Winter sport quiet use trails in Chaffee and Lake County
Listed below are a few of the better quiet trails suitable for winter use snowshoeing or Nordic skiing in Chaffee and Lake County, Colorado. These trails generally have reliable snow, have plowed vehicle access to the trailhead so you can generally start skiing or snowshoeing from a parked car, do not permit snowmobiles, and are on routes that marked, delineated or discernable (either with summer trail markers and/or the tread surface or corridor is visible). Most of these are summer trails also.
You need to take all necessary precautions and be well prepared for all types of winter weather and emergencies before heading out on any of these routes in the winter. Most of these routes are not formally groomed or packed and can be difficult to follow in the winter in deep snow and if they have not been tracked lately, and many of them are not marked for winter travel.
Avalanche danger may exist on some of these trails, although they are mostly safe for the first few miles unless otherwise noted. Take necessary precautions when heading into possible avalanche terrain. Contact the Colorado Avalanche Information center by clicking here or calling 719-395-4994.
Chaffee County Winter Trails
*Trail 1417 Waterdog Lakes Trail
To get to Trailhead: From intersection of hwy 50 and 285 in Poncha Springs, Go west 15.3 miles. There is a normally a plowed pullout parking area in the south side of the road (look for power pole with a transformer on it. This is about 600 yards below the turn into the Monarch Park area). Trailhead is hidden under a large spruce tree on the north side of highway.
Trail is ~1.5 miles one way with 1070’ of climb from 10320’ to lake at 11380’. A steep trail that is most popular with snowshoers. Much of the trail follows a small powerline cut, but veers off this to the north near the end. You can angle WSW from the first lake to visit another lake with .25 miles away.
*Trail 1432 Narrow Guage Trail
To get to Trailhead: From Highway 285 about 8 miles south of Buena Vista, go West on CR 162 ~5.5 miles. Turn left on CR 290. Go ~1.5 miles up 290 and continue straight on this until it becomes unplowed trail.
This route is ~2.2 miles long generally uphill from 8570-9000’ along an old railroad grade. Nice views of the Chalk Creek Valley. You may cross a couple small and short avalanche chutes, but they are not slides that you will trigger, just do not linger. When you reach the plowed road at Chalk Creek Falls take a minute to carefully cross the road to inspect the cascade before returning. Snow may be sketchy but it is on a north slope so it holds snow well.
*Trail 1336 Rainbow Trail East of Highway 285
To get to Trailhead: Take Highway 285 ~5.5 miles south of Highway 50 and Poncha Springs. You will proceed a little over 1/4 mile past the turn to O’haver Lake at Mears Jct. at CR200. Look for a large Rainbow Trail sign on the east side of the road. There are often wide pullouts plowed on both sides of the road here. Going east on the trail #1336 from 285 is less steep and gets the hiker out of the highway sound corridor quicker.
The route starts at 8500’ and winds up a drainage in open forest on a south facing slope, so snow may be spotty. It crosses a ridge after 1.4 miles at 9100’, which may be plenty for most people especially if you are breaking trail. From here the trail drops slightly onto the north side of the ridge before continuing a gradual climb through open areas with views to the west and north for another mile.
Here the trail turns back to the southeast and climbs more steeply for another mile before starting to level out in the aspen at 10,000’. Five miles in it reaches a remote high point near 10,400’ behind Poncha Mtn.
*Browns Pass Trail 1422
To get to the trailhead: Go 12-15 miles west of the downtown Buena Vista stoplight on CR 306.
Note: with lower snow conditions your will be able to drive all the way to the Denny Creek Trailhead on CR 306, and you will be able to access the Denny Creek trailhead. With more snow, they stop plowing the road at the Avalanche Creek Trailhead and you will have to follow the groomed snowmobile trail on CR306 ~3 more miles to access the Denny Creek Trailhead. Leaving from the Avalanche Creek trailhead makes this a longer outing and you will be sharing the CR 306 segment with snowmobiles!
From the Denny Creek winter trailhead on the right just before the winter closure gate. FS pit toilet here. This trailhead can be very popular with snowmobilers in the winter, but they will proceed straight up the valley on the closed Cottonwood Pass road and you will climb away from them quickly.
