Photo courtesy of Mike Riela via Flickr, CC By 2.0
Although the Colorado Rockies might be best known for downhill skiing, there is no shortage of alternative winter sports here. One of the most popular is snowmobiling, as more than 3,000 miles of trails provide access to the Centennial State’s magnificent backcountry.
Coloradans often remark that one of the most exciting things about their state is that you can go on vacation so close to home. If you live in Denver, it won’t take that long to reach a winter holiday paradise — and there are so many from which to choose.
From Denver: 102 miles, approximately 2 hours by car
Highlights: Streets are rights-of-way for snowmobilers, easy access to 300 miles of trails in the Arapaho National Forest on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, easy access to restaurants and shops in town, Continental Divide views.
Tip: Some trails are groomed/primed, while others are for experts. Choose your trails based on your experience and skill level.
From Denver: 156 miles, approximately 3 hours by car
Highlights: Lots of rideable terrain, Flat Tops Wilderness Area, proximity to the famous Strawberry Park Hot Springs, miles of almost treeless terrain toward city of Craig and beyond. Plus, this is home to the original Champagne powder!
Tip: Rabbit Ears pass is a good, fun starting point.
From Denver: 169 miles, approximately 3 hours by car
Highlights: 120 miles, all ability levels, access points near Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, plenty of lodges and guide services, 180 miles of associated trails, proximity to Sunlight Mountain and Powderhorn ski areas.
From Denver: 82 miles, approximately 90 minutes by car
Highlights: Easy access from I-70, world-class trail system in beautiful terrain east of Vail Mountain, proximity to the celebrated Vail Mountain Resort.
Tip: Be aware that you will be sharing the trails with skiers.
From Denver: 105 miles, approximately 2 hours by car
Tip: Only expert snowmobilers should blaze their own trails and explore the backcountry. If you’re not at expert level, join a guided/group tour, or stick to the established trail system.
From Denver: 66 miles, approximately 80 minutes by car
Highlights: Average snowfall of 365 inches, hundreds of trails to explore for all skill levels, snowmobile rentals and guided tours, mountains that stand more than 12,000 feet, plenty of fresh powder, proximity to Winter Park Resort.
Tip: Keep an eye on conditions when planning your trip; Berthoud Pass is no fun in inclement weather.
From Denver:277 miles, approximately 5 hours by car
Highlights: Supreme powder conditions, Black Head Peak, Eagle Mountain, Wolf Creek Pass, well-maintained trail system deep in the San Juan Mountains, proximity to Wolf Creek Ski Area and many public hot springs.
Tip: Guides are recommended for newcomers, regardless of skill level.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Now that you’ve chosen your destination, it’s time to plan your trip. There are three key elements to that decision (after you check with your life partner and possibly take a few days off from work!):
Monitor weather conditions: Check out the forecast for your destination, as well as for points along the way. Just because it’s sunny in Denver doesn’t mean you won’t get snowed in or blasted with high winds once you get into the mountains.
Monitor road conditions: Likewise, just because the roads are clear in the city doesn’t mean they will be as you get higher and farther from town. That snow from several days ago could be blowing across the road, leaving drifts and icy spots, or a snow slide might have closed the pass you need to cross. It’s a bummer to discover these things once you’re already on the road, and it can be unsafe as well. Check first, so you can plan an alternate route or reschedule the trip.
Monitor trail conditions: Poor snowfall, rain, and rapid melting during a midwinter or early spring thaw can all wreak havoc on trails. Check trail conditions first so you can plan to visit an area that guarantees unstoppable sledding fun.
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