Even though the winter months can get chilly in Colorado, that doesn’t stop Denverites from heading out to the mountains to get in some outdoor adventure.
I’m not really into skiing or snowboarding, but I absolutely love snowshoeing because it allows you to get out into nature, get a good workout, and is a relatively cheap winter activity if you have your own equipment.
Here are some of my favorite places near Denver to go snowshoeing during the weekend. Many of these spots are doable as a day trip from Denver and I’ve included some trail condition information with the date of my last visit when possible.
Please note: Always exercise caution and look up weather conditions prior to starting your snowshoeing adventure.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The place for well-maintained trails and breathtaking views that never fail to impress.
Those who live in Denver are very lucky to be less than two hours away from this beautiful National Park. I think it’s even more magical during the winter when there are fewer crowds and there are never-ending views of snowcapped mountains.
Many of the trails are suitable for snowshoeing, but they are also quite popular and highly trafficked during the winter, so I generally recommend getting there early (before 9 am) in order to beat the crowds, get a parking spot, and have a more peaceful experience on the trail.
There is an entrance fee of $25 per vehicle to enter RMNP for the day. National Parks or RMNP pass holders get in for free.
Dream Lake Trail
The trail that is on every Colorado “best of” snowshoeing list is one of the most popular snowshoeing trails in RMNP during the winter. This 2.2-mile round trip out and back trip to Dream Lake is short but offers striking scenery the whole way up. When you make it to Dream Lake, you’ll be treated to the jagged outlines of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. Between the peaks, you get a view of Tyndall Gorge, where Tyndall Glacier sits.
Because the trail is so heavily trafficked, the snow is often packed down and you can usually make it up with just microspikes. Just be sure to bring your snowshoes if you want to explore around the lake or keep going to Emerald Lake.
UPDATE 1/15/2019: Trail was relatively packed and definitely could have gotten by with just microspikes and a little bit of post-holing a bit at the top and on the way down.
It gets windy, specifically at Dream Lake, but if you keep pushing on past Dream Lake on to Emerald, it’s really not that windy anywhere else on the trail. Bring some ski goggles if you don’t like the frozen face feeling – I also wore a Balaklava because I hate cold noses. Toe warmers are also a good move.⠀
- Dream Lake Trail information on AllTrails
Mills Lake Trail
Equally as stunning as Dream Lake, but not as crowded since it’s more than double the length at 4.9 miles round trip, Mills Lake is definitely worth the extra effort. You gain 836 feet in elevation, but the climb is gradual the entire way. At the lake, you will be rewarded with a beautiful vantage point (from right to left) of the serrated Keyboard of the Winds, Pagoda Mountain, and Chief’s Head Peak.
If the lake is frozen over, take time to walk out onto the ice, looking for clearer areas where you can see frozen bubbles and shallow areas where you spot twigs and tree bark one half in the ice, one half out.
UPDATE 1/5/2020: Parked around 8 am with only a quarter of the lot filled. Snow is packed down due to the high level of foot traffic. I did not need snowshoes for the trip but used my microspikes and poles. Lot was pretty full by the time we returned, around 11:30 am.
- Mills Lake via Glacier Gorge Trail information on AllTrails.
Broome Hut via Second Creek Trail
The place to go when you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to blaze your own trail to the top.
You will get your cardio in for the day with a climb of 729 feet in about 3/4 of a mile, and your reward will be beautiful views of the Continental Divide and Berthoud Pass.
Don’t let the questionable location of the trailhead parking lot dissuade you from doing this trek. The lot is literally on the side of the road by the 240 mile marker of US 40 and there is a giant orange sign warning skiers about avalanches. However, once you get into the trees and onto the trail, you will understand why so many people come to this spot.
Be prepared for lots of deep snow. The trail is not as well-tread as other spots, so best for intermediate snowshoers and up. At a certain point during our visit in March 2019, we lost the trail so be to make sure you have GPS/map to make sure you are headed in the right direction.
