Colorado

 

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Our last spring break led us to explore parts of Colorado. I was hoping to see some of the blue alpine lakes I had seen in so many pictures, but early April proved to be a-less-than-ideal time of year for high-country Colorado alpine lakes.  Most high elevation lakes were frozen over in a crisp translucent white sheet, the roads leading to it known for being narrow, winding and icy, and our sea-level bodies would not fare very well walking in snow, cold temperatures and high elevation. Given all those reasons, we opted for the shorter, easier hikes that were somewhat easy to get to in Colorado Springs and Boulder, in addition to the ones in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Walking in snow, ice and high elevation took a little bit of getting used to.  Ice cleats played a key role in our jaunt in the icy snow; without them we would not have been able to complete most of them. We got our very economical ice cleats from a local Walmart on clearance for less than $3 per pair.  They gave us grip when they stayed on our shoes, but staying on proved a difficult task in the beginning.  They were a little difficult to put on as well, but it got easier as we got more practice.  Most times we were happy with just having one cleat on, since that provided sufficient grip to prevent us from slipping off the side of the trail. We used our waterproof hiking boots when hiking, and that kept our feet sufficiently warm. Snowpants helped immensely as well, at least for me and the kids.  With them on, I did not feel the cold wind blowing past me, nor the cold wintery 20F temperatures.

  

Painted Mines, Calhan, CO

We started off our adventure in Colorado in the south, not too far from Colorado Springs after flying into Denver International Airport.  Our first stop was about 45 minutes away from Colorado Springs to view colorful eroded rock formations called Painted Mines.  There were several trails to choose from the one we took was about 2 miles to the formations from our parking spot

When we got to the formations, there were beautiful dwarf white hoodoos with tints of red, purple and orange to explore. These rocks are exposed from debris that settled 55 million years ago.  It was very windy there, as confirmed by the wind farms closeby.  We were glad we brought ourselves a second hooded jacket to keep warm.  To my kids’ delight, we saw many many rabbits hopping around.  We tried to take pictures but the bunnies proved too quick for us.

Colorful rocks in Painted Mines, CO

 White Canyons

 Big Round Rock

Painted Mines, Calhan, CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  Walk under and around colorful hoodoo-like structures and canyons while chasing hopping wild bunnies

Address: 29950 Painted Mines Rd, Calhan, CO

Fee: Free

Hours: Open dawn to dusk

 

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO

The Garden of the Gods has many enormous red rocks tilted at bold angles.  From afar, some look like spires reaching out for the heavens.  According to the "Friends of the Garden of the Gods" the land where these rocks occupy have played many different roles in the past: an inland sea, a tropical forest, a floodplain and a sea of sanddunes, with dinosaurs and giant sea creatures roaming and living here.  About 65 million years ago, as the Pacific Plate collided into the North American Plate, mountains were formed, and overlying sedimentary rocks bent upwards.  With time, erosion did its work on the softer rock, leaving behind the harder rocks in tall spires and columns reaching for the heavens.

Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO

 

There were many trails to choose from at Garden of the Gods.  We hiked Central Garden and Ridge Loop (4 miles). It was a busy but beautiful site, even with homes visible just a stones throw away.  We had some trouble finding parking where we wanted to be parked, but soon realized that we were able to walk to our preferred destination (Central Garden) even being parked quite a ways away from it, since the trails were interconnected.  

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  Walk in the shadow of enormous slanted red rock spires of different shapes and sizes, tilted at bold angles 

Address:  1805 N 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO

Fee: Free

Hours: 8am - 5pm (winter), 8am to 7pm (summer)

Website: https://www.gardenofgods.com/ or https://www.friendsofgardenofthegods.org/

 

Horsethief Falls, Midland, CO

At 44F, it was a chilly morning hike for us, after enjoying temperatures in the 70s F back home a couple days before.  We did alright doubling up on sweatshirts.  This was our first hike at 10,000 feet of elevation.

