Celebrate the New Year with a First Day Hike
“Wilderness is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Excerpt from the 1964 Wilderness Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
The White River National Forest is located in northwest Colorado and is named after the beautiful White River which passes through it. It is spread over 2,285,970 acres and is in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The White River National Forest is the place where the concept of protecting “wilderness” areas in the United States was first begun with the establishment of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
There are a total of eight wilderness areas that exist within the White River National Forest. These are the Collegiate Peaks, Eagles Nest, Holy Cross, Hunter/Frying Pan, Maroon Bells/Snowmass and, as mentioned above, the Flat Tops.
These wilderness areas are truly wild places, where people can visit, but not leave a mark on the land.
The great variety of recreation choices in the White River National Forest provide something to do for everyone.
If you would like to climb one of Colorado’s numerous Fourteeners, peaks higher than 14,000 ft. in elevation, the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a great place to start.
Here you will find Mt. Yale, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard, which is Colorado’s third highest mountain. There are also four more Fourteeners in this Wilderness, including Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt. Belford and La Plata Peak, which is the fifth-highest mountain in Colorado.
The Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is a very accessible area for climbers because none of the trailheads are very far from a road. Because it so accessible, the climbing of these peaks has become very popular.
As a result, you probably won’t find peace and solitude on these trails, as you might imagine you would. This is especially true on weekends. So, if you can arrange it, I recommend that you climb any of these peaks on a weekday when it is less crowded.
Eagle’s Nest Wilderness is the home of the Gore Range, which supplies much of the water for the Colorado River. When you climb Eagle’s Nest, you will see spectacular views including high ridges, deep valleys, rocky peaks and dense forests. These trails, which total about 180 miles in length, end at a beautiful crystal-clear mountain lake.
Because of its topography, climbing Eagle’s Nest is a strenuous climb. Also, off-trail hiking can be difficult, but there several worn-in paths that you can take to climb to the steep passes.
The Flat Tops Wilderness consists mainly of very tall cliffs that are topped by a large, alpine tundra plateau containing over 110 lakes and ponds and about 160 miles of trails. For the most part, this plateau consists of gently sloping land which makes the possibilities for hiking and fishing almost limitless.There are also over 100 miles of great fishing streams. In the summer, you’re very likely to see deer, elk and moose also enjoying the beautiful weather.
Holy Cross Wilderness is known for being a beautiful, water-filled alpine wonderland with many gorgeous lakes and swiftly tumbling streams. Above it all rises Mount of the Holy Cross, which is 14,005 ft. high. Below this peak, there are also about 25 mountains which are up to 13,000 ft. high.Holy Cross Wilderness is filled with aspen groves, wildlife and streams that are terrific for fishing trout.
One of the highlights of this Wilderness is hiking the Cross Creek Trail, which runs up a spectacular glacial valley past Fancy Pass. Along the way, the scenery is spectacular as it passes high mountain lakes and then descends down into the valley. This trail, about 28 miles long, is one of the “don’t miss” hiking trails in Colorado. You won’t forget the experience!
If you’re looking for solitude, you will find it in the Hunter/Frying Pan Wilderness. Here are the headwaters of Hunter Creek and the Frying Pan River, which provide excellent trout fishing. You will also find the many unnamed peaks of the Williams Mountains and huge expanses of alpine tundra.
While there, you will see many varieties of wildlife, including the small, furry creatures that were the target of the early trappers who came to Colorado in the 1800s to make their fortune. In the winter, if you stand quietly and take in the silent surroundings, you can almost see one of the old trappers across the way. This is truly an unchanged wilderness.
The Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness epitomizes the Rocky Mountains that many people imagine when they think of Colorado.
There are over 100 miles of trails which wind over nine mountain passes with large expanses above the tree line.
The Snowmass Creek Trail runs 16 miles to Maroon Lake and provides incredible views of the surrounding wilderness.
It also has six mountains that are higher than 14,000 ft, making this a mecca for mountain climbing. Even though these peaks are technically difficult climbs, this wilderness can become very crowded in the summer.
And, of course, there is the spectacular Maroon Lake and the hot springs by Conundrum Creek. Imagine settling into a hot spring after a climb to this altitude!
The Maroon Bells has become such a popular destination that in order to protect the Wilderness as much as possible, there are now shuttle buses that take visitors to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Portal in the summer.
