SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

The Ultimate Guide to Snowshoeing in Grand County, Colorado

Home to two ski resorts, three lakes, and the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as access points to the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests and the Never Summer and Indian Peaks wilderness areas, Grand County offers epic terrain for pretty much every recreational activity an outdoor enthusiast could desire. There are options for skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, fishing, and, of course, snowshoeing. It has perfect trails for all levels, pleasing everyone from families with children to extreme backcountry experts, and everything in-between.

Each area in Grand County has something unique to offer snowshoers. The Winter Park Resort provides guided snowshoe tours throughout the winter (as well as rentals, if necessary). The Fraser Valley is chock-full of epic mountain biking trails, which make great snowshoe terrain when the white stuff starts to pile up (usually by mid-November). The Grand Lake area offers access to the pristine national park trail network as well as a multitude of lakes. The lakes are a geographic feature that is known for creating ideal snowshoeing terrain. Hot Sulphur Springs, the county seat, is home to a hot spring resort where snowshoers can enjoy a relaxing soak post-hike.

Read on for a roundup of some of the best snowshoe trails Grand County has to offer.

The snowy, wooded trail system at the Grand Lake Nordic Center offers easy but beautiful terrain for snowshoeing. Photo courtesy of GLNC.

TRAILS

Colorado River Trail

This pleasant 4.2 mile loop trail is in the Columbine neighborhood just outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is popular with snowshoers who wish to let their dogs take an off-leash romp in the snow.

The area took a beating in the summer of 2018 when a wildfire burned down a good portion of its Aspen and Lodgepole pine forests, using ample portions of pine beetle kill wood for fuel. The well-marked trail system–parts of which are groomed in the winter by the Grand Lake Nordic Center–is still intact, and the burn area makes for an unique nature lesson.

The River trail is crisscrossed by a variety of other easy to moderate pathways that meander over small hills and through pretty wooded areas (once you get past the initial burn area). It flanks tranquil ponds and streams where wildlife sightings are frequent. The trails eventually lead to the riverside, where dogs can get a drink. Picnic tables are provided for a nice rest or snack break.

As of December 1st, visitors are required to purchase a $10 trail pass from the Nordic Center, which houses a retail shop with equipment rentals. There is also a lounge with a fireplace and snackbar in a fun social setting with beautiful views of the golf course. The Nordic Center hosts full moon events in the winter, where you can snowshoe to a bonfire with a bar offering hot chocolate and mulled wine.

Fraser River Trail

This popular, paved recreational avenue runs 6 miles one-way along Highway 40 connecting the Winter Park Ski Resort and the town of Fraser. Although it doesn’t often have much powder coverage, it offers a nice place to take a winter walk, especially with little ones. It is also the perfect place to experiment with different types of snowshoes. Try a lightweight racing model for winter running, or something more playful like this fun foam model from Crescent Moon Snowshoes.

The trail also provides a nice walking tour of the area’s cultural and historic attractions, such as the Cozens Ranch Museum. The museum is located at the site of the valley’s first homestead from the 1800s, and the new Headwaters Center, which is a beautifully renovated barn that hosts events and ecological education facilities. The Lift shuttle bus has stops along the way for easy returns to your starting point if necessary. There are also many restaurants and shops within walking distance for breaks.

Jim Creek Trail 

The serene terrain along Jim Creek Trail at the base of Berthoud Pass in Grand County. Photo courtesy of AllTrails.

Located across Highway 40 from Winter Park Resort, this trail starts out from the Discovery Loops trail at the Bonfils Stanton Outdoors Center. The Discovery Loop is a flat, easy nature trail. It offers a nice walk through shady pine forests frosted with snow and is handicap-accessible.

At the far end of this loop is the trailhead for Jim Creek, a seven mile out-and-back climb up the creek bed. Because it stays shaded by tall pine trees, this area maintains its snowpack well and is popular with snowshoers. The town of Winter Park is a short drive away with a multitude of restaurants and shops for post-hike entertainment. Dogs allowed on leash.

Adams Falls 

Located a short drive from downtown Grand Lake, this iconic trek is one of the most popular trails in the area. Although the East Inlet trailhead is the gateway for many miles of trail leading to several lakes and backcountry campsites, Adams Falls is just one mile from the parking area and features a short, easy climb to a scenic waterfall lookout, which is even more beautiful in the winter when it freezes over.

Moose are active in this area year round, as are deer, fox and osprey. Those who wish for a more strenuous adventure can continue onward for about seven more miles one-way. Depending on the season, snowshoes might not actually be necessary to reach the falls (a sturdy pair of winter boots or a set of ice cleats, like Yaktrax, will usually suffice), but snowshoes may be necessary to go much further.

North Inlet to Cascade Falls 

Another popular year round trailhead near Grand Lake is the North Inlet. This trail gives access to Cascade Falls, among other liquid landmarks. At 6.5 miles round-trip, this is a fairly easy hike with just a moderate incline. However, it will take a little extra time with snowshoes and to spend some time at the top.

The first half of the trek is wide, flat and very beautiful, featuring a slow, winding river and several vast meadows where moose often hang out.  The trail gains a little elevation as it rambles up to the falls, which are made of a collection of several terraced rock formations. Plenty of wide, flat rock areas exist at the falls’ site for taking a break before returning, or continuing on to the upper lakes, campsites and towering peaks that extend over the Continental Divide. The majority of this trail is contained within Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), so dogs are not allowed, even on leash.

Monarch Lake Loop 

This lovely four mile loop around Monarch Lake features rolling terrain, beautiful lake and mountain views and lots of bird life. The trail is mostly flat, with some hilly sections on the southwest side of the lake, where a few wide, sandy beaches can also be found giving access to the shoreline. The drive to this trailhead is across the dam on the south side of Lake Granby. It can be pretty bumpy, but is equally as scenic as the hike itself. Dogs are allowed on leash. There is a parking fee required at the turnoff from Highway 34, as the lake is located within the Arapaho National Forest.