Horsethief Falls was a 3-mile slippery hike to a frozen waterfall. I had trouble with staying upright at many points of this trail but did ok with a helping hand. Many fellow hikers passed us in microspikes.  After hiking for almost a couple of miles, we got to the bottom of a gradual column of ice flowing down past some rocks into an icy stream down below.  We guessed that was Horsethief Falls.  We tried to explore further up the icy column but our shoes were no match for the ice.

Horsethief Falls, CO

At the bottom of frozen Horsethief Falls?

Found a teepee along the way to Horsethief Falls

Found a teepee along the way to Horsethief Falls

 

There were many bear tracks along the way which I didn't spot on the way there. I was made aware of them by a passing hiker. They looked very much like foot prints.  Happily, we did not spot any bears.

The kids made snowballs and a snow fort in front of a teepee we found along the trail.

Our original plan was to go all the way to Pancake Rocks, effectively doubling our distance, but without something to help with traction, the icy slopes proved too much for us. 

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  Walk to a frozen waterfall, stop along the way to check out a teepee skeleton.

Directions from hikingproject.com:  From Colorado Springs, take Hwy 24, through Woodland Park, to Divide. Turn south on Hwy 67. Drive 8 miles until you come to a tunnel. Parking is available on the other side of the tunnel. This is where the trail begins.

Our hike: An icy 3 mile rt, 600 ft elevation gain.

Fee: Free

 

Roxborough State Park, Littleton, CO

There were many slanted red rocks at Roxborough State Park.  

We took the South Rim Loop trail, which was about 4 miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain. This hike took us to the perimeter of the red rocks (not through it) and up into one of the hills for a panoramic view of the slanted giants.  Our hike was about 4 miles, owing to a detour to complete our loop, caused by a trail closure.

We noticed many mountain lion scat along the trail, as well as big claw prints in the snow (bigger than an adult human male hand) which made me a tad nervous.  Luckily, that mountain lion remained elusive.

We had hoped to hike the Fountain Valley Loop Trail (about 2.5 miles) after South Rim Loop Trail, but the child unit in our family vehemently opposed.  Apparently this trail would have taken us amongst the slanted rocks.

Roxborough State Park, CO
Roxborough State Park, CO

Roxborough State Park, CO

Tilted Rocks at Roxborough State Park, CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  Views of tilted rocks from above.

Our hike:  South Rim Loop (includes detour due to a closed trail): 4 mile rt, about 500 ft elevation gain

Address: 4751 Roxborough Dr, Littleton, CO 

Fee: $7 (bring exact change)

 Website:  http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/roxborough

 

St Mary's Glacier, Idaho Springs, CO

The high elevation was hard on my usually-very-fit husband. He reported dizziness and breathlessness while doing this hike, while the kids and I were a little out of breath, but for the most part okay. You might want to consider getting acclimated to higher elevations before doing this hike.

It was slippery in most parts, our newly purchased ice cleats came in very handy. They were great when they stayed on, helping me acquire mountain goat status, even allowing me to help my usually mountain-goat-like husband who went without the cleats. However, the ice cleats were difficult to put on to my hiking boots and didn't stay on very well. I suspect user error had something to do with it, since they seemed to stay on a little better the more we used it. They are also available for rent at mountain sports stores.

At the end of our 1 mile’ish hike, we reached a frozen lake and an adjacent permanent snowfield dubbed “St. Mary’s Glacier"

 The frozen lake beneath St Mary's "Glacier", CO

At the frozen lake beneath St. Mary's "Glacier", CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Our hike:  just under 2 miles rt, at slightly above10,000 ft elevation, with elevation gain of about 500 ft, icy snow terrain on our visit

Directions:  Take I-70 west and go past the town of Idaho Springs. Then take exit 238, marked “Fall River Road”.  From there, take a right, (north), on Fall River Road.  You'll go through a couple hairpin turns, past the town of Alice.  Parking for St. Mary's Glacier trail is large, on the left of the road.  After parking, you'll have to walk about 1000ft on the road to get to the trailhead for St. Mary's Glacier.