Don’t despair if you’re not a hiker or mountain climber, within the White River National Forest you can also drive the Flat Tops Trail which runs between Meeker and Yampa. It is about 40 miles long and, although it is not paved, a regular car will be just fine. Also, because the road is closed to cars in the winter, this is a great trail for snowmobiles and cross-country skiing.The White River National Forest is the top national recreation forest in the United States. It is definitely worth your time if you are in Colorado for outdoor recreation.
Summit County, Colorado is home to four major ski areas: Keystone, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin. In addition, the White River National Forest is located in northwest Colorado. It is named after the White River that passes through the Forest. It also contains the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. The Aspen and Vail ski resorts are located inside the Forest, as are the Maroon Bells, a famous collection of Paleozoic sandstone and mudstone peaks near Aspen.
The Eagles Nest Wilderness is a U.S. Wilderness Area located in the Gore Range between Vail, Copper Mountain, Frisco and Silverthorne. It is a 132,906-acre (537.85 km2) wilderness with 180 miles (290 km) of trails.
It is also close to many of the resorts, including Copper Mountain, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Breckenridge.
In the winter, ice fishing and snowmobiling are common activities on the reservoir. And in the summer, the Dillon Lake marina is open and there are many sailboats enjoying the Lake.
Dillon Reservoir’s marina also holds many weekend racing regattas, with sailboats available for rental.
For fishermen, Dillon Reservoir is stocked every year with 50,000 rainbow trout by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Also, due to Dillon Reservoir’s proximity to the towns of Dillon and Frisco, the Lake has many lodging, camping and RV sites available.
Green Mountain Reservoir is located on the Western Slope of Colorado and can be found 13 miles southeast of Kremmling, Colorado on the Blue River, a tributary of the Colorado.
Recreational choices include several campgrounds and two boat-launch facilities, along with a good swimming beach. Fishing, power boating and camping are available in the summer at this reservoir. But, campgrounds are closed in the winter because there is just too much snow and ice in the area.
There are several world-class hiking and backpacking trails located in Summit County:
The American Discovery Trail is a hiking trail that stretches across the United States from the Atlantic coast of Maryland to the northern California coast. Altogether, it is over 6,800 miles (10,900 km) long.
This trail offers both challenges and spectacular scenery along the way. It crosses the eastern plains of Colorado along the paths made by early explorers and pioneers. Then, west of Denver, the trail begins to climb the Colorado Rocky Mountains with its magnificent and breathtaking scenery. In Colorado, this trail passes through six national forests, sometimes going above the timberline.
In addition, the trail crosses 15 mountain passes that are over 9,000 feet high, including four that are above 12,000 feet. The route crosses the Divide twice and uses portions of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Colorado Trail.
The Colorado Trail is 483 miles (777 km) long and runs from the mouth of Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver to Durango in southwestern Colorado. One of the best things about this trail is that most of it is above 10,000 feet (3,000 m). It does, however, often drop below the alpine timberline, which provides shelter from the storms at the higher elevations.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs 3,100 miles (5,000 km) between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains through Colorado. The trail passes through many of the highest and untamed mountain regions of Colorado, such as the San Juan Mountains and the Sawatch Range.
The Continental Divide in Colorado runs for about 650 miles and there are many parts of it that have no distinct marked or named trail. It is still a real wilderness.
Relatively shorter trails are the Vail Pass National Recreation Trail and the Ten Mile National Recreation Trail. They can both be found in the Vail area and are relatively gentle trails compared to the other trails I have mentioned. The favorite activities for these trails is hiking, biking and rollerblading.
If you’ve interested in bicycle touring, the Great Parks Bicycle Route is a 2455 mile (3951 km) route that begins in Alberta, Canada and ends in Durango, Colorado. Along the way in Colorado, you will go through Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Mesa Verde National Park before arriving in Durango.
All in all, Summit County is one of the busiest hubs of outdoor activity in the Colorado mountains.
In addition to the recreation that I have described, there is a great deal of lodging in Summit County and, of course, many good places to eat. Often, people stay there and use it as a base for exploring the whole area of the Central Colorado Mountains.
I have included a map below so you can get a better idea of what the area has to offer. If you’d like to zoom in closer for a more detailed look, use the “+” button and if you’d like a broader view of the area, use the “-.” This will give you a good idea of how Summit County fits into the state of Colorado, the United States and the world.
Colorado’s Royal Gorge, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas, is a narrow, steep canyon carved by the Arkansas River through Fremont Peak, located near Canon City.
