With snow falling, trails in Colorado’s foothills get a beautiful, wintry makeover. Tree limbs glisten in an icy casing, sounds are muffled by the downy snow and the chance to see and hear wildlife goes up as fewer people travel the trails—it’s a great time to strap on some snowshoes and go for a hike. These are among the best places to go snowshoeing near Denver!
Each of the trails and areas are excellent places to snowshoe within about two hours of Denver. Most offer longer trekking options for those interested in going farther, but snowshoeing is different than normal hiking and there’s no shame in turning around earlier than you would have on a normal hike.
Pick Your Adventure
1. Best snowshoeing close to Denver: Golden Gate State Park
Distance from Denver: 31 miles
92 Crawford Gulch Rd, Golden, Colo.
Once the snow falls, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an excellent location for snowshoeing. The park has more than 35 miles of well-marked trails, most of which are relatively flat, good for beginner snowshoers. At 3.8 miles, the Horseshoe Trail to Frazer Meadow and back is a great introduction to snowshoeing or it can be combined into a 6-mile loop with the Black Bear Trail. The 4.7-mile Mule Deer Loop is bit tougher with steeper climbs, but yields views of the gorgeous Panorama Point, one of the most stunning views in the park. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center to find out about recent wildlife spottings and trail conditions.
2. Best place for subalpine snowshoeing: St. Mary’s Glacier
Distance from Denver: 44 miles
271 Silver Creek Rd, Idaho Springs, Colo.
Just outside of Idaho Springs, this permanent snowfield—not a glacier—offers stunning views of an alpine lake surrounded by gnarled, wind-twisted pines. Though the path to St. Mary’s Lake is wide, it’s also a tough climb, gaining nearly 400 feet in elevation over a half-mile from the start at 10,380 feet. For a more moderate adventure, wander around the lake’s southern shore. Otherwise continue along the east side of the lake to climb up to the snowfield feature, reaching 11,200 feet at a mile in and return on the same path for a 2-mile hike. Bring some cash for the self-service parking fee.
3. Awesome snowshoeing near a 14er: Echo Lake Park
Distance from Denver: 45 miles
9885–9941 Chicago Creek Rd, Idaho Springs, Colo.
Echo Lake Park, one of the Denver Mountain Parks, offers awesome snowshoeing at the base of Mount Evans. For an easy adventure circuit, try the 1.3-mile loop around the lake. For a more ambitious day that takes you deeper in the woods, take the Chicago Lakes Trail. A trek to Lower Chicago Lake at 11,500 feet makes for a challenging 8-mile out-and-back hike through varying coniferous forests but yields incredible views of 13,000-foot peaks, including Mount Warren, Rogers Peak and Mount Spalding.
4. Best Easy Snowshoeing: Brainard Lake
Distance from Denver: 93 miles
Bear Lake Rd, Estes Park, Colo.
Brainard Lake is a fun, easy loop that’s about 5.5 miles long (variations may make it longer or shorter). It’s just south of Rocky Mountain National Park and features spectacular views of the majestic Indian Peaks. Bonus: in winter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area gate is closed and parking at the trailhead is free. From the Red Rock Trailhead, take the Waldrop Trail to Brainard Lake, circuit the lake and return via the same trail or on the nearby CMC Ski Trail to make the trail into a slightly longer loop. Either way, the trail only gains about 300 feet between its low and high points.
5. Snowshoe a 14er: Quandary Peak
Distance from Denver: 90 miles
Arapaho National Forest, Breckenridge, Colo.
Believe it or not, snowshoeing up Quandary Peak via the standard approach is relatively easy. It’s a 6.3-mile out-and-back trek up the 14,265-foot-high peak via the Quandary Peak Trail and it gains about 3,340 feet over a little over 3 miles. The trail climbs Quandary’s eastern ridge, keeping trekkers largely out of avalanche danger. On clearer days it also offers fantastic views of other 14ers and 13ers in the Ten Mile Range, as well as the mountains in the Sawatch and Collegiate Peaks Ranges. Bonus, those with experience glissading can reduce their trip time by glissading down Christo Couloir with a mountaineering ax and returning to the parking lot via the closed road. You can check weather and trail conditions on 14ers.com.