Fee: $5 parking fee about 1000 ft from trailhead, large parking lot, bring cash, exact change unless you don't mind waiting for your change in the mail

 

Flatirons, Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

This city park gave us many trails to choose from. We hiked the 1st/2nd Flatiron, then went to the start of the Royal Arch Trail, wandered a little and eventually made it back to the parking lot at the Ranger Cottage

The bottom of this hike was fairly flat, then switch backs all the way to the top. Parts of the trail required walking across rock slide areas. The most challenging for me was a short section (maybe 10 feet) where we had to go up an almost vertical rock wall via foot holes. The view of the city below was beautiful from this spot, but certainly did not help me conquer my fear of heights. After what felt like an eternity, I made it up to the top of this section, then worried about how I would possibly make my way down.

The rest of the hike was challenging but fairly uneventful. The close-up views of the Flat were wonderful, as were the views of the city below and the snow-capped mountains on the other side.

My oldest son was protesting loudly, or else we would have gone on to do the Royal Arch Trail. From a historic picture near the Ranger Station, it seems like there really is an arch.

 

Flatirons Upclose

Flatirons Upclose 

Flatirons Upclose, Chautauqua Park, Boulder CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  panoramic views of the city below, upclose views of the slanted Flatirons

Our hike:  About 5 miles rt, 1800 ft elevation gain, rocky terrain

Address:  Baseline Rd and 9th St., Boulder, CO 

Website:  Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO (includes trail map)

Fee: Free entry.

 

Pearl St Mall, Boulder, CO

About a mile from University of Colorado, Pearl St Mall is an outdoor pedestrian district with shops that opened about 40 years ago, if you're aching for an urban hike.  We found it a little sleepy of a walk, though to be fair it was on a weekday late-afternoon that we visited.

 

Bear Lake trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Our hike from Bear Lake to Nymph Trail to Dream Lake was a very icy trail which was easy to get lost on since there was no markings indicating the trail (or it was snow covered). We saw Bear Lake, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. We had hopes of seeing Emerald Lake but lost our trail and ultimately gave up when we realized we were on the top of a cliff when we should have been in the valley. The wind picked up quite a bit near Dream Lake. After Dream Lake, it appears we inadvertently went off-trailing, but saw a small frozen waterfall and “the” slope on our off-trailing adventure. Slopes are always easier to go up than down for me. The way down was so slick I gave in to sliding down on my bottom, following the example of my kids, who delightfully used that method of transport any chance they got. Thankfully the casualty on their snow pants were not terrible. Ice cleats were definitely very useful from the start to the end of this trail. Bear Lake itself, though close in proximity to the parking lot, is an icy walk away. We watched people slipping and sliding their way on this walk, being grateful for having our ice cleats.

To hike at Rocky Mountain National Park, we stayed in Estes Park.  We originally intended to go cross-country skiing, but both the Ranger at the Visitor Center and the mountain equipment rental shop discouraged it.  In fact, it was so discouraged at the rental shop, that they no longer rented it out.  So we opted to go with our ice cleats instead of snow shoes, mostly because the ice cleats were less bulky than snowshoes (hence, we hoped, slightly easier to get around with).  

 Walking towards windy Dream Lake

Walking towards the wind at Dream Lake, RMNP, CO

 A frozen small waterfall, our accidental find as we unintentionally veered off-trail

A frozen small waterfall, our accidental find as we unintentionally veered off-trail

Walking towards the wind at Dream Lake, RMNP, CO

Sliding back down "the" slope when we realized we had veered way off trail to Emerald Lake,

Dream Lake is the long lake in the background

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  An icy hike in a winter wonderland going pass 3 lakes.

