Take a Hike: Ten Winter-Friendly Trails Close to Denver

A view of the Rockies from Lookout Mountain.EXPAND
A view of the Rockies from Lookout Mountain.
Hannah Gartner
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For some, winter is a time to slow down and stay inside. But across Colorado’s Front Range, where summer days often bring oppressive heat, winter can be an excellent time to break out your hiking boots and explore local trails.

Of course, certain considerations must be taken when hiking in winter. Shady parts of trails may be covered in snow or ice, so consider bringing along spikes or snowshoes. Poles can be critical for maintaining balance and staying safe. Shorter days also mean that the sun sets earlier, so pay attention to how far you're going. Always bring a headlamp just in case, since winter conditions can slow even the most nimble-footed hiker. And don't forget those layers: Remember, mountain storms can sneak up on you.

So what are you waiting for? Lace up enjoy some of our favorite trails close to Denver.

Mount Galbraith provides a stunning backdrop to north Golden.EXPAND
Mount Galbraith provides a stunning backdrop to north Golden.
Hannah Gartner

Castle Trail to Tower Trail Loop
Moderate/Difficult, 6.6 miles
Mount Falcon Park, Morrison

Castle Trail starts in Morrison, in Mount Falcon Park, just south of Route 74. It's an out-and-back with a loop at the end that takes hikers to the top of Mount Falcon at 7,841 feet. Those who don’t want to walk all the way to the top can explore side trails. Of particular interest is the Summer White House site, a ruin from 1914 located at the end of Walker’s Dream Trail. Check conditions before heading out, as microspikes and poles may be needed.

Ladora Loop Trail
Easy, 1.8 miles
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Commerce City

This trek over flat ground is perfect for city dwellers who are just getting into hiking or for an outing with the kids. It's just under two miles long and wanders along the shore of Ladora Lake in Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the refuge is only accessible to the bison, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs and many kinds of birds who call it home. But from the Ladora Loop trail, you can often get a glimpse of these animals in their natural habitat.

Lookout Mountain Trail
Easy/Intermediate, 2.4 miles
Windy Saddle Park, Golden

Start this short hike at a number of points on Lookout Mountain, a small peak that sits adjacent to Golden and is home to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave. Hike this trail as an out-and-back from either Windy Saddle Park or the parking lot at Colorow Point Access. Whichever way you choose, expect stunning views the entire time. Microspikes or snowshoes are definitely recommended for this hike, as it is on a north-facing slope and stays icy all winter.

Mesa Trail Loops
Easy/Intermediate, 3 to 8 miles
South Mesa Trailhead, Boulder

The South Mesa Trailhead parking area can be found along Eldorado Springs Drive. From here, find multiple trails traveling over the spacious area south of Table Mesa, including rolling hills and fields at the base of the Rockies. These trails offer great views over easy terrain. Adapting the difficulty of an outing is easy, especially along the Mesa Trail, which travels steadily uphill for miles and bisects many other paths that loop back to South Mesa Trailhead. These treks lead to old homesteads and ranches. Parking at South Mesa Trailhead costs $5. Although it is possible to hike here in the winter with a good pair of boots, microspikes may make the trek more comfortable.

Mount Galbraith Loop via the Cedar Gulch Trail
Intermediate, 4.2 miles
Mount Galbraith Park, Golden

This hike begins on the Cedar Gulch Trail, which is up Golden Gate Canyon Road just north of Golden. As you gain elevation, enjoy views of the urban landscape to the east and the mountains to the north, west and south. Hikers can expect these views throughout the remainder of their journey. The slope is mellow but consistent, gaining just over 1,000 feet in elevation. This path gets a lot of shade, so microspikes and possibly poles are recommended.

North Table Mountain
Easy/Intermediate, 2.7 to 7.7 miles
North Table Mountain Park, Golden

There's so much to love about hiking on North Table Mountain. Sitting directly northeast of Golden, this area is easy to reach. From the top of North Table, you can see far off into the plains and Denver’s cityscape to the east, the Flatirons to the north, and the foothills to the west. The top of North Table is a rolling plateau that can be reached from three trailheads. For those looking to avoid snow, the south-facing Golden Cliffs Trailhead stays the driest. To reach the top from the other trailheads, microspikes and poles may be helpful, especially on the descent.

Looking to Boulder from the top of North Table Mountain.EXPAND
Looking to Boulder from the top of North Table Mountain.
Hannah Gartner

Plymouth Mountain Trail via Plymouth Creek Trail
Intermediate/Difficult, 6 miles
Deer Creek Canyon Park

The Plymouth Creek Trail begins with a progressive gain in elevation over 1.6 miles. Then the trail bisects the Plymouth Mountain Trail loop, which takes you in a big circle around the top of Plymouth Mountain, offering stunning views. Taking the Scenic View Trail off of Plymouth Mountain Trail will add another .8 miles to the hike and takes you to the mountain’s summit at 7,274 feet. Shoes with good traction and microspikes are a must.

Rawhide Trail
Intermediate, 5 miles
White Ranch Park, Golden

Start this loop at the west entrance to White Ranch Park. With 21.5 miles of trails, the park is an incredible resource to those who live in Denver, and the Rawhide Trail is a particularly wonderful winter hike. Head there right after a snow to enjoy snowshoeing on mellow hills with great views, or wait for the trail to dry out a bit and hike it in boots.

Royal Arch Trail
Difficult, 3.5 miles
Chautauqua Park, Boulder

Those looking for a challenge should hike to Royal Arch this winter. Although the trail is short, only about 1.75 miles each way, it's also steep. In that small distance, expect to gain about 1,400 feet in elevation. This north-facing trail also gets icy in the winter, making microspikes and poles a necessity. At the top, you will be rewarded with views of Boulder, the Flatirons, and the magnificent Royal Arch rock formation.

Trading Post Trail
Easy, 1.4 miles
Red Rocks Park, Morrison

This short loop trail takes hikers around the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. During this hike, enjoy close-up views of the rock formations comprised and surround by this incredible venue. Hikers can take a detour into the venue as long as a show is not going on. This hike is perfect for beginners as well as out-of-towners who want a true Colorado experience and are still adapting to the altitude. Expect mud, much of which is passable with hiking boots.

What are your favorite winter hikes in Colorado? Let us know at editorial@westword.com.

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