Tonahutu Creek Trail to Big Meadows 

Although the most popular route to Big Meadows is via the Green Mountain Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), the road to access this trailhead is closed in the winter. Luckily, Big Meadows can also be reached via the Tonahutu Creek Trail via the East Inlet trailhead in Grand Lake. Alternatively, you could park at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near the western entrance to RMNP, open with limited hours year round, and use the connector trail to access the Tonahutu Creek Trail.  

It’s 10 miles round trip, but most of the trail is flat with gently rolling hills. Along the route, there are several picnic and backcountry campsites. Most of these sidle alongside a wide, lazy river. They are great for taking breaks and viewing wildlife like birds, fish and moose. If you’re craving a secluded overnight adventure, campsites in the winter do not require permits. This trail enters RMNP, so no dogs are allowed.

RANCHES

An abundance of dude and guest ranches are located in Grand County, most of which offer their breathtaking terrain (literally and figuratively) up to snowshoers and Nordic skiers once the snow blankets the ground. Besides having superior scenery, the perk of heading to a guest ranch to go snowshoeing is that they usually have additional services, like a restaurant bar or spa. They also have other winter activities, like fat biking or ice skating, to complete a full day of fun for the whole family, all in one place. Plus, you can also stay overnight and make a whole vacation out of it. Although some ranches are private and only offer trail access to overnight guests, some are open to the public, usually for a small fee. Here are some of Grand County’s best options for snowshoeing on ranches.

The Devil’s Thumb Resort is ideal for families looking for a full day of fun winter activities. Photo courtesy of Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch 

Tucked away in a gorgeous valley in Tabernash, the Nordic center at Devil’s Thumb Ranch has won numerous awards for its superior scenery and 120km of on-site trails, including dedicated snowshoe-only terrain. The activity center also offers guided tours, lessons and equipment rentals. If you want to try something new, or if there’s not enough snow for snowshoeing, they also rent fat bikes.

The out-and-back Redtail trail is best for beginners. Moosestomp is a bit more challenging, and leads uphill to a scenic lookout point. Included with the trail pass is complimentary access to an ice-skating rink. Dogs allowed on leashes. And, don’t miss great food and drink deals in the bar lounge from 4-5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. Read more about the Devil’s Thumb experience here: Winter Retreat at Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Latigo Ranch 

Originally founded under the name Snowshoe Ranch in 1923, this sprawling property in Kremmling features 200 miles of un-groomed, backcountry trails covering 40,000 acres of National forestland (used for horseback riding in the summer). It also has 50k of groomed trails for Nordic use in the winter–not to mention endless views of the Continental Divide.

Overnight guests of the ranch have complimentary access to the trails, and a day pass can be purchased for $20. The ranch restaurant is open to the public for lunch and dinner. There is a special $25 lunch buffet rate for day pass holders. Plan your visit to coincide with one of their monthly Dinner Club nights. These feature specialty dishes with wine pairings, and can provide for an elegant end to your day. The Dinner Club nights require advance reservations. Equipment rentals are provided at the activity center. No dogs allowed. See Latigo Ranch: A Snowshoer’s Paradise for more details.

YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch 

A perennial family favorite, this ranch offers an array of activities year-round in addition to snowshoeing so you can really make a full, fun day out of your visit. An on-site Nordic center provides 120k of trails covering 5,200 acres of stunning mountain, meadow and riverside terrain (including snowshoe-specific trails). The Nordic center also has a retail shop with equipment rentals, and informative guided tours. At the Skinny Ski cafe there, they serve hot beverages and snack items.

After exploring the snowy trails, try your hand at roller skating, archery, arts and crafts, fat biking or even dog-sledding. Dogs allowed on leash. Overnight guests receive complimentary trail access. Visitors require a day pass for use or multi-day punch cards and season passes are available for purchase. Check out 48 Hours at Snow Mountain Ranch to help plan your visit.

SKI RESORTS

A guided snowshoe expedition commences at the summit of Winter Park Resort. Photo courtesy of Winter Park Resort.

Winter Park Ski Resort 

This popular ski resort is one of Grand County’s main attractions. It’s one of the oldest resorts in Colorado, although it recently underwent a few facelifts when it partnered with the Ikon multi-resort pass. The resort offers a great trail map featuring detailed descriptions of snowshoe-specific trails that originate from the resort base.

Additionally, two hour guided snowshoe tours are offered twice a day on weekends (advance reservations recommended). These tours depart from the top of the new gondola, so you get to enjoy the scenery without the leg-burning climb. The tour ticket includes your lift ticket. The guides are also knowledgeable about the history and ecology of the area, and therefore are as educational as they are exhilarating. Equipment is available to rent at the tour center before hopping a lift up the mountain. Take advantage of that lift ticket and apres at the Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge for sunset happy hour with live music (opens in January).

Granby Ranch Ski Resort 

Formerly known as Sol Vista Resort, Granby Ranch has developed into a year-round hub of activity. They have a golf course, restaurant and extensive trail system for hiking, mountain biking and skiing. Snowshoers have several great places to hike here too. The ski resort base center offers trail maps and snowshoe equipment for rent. From here you can either trek straight out of the base via the Pirouette trail, or you can purchase a lift ticket for $20 and start trekking from the top of the Quick Draw Express on designated snowshoe-only trails.

Additionally, the Granby Ranch Golf Course is open to the public for free in the winter. However, they do not make snow, groom trails, or provide any retail/rental services here. After exploring the trails, head to the Granby Ranch Grill for lunch or dinner. They also have a good happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

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