There’s a chance that you are from a sunny state where a low of 65 degrees is freezing, or maybe maneuvering front wheel drive around on black icy roads of death freaks you out a little. Whatever the case, cautious one, you are not alone. Winter is here, and while you love bundling up in a snuggly hat and mittens, sipping cocoa and watching the flakes fall through your foggy breath like a Michael Bublé song, your uber fit friends are not going to convince you to hike a fourteener anytime soon.

But do not despair. Let it snow because you can take a hike this winter with a trail that won’t have you heavily gasping for breath or remembering Discovery Channel facts about frostbite warning signs in subzero temperatures. Here are some beautiful hiking trails where you can enjoy the magic of a winter wonderland without experiencing your own version of Everest.

Remember to check national or state park websites before you hike to make sure trail conditions are good and bring recommended gear. Happy hiking!

1. St. Mary’s Glacier

St. Mary's Glacier, Hike, winter

St. Mary’s Glacier via All Trails

Where: Arapaho National Forest near Idaho Springs.
Length: 1.4 mile out and back trail
Highlights: If you’re looking for a shorter hike, the trail to St. Mary’s Glacier is straight out of snowy paradise. With an ascension through the trees ending with an amazing panoramic view of the Rockies, this trail caps our list since it features a year-round glacier (rather a large snowfield) that is typically used for sledding, skiing and hiking. Use caution when walking on the glacier, or if you’re feeling less adventurous, simply enjoy the beautiful lake it feeds below. No matter what you do once you get to the top, you’re definitely bound to enjoy this chill spot only a short hour drive from Denver.

2. Nymph/Dream/Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lake, Hike, Rocky Mountain National Park, winter

Emerald Lake via All Trails

Where: Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park.
Length: 1 mile, 2.4 mile, 3.2 mile out and back trail
Highlights: Nothing beats Rocky Mountain National Park. Depending on how much time you want to spend hiking, these three majestic lakes are interspaced on the same trail, but all feature the same breathtaking view of icy waters and snowcapped mountains. With a nice moderate incline, this trail is well-crowded year-round and for good reason since the views can’t be rivaled elsewhere.

3. Waterton Canyon

Where: Chatfield State Park near Littleton.
Length: 12.4 miles
Highlights: If you don’t want to travel far from Denver or exert yourself physically, hiking a section of the Waterton Canyon Trail offers the perfect winter stroll. Frequent bikers and joggers use Waterton Canyon due to its flat path surrounded by beautiful rock formations and the flowing South Platte River. In the winter, you’ll see the massive canyon all frosted over and even catch a glimpse of wildlife such as bighorn sheep, mule deer and even wild turkeys in their natural rocky habitat. 

4. Alderfer Three Sisters

Where: Alderfer/Three Sisters Park near Evergreen.
Length: 6.9 mile loop trail
Highlights: If you love walking through the woods, the Alderfer Three Sisters Trail features gorgeous Ponderosa pines blanketed in snow. As one of the less commonly used trails on our list, Alderfer Three Sisters is a great hike for clearing your head and enjoying some peace and quiet in the winterized wilderness.

5. Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, hikes, winter

Alberta Falls via All Trails

Where: Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park.
Length: 1.7 mile out and back trail
Highlights: Another gorgeous and popular winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park offers stunning views of the most scenic waterfall in the park with only a steady incline. Frozen Alberta Falls is absolutely picturesque, and you won’t have to hike long to reach it.

6. Willow Creek

Where: Roxborough State Park near Littleton.
Length: 1.5 mile loop trail
Highlights: If you don’t want to drive all the way to Garden of the Gods and want a hike that’s not Red Rocks, but want to see some colorful rock formations all covered in snow, Roxborough State Park has got you covered. Relatively short and easy, the Willow Creek hike features protruding red rock formations along this little loop trail that’s so easy babies could do it.

7. Lake Isabelle

Photo by Ben Dawson

Where: Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland.
Length: 4.5 mile loop trail
Highlights: Lake Isabelle is the perfect moderately easy hike on our list that’s long enough for a good workout, but won’t have you worried about dangerous terrain. This winter hike features a waterfall and stunning mountain views of a frozen lake in an alpine valley.

Editor’s Note – After November, roads can be closed and may add on an extra four or more miles round trip to Lake Isabelle. Go here to check conditions and to plan your route. Shorter trips include stopping at Brainard Lake which is approximately two miles from the gateway trailhead to the lake. 

8. Sallie Barber Mine

Sallie Barber Mine, Breckenridge hikes, winter, hikes

Sallie Barber Mine via All Trails

Where: White River National Forest near Breckenridge.
Length: 2.8 mile out and back trail
Highlights: Breckenridge isn’t just good for skiing! Some of Colorado’s most beautiful winter hikes are up in this high elevation area, but rarely get much attention. The old Sallie Barber Mine is the pit stop for this hike which includes ruins of the wooden building dating back to the 1800s. Sallie Barber also offers striking views of the French Gulch and beautiful stretches through snowy forests.

9. Lair O’ the Bear

Where: Lair O’ the Bear Park near Idledale. Exit off Highway 74.
Length: 14.5 miles
Highlights: Hiking a stretch of the Lair O’ the Bear Trail through this popular park is definitely year-round fun for the whole family. You’ll see lots of attractions along the way: a beautiful creek, a flowing river with scenic bridges, mountain views and a real-life castle hidden in the woods. Lair O’ the Bear never gets boring.

10. Kenosha Pass

Where: Pike National Forest. Exit off Highway 285 at Kenosha Pass Campground.
Length: 29.3 miles (this is for the whole loop, but you can opt to take a shorter route) 
Highlights: Everyone can’t stop talking about Kenosha Pass in the fall, but those aspens are just as gorgeous in the winter. With a slow, easy climb from the campground, hiking a section of Kenosha boasts snowy aspen tunnels, rolling hills and amazing views of the flat plains and the Rockies.

11. Lily Lake

Lily Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, winter, hikes

Lily Lake via Rocky Mountain National Park

Where: Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park.
Length: 1.1 mile loop trail
Highlights: Another hotspot lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for taking some pretty pictures is Lily Lake. This beautiful lakeside loop trail is simple enough for a daytime stroll, but offers the same stunning backdrop of mountains you might find on a more challenging hike. On a clear day from Lily, you can see Lily Mountain, Estes Cone, Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak.

5 Responses

  1. Nicole

    Is the road to the Lake Isabelle parking lot open in the winter? I thought they closed the road at a gate closer to the entrance but I’ve never been up there in the winter.

    Reply
      • Anna

        They actually close the Brainard road each November, not weather dependent. So it is never open in calendar winter. This adds about 5 miles roundtrip, not to mention that after a snow, there can be some serious route-finding and trail breaking, as well as some slide potential in a few areas. This is a really poor suggestion for a beginner winter hike.

      • Brittany Werges

        We added an editor’s note about the road closure. Thank you for your comments. We appreciate the feedback.

  2. Nicole

    Thanks, Anna. That’s what I was thinking too. Now that I looked at the picture more closely, there isn’t much snow in it so it was probably taken in September or October after the first light dusting.

    Reply

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