Trail climbs up the hill to the north, entering wilderness in .2 miles. Climb lessens after a half mile. Wide corridor is easier to follow for the first ~1.3 miles to the Mt Yale trail #1451 which forks to the right, then it narrows down a bit. At 2.5 miles @~11,200’ you can go left on Hartenstein Lake Trail #1443 (there is a sign here) for another mile to the lake. Or continue straight on Trail #1422 towards Browns Pass another 1.5 miles staying to the middle or left of the bottom of the drainage. Spectacular views can be had at the top of this Pass.
These routes are not marked for winter travel. You may encounter avalanche areas after~3 miles, but these are generally avoidable if you stay lower in the valley. Starts at 9900’ with Hartenstein Lake at ~11,500’ and Browns Pass at 12,000’
*Poplar gulch Trail 1336
To get to Trailhead: Go 14.5 miles west on CR 162 from Nathrop. You can park at the plowed area just before St Elmo on the left, with the outhouse next to the road. Or you can try to continue through St Elmo itself on FR 274 towards Tincup Pass another .25 miles (crossing the bridge over the creek on your right and taking the next street left) to the start of the climb to the pass on the edge of town, but this may not be reliably plowed. If it is, you may be able to park one car on the left before the road climbs out of town.
Either way, get through St. Elmo and proceed up FR 274 from the west side of town up towards Tincup Pass on the road about 250 yards. Look for a road/driveway with cutting back to your right when the road levels out for a bit. Go along this road for 100 yards until the Poplar Gulch trailhead itself at ~10,300’.
The area around and in St. Elmo can get a fair amount of snowmobile traffic at times, so be careful. If you park at the public parking area, you will have to deal with it until the trailhead ~.4 miles away.
The trail starts to the NW and is relatively flat for the first half mile. It then climbs out of the valley using 4+ switchback turns, until it crosses over to the east side of the creek in a little over a mile. The climbing is gentle for another mile, until it steepens again for the final mile to the top of the ridge at 12,250’. Possible avalanche danger may exist on the north side of the pass.
*Colorado Trail #1776 from CR 344
To get there, go west of Buena Vista on the CR 306 ~7 miles to CR 344. Turn left on CR 344 and go about a half mile. The Colorado trail crosses the road here. There may or may not be space to pull off the edge of the plowed road to park a vehicle here. Use discretion and do not block private drives or create a hazard.
Here at 9000' you have two options, the Colorado trail North and west or East and South. Both routes may be better for snowshoeing than skiing due to steep climbs and narrow areas.
Heading up the open hill on the right/west, the trail climbs quickly into the trees before leveling out and rolling along on a north facing slope. It is 2 miles to the intersection with the Cottonwood Pass Road/CR 306 at 9350'. Sections of the trail here go through private land so stay on the trail. Here you can turn around or get on the snow covered Cottonwood pass road with snowmobile traffic to go up to Denny Creek or down to Avalanche Creek.
Heading down off the road to the left/east you get on the Colorado Trail going South. After quickly crossing S. Cottonwood Creek, the trail climbs about .6 mile and then crosses CR 343. From here the trail continues up more steeply another half mile before crossing over the south side of a ridge at 9200'. The trail continues to climb another mile before leveling off at 9870'.
You can continue south on the trail another 6.2 miles rolling along until it reaches Forest Road 322 heading up to Mt. Princeton. You may cross some slide paths in this section, and there may be places with scant or no snow.
*Evans-Rush ski trail Browns Creek area
Almost quiet and the best area for gentle terrain and beginners.
To get to the trailhead go about half way between Buena Vista and Poncha Springs on Highway 285. Turn west on CR 270. Go about 1.5 miles west on 270, and then continue straight on gravel and normally plowed CR then FR 272 another 2.1 miles.
This is a relatively flat road. Park at the Gate at the FR 274/272 intersection.
This is at 8600' and normally has winter snow, but conditions may be spotty in lower snow years.
View a map of the area by clicking here
There is a blue diamond marked ungroomed nordic ski trail that heads SW and SE from this intersection, slanting away from FR 272 which heads south here. The 3.4 mile loop forms a big triangle (parking at the north angle point), with the south side near the fence and private land boundary of the Mesa Antero Subdivision. The loop is fairly well marked with blue diamonds on many trees, but there are a couple places where they disappear or or hard to find. Be careful. Loop is relatively flat to easy rolling through thinned forest, with a high point of ~8920' on a ridge at the SW corner. The SW side of this triangle is a little steeper, rolling and has a few turns to climb over ridges. SE side of trail is straighter and flatter, and may have less snow.
