
This base layer works as insulation for your body.
For thermal layers, we recommend any quality product made from wool. Our favorite is Smartwool.
A Breathable Top Layer
Just as important as the thermal layer, a breathable top layer will help your body breathe and prevent sweat from building up.
If your body cannot breathe, your thermal layer will become soaked in sweat and leave you freezing in the middle of a winter hike.. not good!
A smart outer layer could be a jacket or zip-up made of polyester or nylon.
Safety Tips for Winter Hiking in Colorado
Along with the proper gear, it’s important to understand the risks of hiking during the winter in Colorado
Getting to most of these hikes requires driving over mountain passes and traversing snowy backroads.
Before departing for any of these hikes, I highly recommend checking out the road conditions, which you can do at cotrip.org.
I also HIGHLY suggest taking a 4WD vehicle to all of these trailheads. 2WD cars typically cannot handle Colorado snow.
Second, you should always know what kind of weather you’ll be up against during your winter hike in Colorado.
Most of the hiking trails on this list aren’t prone to avalanches, especially if you’re hiking near Denver. However, there is always a possibility.
If you’re unsure of what to do when faced with the threat of an avalanche, consider reading about the basics of avalanches over at Avalanche.org.
Please don’t ever hike alone, especially in the winter.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I decided to solo summit Mount Bierstadt in the middle of winter. In short, I almost froze to death.
Always hike with a buddy.
The Wrap-Up: The Best Winter Hikes in Colorado
Don’t stay cooped up in your house all winter long. You don’t have to be a ski bum to enjoy the snow.
Add these six trails to your itinerary and get a taste of the best winter hikes in Colorado. I’m hoping that more people will take advantage of hiking in the winter so that more trails will be suitable for winter ascents.
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