One of the treats of this journey is ending up at Broome Hut. While overnight campers are required to register and have a reservation, during the day all visitors are able to use the common area, where you can sit at a table and have a snack while you warm up. There is also a bathroom you can use.
This area is very popular with backcountry skiers and you will see many of them trudging further up the mountain to take on The Cirque bowl, and it’s awesome (and sometimes nervewracking) to watch them making their descents from the vantage point of the Hut.
Skiers should use caution, as there can be a significant danger of avalanche (we actually saw a small one rumble down and cover the track of a skier who had only finished there run a few minutes before).
While the parking lot is pretty sizeable, it does get pretty full on the weekend, but there is a spot for overflow parking across the road.
Take D’Leap, D3, and D4 in Winter Park
The place for when you just want solitude.
I’m a little hesitant to tell you about this sleepy little spot because it’s a hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about, a few minutes away from Main Street in Winter Park. These series of mountain biking trails become a fantastic circuit of snowshoe trails in the winter. More than likely you will only run into a handful of people (if any) the whole time you are there.
- Take D’Leap, D3, and D4 information on New Denizen
Saint Mary’s Glacier
The place that’s a Colorado “must.”
Another Colorado classic, Saint Mary’s Glacier is popular all-year-round, but I especially love it during the winter. Prepare yourself for lots of people on the lower parts of the trail up and just past Saint Mary’s Lake. As you climb higher and higher up the glacier, the crowd starts to thin out. It’s worth going the extra 1/4 of a mile to the flat area where you can do some interpretive trailblazing and see James Peak.
There is a $5 parking fee, cash only.
- Saint Mary’s Glacier on AllTrails
The place to enjoy trails specifically made with snowshoeing in mind.
A rewarding 6.7-mile journey is about an hour and a half outside of Denver, starting at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area outside of Ward, CO. Snowshoers should opt for the Waldrop and CMC snowshoeing trails rather than taking the closed Brainard Lake Road so you can get a better workout and get that walking on clouds feeling snowshoers love! Prepare yourself for pretty views of the Indian Peaks when you get to Brainard Lake.
- Very good snowshoe trail map of Brainard Lake Recreation Area on USDA.org
- Brainard Lake via Waldrop and Ski Trail on AllTrails
- Snowshoeing Brainard Lake information on RootsRated
- Snowshoeing Brainard Lake and Long Lake and Snowshoeing Brainard Lake articles on Takahashi Outdoors
The place for an easy stroll with a little bit of Colorado mining, homestead, and music history thrown in along the way.
Mainly flat, 4-mile lollipop trail near Nederland that is great for snowshoeing beginners and families with young kids. This route features wide-open spaces and a number of historical sites including old barns, mining company buildings, homesteads, and the former recording studio Caribou Ranch, which hosted sessions by artists like U2, Billy Joel, Chicago, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and many more.
- Caribou Trail on All Trails
The place for when you just want to get out of the city for the day and do a quick snowshoeing hike.
This popular trail near Nederland starts at Hessie Trailhead. Lake and mountain views are not as stunning as the ones you’ll find in RMNP, but it’s a great little hike only an hour away from Denver.
UPDATE 12/27/2019: Trail has packed snow. A little bit icy at the very beginning and doable with just microspikes or hiking shoes with good traction. Get there early (before 9 am). There is no parking lot so you must park in a single file line on the side of the road (which does have snow/ice on it, but doable in even a 2WD vehicle with front steering).
- Lost Lake via Hessie Trailhead information on AllTrails
- Snowshoeing Lost Lake information on The Outbound
Where to rent snowshoes
If you don’t already own snowshoes and aren’t ready to commit to making the purchase, you can rent gear by the day from your nearest REI.
For total novices, I recommend taking one of the snowshoeing classes offered by REI (I actually took one the first time I snowshoed) where they teach you all the basics and you can get an idea whether or not you like the sport.
Have any other great recommendations for snowshoeing spots that can easily be done as a day trip or weekend getaway near Denver? Please leave me a message in the comments section!