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Colorado’s best winter trails

Winter can test the willpower of even the most dedicated outdoor lovers. These three trails offer the best that winter hiking can offer, and are rated from easy to difficult (i.e., from “bring the kids along” to “get ready to have your ass kicked”).

Tote a pair of snowshoes along just in case—all of these trails are walkable year round, but get fairly snow-packed in midwinter.

Bear Lake—Estes Park (RMNP)

Bear Lake - photo by Josh T. of The CO Hiker web

This flat, 0.6-mile loop is a great trail for kids or beginners through a beautiful area of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The trail offers spectacular views of Hallet Peak, Half Mountain, and Longs Peak. Nearby boulders often form gigantic icicles, turning the area into a veritable winter wonderland.

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Ski the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of Gunnison - photo by Liba Kopeckova

Southwest Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the country’s lesser-known national parks—but that’s not for lack of splendor. The park’s namesake is 1,800 foot gorge carved by the Gunnison River, with walls steep enough to keep it shadow for most of the day.

The “Black” is already popular (read: infamous) among climbers in the summer months, but the park’s six-mile out-and-back South Rim Road makes it a worthy destination for snowshoes and cross-country skiers in the snowy season.

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3 Colorado mountain cabins

Imagine your own private cabin in the Rockies. Pine boughs brush against the windows, hot chocolate warms on the stove, and the heat from a wood-fired furnace melts snow off a few pairs of skis or snowshoes. Sounds nice, right?

Of course it does, you say. So does a yacht trip in the Aegean Sea. Or a live-in private chef. Or 3D movie tickets. The good life is expensive, you say. But it doesn’t have to be. Read on to see three affordable Colorado rental cabins.

Grand Lake Cabin: $295/night

Grand Lake web

Go ahead—get the band back together. Just a two-hour drive from Denver, this three-bedroom cabin can sleep them all. The cabin is on seven acres, and has a hot tub, game room, outdoor fireplace, and a view of Shadow Mountain Lake.

It’s also a ten-minute drive away from the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, and 20 minutes away from Granby Ranch, where you can snowboard or ski to your heart’s content (opens Dec. 11).

If you go: The cabin rents for $250–$295/night, with a three-night minimum stay. No pets are allowed. Click the link below to book online or to learn more.

Book it


Deer Creek Cabin: $150/night

Baileyweb

With a homey, modern interior, tons of wildlife hanging out nearby, and an outdoor hot tub with a killer mountain view, this mid-sized two-bedroom cabin is perfect for vacationers on a budget.

Just 45 minutes from Denver in the Pike National Forest, the cabin is a stone’s throw from some great hiking and/or snowshoeing. We recommend the Rosalie Trail, Tanglewood Trail, and Meridian Trail, each just minutes from the front door.

If you go: The cabin rents for $150/night for two people with a two-night minimum stay. Additional renters are $35 apiece. Pets are allowed. Click the link below to book online or to learn more.

Book it


Little Rocky Mountain: $195/night

Divideweb

Some of you need to just get a room. There—we said it. And we’ve even got a place in mind. Just two hours from downtown Denver, this cozy honeymooners’ cabin is tucked away in 35 acres of Southern Colorado forest.

The cabin’s covered back deck features a gas grill, a hot tub, and an amazing view of Pikes Peak, and the inside is complete with a gas fireplace and a king-size bed. And for those couples who manage to get out the front door during their stay, the cabin is just six miles away from the trails of Mueller State Park.

If you go: The cabin rents for $175-$195 a night for two people with a two night minimum stay. Pets are not allowed. Click the link below to book online or learn more.

Book here

Contributed by Molly McCowan.

Climb Pikes Peak the local way

Crags Trail web

Pikes Peak is popular. Really popular. More than half a million people visit the 14,114-foot summit of America’s Mountain every year using the toll road and cog railway alone, and thousands of more reach the summit by foot. In total, the number is greater than the entire population of neighboring Colorado Springs.

All that to say that Pikes Peak, despite its virtues, can be a bit of a zoo (but what else would you expect from a mountain with a donut shop on top?). So if you’re keen to experience its purple mountain majesty, you might be better off viewing the summit from afar  from the uncrowded four-mile Crags Trail.

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Hike steep in the Sangre de Cristos

Alpine Lake web

Colorado’s hiking season is almost over, and that’s a bummer. But if you’ve been getting after it this year (and we know you have, right?), there’s still time for at least one big hiking challenge, so this week we’ve tracked down one of the toughest hikes on the Front Range: the grueling climb to North Crestone Lake.

Perched high in Southern Colorado’s Sangre de Cristos (and at the base of the Crestone 14ers), the lake is accessed by a grueling six-mile climb, which takes hikers from 8,800 to 11,840 feet in about seven hours.

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Hike the San Juan Huts

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Overnight hiking trips are good for the soul. But carrying your shelter, sleeping bag, stove and kitchen sink is bad for your back. And your knees. And your attitude. So for many hikers, the overnight trip is more of an aspiration than a habit.

Enter the San Juan Hut System: a series of five isolated huts connected by 30 miles of trail in the mountains above Telluride and Ouray. The huts are stocked with cookware, fuel and bedding, and sleep up to eight people. The San Juan Huts team provides hikers with maps, directions and GPS waypoints for the trip.

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The Great Novice Race

 

trail running - dan hudson photography web

Adventure races are intimidating  and not just because their courses are wild and rugged or they demand mastery of three or four (or five) outdoor sports. They also attract a certain brand of goo-eating, spandex-wearing superathletes, who have a way of scaring any and all regular folks away from the start line.

But not the Genesis Adventure Race, which comes to Palmer Lake Oct. 11. To qualify for the race’s top prize (the value of which they’re keeping suspiciously secret), teams must include at least one adventure race novice.

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Hike RMNP’s Hague Valley

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More than three million people visit Rocky Mountain National Park every year. And the park’s heaviest visitation days are right around… now. So if you want to enjoy the best of Estes this weekend, we suggest you avoid the usual spots. 

Our weekend pick is the 15-mile out-and-back Hague Valley Trail, which tours the alpine valley of the same name. Chances are good that you’ll have the 450-acre valley more or less to yourself – save a few birds, marmots and elk.

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Celebrate Elktober in Estes

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Colorado’s best Oktoberfests

Oktoberfest is what you make it. And all too oftentowns choose to make it the same tired combo of oom pah music, big pretzels, and antique car shows (why?).

But Colorado does have three truly great Oktoberfests: mountain town events that bring together great beer (in great quantities), authentic food, and quirky events. So throw on your lederhosen or drindl, fill your stein, and Prost!


Vail: Sept. 5-7, Sept. 12-14

vailweb

Vail’s base area is about as Bavarian as it gets (in Colorado, anyway) so it’s not surprise that the resort town is the only one in the state to do Oktoberfest twice. The festivities in Lionshead went down last weekend, but they’re doing it all over again this weekend in the Vail Village.

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