Hiking in Colorado high country is a popular outdoor adventure that, realistically, only presents itself for a few months every year. Mountain hiking trails, for months submerged under winter’s snow, eventually reveal themselves to provide a wonderful opportunity for witnessing nature at its best. Wild flowers, rivers, lakes, the odd glimpse of wildlife, and the spectacular vistas of the Colorado Rockies, conspire to make hiking in Colorado a truly rewarding experience.
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Whether you’re in search of a full-blown hiking vacation, or a gentle stroll in the woods surrounded by wildflowers, the hiking trail systems in Winter Park and Grand County including Rocky Mountain National Park, will not disappoint.
In the Winter Park area, check out the Blue Sky and Twin Bridges trails, accessed from the end of Arapahoe Road. For more of a challenge, start hiking from the top of Berthoud Pass along the Continental Divide Trail. To the west, the trail is moderate in difficulty, but offers spectacular views for relatively little elevation gain. To the east, the trail climbs sharply to Colorado Mines Peak (12,493 ft.). The trail continues north into Grand County, crossing several peaks over 13,000 ft., before reaching Rollins Pass – a very strenuous hike.
Rollins Pass is also accessible by car from U.S. 40, midway between Winter Park Resort and downtown Winter Park. The 15-mile road, which can be very bumpy in places, especially near the top, follows the old railroad grade to the Continental Divide. From the top there are breathtaking views in every direction. You literally feel like you are “on top of the world”.
Other popular hikes in the Winter Park and Fraser area include Byers Peak (12,804 ft.), St. Louis Lake (11,531 ft.), Devil’s Thumb (12,000 ft.), and Columbine Lake.
Byers Peak is a true landmark for the valley. In 2005, the forest service have “lowered” the elevation of the trailhead access considerably, making for a much longer, strenuous hike than hitherto was the case. Once the trail goes above timberline, the views are amazing and the hiking gets steep. Toward the top, several rocky sections must be traversed, but the effort is worth it. The top of Byers affords perhaps the most spectacular 360º views in the valley.
The Lake Granby and Grand Lake areas offer a wide variety of hiking trails as well. The road south of Lake Granby leads to Monarch Lake, a popular trailhead to access the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The trail loop around Monarch Lake is mild, but offers good birding and some historical artifacts from the old rail line in the area.
Near to the town of Grand Lake is the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, a hiker’s dream. The North Inlet trail leads to a spectacular set of falls, and at 7 miles round-trip is considered a moderate 1/2-day hike. Cascade Falls roars down a great pile of boulders that belies the placid nature of the stream at the beginning of the trail. Highly recommended.
For more information on these hikes and others in Grand County, there are two great resources. The Official Hiking Guide to Grand County written by Susie Masterson, features eighteen of the best hiking trails in Grand County, and can be ordered from her website.
Hiking Grand County, Colorado, by Deborah Carr and Lou Ladrigan, is a masterful, highly detailed book, including instructions and topographical maps, and can be purchased in various local stores in Winter Park.