Top 5 Winter Hikes Near Denver

By: Amy Kesic

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Think hiking season in Colorado ended with the arrival of snow? Think again! If you’re not afraid to bundle up and get your blood pumping for warmth, a winter hike or snowshoe in Colorado has a lot to offer the outdoors enthusiast. Don’t leave the stunning winter scenery to the skiers. Get up close and personal with the pristine powder on a pair of snowshoes or spikes.

One of the great benefits of winter hiking is that the congestion plaguing many popular trails is greatly relieved. Revel in the silence of the snow as you focus more on the scenery and your own thoughts. It’s a true wilderness experience when half the population isn’t dodging your heels.

Most of your favorite summer hikes are also available in winter. If you want some fresh inspiration, however, check out these five spectacular winter hikes near Denver or Boulder.

Snowshoe Exploration at Butler Gulch

  • Length – 5 miles round trip
  • Type – Out and back
  • Level – Moderate to Difficult

One of the Front Range’s best wildflower hikes in summer, Butler Gulch is no less amazing in winter. Located off Hwy. 40, ten miles west of Empire, the area is popular with backcountry skiers and snowshoers alike. The first mile is relatively easy, but after that it becomes a bit more challenging as you gain elevation—and the scenery becomes more spectacular with every step. Once you get above the tree line, you have fabulous views of the Continental Divide and the Butler Gulch bowl. The ski tracks can deviate quite a bit up here, so you have the opportunity to explore off-trail, or continue up to summit one of the 12,000+ foot peaks. Zig-zagging up the mountainside in the deep snow is what makes this trek more difficult, but if you are up for the challenge, the experience is exhilarating.

Inside Tip: There are no bathrooms anywhere near this location. Plan accordingly and practice leave no trace principles!

Winter Hiking and Wildlife in Waterton Canyon

  • Length – Up to 12.4 miles round trip
  • Type – Out and back
  • Difficulty – Easy to moderate

Located in the foothills southeast of Littleton, Waterton Canyon is the first segment of the legendary 500-mile Colorado Trail that weaves through the state to Durango. The 6.2-mile canyon trail is popular with hikers, bikers, and runners. The further along the trail you go, the more challenging it gets. While the wide 4x4 road, industrial setting, and number of visitors may make you a little skeptical, you will soon forget all that as you are immersed in the sights and sounds of the South Platte River ecosystem. The area is a habitat for bighorn sheep, eagles, mountains lions, mule deer, and other wildlife – and that’s what makes it a top pick. Because it is in the foothills, exposed to sun, and popular with visitors, you likely will not need snowshoes. A good pair of boots and YakTrax or microspikes for icy spots should be sufficient.

Inside Tip: Sadly, the area is closed to dogs to preserve the wildlife habitat. If you’d like to bring your dog, use the alternate route of Indian Creek Trailhead off Hwy. 67, east of Sedalia.

Hiking to Boulder's Green Mountain

  • Length – up to 9.75 miles
  • Type – Loop
  • Level – Moderate to Difficult

Boulderites are known for pushing any and all limits, and Green Mountain will satisfy the need to challenge yourself this winter. At 8,148 feet, Green Mountain bears the distinction of being Boulder’s second-highest mountain and is the host mountain of the iconic Flatirons. From the trail, you will be rewarded with incredible views of the city and eastern plains, Bear Peak (Boulder’s tallest mountain), and Longs Peak and the Continental Divide. Though the snow is not usually deep, snow and ice can complicate the already challenging scramble to the summit, as well as a steep descent into Gregory Canyon. Hiking or running crampons are strongly advised. A variety of route options are available thanks to the extensive network of trails.

Inside Tip: Don’t have time for an all-day hike? Try the Green Mountain West Ridge Trail, about 5 miles up Flagstaff Road ($3 parking fee). At 1.3 miles (one-way) and 600’ elevation gain, this is the quickest route to a Boulder summit with spectacular views.

Hike Matthews/Winters Park

  • Length – 4.5 miles
  • Type – Loop
  • Level – Easy to Moderate

Less than a half-hour from downtown Denver, Matthews/Winters Park is so accessible that you’ll be able to take in some great views and fresh mountain air, and still be home in time to watch the Broncos play. Again, this is one where you’ll need microspikes for the icy spots, but you can leave the snowshoes at home in most cases. If you go on a sunny day, you’ll be quite warm, since most of the hike is open to the sunshine. Matthews/Winters has a 4.5 mile, easy-to-moderate loop. Climb the Morrison Slide trail to see an incredible vista of Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre below. When the red rocks are covered in snow, they provide a spectacular show of their own.

Inside Tip: For a longer hike, you can continue into the neighboring Red Rocks Park trail system. To make the Broncos game in time, loop back on the Red Rocks Trail toward the parking lot.

Hiking the Indian Peaks Wilderness' Lost Lake

  • Length – 6 miles round-trip
  • Type – Out and back
  • Level – Easy to Moderate

The foothills are great, but if you’re more interested in heading into the high country for some snowshoe action, you’ll want to check out Lost Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It’s about 1 hour, 15 minutes from Denver and 40 minutes from Boulder. The winter trailhead gate is about 4 miles west of Nederland on Eldora Road. From the gate, you’ll hike 1 mile on the unmaintained 4x4 road to the Hessie Trailhead. From there, it’s another 2 miles to the frozen alpine lake. Along the way, you will enjoy views of South Fork Middle Boulder Creek, including a beautiful waterfall area. If you go on a clear day, you will enjoy views of the surrounding Indian Peaks at lake level. A narrow trail encircles the lake for an extra half-mile. This hike is just challenging enough to make it a good workout, but not so difficult that beginners couldn’t do it. It has enough beautiful scenery to make adventurers of all abilities happy.

Inside Tip: Parking is roadside only and fills up fast on the weekends. Get there early to secure your spot—or your hike will be longer than you planned!

Bonus Hike: Hiking at Kenosha Pass

  • Length – Variable (6 miles avg)
  • Type – Out and back
  • Level – Beginner

At 1 hour, 15 minutes from Denver, Kenosha Pass may not be “near” Denver, but it is a winter hike that should not be left out in the cold. Known for drawing thousands of leaf-peepers each autumn due to the beautiful, thick stands of aspen, Kenosha Pass is a family- and pet-friendly hike that outbounders of all abilities can enjoy. With the leaves gone from the trees, views of the mountains and South Park are more expansive. Plus, the white-on-white of aspen bark against snow is lovely in its own way. The trail is bisected by Hwy. 285, with Segment 5 of the aforementioned Colorado Trail east of the highway, and Segment 6 to the west. Whichever trail you decide to take, you are in for some great winter scenery. Depending on snow conditions, a pair of weatherproof boots may be sufficient.

Inside tip: The aspen forest is great camouflage and a food source for mule deer; keep your eyes peeled and you might spy a pair of eyes quietly looking back at you!

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.