This magnificent Gorge was created about 3 million years ago when the Arkansas River flowed across solid granite as the uplift of the Rocky Mountains began. Over the millenium, the mountains lifted higher and higher, and the river carved the deep channel that can be enjoyed today.
The history of the Gorge probably began when Native American groups spent winters there because of its mild climate and relative protection from the fierce winds.
Later, the Spanish expeditions and the fur traders arrived in the 17th century and probably spent some time in the area. The first recorded European contact in the region was made by Zebulon Pike, of Pike’s Peak fame, when he came through the area in 1806.
Canon City, close to the Gorge, was founded in 1860 as a center for early mining and now is a delightful mountain town.
When silver and lead was discovered in Leadville in l877, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad was built through the narrow gorge to provide access to the mining towns. For a while, it was actually the best route to travel across Colorado from either the East or West Coast of the United States.
Today, there is a sightseeing train run by the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. This ride includes a 12-mile stretch along the spectacular Arkansas River on trips that include lunch or dinner, wildlife viewing and of course, the breathtaking canyon itself.
There is even a Santa Train in the month of December and a New Years Eve train to celebrate the arrival of the new year in style.
While you’re there, don’t miss the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The bridge is a quarter mile long and 956 feet above the river below. It is one of the highest suspension bridges in the world and to cross it is a thrill beyond compare. Whether you walk or drive across the bridge, it will be an unforgettable experience.
The Gorge and surrounding area also offers opportunities for rafting, backpacking and hiking. Add to that a helicopter tour or skydiving, and you’ll be able to choose exactly how you’ll see the Gorge.
When visiting the Royal Gorge, plan to stay in Canon City at one of the great hotels, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds to be found in the area.
If you’re hungry, restaurants in Canon City offer choices ranging from Mexican to Italian to several casual spots offering pizza, burgers and burritos.
While you’re there, you can also have afternoon (luncheon) tea or High Tea (dinner) at the Queen Anne, an 1889 historic victorian home.
So if you’re looking for a great weekend or an unforgettable vacation, the Gorge and Canon City area would be a great choice.
Rocky Mountain National Park sits majestically about two hours northwest of Denver near the town of Estes Park. The Park is a microcosm of the entire Rocky Mountain Range, with elevations ranging from 8,000 ft. in its spectacular valleys to 14,259 ft. at the top of Long’s Peak, where the weather can quickly change from a brilliantly sunny day to stormy and angry.
When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you will encounter a series of ecosystems, including the lower elevations which tend to be lush valleys with 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams, which create a wetlands that support an incredible variety of plant and animal wildlife.
As you go further up in elevation, you will find forests of pine trees and acres of grassy hills. These areas are drier than the wetlands, but they still support a great variety of plants and wildlife.
As you continue to go up in elevation, you are in the subalpine ecosystem. Here, there are few trees and other vegetation and the ones that you do see look like old men whose bodies are bent and gnarled from the hard summers and even harder winters near the top of the mountain.
When I look at these trees, I always think that I want to be just like the last tree before the treeline; the one that made it through all the ups and downs of life and still stands, courageously. Maybe it shows the effects of the conditions it has endured, but it still stands strong against the elements.
Finally, as you keep climbing the mountain, you’ll find yourself on the alpine tundra. Here it is too harsh for trees, but if you look closely at the ground, you will find tiny plants and animals that have somehow managed to overcome and thrive in one of earth’s most extreme environments.
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with larger animals such as elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bears, cougars and hundreds of smaller animals. Whether you’re hiking, backpacking or driving, you will be fascinated by the variety of wildlife you will see. Make sure to take lots of pictures!
Underneath Rocky Mountain National Park are the ancient Colorado Rocky Mountains. These mountains were born as huge volcanoes, with repeated cycles of uplifting and erosion, that have created what we see today, including more than 60 peaks over 12,000 ft. and the very beginning of the mighty Colorado River.
No matter what your interests are, the chances are good that you will enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. For example, there is:
Camping at one of five campgrounds that can be driven to, including Moraine Park, Glacier Park and Aspenglen, which can be reserved ahead of time and Longs Peak and Timber Creek which are on a first-come first-serve (or free-for-all!) basis. But be aware that these campgrounds get crowded in the summer and on holiday weekends. So get there early!
For backpackers, there are over 200 backcountry campsites available. But you will need to apply for a backcountry camping permit before you use one of these campsites.
There are also times when use of open fires at campsites and campgrounds is banned because of high fire danger.