Our hike:  5 miles, 1300 ft elev gain, 3 frozen lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Bear Lake, lost on the way to Emerald Lake) on icy snow terrain

Address:  At Bear Lake Trailhead, at the end of Bear Lake Road.  Stop by Beaver Meadows Visitor Center for latest information

Website:  Rocky Mountain National Park

Fee: $20 (1-day automobile), $30 (7-day automobile), FREE with Inter-Agency Annual Pass or 4th grade pass

Don't Forget: warm water-resistant jacket and pants (preferably snow pants), warm hat, waterproof gloves, snacks, warm boots, ice cleats (or any ice traction device), water, snacks, sunglasses if its a sunny day.

 

Ouzel Falls, Wild Basin, RMNP, CO

Our hike to Ouzel Falls started with us looking for the trailhead to Hidden Falls. Having parked in the winter parking lot with a locked gate, it was a mile walk to the Ranger Station. Our quest for Hidden Falls took us to Copeland Falls, then since we were there, Calypso Cascades, why not Ouzel Falls, since it was just hop away. The hike in was very quiet, we passed just a couple of hikers.

The first part of the trail was almost snow-free. After Copeland Falls, there was more icy patches, then mostly iced snow (some parts with elevation gain) and eventually just snow.

Calypso Cascades seemed to be a good sized waterfall cascades with two bridges crossing it's width. The Cascades were mostly snow covered, though we had peek-a-boo views of the water flowing beneath the bridge. The same is true of Ouzel Falls.

My boys found out the hard way that the snow was very deep beside the trail, when they stepped beyond its boundaries.

 

 Copeland Falls, WildBasin Trailhead RMNP, CO

Copeland Falls, near WildBasin Trailhead RMNP, CO

 Lunch just outside a bear den? Near Ouzel Falls.

Lunch just outside a bear den? Near Ouzel Falls, RMNP, CO

 Crossing the snowy bridge over Ouzel Falls, RMNP, CO

Crossing the snowy bridge over Ouzel Falls, RMNP, CO

 

 

 

Once at Ouzel Falls, we stopped to have lunch. My husband noticed there was a small cave right where we rested. He curiously went towards the cave about halfway through lunch with a concerned look on his face. When I asked him to avoid going into the cave, he indicated that he was checking for sleeping bears.

My husband, who was born and raised in Northern Canada, is usually very relaxed when it comes to black bears. So when he had a concerned look, that was my cue to be very concerned.. He explained that a cave like this, is one a bear would sleep in to hibernate for the winter. After a careful look, he gave us the all clear.

 If it weren't for the ice cleats, we would not be able to do most of our hikes this trip. Well maybe just I, wouldn't be able to do the hikes. My boys seem to have the agility of a mountain goat with or without ice cleats. So very jealous.  We did see a couple hikers have to turn back when we hit a particularly slippery hilly patch.  Luckily our ice cleats saved the day.

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features:  An icy and snowy hike in a winter wonderland going pass 3 very snow-covered waterfalls (Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls)

Our hike:  about 8 miles rt, 1200 ft elev gain on icy then snowy trails

Website:  Rocky Mountain National Park 

Directions:  Wild Basin Trailhead is about 12 miles south of Estes Park, from CO 7, look for signs to Wild Basin Entrance Station about 5 miles after Long's Peak Trailhead

Fee: $20 (1-day automobile), $30 (7-day automobile), FREE with Inter-Agency Annual Pass or 4th grade pass

Don't Forget: warm water-resistant jacket and pants (preferably snow pants), warm hat, waterproof gloves, snacks, warm boots, ice cleats (or any ice traction device), water, snacks, sunglasses if its a sunny day.

 

Hidden Falls, Wild Basin trailhead, RMNP

I saw a picture of Hidden Falls and was hooked.  I had to go see this.  The picture I saw was a column of thick ice with little ice climbers ice-picking their way up.  I am, by no means a climber of any ability, much less of cold slippery ice, but what a sight to be a spectator at, I thought.  So the quest to find Hidden Falls began...

