From The Denver Post
With snow flying in Colorado’s mountains, an off-road trek can reward those who make it with stunning views of frozen lakes and waterfalls, slopes that glisten in the sun and the deep hush of wilderness.
But an enjoyable experience isn’t likely if each step is a struggle through deep snow.
Enter snowshoeing, which is among the fastest growing winter sports in the world, according to the Winter Wilds Alliance.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” said Alan Apt, author of “Snowshoe Routes Colorado’s Front Range.”
“It doesn’t require special skills like skiing does,” Apt said. “And unlike skis, you’re not going to kill yourself going downhill, or slide backwards going uphill. There is a minimal learning curve.”
People have relied on snowshoes to cross deep, snowy terrain for thousands of years.
Snowshoes spread the wearer’s weight evenly across a large, flat surface area so the foot doesn’t sink into the snow, and provide “flotation,” a quality that, coupled with spikes to grip the snow, allows for hiking and climbing, according to outdoor retailer REI.
“Don’t be overly ambitious that first time out. Do something short and easy and make it a fun trip. If it is a death march,” Apt said, “they won’t want to go back out. If the snow is deep and fresh, it’s good, but it takes more energy and can be challenging.”
For a wilderness adventure, Apt suggests the trails that lace Rocky Mountain National Park. For one thing, “there are three ranger- led snowshoe hikes each week.” The park also offers a beginner showshoe from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturdays through March 4, at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. (Reservations required.)
5 hikes for beginner snowshoers
1. Sprague Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park
This flat, half-mile trail circles the lake, which lies in the shadow of magnificent peaks. “This will make a good family outing,” Apt said. Access the trail from Bear Lake Road on the east side of the Rocky Mountain National Park.
2. Bear Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake offers scenic lake views at 9,475 feet. The trail is just over a half mile and runs near the base of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. There is a slight elevation gain, but overall it is an easy hike, Apt said.
Find the trail at the end of Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
3. Mud Lake – Boulder County Open Space
This small Boulder County Open Space park north of Nederland has good beginner snowshoeing trails. There are two short loop trails— the 0.8 mile Tungsten Loop and the 1.1 mile Kinnikinnick Loop— and the 1.5 mile out and back Caribou Ranch Link.
“You can go around on a very easy short outing, or go up on the hills. The trail is well marked and heavily used, so you’re not likely to get lost,” said Apt, who lives in the area. Find the trailhead off of Colorado 72, aka Peak to Peak Highway.
4. Echo Lake Park – Denver Mountain Parks
This Denver Mountain Parks trail system gives snowshoers an easy, flat and smooth trek near Echo Lake at the base of Mount Evans. Find the trailhead by taking exit 240 off of Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs and then following Colorado 103 to parking just north of the Mount Evans entrance station.
5. Hidden Valley – Rocky Mountain National Park
At this reclaimed ski area tucked into Rocky Mountain National Park, recreational trails head up the valley. For beginners, it’s best to go when trails are already packed in— not first thing in the morning after a storm. Find the trailhead just past Beaver Ponds on Trail Ridge Road, which is closed for the season a few miles ahead at Many Parks Curve. Distance: go out as far as you like, then come back.
Other places to look for a trail:
• Snowshoes.com lists events as well more than 3,300 trails nationwide in a clickable map.
• The Breckenridge and Frisco Nordic centers each have more than 12 miles of snowshoe trails. Rentals and tours are available. breckenridgenordic. com or townoffrisco.com
• Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Tabernash has more than 12 miles of marked snowshoe trails. devilsthumbranch.com
• Leadville and Lake County have a groomed trail network that includes the Mineral Belt Trail as well as a network at the Mount Massive Golf Course and a snowshoe trail to Interlaken in Twin Lakes. leadvilletwinlakes.com
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