The loop crosses FS road 272 near the SW corner. For now, the Forest Service has a temporary wheeled vehicle closure of this road from Dec 1 to March 31 to protect the snow surface for winter recreation. The road and area is not supposed to be open to snowmobiles in the winter, as it is in a Snowmobile "A" area and there are no designated snowmobile routes here. You can use the road as an easier route to or from the far side of this loop.
Road 272 forms the start of the Evans-Rush memorial ski trail, named after two Nordic skiers that perished in an avalanche in 1975. Heading south about 1.2 miles on this road you come to the point where the blue diamond loop crosses the road. Continue another .3 miles and you come to the Browns Creek trail and pit toilets. The Browns Creek side trail climbs steeply up to the Colorado trail. If you head another 2.7 miles south on this gently climbing road 272, you drop into a gulch and come to a green gate. You can continue south of this gate on the closed road another couple miles to Sand Creek, where the route turns west and climbs up to ~9600' to intersect the Colorado trail in another mile.
At this point you can follow the Colorado trail south another ~6 miles all the way to the plowed end of CR 240 at the Angel of Shavano campground/trailhead, which is the end of the Evans Rush trail. This section is faintly marked with blue diamonds.
Or you can loop back down NE on a closed but blue sign marked road to rejoin FR 272 just north of the green gate.
You can also follow the Colorado trail back north, to where it intersect FR 273 and take that back down to your starting point.
Locals that know the area often create many side trails and parallel tracks in the snow all throughout this area, as the sparsely treed forest and open terrain lends itself to wandering. Some options include linking FR 273, the Colorado Trail, and the Blue diamond trail and/or 273.
Snowshoers should try to avoid ski tracks.
*Fooses Creek (almost quiet)
Although not guaranteed quiet, this route goes on the list because it almost is.
This road sees very little snowmobile use as snowmobile options are limited here, and a potential Colorado Trail reroute may make this quiet.
To get there, go 9.2 miles west of Poncha Springs on Highway 50. Turn left on CR 225. (warning, the turn comes up quickly and is hard to see). Follow CR 225 ~.7 miles(keeping right at the sign at the second fork) to the end of the plowed section. Parking and turn around is very limited here.
Put your skis or snowshoes on, sign the snowshoeing/xc ski trail register (usually) on the left and continue up the hill on the road. Follow the blue diamonds on what is a summer road. From the start @ 8950' you shortly pass by Fooses Resevoir on your right. A quarter mile in there is a USFS outhouse on your left. (open in winter). The route levels off somewhat after 1.2 miles, and it is a flatter 1 mile to the turn to the South Fooses Creek trail intersection 2.1 miles in at 9580'.
Most mortals turn around here, and you loose over 650' heading back down.
If you still have energy at this intersection, go left and follow the road .15 miles to the South Fooses Creek/Colorado Trail #1776 trailhead. Proceed on single track (follow blue diamonds) and immediately cross a bridge. The uphill is more gentle starting here as the trail winds up the valley. Second bridge is ~..35+ miles in from the trailhead , and it is another ~1 mile in past that to the third bridge @ ~9950'. If you make the third bridge you are just over 3.5 miles in from the parking area. Click here to view a photo of the third bridge in winter
You can continue past this point up the valley to the fourth bridge at 4.3 miles in from your vehicle (10,200'), and go beyond that the Continental divide, but avalanche danger increases after 5 miles in on the trail.
Lake County winter trails
*Tennessee Pass Trails
To get to the Trailhead: Go 10 miles north of Leadville on Highway 24 to the top of Tennessee Pass. A number of quiet winter routes leave the plowed parking area with an outhouse on the west side of the Pass.
Sections of the Colorado Trail, and 3 loops are available to backcountry skiers and snowshoers with loop routes starting at 2.3 miles and going to 7.0 miles. heading SW from the parking lot is the singletrack Colorado Trail, part of two loops. Heading NW from the parking lot is a wider old railroad grade, also part of two of the loops.
