Photo courtesy of Larry1732 via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Let’s play a little word association. “Skiing in Colorado”… go.
If the words Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge and Crested Butte immediately jump to mind, I can’t blame you. But you don’t have to scream down a mountain at highway speeds, shred a gnarly bump run or disappear into a plume of powder to experience authentic Colorado skiing. You also don’t need to claw your way west of the Divide on notorious I-70.
That’s because Colorado also is a haven for cross-country skiing. And the best part? There are killer destinations within easy reach of the Denver-Boulder metro area and their foothills communities. We’ve put together a few of our favorites.
Distance from Denver: 28 miles (approximately 40 minutes by car)
Where: Nestled against the Boulder Flatirons at 5,600 feet, the park is easy to reach from the metro area. In Boulder, just head west on Baseline Road until you reach the park.
Highlights: North- and east-facing slopes retain snow, and you’ll enjoy magnificent scenery along trails such as Mesa, Bear Peak and Blue Bell.
Distance from Denver: 40 miles (approximately 50 minutes by car)
Where: The park is located in the north-central part of Douglas County, at roughly 6,100 feet.
Highlights: Thanks to the elevation, the park retains deep snow longer than the metro area. The park boasts stunning canyon views and several miles of loop trails.
Tip: A particular favorite is the Inner Canyon Trail, as it’s both challenging and extremely scenic. Hikers should be prepared with snowshoes, crampons, an ice axe, and possibly a rope, according to the National Park Service.
Distance from Denver: 45 miles (approximately 55 minutes by car)
Where: Echo Lake Park, part of Denver Mountain Parks, is on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway about 33.5 miles west of Denver.
Highlights: You’ll be at 10,600 feet, so the odds of finding great snow are in your favor. There is a trail around the 24-acre lake; and park trails connect to the Chicago Lakes and Bear Track Lakes trails.
Tip: The trail network allows you to access the Mount Evans Wilderness Area and even reach the summit of celebrated Fourteener Mt. Evans. (A word of caution: Only experienced backcountry skiers with avalanche training should consider this.)
Distance from Denver: 25 miles (approximately 35 minutes by car)
Where: The open space park is near Evergreen at more than 7,200 feet.
Highlights: Here, too, the elevation allows for some good, deep snow. The park has miles of trails that loop through meadows and peaks.
Tip: For a great workout, ski the 4.7-mile Meadow View Trail from the Stagecoach Boulevard trailhead to 9,708-foot Bergen Peak.
Distance from Denver: 30 miles (approximately 50 minutes by car)
Where: This popular state park is west of Denver, near the historic foothills community of Golden.
Highlights: Thick forests, 36 miles of trails, and the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, where you can view more than 100 miles of the Continental Divide.
Tips: The park offers wintertime overnight stays at cabins, yurts, electric RV sites and even a ranch home. You also can go skating at the visitor’s center, or ice fishing at Slough and Kriley ponds.
Distance from Denver: 13 miles (approximately 18 minutes by car)
Where: The park lies just 15 minutes from C-470, along the U.S. Highway 285 corridor.
Highlights: It’s close to the city, yet it provides a backcountry experience. The entire park is on a north-facing slope, so snow tends to be very good; it has 4 miles of trails on four loops with a variety of terrain features.
Tip: Bring your sleds, too. If there’s snow on the ground, there will be a crowd at the area’s most popular sledding hill.
Distance from Denver: 37 miles (approximately 50 minutes by car)
Where: The park is located roughly 40 miles southwest of Denver, north of U.S. Highway 285 and about 6 miles west of Conifer. It straddles Park and Jefferson counties.
Highlights: Diverse terrain, from high grassy meadows at 8,100 feet to soaring granite cliffs over 10,000 feet. The trails, which range from a 2-mile loop to a daylong expedition, feature streams, ponds, historic buildings and views of special features like Elk Falls and Lions Head.
Tip: This is Colorado’s newest state park; it opened to the public in May 2013. The only way to experience the nearly 4,000-acre park is on the trails.
Distance from Denver: 26 miles (approximately 42 minutes by car)
Where: The park is halfway between Golden and Boulder along Highway 93.
Highlights: Lots of east- and north-facing mountainsides, with a great chance for good snow. There are 20 miles of trails over gentle and rugged terrain, so you can find a route suited to your ability level.
Tip: Favorite trails include the flat 2.5-mile Rawhide Trail and the steep 4.4-mile Belcher Hill Trail.
Learn more about cross-country skiing in Colorado through the Colorado Cross Country Ski Association and Nordic Ski Colorado, both of which offer details about the state’s dedicated Nordic centers. Colorado Tourism also offers its take on the state’s best state parks for winter sports (including Golden Gate Canyon).
So, consider this: The Centennial State has 42 state parks and myriad mountain parks, open space parks and city parks from which to choose. Creating your own unique cross-country skiing adventure will be a snap, so get started! All that pristine Rocky Mountain snow and rarefied mountain air awaits.
Author: Heather Steinberger, email@example.com