Hiking in Colorado: A Warm (and Then Cold) Welcome to the Rockies

“Hiking in Colorado” is part of a series of posts from our 2016 road trip. For other stories from the road, check out On the Road, my collection of posts related to that adventure.

On the morning of day six of our journey, we said our goodbyes to Eric and Alicia and left Rapid City in fog and rain, heading Southwest toward Denver. Cutting through Wyoming, we crossed into Colorado and pressed onward towards Denver.

Denver wasn’t our destination, however. We were heading to Copper Mountain, but the easiest path to get there led through Denver. It was hectic traffic, so as we left the city behind us, and started to gain elevation, we stopped at a turnout to stretch our legs and get a little sunshine. It had been a chilly morning when we left Rapid City, but when we stopped for a break at Huntsman Gulch, we basked in warmth as wind blew along the trail. Thus we got our first taste of hiking in Colorado!

Hiking in Colorado- Huntsman Gulch

A quick hike in Huntsman Gulch to stretch our legs.

We hopped back into the Sportage and started making our way West to Copper Mountain. We also started gaining elevation as we went, basically driving up into the mountains. We weren’t alone; on this Friday evening, it seemed all the Denverites were heading up to the mountains as well. The sky turned dark as clouds rolled in.

I stretched out a bit behind the wheel, and rested my left arm against the window only to gasp at how cold the glass felt. Clarissa checked the temperature and I laughed when she told me that outside it was in the high twenties. Such a contrast from the warm sunny walk we had taken earlier. Isn’t it crazy the difference a few thousand feet can make?

We had just finished chuckling about the temperature when the snow started to fall. At first we didn’t think much of it. A few flurries, no big deal. But as it continued to fall harder and faster, evolving into a bonafide snowstorm, I remembered that I’m not in the flatlands of Illinois anymore; I’m headed for the Rockies. The road grew slicker as we kept driving, but eventually the snow let up. As we neared Copper Mountain, it slowed to gentle flurries. We relaxed again. It’s just a little snow, after all.

Little Groot in Colorado snowstorm

Even with the weather at its worst, Lil Groot remained happy and unafraid!

We had no real plans for Colorado outside of visiting our friend Amanda, who had arranged accommodation at a friend’s place; hence the stay at Copper Mountain. When you’re visiting a good friend though, you don’t really need precise plans. We had a relaxing evening eating pizza and watching the Pink Panther. It’s a Clarissa and Amanda tradition, and who am I to stand in the way of tradition. Plus, Amanda makes really great pizza.

Actually, Amanda makes really great everything, including pancakes, which we enjoyed the next morning. After we cleaned up, Clarissa and I set our for a small hike while Amanda studied for an exam. We hopped on the nearby Ten Mile Rec-Path, part of the Summit County Paved Recreational Pathways System. This is a multi-use path, seemingly used mostly by cyclists; despite the chill, we saw a number of cyclists pedaling while we were here.

Ten Mile Rec-Path

Not a shabby view for a bike path!

A mile down the path and we came upon an intersection. It was the Colorado Trail, crossing the bike path. What a pleasant surprise! I found myself eager to get off the pavement and onto the dirt trail. The Colorado Trail spans 486 miles from Waterton Canyon (southwest of Denver), through six National Forests, eight mountain ranges, historic mining towns, wilderness areas, and a modern ski resort before terminating in Durango. The majority of the trail is over 10,000 feet above sea level, and the highest point on the trail is 13,271 feet. The trail elevation rises and falls quite frequently though; any thru hiker will experience an elevation gain (and loss) of about 89,000 vertical feet.

Hiking Colorado- the Colorado Trail

Here’s where we picked up the Colorado Trail

As you can see from the sign, this section of the Colorado Trail is also a section of the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail, running from Mexico to Canada. For about 200 miles (give or take) these two will run concurrently, before going their separate ways. I’m happy to know that I had the opportunity to hike a small section of both the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, all in one day of hiking in Colorado.

Hiking in Colorado- The Colorado Trail

It’s beautiful out here!

I always feel free on the trail, and exploring a new one enhances that feeling. What’s around the next bend? What’s over the next hill? I seldom know, but I always want to find out!

Hiking in Colorado- The Colorado Trail

I’d like to return and hike the Colorado Trail in entirety, someday.

Alas, we couldn’t continue down the Colorado Trail, so we only did a few miles before returning for lunch. Maybe one of these days I’ll come back and thru hike it. One can hope, anyway, as I found hiking in Colorado to be absolutely lovely. A little chilly, but nothing a layer or two could fix!

Hiking in Colorado - The Colorado Trail

Yes, I could definitely get used to hiking around here.

After lunch we headed back out with Amanda, this time to the nearby North Tenmile Trail, which begins in the White River National Forest and crosses into the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. If you’ve read many of my posts or followed me on social media, you’ll know how much I love public land, and how fortuitous it was that I got to explore some of our public land in Colorado on National Public Land day!

Hiking in Colorado - Tenmile Trail

Welcome to North Tenmile Trail, on some of America’s beautiful public land!

What do I mean by public land? Well, it’s land held by the government (usually federal, but sometimes state), for a variety of uses, depending on what kind of land we’re talking about. It’s important to understand that while this land is used in a number of different ways, it exists for our benefit. It’s public in that we all own it a little. Isn’t that cool?

Hiking in Colorado - North Tenmile Trail

I’ve no doubt you can see why I think these lands are worth protecting.

What falls under this “public land” umbrella? It includes;

  • National Parks
  • National Forests
  • National Monuments
  • National Wildlife Refuges
  • National Historic Sites
  • National Conservation Areas
  • National Recreation Areas
  • National Memorials
  • National Battlefields
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers
  • National Seashores and Lakeshores
  • National Trails
  • Wildernesses

So here I am, hiking a trail through a National Forest and a Wilderness in the Rockies on National Public Land Day. In some ways, I’m the luckiest man in the world.

Hiking in Colorado - North Tenmile Trail

The start of the trail.

We gained a little elevation quickly, but it soon leveled out, making for a very pleasant hike.

Hiking Colorado - North Tenmile

Not a bad view, right?

Hiking Colorado - Entering the Eagle Nest Wilderness

Entering the Eagle Nest Wilderness.

Hiking in Colorado - North Tenmile Trail

After a few days climbing and scrambling in the Black Hills with the Boe’s, I had to get a little spice in Colorado!

Hiking in Colorado - North Tenmile Trail

It doesn’t get old!

And of course, the best way to finish a hike is with a delicious beer, so Clarissa and I headed to Backcountry Brewing in Frisco. Our timing proved impeccable as well; celebrating their 20th anniversary, the bar had several special beers on tap. All tasted fantastic!

Backcountry Brewery

If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, stop for a drink. They make some great brew!

The next morning, we headed back out on the road. It seemed that as soon as we got to Colorado, we left again. Which is a shame, because everything that we saw of the state was lovely. We’ll definitely have to make our way back again, for the incredible hiking, and of course to see our friend Amanda again.

Hiking in Colorado - North Tenmile Hike

Amanda and Clarissa in the Rockies.

For now, however, we drove off the mountain and headed southwest toward Utah, where we’ll have more adventures in the next post about life On the Road.

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