All these loops are mainly in the trees with minimal elevation changes for mountainous areas. The Powderhound loop is generally on the NW side of the Divide and is 2.8 miles long. The Treeline loop is generally on the SE side of the Divide and is 2.3 mile long. The Mitchell Creek loop is 6.5 miles long and circles the other two loops.
Here on top of the Continental Divide at 10,500’ it is big snow country and most of these routes are marked with blue diamonds on the trees. Route finding can still be an issue, however. This area is getting more use thanks to the quiet Continental Divide Cabin, part of the 10th Mtn Hut system.
You may encounter snowmobiles on a section of the Mitchell Creek Loop.(along Wurt's ditch at the far end).
*Leadville Fish Hatchery Trails
To Get to the Trailhead: Take Highway 24, ~3.5 miles south of Leadville to CO Hwy 300. Take CO Hwy 300 ~2.2 miles to the Fish Hatchery on your left (west). Park in the Southwest corner in the designated public parking area.
The initial section of the route is on a road that may be lightly plowed or snowmobile packed by the hatchery for administrative use. Head up the road through a gate, which may be opened or closed.
Three trails extend up to and are linked by the Colorado Trail on Fish hatchery and USFS lands, much of this in Wilderness. The Highline, Rock Creek and Kearney Park trails all leave from or near the fish hatchery and extend up to the Colorado trail about 2 miles up. Do them as out and back routes or link them for loops.
Most nordic skiing is on the middle Rock Creek trail (middle trail), due to gentler terrain and less climb. If you loop this with either of the side trails you are looking at about 6 miles total.
Many people will be happy just going up to the old Evergreen hotel site and looping Evergreen Lake for a total of 1.5 miles. Another popular route is to go up past the lake and do a shorter loop up Rock Creek trail and cutting back to the Highline trail with a half mile of singletrack along the edge of Rock Creek itself before returning down for just under 3 miles.
Many of these are official winter trails marked with blue diamonds on the trees.
Click here for a map of the Leadville Fish Hatchery Trail System.
*Colorado Mountain College Trail system
How to get to the Trailhead: Located a mile south of downtown Leadville off Hwy 24. Look for the CMC sign on the south side of the road and go up ~1/2 mile. Access and parking near the soccer field on the South/Southwest side of the campus.
About 15km of interconnected trails consisting of groomed routes (skating lane with diagonal stride track) looping around back campus. This and the Mineral Belt trail are the only groomed route system included here, so watch for occasional grooming equipment. These trails are groomed regularly by the ski area operation program and are free for public use.
These are hilly to mild trails, with lots of loops. Snowshoers please stay out of the diagonal track and to the edges of the trails.
This is a little known gem of a trail system that you may have all to yourself. Connects to and crosses the Mineral Belt trail.
*Mineral Belt Trail
A loop 11.65 miles long that loops around and through Leadville using old railroad grades. Groomed with skating and diagonal tracks. Access at trailheads on Hwy 24 ~1.1 miles south of Leadville, at Ice Palace Park on North Harrison Avenue just a block north of highway 24 in downtown, and also there may be places to park a car where the trail crosses East 5th St or East 7th Streets east of town, and County Road #2 above town.
Snowmobile traffic is allowed on a couple very short sections of this trail and it does cross this route at a few points, but is generally infrequent. The quietest sections are from CMC east to the high point between CR 2 and East 5th St. and then around to the north and west across East 7th Street back to town.
There are many historical interpretive signs with photos along the way.
Click here for more information and a map of the Leadville Mineral Belt trail.
*Turquoise Lake trail (almost quiet)
Listed here, although snowmobiles can be found crossing it, on the nearby lake ice, and on the groomed road around the lake.
To get there: Go 4.3 miles west of downtown Leadville from the downtown stoplight on west 6th street and then right on CR 4. The last .8 miles are uphill in National Forest to the plowed area on the east side of the dam.
Get your winter gear on and proceed North along the east side of the lake. The trail parallels the lake shore, never more than ~ 100 yards from the high water mark on the left and often just on the edge of the trees.
It is about .6 miles until you cross the snow covered Matchless boat ramp and parking area, and ~2.1 till you cross the Tabor boat ramp on the north side of the lake. It is another 4.4 miles along the more remote north shore to the west end of the lake at May Queen. You may encounter a few bare sections where the snow has blown away, but you normally can easily go around these on snow.