There was no signage that claimed Hidden Falls.  In fact, quite the opposite, Hidden Falls was noted as a "Dead End" both by a sign, and by a Ranger we spoke to.  The Ranger did indicate that it existed, so the quest continued.  As I mentioned earlier, since we were on the other (wrong) side of the stream, our quest for Hidden Falls took us to hike on icy/snowy trails for 8 miles, taking in 3 waterfalls along the way.  Though my boys might disagree, we had a good time finding our way.

But when we finally did find it, it proved to be a worthwhile adventure. There were three parts of Hidden falls: the left side (bluish in color when we visited), the middle section with water frozen as it fell to the ground many many feet below, and the right side which was just peeking through the trees.  The middle section looked like it had begun the thawing process. Perhaps this is why we did not witness any ice climbing that day.  I read that these Falls, as great and mighty as it looks, disappears in the summer.

Frozen Hidden Falls, Wild Basin Trailhead, RMNP, CO

Frozen center section of Hidden Falls in the background

 

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features: An elusive waterfall that freezes in winter on its fall down to the ground, about 90 feet below

Our hike:  3.5 miles rt from winter parking lot,  fairly flat walk on mostly melted trail, ice cleats not needed on this part.

Website:  Rocky Mountain National Park 

Directions:  Wild Basin Trailhead is about 12 miles south of Estes Park, from CO 7, look for signs to Wild Basin Entrance Station about 5 miles after Long's Peak Trailhead.  We parked at the Winter Parking lot, and followed the road until just before second bridge to Wild Basin Trailhead/Ranger Station/parking lot.  Just before the second bridge (entrance to Wild Basin summer parking area), off the main road on the left, there is a little sign indicating "Horse Trail to Copeland Falls,  Dead-End - 0.5 miles". Follow the little trail directly behind that sign.  Hidden Falls is slightly beyond the dead end (about 0.3 miles past the "Dead-End"). Look for a tall frozen column of ice on the left side. Hidden Falls is frozen in winter and in beginning of April when we visited.  (We combined this hike with Ouzel Falls for about a10 mile hike)

Fee for Rocky Mountain National Park: $20 (1-day automobile ), $30 (7-day automobile), FREE with Inter-Agency Annual Pass or 4th grade pass

Don't Forget: warm water-resistant jacket and pants (preferably snow pants), warm hat, waterproof gloves, snacks, warm boots, water, snacks, 

 

Alberta Falls, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, RMNP, CO

We did the Alberta Falls hike when it was snowing. It was a beautiful hike. We had intended to go cross-country skiing here, but the folks at Crystal Mountain Shop indicated that they no longer rented them out since it was too icy out on the trails. They did have snowshoes for rent though. Both XC skis and snowshoes rentals were very economically priced. Snowshoes were rented at $5/day while XC skis were offered at $20/day adult and $10/day kids. We opted to use our ice cleats again.

We parked our car at Glacier Gorge trailhead. There were quite a few stairs going down from the parking lot, so I'm not sure how we would have fared with cross country skis.

The Falls were frozen over and looked like a very gradual ski run; if it weren't for the sign indicating that we had arrived at Alberta Falls, we would have missed it.

The trail continues to Mill Lake and Lake Haiyaha. I would have loved to do that, but we were concerned about the roads going down. The roads were plowed, but it looked icy going over bridges and down the hill. We were also afraid of losing our trail as footprints quickly got covered by the falling snow.

Sliding along the Alberta Falls Trail, RMNP, CO

Sliding down the Alberta Falls Trail, RMNP, CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features: A fairly easy walk down some stairs to a frozen waterfall.  Our walk was in the falling snowing which made it feel even more like a winter wonderland.