6. Great snowshoeing on an abandoned ski slope: Berthoud Pass
Distance from Denver: 55 miles
1090–1098 US Highway 40, Idaho Springs, Colo.
Another high elevation heart-thumper of a snowshoe trail is found at Berthoud Pass, close to Winter Park. Starting at the parking lot on top of Berthoud Pass, cross 40 and follow the Continental Divide Trail west. The trail climbs up the side of the ridge and reaches a series of switchbacks about a little over a mile into the hike. This is a good place to turn around, but if you’re looking for a long trek, continue on the trail for another 2.5 miles to reach the top of Stanley Mountain at 12,521 feet. Trace your way back for a 7.3-mile hike. This area, a former ski slope, is also popular with backcountry skiers and snowboarders.
7. Best snowshoeing in solitude: Silver Dollar Lake
Distance from Denver: 90 miles
Silver Dollar Lake, Idaho Springs, Colo.
This beautiful 4.6-mile snowshoe adventure starts at the winter closure of Guanella Pass, below the main parking lot for Mount Bierstadt. While the area is heavily trafficked in the summer, in winter you’re most likely to have this trail to yourself. Cross over the road and follow the snow-covered 4WD drive road to the Silver Dollar Lake Trail (#79). The trail passes south of Naylor Lake (on private land) and continues on to Silver Dollar Lake. Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, mountain goats and possibly moose and elk in the area.
Before you go, check weather conditions where you’ll be snowshoeing to make sure you won’t be trekking in a blizzard or wind storm. It can make a great hike a lot less fun. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides forecasts for different geographic zones as well as avalanche information. Also, check with local land managers to see if conditions are ideal for snowshoeing. It’s a bummer when you start snowshoeing and realize there’s not enough snow underfoot to use them properly.
Wear appropriate clothing! Jeans and cotton sweatshirts are not recommended. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t wear heavily insulated ski or snowboard clothing, you’ll get too hot and sweaty with the continual effort of snowshoeing and the sweat will eventually make you cold and wet.
Wear a breathable windproof shell over a good mid-layer like a fleece top and leggings or long johns under windproof, breathable pants. Bring a puffy jacket or vest in case it gets really cold or if you plan to take an extended break. Wear waterproof boots and good socks, preferably wool, if you don’t find them too itchy. If you have gaiters, they’re always a good idea, as they’ll keep snow out of your boots.
Bring a daypack with trail snacks (keep some of the snacks in your pockets so they don’t freeze) and water. Beware that the hoses on a bladder system can freeze, so either use an insulated hose system or stick to keeping water bottles in your daypack. You may need to adjust your layers, so the daypack should be big enough to carry extra gear.
Beyond that, bring gloves, a beanie, sunglasses or goggles, and wear sunscreen. Make sure to apply the sun protection to your neck, including under your ears and chin, as well as under your nostrils. Sun reflecting off the snow is notorious for causing sunburns in unexpected places.
Use trekking poles! Snowshoeing is easy, but it requires a slightly different gait than people are used to, with feet set a little farther apart than when hiking or walking. Trekking poles help with balancing, particularly when snowshoeing on uneven surfaces, inclines and narrow parts of trails.
Always use maps! Smartphones have a habit of not working when they get too cold. The trails listed here are easy to find and navigate—even in winter, but a map is better than an app alone; it’s easy to print one up or find at most park entrances. Also, always bring some cash with you. Some of the places have small entrance or parking fees.
Bonus: Everyone loves a hot drink on a cold trail. If you’ve got a thermos, bring some hot chocolate or spiced apple cider for a treat!
You don’t have to go out and buy a $100-plus pair of snowshoes. Plenty of outfitters offer rentals, like OutdoorsGeek, which is particularly great if you’re renting snowshoes before you get to Colorado. Otherwise, local outfitters like REI (multiple locations), Wilderness Exchange in Denver or Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden offer snowshoe and other rentals, including mountaineering boots.