Hiking is available on 355 miles of hiking trails. These trails are for all different levels of ability and fitness, ranging from a nice walk to real mountain climbing. If you would like more information about hiking, you might want to look at a friend of mine James’ website, www.us-national-parks-guide.com, about hiking in many of the national parks in the United States. His photographs alone will blow you away!
Before undertaking your hike, consider the altitude because it can make a big difference even if you are very fit.
It is best to take it easier while you’re getting acclimated and to drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and get plenty of rest. Altitude sickness can be very serious and some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. If this happens to you, go to a lower altitude as soon as you can.
For information about hiking trails in the park, check out this Rocky Mountain trails page.
Climbing Long’s Peak is a different matter entirely. This peak is an extreme mountain environment that provides challenges to experienced mountain climbers, but can be dangerous for those who have not prepared well or are not as experienced.
In the summer, it is important to start your climb very early in the day to be down off the mountain before the afternoon thunderstorms begin. The lightning is very dangerous if you are caught out in the open.
But early in the day, when you are climbing the mountain, the skies are usually gorgeous, the day is sunny and it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
I should also mention that the air at higher altitudes is thinner and does not filter UV rays as well as at lower altitudes. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and clothes that cover most of your body to avoid a very bad sunburn.
Bicycling is also a very popular activity at Rocky Mountain National Park and there are 60 miles of hard-surfaced roads that are available for bicycling.
However, off-road mountain biking is not allowed in the Park. You will need to stay on the established roads. There are, however, trails for back country bicycling in many of the National Forests throughout Colorado.
Just as with hiking, it is a good idea to begin your journey early in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms on the mountains. They can be very dangerous.
Winter in the Park is magnificent. It’s a perfect backdrop for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and snowmobiling.
Usually, Trail Ridge Road, which goes all the way through the Park to the western entrance at Granby, near Grand Lake, is closed at the higher elevations from the first major snowfall in the autumn to late spring. With a great deal of plowing, the goal is always to have the road open by Memorial Day at the end of May and usually it is open by then.
While in Rocky Mountain National Park, don’t forget to check out the horseback riding. With 80% of the trails in the Park open to horses, you will have 260 miles of trails for riding.
There are two stables available inside the park, Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables. There are also two stables in Estes Park that are open in the winter. These are Sombrero Stables and Aspen Lodge Stables.
Also, for all the information you need about fly fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park, please check out Northern Colorado Fly Fishing.
All in all, Rocky Mountain National Park gives Colorado one of the most magnificent places for outdoor pursuits you will ever find.
On both the North and South Rims of the Canyon, you will find trails that vary between easy and moderately strenuous and these are wonderful places for viewing nature, including many excellent birding spots.
But, as for the rest of the trails for hiking Black Canyon on what is called the Inner Canyon, I use the word “trails” very loosely because they are really just paths, unmarked and often steep and treacherous. There are frequent drop-offs, often just off the trails, along with loose rocks and very steep inclines.
Most importantly, no one should undertake hiking Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s Inner Canyon without a partner, just in case there’s a problem.
On the bright side, hiking Black Canyon on these trails will give you a close-up look at one of the most spectacular canyons in the world. In many ways, it’s like no other canyon in the world. It is accessible for hiking, but yet it is a raw and untamed wilderness.
So, let’s get down to what each trail looks like.
At the North Rim, there are three trails which will appeal to those who are looking for less difficult trails but still want spectacular views and photo opportunities.
Compared to hiking Black Canyon on the trails at the top of the North and South Rims of the Canyon, hikes down into the Canyon itself are true, old-time adventure. You should be an experienced hiker and be in very good physical condition to attempt these hikes.
The trails are not marked and you are expected to find your own way to the bottom and back up. If you take a wrong turn, you may find that you’ve come to a dead-end on a cliff and will have to backtrack.
When hiking the Inner Canyon, be sure to bring your own purified water and sturdy hiking boots and clothes, including raingear for sudden afternoon thunderstorms.
When you reach the Gunnison River, it is recommended that you don’t wade in the icy water because the current is very swift and the rocks are slippery.
If you’re looking for an even greater challenge, it is possible to hike the Inner Canyon in the winter. If you attempt this hike, you will need winter hiking gear, an ice axe and probably snowshoes.
In spite of the dangers that I have stressed, if you hike the Inner Canyon in either the summer or the winter, you will be rewarded with the quiet, calm and beauty of being in a true wilderness away from the crowds and the noise of the world. What possibly could be better?