Our hike:  1.8 miles rt, part of Rocky Mountain National Park

Website:  Rocky Mountain National Park 

Directions:  At Glacier Gorge Trailhead, near the end of Bear Lake Road.  Stop by Beaver Meadows Visitor Center for latest information

Fee for Rocky Mountain National Park: $20 (1-day automobile ), $30 (7-day automobile), FREE with Inter-Agency Annual Pass or 4th grade pass

Don't Forget: warm water-resistant jacket and pants (preferably snow pants), warm hat, waterproof gloves, snacks, warm boots, water, snacks, 

 

Gem Lake, Estes Park, CO

Gem Lake featured many rock formations along the way.  Much to the kids’ delight, there were icicles formed on most rock edges.  We called it our icicle forest. I tried to convince the boys to leave the icicles for future fellow hikers, unfortunately to no avail. They reasoned that the icicles would melt away in the near future so justifying their continuation of icicle “mining”.

Walking under icicles at Gem Lake, Estes Park, CO

Walking under icicles at Gem Lake, Estes Park, CO

Walking under icicles at Gem Lake, Estes Park, CO

 

We may have lost our trail part ways through as the trail itself was being snow covered as we continued our hike . We walked by something that looked like a balance rock though the established trail did not pass by Balanced Rock. So I believe we must have veered off trail. Either way, the kid unit of our family decided to call it a day.

We went on a day that was snowy and slippery up in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the roads were cleared to this trailhead. There was a large parking lot, just off a neighbourhood street in Estes Park.  The roads were windy and up a hill though we had no trouble getting up to the parking lot (we were lucky to have accidentally rented a 4WD)

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features: A walk into an icicle winter wonderland, where icicles dripped from most rock surfaces in view.

Our hike:  3.6 miles rt, 1000 ft elev gain, lots of stairs 

Website:  Rocky Mountain National Park 

Directions:  From CR-34 (aka Wonderview Ave), turn north on McGregor Ave, then right onto Devil's Gulch Rd, then left onto Lumpy Ridge Rd.  The trailhead with a large parking lot is at the end of Lumpy Ridge Rd.

Fee: Free, free parking, plentiful

Don't Forget: warm water-resistant jacket and pants (preferably snow pants), warm hat, waterproof gloves, snacks, warm boots, water, snacks,  

  

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, near Denver, CO

On our travel day home, we stopped by Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. It was close to the airport which made it a good spot to kill a couple hours

We drove the 8 to 10 mile Wildlife drive. We spotted deer, bison and prairie dogs.

The Visitor Center taught us that this area was a chemical weapons manufacturing site during WW2. Families living in the area were relocated to make the site available for this purpose.  This park was oddly situated adjacent to a somewhat industrial neighbourhood.

Bisons roaming in the distance at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, CO

Bisons roaming in the distance at Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, CO

 

Practical Information (as of April 2018):

Features: A drive to view wildlife like deer, bison and prairie dogs.  Hikes also available.

Website:  Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Address:  6550 Gateway Rd, Commerce City, CO 80022

Fee: Free

 

16th St Mall and State Capitol, Denver CO

If you're looking for an urban hike, this is another one.  Located in Denver's downtown, a stone's throw away from the State Capitol buildings (closed on Saturdays, btw), 16th St. Mall is similar to Boulder's Pearl St. Mall.  16th St. Mall has a free bus shuttle going down it's middle. Watch out for them when walking. We walked about halfway down 16th St. Mall before turning around since our parking was expiring (2hr free parking)

 

All in all, our trip to Colorado was a different and snowy experience for us. I learned that I enjoy the colors of flowers and trees a lot more than I realized.  Travel is funny like that. It makes you appreciate the things you didn't know you loved about home.  Though I did get a break from my allergies while I was in Colorado.  I can't wait to visit Colorado in the summer when I can enjoy the big panoramic views of blue glacial lakes beneath snow-capped mountains at 10,000 ft elevation or more.

 

Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. We do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

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